"The best way to predict your future is to create it." Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln High School Statesman

"The best way to predict your future is to create it." Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln High School Statesman

"The best way to predict your future is to create it." Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln High School Statesman

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10 kayaking tips to avoid being stranded in the Gulf of Mexico

The only aesthetic picture taken on this trip, although in reality we were lost, as seen by the never-ending horizon. (Picture used with permission by Audrey Barbush)

“Just relax, everything will be okay,” said the kayak owner. “Whatever happens will be memorable, you know.” These were the last words my family and I heard before our bright orange and green rented kayaks were pushed into the tide, hours before a series of unfortunate events led to us being stranded in the Gulf of Mexico. 

While researching activities to do while our family vacationed in South Florida, my mom came across a beautiful kayaking trail around Caladesi Island. Having already kayaked one or two times before in South Dakota’s tame lakes, my mom, my two sisters and I thought this would be an easy and fun activity for us. However, what was supposed to be a calm, beautiful and short kayak trip turned into hours of desertion in the middle of the ocean, painful first-degree burns, encounters with scorpions and many, many tears. 

If anyone is a beginner (or a beginner convincing themself that they are not one) and is preparing for a kayaking trip, here are 10 tips on how to not end up lost and hopeless like me and my family. 


1. Make sure your kayaks are rented from a credible source.

After about a 45-minute search, we finally came across a pile of kayaks ready for rental, but the person we were supposed to rent them from was nowhere to be found. Then came a middle-aged Slovakian man with the most confidence I think a middle-aged man wearing a safari hat could ever have.

The “handsome man with the accent” giving us directions – even though he only worked at the concession stand. (Picture used with permission by Lexi Barbush)

He explained to us everything that we would possibly need to know about this “once in a lifetime” kayak trail: First take the ferry to Caladesi Island where the trail starts, or, if you’re looking to save some money, kayak there yourselves. Then you’ll find the main docks where a Puerto Rican man works. Tell this man that the “handsome guy with the accent” sent you there and he’ll let you go on the trail for free. It sounded like a good deal to us!

He gave us a whole verbal handbook on kayaking this trail that one would’ve thought he casually took this route every day to work. We were surely in safe hands and well prepared with the loads of information he gave us.

Turns out, this “handsome guy with the accent” just worked at the nearby concession stand. The actual kayak rental guy had taken the day off. 


2. Do not try to wear a cute outfit for the cute kayaking pictures you want to take.

Picking out my outfit for the day, I tried to imagine the Instagram-worthy pics I was going to take while in the kayak. I settled on a Hawaiian tank top and a pair of white athletic shorts. A beachy, tropical fit with low coverage to get a nice tan.

Our family boarding the kayaks to set off on an adventure that was certainly “memorable.” (Picture used with permission by Lauren Barbush)

Instead of looking tropical and summery, I ended up looking quite festive with the bright red of my sunburnt shoulders and legs contrasting my white outfit, uncannily resembling the cheap mini candy canes handed out around Christmas time. 

Side note: those white shorts were thrown out immediately. Turns out Tide does not clean mysterious brown and green stains from the ocean water.





3. Reapply a minimum of 100 SPF sunscreen every 30 minutes to every inch of your body, including the parts that “will be fine” without it.

This could probably be inferred from the previous tip, but in case it still hasn’t clicked: sunburns are likely to appear after cooking for eight hours under a sun radiating a UV of 11. Therefore, when applying sunscreen, do not assume that just because that part of the body has never before been sunburnt, it can just be skipped. There were parts of my body that I didn’t even know could get sunburnt, including my toes. Taking the extra 30 seconds to apply sunscreen to every inch is worth it when you don’t have to wince with every little movement of your burnt skin.

Take the risk of sunburns seriously, even if you think it’ll turn into a nice tan. The tan I had hoped my sunburn would develop into lasted about a week while the traumatizing memories of my burning flesh will stay with me forever.

My mom’s horrific cankles after all the fluid from her sunburnt legs drained to her ankles. (Kate Barbush)


4. Do not rely on a poorly printed paper map for directions.

The “handsome guy with the accent” gave us clear directions to the trail on Caladesi Island: we’d kayak just around the tip of the island and to the right until we saw the docks. Just in case we somehow got lost, though, we were given a paper map of the island that looked like a treasure map drawn by a five-year-old playing pirate. My mom stuffed it into her pocket thinking that it would never need to be taken out.

