Kayaking feels a little bit like you’re playing a prank on the environment. The boat has a vulnerable appearance, being so small that you can easily pick it up in one arm. You’d think: how can this boat possibly be safe? But if you have the skills, kayaking is one of the most reliable, most straightforward boating techniques in the world. Even though it looks like you’re doing something dangerous, you’re actually in full control.
If you’re an adventurer who’s looking for some water fun, kayaking is an excellent choice because it puts you in extremely intimate contact with nature, since it requires a lot of interaction with your surroundings.
And the best part is that you can do it anywhere. Whether it’s in the ocean or a stream behind your house, it’s always just as fun.
Why Should You Go Kayaking?
Many other water sports allow you to have a good time on the water, but kayaking has some advantages that make it unique and special compared to other activities.
Kayaking provides great exercise, so if you’re looking for an outdoor routine that offers a high energy workout and doesn’t impact your joints and tissues, you should consider taking up kayaking. It helps you with your cardiovascular health and strengthens the muscles in your core, back, shoulder, and chest.
Another advantage is that you can kayak in any kind of water body. Many different environments are all equally suited to being explored in a kayak, from rivers and lakes to oceans. The equipment required for kayaking is portable and lightweight, which makes it even easier.
Kayaking is also a fun social activity since you can easily find yourself a group of friends who agree to paddle down a river rapid with you. You could make it a relaxing activity or a challenging one as well.
What Do You Need to Go Kayaking?
Of course, the first thing you need to go kayaking would be a kayak, but if you’re just starting, you will probably not buy one immediately. Whether you’re borrowing from someone or renting one out, you should understand what kind of kayak you need.
Types of Kayaks
Sit on Top Kayaks
People usually tend to be most familiar with these kinds of kayaks. They do not have an enclosed seat, and it is easier to enter and exit it compared to other types. They are also wider and provide more stability, which is a lot better suited to people who are just starting off or are still learning.
These are long and have small cockpits. They are narrow, and their longer length makes them a good option for when you want to take a more extended kayaking trip such as across lakes, etc. However, if you are just starting, you will probably not need this kind of kayak very soon.
These kayaks are better suited for calmer kayaking adventures since they are shorter and have slightly larger cockpit openings than touring kayaks. If you’re looking into just spending some time on the water, this may be the kind of kayak to go for.
Whitewater kayaking is a lot more complicated and challenging than just paddling across the still water of a lake. There are four kinds of whitewater kayaks: playboats, river runners, creek boats, and longboats. Since whitewater kayaking involves a moving body of water, each type of kayak has its advantages depending on where you use it.
Inflatable kayaks are similar to sit on top kayaks in that they are easy to carry around and operate. Usually, these are used for calm waters, but some inflatable whitewater kayaks are also available.
As the name suggests, these are smaller sized kayaks for younger kayakers.
Other Gear You Need for Kayaking
There are several other different kinds of kayaking gear you must have with you when you go kayaking because these are meant to keep you safe on the water. Don’t cut any corners when it comes to your safety gear.
You need a helmet to kayak because you will likely encounter many rocks and hard objects that could harm you, especially if you’re on rougher waters. Make sure always to keep a helmet on.
The paddle is as important as the kayak itself. When you’re considering paddles, you have to take the correct measurements of your torso and the width of the kayak you’ll be paddling with. Generally, paddles are about two meters long and have twin blades, but this depends on your height as well. Make sure to get professional advice before you get a paddle.
A Personal Floatation Device (PFD) is critical for when you’re indulging in any kind of water sport, not just kayaking. A PFD should be snug, i.e., it should fit well and not be too tight or too loose. PFDs should not be overlooked, even if you can swim well. Expert kayakers should also not head out without a PFD.
A bilge pump or a bailer is essential for circumstances where you need to bail water quickly out of your kayak if it managed to get in. If you don’t have this on hand, the water could pull you down, and the kayak could sink with you alongside.
A spraydeck is a stretchy material that can seal you into the boat to avoid mishaps. Unless you’re sitting for a sit-on or open cockpit kayak, a spray deck is essential. A spraydeck is also called a spray skirt.
Getting in and Out of a Kayak
Before you learn how actually to ride a kayak, you should know how to get in and out of one. This can be a little bit tricky, especially for new kayakers. There are two different ways you will likely have to get into a kayak – from land, or when it’s already in shallower or deeper waters.
Getting into your kayak from land is a much easier process, especially for those who are just starting off. Whether you’re getting in from a lakeside or a shoreline, the best way to do it is to bring the kayak as close to the shoreline as possible. Now, you can sit in the kayak and push yourself with your arms until you are floating on the surface. Then you can start using your paddles.
If you’re concerned about your hull scratching against the ground, you can move your kayak into a shallower area and climb there.
From a Dock
Most likely, when you’re getting into a kayak from a dock, the kayak would already be floating. This would involve more skill than getting into a kayak held still by the land. Lower your kayak from the dock onto the surface, making sure that it is parallel to the dock and placing your paddle on one end to keep it from changing positions. Lower your feet into the kayak first and position your body towards the front of the kayak as you lower yourself into the seat.
Getting out of a kayak is the reverse process of getting in. When you exit on a shore, paddle into shallow water or as near to the land as you can. Swing your legs out and gain your footing before you stand. When you’re exiting on a dock, turn to face the dock and pull yourself out.
