When you go to buy a kayak — and you really should, if you want to enjoy the Gulf Coast — the first question is what kind to get.
Sit-in or sit-on?
A sit-in kayak has a cockpit. You slide your legs and butt inside the boat. This keeps you dry, more or less, as you you paddle along.
A sit-on kayak is a hollow shell. You just jump on top of the thing. As you paddle along, waves and spray will splash you.
In the heat of summer, a little splashing can be a good thing.
That’s why I recommend sit-on kayaks to everyone. We’re not Eskimos paddling through dangerously cold water. We’re Floridians trying to cool off and have a good time.
Free demo days
You should try out these kayaks for yourself, of course.
There are kayak rental places up and down the coast. Most outfitters offer free demo days, which might be the most fun shopping you’ll ever have.
You should try a bunch of kayaks, paddles and preservers. You should get a feel for things. You should capsize a few times on purpose.
To me, flipping a boat in the surf is the best part of Florida paddling.
If you’ve got a sit-in kayak, though, you have to bail out the boat, which can be a pain, and climb back in, which can be tricky.
If you’ve got a sit-on kayak, all you do is flip the boat over and jump back on. This can be a challenge, especially with waves carrying off your paddle, but most people get the hang of it.
The only worry for me is that my swimsuit tends to slide down and I end up mooning everybody on the beach.
But that’s their problem.
More like a toy
Serious paddlers tend to prefer sit-in kayaks because the performance is better for racing and touring. And there are cold winter days when it’s nice to bundle up and stay warm and dry for a brisk trip.
Fortunately, in Florida, warm days outnumber cold days each year by about 300 to 65.
In the last two decades, I’ve paddled all sorts of sit-on singles and tandem kayaks. Just last year, though, I bought a sit-in boat, too.
It’s better, in a lot of ways, but it’s just not as much fun.
One bonus is that you don’t have to worry about your legs getting sunburned on a long trip. On the other hand, it can get pretty hot inside that cockpit.
I’d rather have my legs bathed in saltwater than sweat. I’d rather enjoy getting wet than worry about staying dry. I’d rather have fun than go fast.
In the end, a sit-on kayak is less like a vessel and more like a toy. And that’s a good thing.