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How to rent free kayaks in St. Pete and the family to thank for it

The Yak Tribe Kayak Library is a St. Pete-based pilot program offering no-cost rentals to get more people into paddle sports.
Shannan Panganiban, 26, and her husband Heath Panganiban, 28, with their three boys, from left, Owen, 9 months old, ,Ryland, 5 (in center), and Landon, 3, in their backyard with their kayak racks at their home on Tuesday in St. Petersburg. Shannon and Heath started Yak Tribe, a national kayak fishing community, and now they have started a free kayak rental program with the pilot location being out of their backyard. [DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]

ST. PETERSBURG — Heath and Shannan Panganiban run a full-service digital marketing company, Rizo Tech. They are full-time parents to their sons Ryland, 5, Landon, 3, and Owen, nine months.

The couple also runs Yak Tribe, a community of kayak fishing enthusiasts that boasts more than 25,000 members nationwide. Through Yak Tribe, the couple is offering free kayak rentals along with all the gear you need to fish, right out of their St. Petersburg home.

“Our days go from about 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.,” Heath Panganiban said.

This is the Panganibans’s version of settling down. They started Yak Tribe about five years ago as a passion project to build a kayak fishing network. They loaded into an RV and traveled the country for years, leaving their Sarasota home behind. They operated their marketing company from the road, and Shannan, 26, started Faithfully Beautiful, a motherhood blog and content creation website. They also homeschool their sons. About nine months ago, right around the time Owen was born, they settled in Heath’s hometown of St. Pete.

Heath Panganiban, 28, said he wanted to be closer to his family, plus there are more places to launch and fish from around St. Pete, allowing him to start the free rental service. Offering a free entry point into kayak fishing has been part of his dream since starting the community.

“My goal is to really disrupt the paddle sports industry by offering something for free,” he said. “We’re not going after people who already love kayak fishing. We’re after the people who haven’t experienced that before.”

Panganiban said he hopes people who might not have access to the activity will rent a kayak from them and, if they like it, find their way to a local shop and stimulate the industry that way. They don’t want to make a profit, he said. They sell branded Yak Tribe apparel, but all that money goes right back into the community. If a chapter in Texas wants to do a beach cleanup, they’ll buy all the materials and send it out. They even helped pay for funeral costs of a member who recently died.

“It’s always been about giving back. Our motto is real people, real stories, real connections,” he said. “I can’t really have real stories and connections with somebody if my first encounter with you is me charging you for something.”

Offering free rentals, he said, also is how he’s avoided any zoning issues.

Anyone who wants to rent a kayak can go to yak-tribe.com and register for free. Upload a driver’s license copy and sign a liability waiver on site, then put down a $20 cleaning deposit that’s returned if the kayak comes back clean. If you can’t transport the kayak, they’ll even help get you to the water. Weedon Island Preserve, a popular local kayaking launch, is just up the road from their house.

Yak Tribe’s St. Pete Kayak Library is the pilot for a program the Panganibans hope will expand to 10 locations by 2022. Heath Panganiban said a second location should come to Houston this summer, with a third Pennsylvania location following in 2021. They also hope to add other options, like paddleboarding, in the future.

“It’s a very inclusive group,” Heath Panganiban said. “Anything you need to experience kayak fishing — life jackets, medical kits, lures, poles — we’ll hook it up.”

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