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.
Mark Toomey once helmed his own recruitment firm in Nottingham, England, on the outskirts of Sherwood Forest, but a disdain for damp winters led him to the sun-drenched beaches of Siesta Key. Since opening Robin Hood Rentals in 2009, Mark has persevered through what he calls "Florida's harshest winter in 30 years," during which temperatures teetered near the freezing mark. He equips visitors with rental land-based and aquatic craft that let them explore the area without having to saddle a horse or propose to a dolphin.
From its perch near the Jim Neville Marine Preserve, the company fits cyclists with a range of beach, mountain, and tandem bicycles; matches riders to a fleet of two-seat 49cc automatic scooters; and trains visitors to venture off on newer-model i2 LeanSteer Segways. They also let kayakers explore the local waterways from sunrise into the nighttime.
Since he was six, Nate Dunn has explored almost every form of water-bound sport, including surfing, kayaking, sailing, and even commercial fishing. Now his experiences allow Nate to share his knowledge of the water with locals, doling out rental paddleboards and kayaks. During his guided eco-tours, bobbing wanderers get views of mangroves, local wildlife, and disappointed surfers from the placid waters.
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.
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.
With backgrounds in marine science and conservation, Sea Life Kayak Adventures’ guides tailor their tours to highlight the Sarasota coastline's natural splendor. They limit their expeditions to no more than 10 kayakers at a time, allowing groups to glide quietly through bays and mangrove islands without disturbing nesting herons, ambling manatees, or staring contests between sea cucumbers. Additionally, their vast knowledge of the region’s best bird-watching islands and sea-life feeding grounds empowers guides to customize tours to suit each group’s wildlife-watching ambitions. Dedicated to giving back to the waters that support their passions and livelihoods, Sea Life Kayak Adventures' owners and guides are members and volunteers at organizations including the Wildlife Education & Rehabilitation Center Inc., Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, and the Save the Manatees Foundation.