Kayaking 101

August 24, 2009 5:08:20 PM PDT
With school starting soon, it seems like all the fun is ending. But it doesn't have to. Consider kayaking, says Cynthia Gilbert, who operates Chicago Kayak and is the founder of the Chicago Kayak club. September and October weekends can be perfect for this water sport that's often overlooked. Kayaking can be a great family activity too, she adds. Cynthia operates Chicago Kayak, an outfitter and tour company here in Chicago for part of the year; and packs up and moves to Southwest Florida when the Midwest weather changes. She says most people kayak to stay active, experience wildlife, connect with nature or escape from busy daily lives. Like any sport, it can be done on a budget thru classes/rentals and clubs, or you can purchase your own equipment.

She says the Best Reason to Kayak in Chicago is that it is an easily accessible activity that can be done every day for by people with all abilities and budgets. The Best reasons to Kayak in Florida on the Great Calusa Blueway Water Trail is the chance to see sparkling water, white sandy beaches and amazing wildlife including dolphins, manatees, great blue herons, and white pelicans. The Calusa Blueway Water Trail is marked, and maps can be downloaded for free from their web site.

She says there are a few things you should know about kayaking.

What do you need to get started?

  • On a budget: Go on a tour, rent a kayak, or take a class ($40-100)
  • Medium expense: Purchase a recreational kayak for small lakes and slow moving rivers; $500-700 includes inexpensive paddle and PFD (personal Floatation Device ? i.e. lifejacket) You can also purchase a tandem kayak for slightly more money to accommodate two kayakers.
  • Looking for more: Purchase a touring sea kayak ($1400-$5000). They are long, narrow kayaks capable of long distance over open water, and are suitable for large lakes or oceans. These are your best choices for large bodies of water where wind and waves are present i.e.: Lake Michigan. Price includes touring PFD and Paddle, Paddle Float, bilge pump.

Best Advice before purchasing a recreational or sea kayak

  • Take a class and learn about the different types of kayaks, safety issues with kayaking, safety gear and techniques that will make your outings fun! Try a variety of kayaks before you purchase.
  • Once you purchase a kayak, then take a class again, in your own boat. If you purchase a kayak from Erehwon (www.erehwon.com/ - 3 stores in Illinois) they will give you a free class with Chicago Kayak.

Additional Considerations before purchasing a kayak

  • Where will you store your kayak- do you have a garage with adequate room?
  • How will you transport it- roof racks can be expensive, factor that into your total purchase price
  • Once you have purchased your equipment, you can kayak most places in the country for free this makes for economical travel into pristine wilderness that others can't access.

Cynthia's Chicago Kayak offers Sea Kayak Training and Expeditions in Chicago and southwest Florida. Classes offered for all abilities in both locations. Chicago locations are the Skokie Lagoons in Glencoe and on Lake Michigan as well as Devil's Lake State Park in Wisconsin. Chicago Kayak's Midwest and Florida trips focus on wilderness travel, wildlife viewing and photography tours in locations like the Great Calusa Blueway Water Trail in Florida and the Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge in Illinois. There are also trips to Alaska.

Chicago Kayak operates in the Ft. Myers/Lee County area from October to April each year and the balance in Chicago. The company is a Member of the Society for Ethical Ecotourism in SW Florida; Official Outfitter on the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail, and Member of the Illinois Paddling Council. They're planning an immersion weekend on Lake Michigan, August 28-30, classes in Intermediate Kayaking in September, and trips to Ft. Myers/Naples/Marco Island/10,000 Islands and Everglades NP November 2009 through March 2010.

Chicago Kayak Club www.chicagokayak.org
About 300 Chicago families belong to the club that does outings approximately 2-3 times per week in season. Annual Dues of $100 include the use of kayaks, and all related kayaking gear.

For more information:

Take a class: Chicago Kayak www.chicagokayak.org
Join the Club: The Chicago Kayak Club www.chicagokayak.org
Buy a Kayak: Chicago Kayak Center www.chicagokayak.orgKayak Rentals in Chicago: Chicago River Canoe and Kayak chicagoriverpaddle.com/
Kayak in Florida

  • The Great Calusa Blueway Water Trail: calusablueway.com
  • Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival www.calusabluewaypaddlingfestival.com/
  • Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau www.fortmyers-sanibel.com
  • Society of Ethical Ecotourism of SW FL www.seeswfla.org/

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