A kayak adventure on Florida's Space Coast comes complete with wildlife and natural beauty.
By Katherine O'Neal
Water surrounds us and the woods literally cry out with the calls of birds. We are in the Space Coast, in the midst of some of the nation's best paddling and bird-watching country and cannot resist a kayaking venture.
Inexperienced kayakers, we choose to whet our paddles with Bill Kowalik of Adventure Kayak of Cocoa Beach. Bill has kayaked through the Thousand Islands of the Indian River Lagoon long enough to know the area's wildlife and unique vegetation. He distributes sunscreen and hats. Then he helps us and eight other kayak neophytes into single and tandem kayaks as a light fog lifts over the water.
While most sports are harder than they appear to be, kayaking proves to be much easier than it looks. No brute strength or huffing needed, just a sense of rhythm and grace. Some kayaking instructors say that it comes more naturally to women because they are typically proportioned with more weight on the lower half of their bodies. I come to agree (more on that later).
Paddling away from the dock, we pass seawalls and coastal homes. Bill points to a stream dribbling from a seawall where manatees often come for a cool shower. There are none there today, but as we scull across the open lagoon toward the maze of islands, two dolphins seem as interested in us as we are in them.
We discover the islands' mangrove hammocks are inhabited with colorful roseate spoonbills and great blue herons. An osprey soars overhead.
We learn about the varieties of mangroves and about how man and a most annoying insect helped create what's now a beautiful maze of wildlife. Originally dredged for mosquito control in the 1970s, now the marsh's only signs of man are a beached wooden boat and a runaway crab float.
To enter the maze of canals we pass through a narrow passageway that is so small we duck tree limbs. Bill tugs on our paddles to help us pass. Once inside, everyone gets sociable. I come to know the aunt who's paddling with her college-age niece; the retirees from Michigan; the family of four paddling in tandem kayaks. Two hours later when we return, we pose for group photos.
The following day we rent kayaks just outside Canaveral National Seashore and let curiosity be our guide.
With its massive sand dunes, Indian mounds and miles of undeveloped waterfront on both sides of this island, Canaveral National Seashore is a tribute to natural Florida and the Indians who once inhabited it. The park is divided, with access to the southern end through Titusville and northern access through New Smyrna Beach.
The scenic drive on A1A from Titusville to J.B.'s Fish Camp (the closest kayak rental) on the northern end of the park takes about 45 minutes. At the docks we board colorful sea kayaks, which are open unlike the kayaks we had used the day before. For a different kind of paddling adventure, they also offer paddleboards.
We paddle a half-mile to the Shipyard Island Canoe Trail, rated one of the "Top 10 Best Places to Paddle in America" by Outside Magazine. Near the islands we spot horseshoe crabs scurrying beneath the shallow waters and wading birds scouring for lunch along the shores. We see oystercatchers, roseate spoonbills, wood storks, cormorants and brown pelicans. One of the most noticeable things we don't see or hear is motorized boats. There are motorized boats around, but this shallow, no-wake zone keeps them from disturbing the natural atmosphere.
We bank on a sandy beach and take photos of an eagle flying overhead. There are no other humans in sight. It is as if we are discovering the new world.
Along the way back, I hear a loud splash from behind. I turn to see my husband standing waist deep in the water beside his green kayak. He says he just needed to cool off, but later admits that he turned suddenly and lost his balance, which just proves women are naturally better kayakers.
Writer's Note: There are numerous other places to kayak along the Space Coast, with one of the most famous being Pelican Island, the original national wildlife refuge, near Wabasso, which is farther south near the Sebastian Inlet. The Brevard Zoo even offers the unique experience of safari-type paddles through their Nyami River.
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