Kayaks — Long Islanders love them. Easy to transport and effortlessly propelled, these lightweight vessels transport thousands of paddlers into the Island’s marshes and harbors.

Back in the 1980s, when kayaking was enjoying its initial surge of popularity, many local retail and rental shops offered regularly scheduled tours. A few still do, but most now offer more personal and tailored tours for small groups and families.

ECO-TOURS ESPECIALLY POPULAR

“You’d be amazed at how much you can learn on something so simple as a marsh tour,” says Kevin Rodgers, a high school science teacher and a naturalist who works as a tour guide at Empire Kayaks in Island Park. “Our wetlands are full of life, and people driving across Middle Bay speed by all the time without ever noticing. Most kayakers, for example, look up as they paddle in the hopes of seeing marsh birds, but they mostly miss all the turtles, stalking birds, baitfish and fiddler, blue or horseshoe crabs right under their feet.”

Rodgers enjoys pointing out all the creatures — turtles, stalking birds, fish and crabs — plus discussing how the marsh acts as a giant sponge that protects the mainland, the environmental changes underway, and conservation measures being put in place to help these areas thrive.

“I’ve been taking that tour for six years now,” says Doug Sheer, 68, of Long Beach, “and I learn something new every time out.”

SEE THE SIGHTS

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Another perk of a guided tour is easy access to the best launching sites minus parking issues, town restrictions and such, says Lars Svanberg, owner of Main Beach Surf and Sport in Wainscott, which organizes tours that offer views of East End mansions and marine life, and sometimes include extras like a clambake.

For simply getting away from it all, few kayak tours can match the solitude of Shelter Island’s Coecles Harbor. Shelter Island Kayak Tours schedules a daily tour — through Labor Day — at 10 a.m. but can accommodate groups at other times as well.

“It’s really beautiful and quiet here,” says owner Jay Damuck. “You’ll see plenty of osprey, hawks, egrets and sea turtles. Afterwards, you can spend some time at a local beach and then grab a bite to eat.”

At Stony Brook Harbor Kayak and Paddleboard Rentals, Nick Barbera’s favorite tour for group outings pushes up into West Meadow Creek on Stony Brook Harbor, where there’s plenty of wildlife, including birds, turtles, crabs and smaller sea creatures, plus the possibility of being surrounded by schools of bunker.

“It’s just really awesome when you paddle through the pods of big, silvery baitfish,” he says. “Sometimes there are thousands and thousands of them in this area.”