by Jack Diablo
Summertime in Florida is all about staying cool. If you have to go outside, it had better be to get wet. I’m not really a beach person so when it came time to decide on a summer activity to learn more about I knew I had to find something that combined the water but avoided crowds. A WJCT commercial informed me of Kayak Amelia and I immediately knew I found the perfect activity. I called them up and weaseled my way into an early Saturday kayak and yoga trip to see what it was all about.
Motoring down Heckscher Drive causes a mix of feelings. Once past the zoo, you already feel the city fading away behind you yet unsightly reminders of its reach remain. As I drive by the BP plant, I find myself looking for a point of ingress to tag up those white oil tanks. Nevertheless, early birds line the bridges with lines cast hoping to reel in that big catch. Passing the ominous power plant, one can’t help but be reminded of the classic Simpsons episode with the three-eyed fish. But not much further and you’re deep enough into the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Reserve to feel at least a little more at ease.
Spotting the sign for Kingsley Plantation, I turn off of Heckscher onto a road that immediately takes me back to those childhood trips to Louisiana plantations with my mother. The Spanish moss that hangs from the canopy of dense trees is Old South all the way but the interspersed clusters of palmettos are pure Florida. Coming to a fork in the road I guess and go right. I wasn’t paying very close attention to the directions I was given but a passing truck loaded with kayaks lets me know I made the right choice. The Ribault Club is empty save for a car or two in the parking lot as I’m still a bit early, but after a short walk to the water’s edge I spot a group of kayaks and know I’m where I’m supposed to be.
A man in what has to be his early forties with an athletic physique greets me with a peace sign as I approach. This throws me for a loop as he bears a striking resemblance to a rather stern Marine Corps Colonel I worked for in Afghanistan. His name is Frank and he teaches yoga at M-Body Yoga. I also notice a woman meditating in the grass by the bank. She introduces herself as Rachel, our kayak guide, and suggests I follow a trail through the marsh while we wait for the others to arrive. I do so and marvel at the natural beauty of the area, so close to my own backyard.
Soon quite a crowd has gathered and after releases are signed and credit cards are processed, we are given a short tutorial on how to operate our kayaks before choosing our vessels and launching. Although brief and concise, I feel confident with the instruction I’ve received and find myself cruising down the Fort George Inlet, barely having to paddle thanks to the mild current. Some members of the group lag behind and Rachel attempts to shepherd her wayward flock. Like herding cats, I think to myself. She advises us to stay close to the bank.
A shallow sandbar makes the passage narrow and as motorboats and jet skis pass, I realize there is little difference between the waterway and the urban streets I’ve grown accustomed to. Jet Skis are like motorcycles of the sea, speedboats are sports cars and kayaks, well they are the bicycles of the sea (or river, whatever). This makes me smile with satisfaction as we are given the right-of-way, however reluctantly.
With the current carrying us along, it seems like a short paddle to the beach where we pull our kayaks onto the shore. The beach is empty save for an elderly couple watching their fishing poles from the shade and a family watching their children play in the water. We follow a short path to the Kingsley Plantation and gather in front of the main house for our yoga practice. It isn’t until I’m staring up my arm at the sun in extended angle pose that I realize I’ve never done yoga outside like this. It really is something new and different and quite pleasant except for the honking of passing motorboats. Bros with motors will always find a way to try and ruin the moment, but I am surprisingly calm at this point so I acknowledge their presence, choose not to react, and return to the practice. In corpse pose I bask in the warm Spring sun with only the fleeting thought that I probably should have put on more sunscreen.
After the yoga session we sit together in the shade as boxed lunches are passed out from Delicomb, a new deli at the beach. I was a little surprised (but perhaps I shouldn’t have been) to have a vegan option and even more surprised at how delicious it is. We paddle back (against the current this time) and before we finish for the day we receive a quick history lesson and I, for one, left more informed on the ecology of the area.
The yoga trip is not a part of Kayak Amelia’s normal routine although they do intend to host the event once a month in the future. They offer trips everywhere from St. Augustine to Cumberland, exploring a variety of locales and ecosystems. The folks at Kayak Amelia are committed to keeping things green from their use of recycled paper products all the way down to catering with organic foods. Ecology seems to be job one and fun is a close second. “I love to kayak because I can get to places that other boats can’t reach,” Rachel tells me. “It is also a very healthy way to explore not just for the participant, but also the environment. It is a great way to slow down in our high paced society.” Rachel intends to start a social circle of like-minded enthusiasts who simply enjoy getting outdoors starting with a fish fry complete with bluegrass band at the Kayak Amelia headquarters on June 12th.
Kayaking is a great way to get outdoors and do a little exploring and thanks to Kayak Amelia, it couldn’t be easier.
by Jack Diablo