Why Take a Guided Kayaking Trip Instead of Renting

The United States is full of independent-minded people who want to do things themselves without help. The whole financial success of both The Home Depot and Lowe's is built on this "do-it-yourself' mantra — and don't forget that bookstores have an entire section devoted to "Self Help" books! Doing it yourself can be fun, or maybe you really want to take the 4-legged family member along, or you're trying to save a few bucks. We get it. It's why Woods & Waters has rentals of paddle boards, sit-on-top kayaks, and sea kayaks that can be rented for just a few hours or for multiple days (check out the blog post on rentals). But let's uncover the often overlooked advantages to taking a guided kayaking trip:

1. Have you ever been here before?

There are 36 islands in the Les Cheneaux archipelago. Yes, THIRTY SIX! Some are quite small, some bigger than you think, and Marquette Island is roughly three times larger than Mackinac Island (which is 8ish miles around). Some are close together and form narrow channels, and others are more than half a mile apart. There is both public and private property, and often it's hard to discern which is which. Did you start your idea on renting kayaks by looking on Google Maps and think you could paddle around all the islands in a 2-hour rental period? We talk to people regularly who have thoughts on doing exactly that because the scale is hard to grasp on a smartphone. 

Guides know the area. We know how to get back to where we started from (no Gilligan's Island even if there is a storm that day). We know where to take a break to stretch our legs. We know that the water is shallow up ahead or where motor boats like to go. We know how far things are apart, and in general, have a solid idea of how long most guests will take getting from Point A to Point B, or even efficiently getting back to Point A if needed. Our local knowledge is invaluable. And even if you are renting a boat from us, we will ask you lots of questions so that we can help design a suitable trip for you based on your skills, available time, and conditions.

2. Have you paddled much? On a Great Lake?

Michigan is full of small lakes and lots of people have had many opportunities to putz around on one of these 5–100 acre lakes on sultry and calm summer evenings being lulled into thinking they have lots of paddling experience. But when people get out of their vehicle at the launch area and look out over the water in awe, they stammer: "Wow. I din't know the water was this big." It's pretty likely that your previous paddling experience is not an apples-to-apples comparison to paddling on Lake Huron, even with our well-protected waters (more like comparing a watermelon to a cherry). See number one above — the Les Cheneaux area has shoreline that stretches for dozens of miles and bays that can measure more than a mile across. Woods and Waters has lots of experience helping guests have an amazing experience paddling because we are able to choose routes that match what we think you and your group can manage based on that day's conditions. And because we often know how the conditions may change in different parts of the islands, we can also adjust routes to keep you in the best paddling conditions we can find. 

3. Do you know how to paddle a kayak?

In our experience, most people think they know how to paddle. It seems pretty basic — sit in a boat, grab a paddle, and paddle. But what does "paddling" really mean? To about 90% of our tour guests, paddling means they pull themselves through the water and exhaust their arm muscles. This approach is why many people have tried kayaking once before and proclaim they "hate" kayaking forevermore. To counter old habits and misconceptions, we start every tour with a beach talk where we review the basics of paddling. Inevitably jaws drop and you can imagine the stunned expressions when we demonstrate the "right way" to paddle. So, if you want to truly learn how to paddle, come on a guided tour where you'll have several hours practicing and receiving feedback (if you want it). We love teaching.

And for the 10% of people who have already learned the forward stroke, do you know how to turn your kayak using a sweep stroke? Paddle in reverse? Edge the boat? Paddle forward and go straight? Understand how and when to use a skeg? This all Greek to you? Then a guided tour could be beneficial to expanding your knowledge base. We love teaching ;-)

4. Have you ever paddled a "real" sea kayak?

I love the analogy that a sea kayak is like paddling a butter knife through the water whereas recreational kayaks are akin to pushing a bathtub. Butterknives are long and slender, bathtubs are not. Touring sea kayaks, like a butterknife, are much narrower than the type of kayaks many people have paddled before on those small inland lakes while eating strawberries on a summer evening. The counterpoint to that narrowness is the additional length of sea kayaks when compared to "rec" boats (if you want to discuss the physics of water displacement, we can). Solo, single-person, sea kayaks generally start at about 14 feet and are often more than 17+ feet long. Longer and narrower boats translates to a faster more maneuverable boat and a less exhausting paddling experience compared to pushing a bathtub! Guided trips allow guests to take advantage of paddling top-quality sea kayaks and understand the appeal of these performance-designed boats. And although our fleet consists of performance-designed kayaks, it is worth noting that we consciously have selected models that are functional and approachable to novice paddlers of many shapes and sizes. We want to set you up for success. Guides want to introduce you to the joy of paddling sea kayaks — and it is a joy. The number of years several members of our staff have "under their lifejackets" confirms how much fun sea kayaking can be.

5. Sh!t Happens

Your loved one just asked if you have a granola bar they can eat. You paddle closer but start leaning to reach their outstretched arm and you discover what it means to "swim with the fishes." What are you going to do now? Guides know what to do now. And if you want to learn what to do now on your own, we also offer kayak lessons. We love teaching. And if you really have your heart set on renting, take a lesson on one day or morning and then go explore on your own knowing how to handle turds that come your way. You won't be an expert, but you'll be equipped with some foundational skills. And for those who do rent, this is why why tell you where to go and stay close to shore — things happen!

6. "Dad" Jokes

Guides know more than just dad jokes, like information about the War of 1812, Aldo Leopold, bald eagles, smart weed, wooden motor boats, cedar trees, warblers, pike, loons, freighters, places to eat, hidden trails, and other life experiences that we can share. Each guide is a unique and interesting human being — just like you! The Les Cheneaux area is rich in biodiversity and history, and if you like learning new things, guided tours are a wonderful way to understand and develop a better appreciation for an area more than just thinking it's "pretty." And you can find out what letter pirates love the most too.

7. You can have fun!

If you're reading this blog post, you're likely a Type A person who is the responsible planner for your group's summer activities. You've mapped out the road trip itinerary, read reviews on places to eat, and planned what clothes you'll need for the weather (our area doesn't suffer from the notorious UP black fly swarms by the way). Take the expectation to also be a kayak guide off your plate and let us take care of the paddling trip so you can relax and enjoy the experience! Hmmm, sounds like a great plan to me! And I practice what I preach — we've hired guides in Yellowstone, Yosemite, three different white water rafting trips, countless museum tours, and lessons for wheel throwing, croissant making, and a myriad other things. We've always found that engaging with "experts" always resulted in a more rewarding and memorable experience, and we believe going on a guided Woods & Waters kayaking tour will be the same experience for you too. And this way, someone can take your picture when asked. Say "cheese!"

All this being said, Woods & Waters looks forward to being your awesome, trusted, and unbiased partner during your guided — or unguided — human-powered outdoor adventure, but we really hope you'll choose to hear our dad jokes. Or at least let us be the goofball hamming it up in the back of the group photo.

Convinced to join a guided trip? Click the button!

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  • Harold Crowder
  • 21 Apr 2023
  • 12:33 pm

I remember fondly my trip with Woods & Waters to ISRO — full of once in a lifetime experiences and memories. Where’s your next adventure? You cannot go wrong with Woods & Waters leading the way!

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