Explore mangroves that are teeming with wildlife.
Explore mangroves that are teeming with wildlife.

Shop Talk | Bringing Joy to Special Needs Paddlers

Interview by Rebecca Parsons, Photos courtesy of Seashore Eco Tours

Sarasota, Florida-based paddling outfitter Seashore Eco Tours offers a variety of SUP experiences in a range of breathtakingly scenic locations. The outfit will guide you through mangrove forests in the crystal-clear waters of the Gulf Coast for stunning views of dolphins, manatees, fish and seabirds. Seashore Eco Tours places a major emphasis on safety and offers private lessons specifically tailored to individuals with special needs. Here, owner Nicole Killian tells us about the shop's focus on eco-tours and the joys of working with special needs paddlers. –RP

Why did you decide to make eco tours a focus of your business?

I have an extreme love for the coastal environment of southwest Florida. I grew up playing on the beach, swimming with fish, catching crabs and watching shore birds—so many species rely on this environment for their survival. I love sharing my knowledge of the coastal ecosystem with clients. The information that they obtain from paddling with Seashore Eco Tours is more than just an average paddle around the bay—I want to make sure that every person has safety information and a wealth of knowledge about the local ecosystem.

Curious manatees want to join the tour.

What's your most popular tour?

The most popular guided eco tour in southwest Florida is the mangrove tunnels of South Lido Park. This tour features an up-close look at local manatees, dolphins, fish, birds and smaller marine life. The mangrove tunnels are located close to the opening of Big Sarasota Pass. The large amount of water flowing into Sarasota Bay from the Gulf of Mexico allows for crystal clear water to flow into the tunnels.

Paddlers getting up close and personal with a dolphin.

You offer personalized lessons for individuals with special needs. What is the most rewarding part of teaching participants to SUP?

The most rewarding part of teaching anyone how to standup paddle is watching someone fall in love with the sport. I look forward to seeing everyone's first smile on a paddleboard. It's not always easy and falling is inevitable at some point. I teach participants how to fall safely right away, so it does not become a discouraging or shocking experience. I focus on making the lessons fun and very safe for all participants.

What are some of the challenges of offering programs for special participants?

I have to take into consideration that all people are different and may have varying medical needs. For example, consider that some people may be deaf and are unable to wear their hearing aids on the water. Incorporating hand signals and other signs are key. Picking a location that has minimal underwater hazards and boating traffic is essential for my lessons. Ensuring that participants have basic foundational skills is the main focus for long-term safety.

Eco Tours encourage offers tours for everyone, no matter their abilities.

How do you think a person with special needs can benefit from standup paddling?

I believe that all people can benefit from standup paddling. It's a great low impact exercise that engages the core and builds strength throughout the body. The most amazing impacts I've seen as an instructor are athletes that have excelled at this sport above others. I've seen athletes with scoliosis stand up straight after just two years of regular paddleboard practice. I've watched as athletes with heart conditions slowly build up their cardio endurance and learn how to race. And I've witnessed parents watch in awe as their children standup paddle before being able to ride a bike.

For more info on Seashore Eco Tours, visit their website.

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