Getting Started With Kayaking
Kayaking For Beginners – All You Need To Know To Get Started
Picture a kayak elegantly cutting through the water on a calm morning or evening, a slight chill in the air or the summer sun smiling down on you, incredible scenery around you, and your mind relaxing and taking a break from the stressful and chaotic world we live in. Perhaps, you’ll try your luck at fishing and see how many hauls you get.
Or are you an action junkie that prefers rapids or fast currents, maneuvering your way through the force of nature, adrenaline circulating in your body, excitement building up, intoxicated with the feeling of freedom, and becoming one with nature.
If all these appeal to you, then it’s time you joined the kayaking family. Kayaking is a wonderful sport that can do wonders for your body and mind. I know you are eager to get on the water but slow down a bit, champ. There are some things you need to know before you start ruling the waters. Baby steps, remember.
This article is a comprehensive guide to introduce beginners to kayaking. You’ll learn the most important things about kayaking from the different kinds of kayaks, essential kayaking gear, how to launch your kayaks, paddling techniques, kayaking locations, and more. The aim is to prepare you for your first and subsequent kayaking trips and ensure you have enjoyable and memorable experiences every time you get on the water. So let’s get started.
Essential Kayaking Gear
The first thing you need for kayaking is a kayak. There are a lot of quality kayaks for beginners available on the market and you’ll find one within your budget. If you are unable to buy a kayak right away, you can borrow it from a friend. Your pal can show you the ropes if he’s experienced but you’ll have to eventually but your own vessel.
Another option is to rent a kayak. This is convenient as the kayaks are already close to water bodies and are also affordable. However, if you start to paddle frequently, costs may significantly go up and you should look into buying your yak.
You can sign up for a kayaking class to get a better grip of the sports. Kayaking tours are also a great way to be introduced to the sport.
Below are essential items you should have when kayaking:
Safety is the most important thing during kayaking, followed by fun. You’ll need:
- Coastguard-approved PFD (Personal Flotation Device) that fits properly.
- It’s important you pack a first aid kit. Any medication you need to take should also be included in the kit if using the medicine while paddling won’t affect you.
- You can also pack sunscreen to protect against sunburns.
- Signaling whistle in emergencies.
- Kayak lights if you intend to paddle in low-light situations.
We have a comprehensive article on what to wear kayaking. Your clothing will depend on the weather and temperature of the water. Clothing for a warm-weather, warm-water outing:
- Swimwear or shorts (non cotton and non binding).
- Rashguard top (could be short-or long-sleeve and any non cotton top will work).
- Neoprene footwear.
- Hat to shield the sun.
- Lightweight fleece jacket or vest (weather-dependent).
- Spray jacket or rain jacket and pants (weather-dependent)
Paddling in cold conditions will require a wet suit. For more information, refer to the link to what to wear kayaking.
With these important accessories ticked, you should also bring the following:
- Plenty of water. You should start hydrated.
- Snacks for energy. If you’ll be paddling for a long time, you should pack a proper lunch.
- Keep track of time by having a watch.
- Dry bags to keep items you want to keep protected from water.
Types of Kayaks
Sit-on-top kayaks (SOTs): A type of kayak that doesn’t gave an enclosed seat. SOTs are wider, very stable, and are generally recommended for beginners. It’s easy to enter and exit a SOT and is ideal for use in warm weather.
Sit-inside kayaks: This is what comes to the mind of most people when a kayak is mentioned. They have an enclosed seat and you ‘sit inside’ the kayak. Can be used for both warm and cold weather paddling.
Recreational kayaks: Are sit-in and sit-on-top kayaks that are affordable, stable, and easy to maneuver. Recreational kayaks are suitable for calm waters and short kayaking trips. And they have just enough storage space for a few essentials.
Touring kayaks: Are designed for longer kayaking expeditions (weekend kayaking and multi-day kayaking trips). As a result, they are longer, narrower, and faster. They also have larger storage space as longer kayaking trips mean more gear/supplies.