Pushing our way through the never-ending water with a makeshift towel-hat contraption to cover my burning back. (Kate Barbush)

Well, after about three hours of “continuing to the right” and not seeing any visible signs of life, we finally pulled out the crinkled-up paper map. Our first problem was not knowing what direction the map was in. Our second problem was that I dropped it into the water.

Just like that, the paper map dissolved in front of our eyes, along with our hopes of ever returning home. 


5. If you think you are there, you are not. Keep going.

While “continuing to the right” like our kayak guide had told us to do, we were often deceived by the diverse landscapes that looked like they could harbor at least a few life forms. While our guide explained how to get to the trail, he failed to explain what it even looked like. Many hours were wasted pulling into these areas to investigate any signs of life.  We eventually learned that the docks by the kayak trail were in fact not hiding behind a forest of inhabitable mangroves.


6. That is not a nice shallow beach, that is quicksand.

My mom searching for any signs of life in a random cove – also the last place her left Birkenstock was seen alive. (Kate Barbush)

Not only was that lifeless beach not where we were supposed to be, but it was also the exact place to avoid. Stuck in the sand of the shallow waters, my mom climbed out of our kayak to push it out. She realized quickly, though, that the sand was quickly swallowing her feet. Let’s just say we hope some octopus out there is enjoying its new Birkenstock on one of its eight tentacles.









7. Motivate your crew by making up a sea shanty.

Continuously rowing for hours in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico is no joke. It takes a team of inexperienced kayakers boundless motivation to keep pushing through the many, many setbacks while not even knowing where they’re going or if they’ll survive. While my sisters may not approve of this message, creating a sea shanty does make the time somehow go by quicker. If inspiration is needed, refer to my own sea shanty:


8. Do not let your borderline-deaf mother steer your kayak into a scorpion-infested tree branch.

My mom and I struggling to row under the mangroves – moments before we crashed into the scorpion-infested branch. (Picture used with permission by Lauren Barbush)


Floating along under a tight tunnel of mangroves, my and my mom’s kayak suddenly came across a tree branch blocking our way. Being the back person (the second seat) of the kayak, my mom was supposed to be steering with her oar while I kept rowing. As we got closer to the branch though, I suddenly stopped rowing as I realized that scorpions were crawling up and down the branch and that I was heading straight towards them. I quickly yelled at my mom to stop and to turn around, yet somehow our kayak still ended up crashing right into the scorpions’ home.

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9. Avoid the waves of passing ferries that will overboard your kayak.

After giving up on the trail and attempting our way back to land, we finally caught sight of human life: the passing ferries we skipped out on to save some money. Like an Olympic sprinter in a track race against an elderly man in a walker, the ferries kept lapping us while their passengers pointed and laughed. The force of this mockery was nothing compared to the brutal force of the ferries’ waves as they sped by. Whatever belongings in the kayak that were somehow still dry at that point stood no chance against these tsunami waves.


10. Just take the ferry.


My sister and I eight hours later looking like how I imagined the kids in “Lord of the Flies” did after months of desertion on an island. (Kate Barbush)


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About the Contributor
Kate Barbush, Staff Writer
Kate Barbush is a senior and a first-year staff writer for the Statesman. Barbush is also a part of the LHS girls basketball team and is involved in the school’s many National Honors Societies as secretary of Science NHS. Outside of school, you can find Barbush going out with her friends, playing with her dog Annie, crushing her cousins in basketball, volunteering at the humane society, spending too much of her paycheck on new clothes and accidentally taking too many naps. After high school, Barbush plans on studying atmospheric science to eventually become a meteorologist. You might see her giving the weather forecast on your TV someday!
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  • RachelOct 14, 2023 at 5:23 pm

    This was a great article! Made me laugh and want to keep reading!

  • LaurenOct 6, 2023 at 10:36 am

    A harrowing story – thank you for your bravery and your useful tips

  • LOct 5, 2023 at 8:10 pm

    This is so comical and kept me engaged.

  • LexiOct 5, 2023 at 7:27 pm