Two Novembers ago in Florida I had my first-ever stand-up paddleboarding experience and spaced out while the guides were giving a group of us instructions about what to do and what not to do on the water.
But everything on the Choctawhatchee Bay turned out fine that day because my guide was kind and his confidence was infectious enough that I almost knew what I was doing after only an hour. And once I returned to dry land, I had what has to be a water sport operator’s primary benchmark of success after giving someone an inaugural lesson: I had the itch to do it again.
I still haven’t yet, but I will.
Fast forward to Florida last November when Jason Greene and I, two of five travel writers on an Amelia Island-sponsored “mancation,” showed up at Walkers Landing for our kayaking lesson at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort and were greeted by a bone-chilling sight: Guides who were clearly *in the middle of* giving instructions to a group about what to do and what not to do on the water.
No, I thought, this can’t be happening again.
We had gotten the start time wrong, it seems. Jason, I would soon learn, owned a kayak and paddled often with his family, so he likely wasn’t stressing as much as I was about missing the tutorial.
What to Know Before Getting in Your Kayak
Fortunately, one of the instructors, probably because it’s required and not just because I looked wild-eyed, ran through all the instructions with us from the beginning. And I paid close enough attention to learn the following.
- Whilst in your kayak, hold your paddle with the front of blade facing you and don’t turn it on its side.
- Pull the water toward you to go forward and push water away from you to go back.
- To brake, put your paddle in the water and give the water a little push away on both sides and you’ll eventually come to a full stop.
- Keep your arms shoulder length.
- Grasp your paddle with your thumbs and index fingers in an “okay” grip and gently close your hands. Gripping your paddle too tight will lead to blisters. At one point Jason could tell from several yards away that I was white-knuckling my paddle and called to me to loosen up. This is something that veteran kayakers do for novice kayakers, evidently, so I wanted to be sure to pass that tip on.
- Don’t lean your body too far to one side or the other. That one made a lot of sense.
- Don’t stand in your kayak. That one made even more sense.
- Don’t end up in Walker’s Creek without a paddle. That one I just made up. And fortunately neither I nor the other eight or so kayakers (plus two guides) found ourselves in that situation.
What It Feels Like to Kayak
After taking in the instructions, signing a waiver, and putting on a life vest, I sat down in my single sit-on-top kayak that was gently launched into Walker’s Creek.
And I can’t believe I’m saying this, because there was a staggeringly strong possibility that given my past history with water sports the opposite would be true, but when it comes to kayaking, I’m a natural.
Jamie, one of our guides on the trip, said so in so many words, that it didn’t look like it was my first time kayaking. Now, I’m not so cynical as to think that she says that to all the guys, but even if she does, she was right.
Because we were in this creek, see, and there was no external force like waves or other kayakers bumping my boat (well, once) to throw me off, so if I stroked too hard to one side or was getting too close to the reeds or the dock or another kayak, all of which happened, I had plenty of time to correct it.
Perhaps what I found most gratifying about kayaking is that each stroke gives you the opportunity to see instantly what that stroke has effected, and if the effect is not what you want, you can instantly fix it. I don’t recall any other water sport — my times canoeing, row boating, even stand-up paddle boarding last year, when I felt this in control, felt that my brain was sending the right signals to my arms so that it looked like I had actual, you know, motor skills.
Kayaking requires you to work your upper body a little, especially if you have the desire to speed up and turn the excursion into a workout, but there was never a time during the hour or so on the creek where I felt like I was laboring. Without trying to throw shade about my being slender, Jamie suggested that men with broader shoulders or are top heavier sometimes have a harder time paddling. And should you need them, the kayak has foot pedals you can lean into, which will give you more oomph if you’re in a situation where paddling is difficult (Or if you want to give yourself more of a core workout you can lean into pedals, something Jamie said she’ll sometimes do if she’s kayaking on her own).
You likely won’t need the oomph during an Amelia Island Adventure Tour, though, unless, as the seasoned kayaker you’d need to be, you moved from Walker’s Creek to the choppier waters of the Florida Intercoastal or, if you leveled up from the intercoastal to the Atlantic Ocean, which Jamie said she had only done once, after which she said her arms felt like Jell-O from the effort it took to paddle.
The Perils of Overthinking
During my stand-up paddleboarding lesson, perhaps the best piece of advice my guide Curt gave me was to relax and look at the horizon, which naturally had a pleasurable benefit as well as a practical one.
I shared Curt’s tip with Jamie during our ride and she said she gives first-timers the same advice. If you overthink what you’re doing (the times I did during paddleboarding were the only times I almost stumbled) you can increase your possibility of losing control and tipping. Fortunately neither happened, but I noticed that when I stopped paddling or started fiddling with my phone, I felt my control and balance seeping away, and I suspect — given my vast knowledge of neuroscience — that the reason was that my brain had been sending these smooth paddling instructions to my body, and I got in my own way.
Coming in for a Landing
As our excursion around Walker’s Creek ended, that I was able to smoothly and slowly pilot my way around the dock to the landing ramp was yet a new kind of gratifying, as it involves a series of controlled movements that I knew I had the capacity to mess up, as that’s typically what happens when I’m trying to look cool.
Upon climbing out my kayak I realized that my lower back had been clenched and was tight, which a few stretches helped to unkink. Beyond that, as was the case with my paddleboarding adventure, once I returned to dry land I had the itch to kayak again.
And I still haven’t yet, but I will.
More Amelia Island Travel Information, From My Esteemed Colleagues
- July Antell: 8 Free Things To Do With Kids On Amelia Island.
- Jeff Bogle: From Amelia Island to Paris: The Fat Boy Who Would Become A Petanque Olympian
- Jason Greene: Mantripping with Friends on Amelia Island
- Michael Solender: Beaches, Boats & Boules – Amelia Island is a bro-some dude destination and Lessons From the Road: A year in the life of a travel writer