Whitewater kayaks: Refers to kayaks that are suited for paddling on rough waters. This type of kayak is easier to maneuver.
Inflatable kayaks: This type of kayak can be inflated and deflated. When deflated, they are about the size of a small backpack and are easy to store and transport.
Tandem kayaks: Tandem kayaks are designed to accommodate two people. They are great for kayaking with a friend, partner, or family member. You can also take kids along on tandem kayaks and they provide a social kayaking experience.
Fishing kayaks: Fishing kayak are kayaks (especially the sit-on-top kayaks) that are tailored for fishing. They usually come with rod holders, are very stable, and allow the kayaker to move freely.
Pedal kayaks: They use a pedal-driven system to propel the kayak instead of a paddle. They offer increased speed and a hands-free kayaking experience.
Kids kayaks: They are mostly smaller SOTs specifically designed for children and youths.
How To Launch and Get Into Your Kayak
Launching and getting into a kayak can be tricky for beginners. However, it’s just like any other skill and you’ll be entering launching, and entering your vessel with finesse after some time.
From the shoreline
It’s easy to launch your vessel from the shore. The first thing is to move your kayak close to the shoreline as possible. Make sure your kayak is in shallow water to prevent scratching the hull against the hull. Then sit in the vessel and use your arms to push/propel yourself into the water until you are floating on the surface. Straddle the kayak over the seat and sit down quickly, putting your feet in last
From the dock
It’s convenient to launch your kayak from docks although you’ll need some time to be able to pull it off smoothly. Here are steps to launch your kayak from deep waters:
- Lower your kayak from the dock onto the surface of the water while making sure that the kayak is positioned parallel to the dock.
- Your paddle should be within the reach of your seat. An end of the paddle can be placed on the end of the yak and the dock to prevent the vessel from shifting positions.
- You’ll have to on the lowest point on the deck to conveniently enter the kayak. This is because the higher you are, the more difficult it will be for you to enter the vessel. Lower your feet first into the kayak as you sit on the edge of the dock.
- The next step is to quickly position your body toward the front of the kayak and lower yourself into the seat. As a beginner, you could consider using a kayak launching system as it will make your launching and reducing a lot easier.
From deep water
Launching a kayak from deep water is perhaps the most difficult method of launching and entering a kayak. However, you can master this with patience. The most important thing to do when using this method is to ensure your yak is stable between each movement you make. Here’s how you can do it:
- Put one hand on the side of the kayak closest to you and put the other hand on the opposite side of the vessel in such a way that your arm will be extended across the seat opening.
- The best step is to pull yourself onto your kayak in such a way that your belly button is over the seat. If you do this properly, your leg will be in the water (about halfway).
- Twist around to get your bottom in the seat. Most of your body should be in the kayak but your leg will still be dangling in the water.
- Ensure that the vessel is stable and then pull your feet it. After that, put your feet in front of you.
Kayak Paddling Techniques
After practicing how to enter and exit your kayak, the next thing to learn is the various paddling techniques. The first thing to do is to pick out the right paddle for your kayak. You can check our article on the best kayak paddles.
The next thing is to learn how to properly handle your paddle. Place your hands slightly apart on the shaft. Then put the paddle vertically into the water while maintaining a relaxed grip on the shaft. Your knuckles should be pointed forward if you do this properly and doing this will make your paddling more efficient.
The blades of your paddle should be in line with each other. If the blades of your paddle are offset from each other, then you have a “feathered” paddle. It’s advisable you align the blades by using the push button or twist setting in the center of the shaft. This is because feathered blades are trickier to use by beginners even though they cut through the wind efficiently.
Basic Paddling Strokes
The Forward Stroke
You’ll be using the forward stoke most of the time as it’s the technique that will propel your kayak forward. Therefore, it’s important to develop a good forward stroke technique.
To paddle your kayak forward, engage your core and wind your torso to lean forward while fully immersing your paddle into the water near your feet. The next step is to pull back to your seat with the blade. Then remove the blade from the water. Alternate paddling on both sides to propel your kayak, else you’ll just be paddling in a circle.
