What equipment do you need?

There are all kinds of kayaking products out there, and you don't need 98% of it.

Let's take a look at the few things you need before setting out. We're here to cover the essentials (no GPS devices, kayak stabalizers, etc), so let's take a look at what to get - kayaks, paddles, and other essentials. Keep in mind, for those who don't want to make the investment, everything discussed here can be rented from local retailers. Whether you're renting or buying, the links on the right should help you get started.

Without a kayak, you are swimming. There are several kinds, but the sea and recreational kayaks are recommended for this area.

Touring KayakSea/Touring - These kayaks are definitely an option for the central florida area. They are long and lean, and have plenty of storage space, which comes in handy if you plan to fish, camp or bring cameras. They are usually sit-ins, where the paddler is contained in the kayak from the waste down. They can be either single or double occupancy, and occasionally have rudders to help steer in open water (if you are kayaking in Gainesville and come across open water, you are in trouble). The advantages? They go a long way with each paddle (efficiency), they are very stable, they have ample storage and they look pretty darn nice slicing through the water. The downside? They are hard to maneuver and can be difficult to transport. If you are planning to use your 'yak in mangroves or canals, sea kayaks can be tricky. Want some specifics? Check out this example.

Recreational KayakRecreational - Recreational kayaks have the reputation as a beginner's 'yak, and to an extent, it's well deserved. Recreationals are great for beginners. They are wide and stable, with either one or two seats. They are comfortable, often sit-ons, and are much easier to maneuver than a sea kayak. However, they are also good for more experienced kayakers. They are a good combination of speed and agility, like a star running back. They aren't for those who are looking to paddle for several miles through choppy seas, or for those looking to brave a raging river, but for the weekend adventurer, they are great. Like sea kayaks, they have lots of storage space, and they can be outfitted with fishing rod holders and in-kayak bait buckets. They are great on lakes, calm rivers, springs and in bayous on the coast. If you are looking to begin kayaking in the greater Gainesville area, you'd be hard pressed to find anything more versatile than a quality recreational kayak. Hobie makes some really nice recreational kayaks, and as with most of their 'yaks, they are fully customizable. Here's a good one.

Whitewater KayakWhitewater - These suckers are wide, short and ultra-stable. They are durable and can handle being pounded against rocks. They rarely flip, and when they do, they are easy to right. They are easy to transport and are unbelievably maneuverable. If your apartment floods, you could kayak from the bathroom to the kitchen without issue. They are usually made out of highly durable materials, capable of smashing up against rocks without cracking or shattering. Some whitewater kayaks are designed for tricks - but that's a discussion for a different website entirely. The downside? If you want to get around in anything but a fast moving river, you have to paddle your arms off. We don't recommend these for this part of the country, but try them for yourselves and get an idea. If you insist (and have money to spend), take a look at this one.

Inflatable KayakInflatables - This isn't really a style of kayak, but it's worth discussing for a moment. Inflatables are popular, especially in urban areas where people don't have lots of storage space. They can be uninflated and kept in a trunk or a closet. They inflate quickly, usually with the help of a foot pump (don't worry, you won't have to blow them up beach-ball style). All but the cheapest ones have multiple air compartments. They are usually on the smaller side, and paddle similar to most recreational kayaks. However, they have one major problem - they pop. If you poke a hole in your inflatable, you are going for a swim. This presents additional problems. If you have anything on board, it's going down with the ship. Also, this is Florida, and if you are in a lake or river, you aren't the only big carnivore trolling the waters. If you're up for the risk, consider this one.

You can buy the nicest kayak in the world, but you aren't going anywhere without a paddle.

Paddles are defined by four primary characteristics - blade shape, shaft shape, length and material.

Blade shape - Most beginners start out with flat paddles. They are easy to use effectively and have a very quick learning curve. However, they aren't as efficient as other shapes (they don't move as much water as other shapes and can put a lot of strain on the shoulders and back). Paddles also come in a feathered shape, where the paddle heads are one quarter turn off from each other. While one head is in the water, the other cuts through the wind, instead of dragging against it. These paddles require a little more time to learn, and require the kayaker to rotate the paddle during every stroke, which can put serious strain on the wrists, if not done properly. Curved and winged blades are available, but are not recommended for beginners. They are very efficient when used properly, but are unneccessary for beginners and weekend paddlers.

Shaft shape - This is a simple choice. Shafts are either straight or bent. Straight shafts are far more common and inexpensive, but they put strain on the wrists. Bent shafts allow for the wrists to remain at a more comfortable angle, but the difference won't be noticeable to beginners. Stick with the straight shafts until you really know what you are doing.

Length - Long shafts make distance paddling easier and maneuverability harder. Short shafts are usually used for whitewater kayaking, where the river does most of the work and the kayaker needs to focus on steering. We'd recommend long shafts, especially those that come apart in the middle. Some mangrove trails are too narrow for long shafts (or even medium shafts), and being able to split the paddle is necessary.

Material - There are lots of materials out there, but we'll make it easy for you. Don't buy wood. They are too heavy. Don't buy expensive composites like carbon fiber. They are too pricey. Buy plastic - they won't last forever, but they don't need to. They usually come apart, they are easy to clean, they're cheap and if you lose one, it isn't the end of the world. When you are ready to take your kayaking to the next level, or if you get that long-awaited promotion, consider the expensive stuff - but we definitely don't recommend it for beginners.

You wear a seatbelt in the car, you should wear a life in the kayak

Personal Flotation DeviceLife vests - Nobody likes life vests (or PFDs, personal flotation devices). They are uncomfortable, hot and make for strange tan lines. However, they can really make life easier in a crisis. You should wear when one when you are out on the water, especially if you are new to the sport. There are all kinds out there, in all different styles and all different materials. We're not talking about those bright orange toilet seat necklaces that you wear on the cruise ship safety drills, but the lightweight, form-fitting vests that you wear on WaveRunners or Jet Skis. The only way to pick one is to go try them on. Remember this, though - if they are too loose, they will rub. Look for vests with big neck and arm holes that allow you more room to move.

Other stuff - Buy a good waterproof box or bag. You won't regret it. Take it with you everytime, and always keep a few things in it: a small flashlight, a whistle and a cheap compass. Never take them out, and you will always be prepared to get out of a sticky situation. On the day of your trip, throw an old cell phone in the bag and some form of ID. If you are going somewhere unfamiliar, bring a map. It doesn't need to go in the bag, but it's always a good idea to bring a ten foot length of rope with you, if you've got the space. It will come in handy more times than you realize, from securing the kayak to your vehicle, to tying it off to a tree to prevent yourself from washing down river while you are resting. And last but not least, bring drinking water, and lots of it.