The 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin are often remembered for American Jesse Owens winning four gold medals, and for the international competition’s debut on television. With far less fanfare, kayaking premiered. It was called flat-water racing or canoeing, and it included 119 athletes from 19 countries—all men.
In 1948, the Olympics added its first women’s paddling event, the 500-meter singles kayak. White water racing premiered in 1972. Currently, 12 events are held in canoeing and kayaking for men and women, in single and four-person team events.
Recreational canoeing, kayaking and other paddle-sports are far removed from the Olympics. But whether it’s superior athletes in high-flowing rapids or newcomers on sightseeing tours, paddlesports, particularly kayaking, have surged in popularity, including in Southwest Florida. Numerous businesses in Collier and Lee counties offer kayaking lessons, as well as individual or group rental programs and guided tours.
“Kayaking is an excellent form of exercise, because not only does it work your body, but it also gets you outside breathing fresh air and soaking up Vitamin D,” says Michele Block of Naples Kayak Company.
Appreciation of nature and fun family outings are key kayaking goals. And it can also provide superior cardiovascular fitness. As a low-impact activity, kayaking improves upper body, back, arm, shoulder and chest muscle strength, in addition to increasing torso and leg strength. Joint and tissue stress are minimal compared to other exercise options.
“Anyone can start kayaking to improve their fitness level, just keep in mind the elements and start where you feel comfortable,” says Block. “Safety is a top priority; always [remember] your PFD (personal flotation device) with a whistle, and go with a group until you’re familiar with the area.”
Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Barefoot Beach Preserve and Clam Pass are popular kayaking locations. Adventure Paddle Tours, located in Naples in Rookery Bay and in the Thousand Islands area, offers many kayaking options, short, family-focused outings to private, customizable overnight excursions. Florida Master Naturalists and certified sea kayakers provide guidance. A guide leading a trip through protected estuaries and mangrove tunnels can help identify reclusive animals—including manatees, dolphins and seabirds—and describe the uniqueness of a surrounding mangrove forest. In Bonita Springs, Get Up and Go Kayaking offers several kayak tours, including a glow-in-the-dark night trek.
According to New York-based market research company NPD, sales of paddlesports equipment increased 56% from 2019 to 2020. While paddlesports equipment can be expensive and cumbersome to transport, remaining active while socially distancing is a new norm. A recent report by Outdoor Industry Foundation in Boulder, Colorado, concluded paddlesports’ increased popularity reflects exercise enthusiasts’ need for new options.
“When picking out a kayak, keep your intentions in mind,” says Block. “Would a sea kayak or recreational kayak be more beneficial? Naples has a great intercoastal area with calm waters.”
New kayakers and veteran practitioners should be mindful of the activities’ realities. Regulations, as well as simple common-sense principles, abound. Be considerate of other visitors. Camp only in designated areas. Dispose of waste properly. Leave what you find. Minimize campfire impacts. Prepare. Use the proper equipment. Respect wildlife.
AREA KAYAKING COMPANIES:
Adventure Paddle Tours
525 Newport Drive, Naples, 844.372.3353
Finseeker Guided Adventures
13535 Vanderbilt Drive, Naples, 239.682.3134
Get Up and Go Kayaking
Estero Blvd., Big Hickory Island, Bonita Springs, 941.270.3297, getupandgokayaking.com
Naples Kayak Company
2360 Shadowlawn Drive, Naples, 239.262.6149 napleskayakcompany.com