Sunday, the place to be for kayak paddling, kayak instruction, kayak building, and all things kayak-related was the Isles of Capri — at least until the storm blew in.
The Paradise Coast Paddlers Club hosted their 5th Annual Kayak Festival on Sunday, at the Capri Fish House restaurant on Isles of Capri. Actually, most of the action took place behind the restaurant, on the strip of white sand beach overlooking Johnson’s Bay.
People came from all over Florida for the event, said festival chairman Craig Martin.
“We’re building a reputation in the state,” he said.
Whitney Turner, head of the South Florida Kayaking Meetup in Fort Lauderdale, came across Alligator Alley for the event. “They put on a great show here, and I never miss eating at Capri Fish House,” he said.
Hundreds of nature enthusiasts gathered to try out new kayaks, take in instructional talks, paddle around the surrounding islands and mangrove tunnels, and commune with nature.
Nature showed a more ferocious side when a wall of clouds drove through around 1 p.m., complete with high winds, driving rain and lightning.
“We had about 30 minutes of real concern,” said Martin. “We had tour groups out all morning, but the last group got caught out in the storm. Everyone got back safely,” he said, thanks to capable experienced leaders on the tour, and timely assistance from a sheriff’s deputy who helped one paddler suffering from hypothermia, and a powerboat pickup of two kayakers.
Martin also thanked Capri Fish House, who provided free hot beverages for everyone chilled by the sudden rains.
Before the storm hit, the Kayak Festival was just another laid-back good time for the water-loving paddling enthusiasts who turn out for the Paradise Coast Paddlers Club’s parties. Altogether, 318 people showed up, said Martin.
Olivia Silvio and Lorrie Leblanc shared their enthusiasm for geo-caching, in which participants use GPS navigation devices to locate “caches,” hidden containers left by others. A cache hidden near the festival in a gumbo limbo tree contained items such as Mardi Gras beads and a mini flashlight. The finders are supposed to sign the log, take something from the cache, and leave a memento of their own.
Club co-founder Mike Devlin demonstrated how he assembles the ultra-light skin on frame kayaks he sells in kit form, picking up the boat with one hand to emphasize its weight of only 35 lbs. He actually assembled a kayak as the crowd watched, while his partner Don McCumber showed various paddling techniques.
John Silvio of Naples showed off an 18-foot wooden kayak he built from a kit, as well as additional wooden boats.
Specialists from the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve were on hand, talking about the importance of preserving the mangrove ecosystem.
Jay Rose demonstrated how to safely roll a kayak, and proved real men aren’t afraid to wear skirts, as he stood on the beach in kayaking gear including the skirt that keeps the boat from filling with water when turned over. He encouraged listeners to heft his kayak paddle of choice, a high-tech version of a traditional narrow-bladed Greenland paddle made of carbon fiber. The feather-light paddle sells for $390.
Terri Krass gave a presentation on kayak camping, and how to optimize the camping gear that will fit into the limited space inside a one-man kayak.
The club gets together regularly for day trips, play days and “kerplunk days,” where paddlers get the chance to learn how to get in and out of kayaks safely and gracefully. For more information on the club, go to paradisecoastpaddlers.com, or call Saltwater Sports at 262-6149.