Paddle your way into plenty of adventure, plenty of paradise

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Ultimate Kayak SRQ delivers an outstanding outing

By Ned Steele

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Mangrove tunnels. Hidden beaches. Secret lagoons.

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It’s your very own pirate adventure fantasy, tantalizingly close offshore, for the reasonable cost of a few paddle strokes and a modest dip into your wallet.

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Just step into the kayak waiting for you, almost any day of the year, down by Turtle Beach — one of them is run by Ultimate Kayak SRQ, which boasts of having the largest number of kayak operation permits on the Key.

Gliding offshore, it’s a smooth and easy entry to a secluded, tranquil world of mysteries hidden in plain view. With Ultimate Kayak it’s available two ways: a guided tour for newbies, or a go-it-alone rental for the confident.

The Birchler family of upstate New York, vacationing here on a recent day, fell into the latter category. Dad Corey stepped from his kayak after a two-hour, two-kayak family outing – wife Caitlyn and kids Jonathan, Tegan and Jackson in tow – smiling. “They gave us a map, we checked out the mangrove tunnels, we went for a swim and we collected shells,” he said. “The best part was all the birds and fish we saw. It was great.”

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Birchler should know great water fun. Back home, he owns a marina.

The Birchlers handed their paddles over to Dave Emerson, who would have led them on a guided tour had they not chosen to brave it alone. Emerson has been leading tours for Ultimate Kayak for nearly six years, four days a week. He knows all the best places. Fortunately for the go-it-aloners, he’s got those spots marked on a map he hands out with each rental,

“Going alone,” Emerson said, “is for the well-versed. Some folks want a guide – to not get lost. In my opinion it’s not easy to get lost out there, but some people think it is.”

Guided or solo, the idea is to stick reasonably close to home base, where there’s plenty enough to see. “It’s an easy paddle,” Emerson explained. “No current, not a lot of interaction with boats.”

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What there are, though, are manatees, occasionally a dolphin, and all manner of aquatic life and marine birds.

Everybody gets a chance to see those. But those who sign up to paddle along with Emerson on the tour get all his stories as well – the history, the secrets, the descriptions of the wildlife they’re seeing, and his tips for where to go next.

Ultimate Kayak has been on Turtle Beach for more than five years, ever since manager Vince Lombardi came up with the idea. It was the first business he ever launched.

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“Kayaking is a great business concept,” he said.

Looking for a location, he and his partner alighted on Siesta Key: “I saw the market there, and how it’s been evolving,” Lombardi said.

Business focus aside, as a kayaking enthusiast himself he saw that it would be a natural draw: “That area is amazing. It’s amazing – the birds you see, the manatees you can see all the time,” he said.

Turns out Lombardi made a good business decision. From its humble beginnings, when he did everything himself, the company has grown. There are now four tour guides, including Emerson, and about 30 kayaks. These days, Lombardi mostly keeps to the office, running the business end of things. He also owns and operates five marketing companies, leaving him less time to paddle the waters than he once had.

The company can run up to three two-hour tours a day, for groups from four to 20. Rentals (there are also paddle boards) range from two hours to all day.

Tour hours can be flexible, depending on the customer’s preferences. The exact route varies, depending on what’s out there and what the customers are up for. There are single kayaks and double kayaks, so there’s always a configuration available for any skill level and combination of paddlers.

“We see everyone from kids to 80-year-olds,” Lombardi said. “Kayaking is for everybody, and anyone can do it.”

To learn more about details and pricing, visit ultimatekayaksrq.com or call (941) 720-8807.

Ned Steele
Author: Ned Steele

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