Maybe you've found yourself itching to commit to a kayak this summer. Florida's surrounding bodies of water are begging you to come feel the sun and spray of the ocean on your skin. • With a kayak of your own, you can load up and float out anytime, nearly anywhere you'd like. Ditch the hassle of renting, coordinating, always paying. • Don't know where to begin? • Start by answering a few questions.
Who and why?
Russell Farrow, owner of Sweetwater Kayaks in north St. Petersburg, said a person's physical size is most important to think of, followed by what you want to do with it.
There are single-seater kayaks for the lone paddler or double-seaters for those who want company in the boat (my dad always advised never to double up with someone you liked because by the end of the trip, you'd hate them) and double-seaters with a mini seat in between for a child.
Some kayaks have built-in storage for food, camping gear, coolers for fish, built-in seats for fishermen out for hours and others with strap-in seats.
How much are you willing to spend?
The most common kayaks are the "plastic" ones, made of polyethylene. They are rotomolded which means particles of the material are placed in a mold and spun at high heat to melt and coat the entire, one-piece mold, "like magic," Farrow said.
Another material is fiberglass, which is lighter than polyethylene and generally more expensive.
Kayaks can range from 6 feet to 19 feet long.
"Don't be afraid of longer kayaks," Scotty Siebel, an associate at Canoe Country, said.
The longer the kayak, the straighter you paddle through the water.
Another tip from Siebel: "Buy your second kayak first."
"People buy a $200-300 boat from a box store, a two-piece (not rotomolded) that gets ruined somehow and then come here and spend $1,000 on a proper boat, when they could have avoided those problems before."
Will you buy new or used?
Depending how you answered the previous question, you may need to consider your options.
Siebel advises if you're going to buy a used kayak from Craigslist or a third party, look for one of the rotomolded polyethylene kayaks because they will be less likely to be warped or weakened from the sun. Check carefully for cracks or gouges in the plastic before agreeing to purchase.
The second thing is to try out a kayak. Farrow recommends taking a course taught by a certified coach, offered by Sweetwater every Saturday at 10 a.m. at Weedon Island.
Any good coach will look at how you're paddling and know which kind of kayak fits your needs and be able to give you options, Farrow said.
In a class, kayakers will learn boat control, self-rescue, theory and risk assessment in addition to the correct form of paddling. Even if you think you're a skilled paddler, Farrow said it helps to take the course because you may learn all the different things you can do with a kayak.
"It opens a lot of different options," Farrow said of the courses. "Show up ready to get wet."
Third, do your research. There are tons of resources at your fingertips. Siebel says it's a good idea to go online and read reviews, see what people are saying about different brands and models.
"There are a lot of kayaks out there that do not represent the sport well," Siebel said.
The Tarpon 120 kayak is the most popular model sold at Canoe Country, Siebel said. It retails for $939 on Wilderness Systems' website.
Fourth, remember you have to get it home! That is to say, don't forget to buy all the necessary gear for your kayaking adventures. Paddles, life jackets, roof racks or trailers are all essential.
"A good paddle is more effective than a good boat," Farrow said.
But you can't get anything until you've settled on which boat.