Sweetwater Kayaks is a full-service kayak shop in St. Petersburg, Florida. The first Saturday of most months they bring a bunch of kayaks to the beach on the St. Petersburg side of the Gandy Bridge causeway for people to try out. I've been meaning to check them out for at least a year. I'm getting more serious about buying a kayak now, and the weather was absolutely perfect for kayaking today--high in the upper 70's and no wind--so I decided that TODAY was the day.
I pulled together my usual BeachHunter gear--Tilley Hat, dark glasses, water, sunblock, various cameras, towel, sun-protective clothing, etc--and drove to the demo location. I wasn't the first one there. They had a nice setup and plenty of signage, so there were 4 or 5 kayaks already in the water.
They have many different kinds of kayaks, from plastic molded sit-on-tops to state-of-the-art sleek touring kayaks.
I signed a waiver and they gave me a paddle, a personal flotation device (life-jacket), and a brief orientation. Kayak testers are allowed to paddle a few hundred yards up the beach toward a marina and then turn around and come back to try a different boat.
I started with a short inexpensive boat, then moved up to a 12 footer, then a 14 footer. With each increase in kayak length the boats became easier to keep moving in a straight line and the larger boats moved much faster than the smaller ones.
I also climbed into one of the sleek-looking carbonlite "Eddyline" brand kayaks. It was harder to balance in, but was really fast. And it tended to keep moving even after I stopped paddling.
One of the things I noticed right away is that the most important part of the kayak is the seat! Some of them felt great. Others were really uncomfortable. I was happy to learn that I can have whatever seat I like installed in my kayak (when I buy one).
Sweetwater Kayaks offers all kinds of classes and kayak trips. In fact, after looking over their literature and their website, it looks like a person could make kayaking a full-time hobby and never run out of places to go and things to see by kayak.
My main interest isn't really to buy a kayak. I just need a way to reach some of the islands and beaches that don't have bridges from the mainland. If you don't have a boat, some of the islands are tough to explore. Plus I'd like to see the beaches and islands from another perspective. A kayak can take me places that my feet can't.
If you live in the Tampa Bay area and would like the chance to try various kinds of kayaks, check out Sweetwater Kayaks first Saturday demo. There is absolutely no pressure for you to buy anything. Just go and try as many kayaks as you please.
Sweetwater Kayaks website.