My first time: Kayaking at Shell Key with Campus Outdoor Recreation

Arriving on campus at 9 a.m. isn’t typically part of my ideal Saturday. However, if it means I’m going to get to spend a beautiful day out on the water at Ft. DeSoto checking out nature and searching for sand dollars, that’s a little different.

I first heard about the Outdoor Recreation program during my freshmen year, two years ago. I finally got around to checking it out last week, when I signed up for a kayaking trip to Shell Key. It was a day trip for all ability levels, so it seemed like the perfect trip to get a taste of the program.

The registration process was easy. I visited the Outdoor Recreation office in the basement of the Recreation Center, filled out a simple form and paid a deposit.

The staff was friendly and helpful. Instead of turning me away for signing-up late, they made a few phone calls and found that there was still space available for us.

The next step was the pre-trip meeting. Friday we met at the indoor pool and reviewed liability forms and a packing list. Then there was a tutorial on how to do a wet exit from the kayaks, in case they capsized on the trip. Honestly, the whole idea of being stuck under the water in my kayak was a little unnerving, but the wet exit process was really easy – and no one actually had to use it on the trip.

The next morning the group met on campus. After introductions, participants loaded into vans and headed down to Ft. DeSoto. The ride went by unexpectedly quickly with the aid of conversation.

Upon arrival, the group gathered the equipment we needed, including our personal flotation devices, splash skirt, paddles, a dry goods bag, a handheld bilge pump and the food supplies for lunch.

After the equipment was squared away, the groups launched and set out on the scenic route to Shell Key. Since the trip was for all ability levels, the pace was relaxed. As we got closer to Shell Key, the waves hitting the shore were audible. The trip lasted a little more than an hour.

The next two hours were allotted for free time at the preserve, where the group members could swim, eat lunch, sunbathe, walk along the beach to search for unique shells and sand dollars or just enjoy the surrounding nature.

The return trip was a shorter route, part of which included kayaking through mangroves. As the group paddled its way through, it was difficult to maneuver around the roots, but looking up at the umbrella of mangrove branches and seeing the cute crabs climb up the trunks of the tree, made it all worth it.

The end of the trip proved most difficult. As I paddled against the wind and current, land didn’t seem to get any closer – this made the final arrival seem that much more rewarding.

After packing everything up, everyone seemed exhausted. Although we started off the trip home by talking about other upcoming Outdoor Recreation trips, within 20 minutes half of the van was napping.

Overall, the experience was great. It inspired me to check out other upcoming trips, including another kayaking trip at the end of February that will include a campout and a spelunking trip in Kentucky at the end of March.

The Outdoor Recreation program offers trips ranging from easygoing lounge trips to hard-core backpacking trips. Trips include activities such as rock climbing, canoeing, skiing, surfing, whitewater rafting and mountain biking.

For more information call Brett Morgan, outdoor trip coordinator, at (813) 974-6381 or send an e-mail to