Paddling Lover's Key at Ft. Myers Beach

Learning without Henri at Lover’s Key, Ft. Myers Beach, FL

Believe it or not prior to February 2014, I’d only been paddling a couple of times.

Yes, I know it’s ridiculous that I was born and raised in Arkansas, lived in the Ozarks for 25 years, and not done more of it. Yes, I know I missed out on all those college float trips where everybody runs scattering and hiding behind trees while the slow ones get caught by the cops and issued MIPs. Truth is, I don’t like cheap beer. Or, the idea of explaining to my mother why I’m in jail.

So when I went to Ft. Myers to visit my friends who own a kayak company, it seemed the time was right. Second time alone in a self-propelled vessel and I’m on the ocean.

Did you know you can’t catch a dolphin?

I tried to catch it

I tried to catch it

My friends swore they didn’t know I could paddle that fast or hard (without complaining) and they wondered aloud what I might have accomplished if the dolphin had had a Corona.

Since I was just a newbie redhead alone in an ocean kayak, there would be a few more sessions before attempting to put Henri in the boat with me.

I’m going to suggest that the first time you try an ocean kayak that you NOT take a three-hour tour paddling into the wind unless you’re already an experienced and strong paddler.

It was totally worth it though- a very cool adventure that I highly recommend!


Henri’s Turn

After a few sessions on my own, I finally felt confident enough to try it with Henri. Choosing a particularly calm day, I convinced my friend Sandra, who is the better paddler, to help me.

By ‘help me,’ I mean go with me, put the tandem boat in the water, then paddle by herself around the bend over to Dog Beach at Lover’s Key, so I could first train Henri to load/unload, sit still, etc.

This is NOT a service Bonita Kayak Company normally offers.

This is what one friend does for another friend in order to prevent said friend from winding up in straight jackets and pharmaceuticals should she accidentally cause the drowning death of her own dog.

If you want your kayak at Dog Beach to practice, you’ll have to carry it from the drop-off point across the street to the beach yourself or find a friend who loves you.

Checking out the current

Checking out the current

I started by making sure Henri could swim in ocean waves.

Yes, he’s been in the lake. Yes, he had a life jacket. I wanted to make sure he (I mean me) wouldn’t be traumatized if he went overboard.

This is also the reason we did our first cruise in a tandem. If anything happened to Henri, my first priority was going to be my dog. Sandra could handle the boat.


Once Sandra arrived with the boat, we began our training.

'Load up!'

‘Load up!’

Fortunately, Henri has spent a good deal of time on the lake, and I had brought his ‘surf mat.’

What is a ‘surf mat‘, you ask?

Well, it’s nothing but a cheap bath mat I use on the boat as a place for Henri to park himself. He gets a better grip on the carpet than on the slick boat flooring and can stand steady.

Since Henri already understood the concept, this worked GREAT!


As soon as I put the mat in place and told him to “load up”, he knew what to do.

Getting situated

Getting situated

I got in the boat while still on land, and we rocked it a bit to make sure Henri wouldn’t bail.

There was a little confusion about which direction to face; he wanted to face me instead of forward.


A few treats and lots of praise had him re-oriented in no time!


I think Henri really liked it. Of course, he wasn’t doing any of the work.

Final Tips

Captain Henri says "ROW!"

Captain Henri says “ROW!”

If you want to teach or prepare your dog for canoeing or kayaking, I recommend starting on land. Make sure your dog isn’t afraid and will stay in the boat when it moves.

Having a ‘surf mat’ will help your dog feel stable-footed, and having a friend will help you. Don’t go too far from shore until everyone feels steady, but after that…