How to Hold the Paddle
You should hold the paddle a little bit wider than shoulder-width, and make sure that it is the right way around. A common mistake kayaking beginners make is that they hold it the wrong way – the concave part of the blade should be facing you since this is what dips into the water. Although it may not seem like much of a difference to a beginner, it has a significant impact on the strokes.
Holding the shaft too tightly will exhaust you more quickly, so try to have a more relaxed grip, with your knuckles facing the sky, and one of the blades should slice the water vertically.
Once you’ve learned how to get in and out of a kayak, you should know about paddling techniques. While it is always best to learn kayaking with a trained instructor, it never hurts to know some of the basic techniques in advance.
Make sure you are sitting upright. Place the blade vertically in the water and pull it towards you. Dip the other side of the paddle in the water and pull. Keep repeating this until you move forward. When you’re just starting to learn, don’t worry about not moving in a straight line – it’s okay if you’re moving roughly straight as well.
Once you get the hang of it, start including some upper body rotation. Instead of using just your arms and shoulders, rotate your torso as well. Using your back muscles and upper body will make the process less tiring and conserve energy, as well as prevent you from getting too sore after your first kayaking experience.
Try to keep the entire blade in the water except for the shaft, and when practicing your forward stroke, think of putting your paddle blade in the water and moving past it instead of pulling it through, to make the action feel easier.
Reverse Forward Stroke
As the name suggests, this is just a backward paddle stroke and is helpful for controlling speed and stopping.
Turn your shoulders and chest towards the back and keep the blade in the same position as for paddling forward. Dip it in the water towards the end of the boat and push towards the front, and then switch to the other blade.
Make sure to check over your shoulder to see that you’re not crashing into something or someone.
Sweep strokes are the best way to make a kayak turn. The easiest way to change your course might seem like it’s just to paddle harder on the opposite side, but this takes up a lot of energy and is not very efficient for longer kayaking journeys.
Take your paddle blade and place it in the water as far as you can reach, and draw a big arc with the blade, starting from the top of the kayak to the stern. Rotate your torso while you do this, to make the boat turn quickly and efficiently. You can also do this backward, from the stern to the bow, for the other direction.
Sweep strokes can be done on either side and in both stationary and moving kayaks.
Draw stroke is the most efficient way to turn your kayak sideways. You would need to use this when you’re going up to another kayak, or if you’re dodging rocks on moving waters.
Stick the blade of your paddle in the water in the direction you want to move and turn your torso the same way. The paddle should be far out enough that both your hands are over the water. Pull to move your kayak towards the blade.
Kayaking Tips for Beginners
Now you know the basic techniques used in kayaking, but if you’re new to heading out into the water alone, you should keep a few tips in mind.
Pick a small water body like a lake or pond that is calm, and the opposite shoreline is visible. It is also better to pick a water body that does not have a lot of heavy powerboat traffic since this will limit the number of unnatural waves you will have to deal with.
When picking a shoreline for launching your kayak, opt for one which is visible on land. If you’re kayaking alone, or with a group of people who will not be entering the water with you, your kayak should be visible to the people on land in case you need any emergency help.
The first few trips should be short and safe. Adventures are fun, but safety is more important, so always minimize the risk you take until you’re ready to go a little further. Choose a bright and sunny day when you’re sure there won’t be any rain or high winds.
Estimating the amount of time you can kayak safely before you get tired. While doing so, keep your estimation conservative and realistic so that you don’t end up overdoing yourself by accident.
How to Right Yourself in a Kayak
There is often the risk of your kayak rolling over and putting you underwater. Staying centered and keeping your PFD on will help you in such a scenario. However, if you are not equipped with floatation devices and you tip over, don’t worry. Immediately grab the kayak and the life vest if it is attached to your boat.
If you tip in calm water, flip the kayak over by grabbing the cockpit from both sides and climb back in. If you cannot climb in, grab the kayak and swim back to the shore. If it tips in moving water, hold it with one arm and backstroke to the shore. Make sure to keep your body horizontal to the water surface and face upwards to be able to breathe.
Kayaking in Different Environments
Of course, there are different ways to kayak in different environments. Each environment will contain variables that will alter the way you approach the sport. For example, a moving river would naturally speed you up while in calm water, you will have to put in more energy to move fast.
However, no matter what water body you decide to kayak in, it is a good idea to plan out your trip beforehand, so that you are aware of shoreline areas and how to access them in emergencies, as well as which areas are challenging and which are not. For beginners, it is even more important to know where the calm waters end and where kayaking can get tricky, as well as which water bodies contain wildlife that could be potentially dangerous – such as alligators and sharks.
It is also a good idea to identify stops on your route where you can access shorelines and stores if you ever need anything. Keep a compass or map with you in case you end up off course. GPSs and electronics are helpful, they could become inoperable at times, and you’d be in trouble.
Essential Rules for Safe Kayaking
When going out kayaking, keep these rules in mind, particularly more so if you are a beginner:
- Always go out with someone, especially when you’re going on open waters.
- Always wear a helmet and life jacket
- Don’t ever go kayaking when you’re under the effects or aftereffects of drugs or alcohol
- Don’t overestimate yourself. Kayak in waters that you can navigate, and don’t lie about how well you can kayak to appear more skilled. Your life is more important!
- Don’t kayak in bad weather or water conditions. Always check the forecast before going out kayaking, and if it doesn’t look amicable, put your plans aside for another day.