Engage your core & twist your torso to lean forward and put the paddle blade fully into the water near your feet. Then pull back to your seat with the blade and remove it from the water. Just remember, long strokes from your feet to your seat is the way to go. Don’t forget to paddle on both sides or you’ll just paddle yourself in a circle!
The Reverse Stroke
This technique can be used to stop your kayak and also move you backward. It’s the exact opposite of the forward stroke described above. Just put your blade in the water near your hip and push the blade with your lower hand. Then you slice the blade out of the water as it nears your feet.
The Sweep Stroke
You’ll need the sweep stroke to turn your kayak. If you try forward stroke on only one side of your vessel, the kayak slowly goes or turns in the other direction. You can see the sweep stroke as an exaggeration of this effect.
So a sweep stroke is the same as a forward stroke except for two key differences. The first is that you alter the path of the blade to carve a much wider arc and the second is that you perform this action on the same side of the vessel.
To turn left, you perform sweep strokes on the right side of your kayak and vice versa.
REI also explains all this well with images if it can help you.
Using Rudders and Skegs
Rudders are usually mounted on the back of kayaks and can be operated from the cockpit either by your feet or hand. You can also move rudders from side to side and even up or down. And this offers the advantage of deploying rudders only when they are needed.
Skegs, on the other hand, are fixed direction fins you attach under your vessel. The main function of a skeg is to aid your kayak with tracking (traveling straight), especially on windy days. You can learn more about skegs by reading our article on adding a skeg to a kayak.
It’s common to see beginners using rudders and skegs incorrectly. As a beginner paddler, you shouldn’t worry yourself about these accessories yet and should instead focus on improving your technique first.
Skegs and rudders are beneficial on windy days and I don’t expect beginners to be on the water in these conditions.
Where To Go Kayaking And For How Long?
As a beginner paddler, it’s important to take your first trip on calm water like lakes, calm rivers, or bay conditions. River rapids and oceans should be reserved for when you are more experienced in the sport.
You shouldn’t spend more than three hours (less is better) on your first kayaking expedition. You’d have gotten a feel of the sport within three hours and won’t have overworked yourself yet.
You can paddle anywhere in the world as long as there is a large enough body of water. Kayaks are also easy to transport whether you own a car (hard shell kayaks) or not (inflatable kayaks) and this means you can paddle at different locations in your area or country.
What Weather Conditions To Avoid When Kayaking?
The best weather condition for kayaking, especially for a beginner is when the weather is warm and dry. But weather conditions can change when you are on the water so it’s important you check forecasts before taking a kayak trip. If the weather is expected to change later, you should consider rescheduling your trip.
As a beginner, you should avoid windy weather (makes it difficult to maneuver, you could be blown off course), rain, and fog (reduces visibility).
The first safety precaution is to bring all the essential gear I discussed at the beginning of this article. If you are on a tour, the guide will inform you of the do’s and don’ts. However, if you are on a non-guided tour, be sure to follow the precautions below:
- Bring a paddling buddy: You shouldn’t be on the water alone on your first time kayaking. Take an experienced friend along to assist you.
- Stay close to your buddy. Togetherness is the keyword when paddling with a friend for the first time. Make site you are within the line of sight or earshot of your BFF.
- Stay close to shore: Unless you’ve had rescue training, it’s important you don’t stray farther from shore than you’re easily able to swim.
- Research about potential hazards in your kayaking location. While the internet is a wonderful source of information, you should also consider having a chat with a local paddler about spots to avoid like a low-head dam.
- Check your PFD and ensure it fits well. If you have to remove your PFD for any reason, paddle to shore first. You should never remove your PFD on the water.
- Don’t use spray skirts until you’ve practiced how to properly remove it and do a wet exit.
- Always have a whistle with you. In case of emergency, you’ll need three long blasts to signal nearby paddlers.