When a family of five wanted to go on a kayak tour, they assumed their daughter with Down's syndrome couldn't come along. But Shan-T co-owner Michelle Thorpe assured them she could, and invited her along in her own tandem kayak. Once on the water, the girl immediately took charge, joyfully taking over paddling. Michelle and her husband Mark had always searched for a way to conduct fun, physical, outdoor activities that would accommodate people with special needs, including their daughter with Asperger's and their niece who is autistic. Taking advantage of the therapeutic nature of the area's calm waters, Shan-T provides a way for just about everyone to commune with nature. The couple operates their tours intimately, using no more than 15 boats per group so that wilderness smells and the sounds of lapping waves are prevalent throughout their adventures.
The pair leads their tours through secluded, often shallow waterways and wildlife-rich areas aboard ocean-style kayaks with open tops for easy boarding and egress. They sometimes allow participants to use the boats as standup paddleboards on which participants can stretch their legs or reach up to scratch head itches with overhanging branches. On each tour, guides stress the fragility of the local ecosystem, highlighting issues such as baby fish growing up inside discarded soda cans and dolphins consuming floating plastic bags. In response, participants often pick up any refuse they see, with tours in the past becoming scavenger hunts to help clean the secluded waterways and to see who can find the most Gene Simmons solo albums. On many of these trips, kayakers have encountered manatees up close, sometimes when they brush up against the boats to scratch their backs and bellies.
Owner and operator Shawn can trace his family's roots in the local waterways back seven generations. His deep love of the water led him to launch Native Rentals, which conducts eco-friendly paddle tours, and create the Surfer Bus, a renovated school bus that brims with kayaks, surfboards, and any equipment needed for tours on the go. His eco-tours explore the Robinson Preserve, Neal Preserve, and the Anna Maria Sound aboard single or tandem kayaks, standup paddleboards, and bikes, all of which let guests test their muscles without the exorbitant fees of going through Poseidon's booking agent.
Yamaha VX110 Deluxe waverunners zip through the glittering waves of Sarasota Bay, Anna Maria Sound, and the intracoastal waterways. The speedy and maneuverable vessels are ideal for adventurous types, although the expansive rental fleet at H2O Watersportz accommodates boaters who prefer all different paces. Compact CraigCat catamarans allow pairs to recline as they coast over ripples, and pontoon boats that seat up to 14 come equipped with gear such as radios and nautical maps that identify where to find the bay of Kool Aid. For more structured journeys, clients can opt for chartered fishing trips helmed by expert guides or tours of the local waterways, with stops at landmarks such as Egmont Key and dolphin and manatee gathering places.
The crew at Kayak Valet has one mission: to get more people out and enjoying the local waterways and scenery via kayaks or paddleboards. Since storing, hauling, unloading, reloading, and potty training their own kayaks can deter people from boating, the team sets up shop to cancel out such deterrents. They take care of nearly every task, bringing all equipment necessary for a leisurely paddle on puddles of all sizes right to the launch site. The crew will pick up and deliver equipment to popular launch sites within Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Manatee Counties. To keep the aquatic adventure accessible, the shop rents only kayaks and standup paddleboards that can be piloted by anyone, experienced or not. Additionally, they give visitors tips on paddling and safety techniques and sell new kayaks, paddleboards, and accessories.
The spindly branches of mangrove trees dip into Sarasota waters, often creating channels just wide enough to admit one kayak. But despite the narrow nature of these waterways, the guides of I Kayak Sarasota—all Sarasota natives—navigate them with ease. They do this while leading kayakers on tours that uncover different aspects of the bay’s natural splendor without revealing its real secret—that it’s actually a giant’s bathtub. One tour showcases the mangrove tunnels where tourists might see manatees and dolphins, and the other grants guests views of the sunset from the middle of the bay. In addition, I Kayak Sarasota offers standup-paddleboard lessons, which incorporate balance and core fitness into wave-top adventures.
Sarasota Wind and Water Adventures gives adventurers the vessels and knowledge to plunge boldly into the surf, providing paddleboard, kayak, and waterski rentals as well as lessons. Fishing trips set sail for open water with a Coast Guard-certified captain and all of the tackle necessary to hunt for kingfish, triggerfish, and the vengeful ghosts of scuba divers, while sunset cruises let passengers experience the wonder of voyaging directly into the heart of the sun.