Kayaking for beginners doesn’t have to be scary or challenging, or an embarrassing tale your friends never let you live down. Not after you read this complete guide to kayaking for beginners!
If you are on the endless search for tranquility, look no further! Kayaking is the champion of peace and quiet. Close your eyes and locate that happy place. A kayak floats ever so subtly. Its bow gently skims the top of the water while the paddle cuts into the gleaming, crystal clear bay. As the kayak vanishes into the horizon, you can feel your everyday problems drift further and further away.
Imagine the sensation the body is overcome with when calmness is found.
We are here to help anyone new to kayaking find that much sought-after calmness.
First and foremost – in order to kayak, you need a kayak!
Ever drive by a lake or bay and see people kayaking? Chances are you have, being that 492,420 kayaks were bought in the United States last year alone. And yes, many of those kayaks were sold to people reading articles titled: Kayaking for Beginners. It doesn’t take too much time to get comfortable navigating a kayak, hence why it’s a popular pastime that so many people pick up all throughout life.
Related: What is a Kayak?
Although kayaks are desirable, they also can be expensive. Let’s talk about our options when it comes to acquiring a kayak.
- Friends or Family – Thousands of people kayak all over the world. Borrow a kayak from a friend or family member. This option is great for beginners because it’s cost effective. It will give you an opportunity to “test the waters”. It would be even better if the friend or the family member has experience kayaking.
- Rent – There are plenty of outdoor activity stores around that rent out kayaks. Shop around and try to find the best price (depending on the season, prices will be higher or lower). Tell the employee at the store that you are a beginner and they will set you up in the right kayak.
- Take a Tour or Class – In fact, many places offer kayaking tours. Companies even offer classes for beginners. Kayaking for beginners should start with taking some classes that’ll show you the basics. Classes that focus on direction and paddling are excellent for beginners.
It is important to have the essential gear when kayaking. Depending on where you are, the water can be frigid. The body when exposed to freezing cold water can go into shock. The body begins to shut down and swimming becomes difficult. This is why owning the right outerwear is crucial. Like everything else, you get what you pay for. Do not take shortcuts when it comes to purchasing outerwear because it could save your life one day. We are going to help you pick that gear – right here, right now!
- Paddles – Everyone needs a paddle to move around when kayaking, or else you’ll be a sitting duck. Kayaking isn’t very fun or as active without the paddle.
- Spray Skirt – This brilliant invention keeps 95% of the water out of the kayak, which in the long run keeps you warmer longer.
- PFD (Personal Floatation Device) – We need this just in case something catastrophic happens on the water. This device will keep you from drowning. It will keep you afloat and the head above water. Always make sure children have a PFD.
- Helmet – A helmet is important when it comes to kayaking for beginners. It protects your head from big, sharp rocks if the kayak flips or gets tossed around. Wearing a helmet while kayaking is extremely important for kids.
- Bathing Suit – Non-Cotton or Non-Binding. It’s best not to use cotton because it actually will keep you cold longer. Cotton when wet does not dry well and will possibly put your body in danger if exposed to cold water for a long period of time.
- Hat – Wear a hat that will protect all sides of your head from the sun. While kayaking, this is important because the sun is constantly shining with no shade in sight, making it impossible to retreat from the sun if you wanted to.
- Rash guard – Wear a long sleeve shirt or rash guard to prevent any rashes or discomfort on the torso area.
- Footwear – Yes, water shoes! We want to use footwear while kayaking for protection and warmth. Did you know the body loses half of its body heat through the feet and head? Don’t worry, we’ve got the top picks for kayak shoes here!
- Jacket – Bring a lightweight fleece jacket or vest. In addition to the light jacket, bring a spray jacket or a jacket that is waterproof and can resist large amounts of water.
- Wetsuit – In some parts of the country, rivers, lakes, and ponds can be cold. Some have water temperatures of 32 degrees. Know the body of water you are sticking the kayak in and prepare accordingly. If you find yourself in a situation like this, a wetsuit will save your life. A wetsuit will keep you warm in situations like this. The thicker the wetsuit, the better it is at keeping your body heat inside.
Related: What to wear kayaking
These personal items are ideal for beginner kayakers:
- First Aid Kit
- Snacks (Food that provides energy would be best)
- Signaling Whistle (In case you get lost or need help)
- Cell Phone (If the phone is waterproof or concealed in a waterproof case/bag)
- Headlamp (Just in case it gets dark)
Kayaking for Beginners: How to Sit in the Kayak
- Straddle the kayak and squat down into the seat. Make sure your back is up against the seat back. Sit up straight for more strength and power in your strokes.
- The knees need to be bent and your feet up against the foot pegs that are inside the kayak. Adjust the foot pegs so that your knees are bent. The foot pegs can be customized for your own personal preferences.
- Fix your knees so that they are up against the side of the cockpit. This is for stability – the better positioned you are, the better control you have on the open water.
Getting the Kayak into the Water
Look for a shoreline that has a gradual slope leading into the water. This makes it easier to jump in the kayak because you are not worried about falling down a steep slope or sinking in deep water.
Avoid dragging the kayak on gravel, rocks, pavement, etc. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself paying for that borrowed or rented kayak.
- Kayaks can be heavy. Avoid carrying it by yourself because dropping it or dragging it could affect the integrity of the kayak. Grab a friend or family member to help. Ask the person if they could assist you in carrying the kayak down to the dropzone. Don’t have a friend? Check out our list of the top kayak dollys!
- Line the kayak up perpendicular to the shoreline. Make sure the bow (front) is facing away from the shore. You want the kayak to be fully afloat, otherwise it could get stuck.
- Hook your paddle under the deck lining in front of the cockpit (most kayaks have a place to clip your paddle).
- Straddle the cockpit of the kayak.
- Sit down and place your back firmly against the back seat in the cockpit.
- Throw your legs over the sides of the kayak and into the cockpit. Place your feet on your pre-adjusted leg pegs inside the kayak.
- Grab the paddle that is in front of you. As you get moving, clip on the spray skirt if you have one.
You are now kayaking and can paddle straight into your happy place.
Kayak Paddling for Beginners
- Start by grabbing the paddle – Center the paddle in your hands. Make sure your knuckles are facing up while gripping the paddle. You will know you are in the right position when your elbows are at 90 degrees, and your hands are shoulder width apart. Paddles can be adjusted in length by either a push-button or twist.
- Align the paddles – First, the paddle must be straight. Second, make sure the blades are facing up like in the picture below (Insert Picture). The longer edge of the blade must be on top. This helps each blade cut into the water with maximum efficiency.
- Face the paddle in the right direction – We want the scooped sides of the paddle to be facing us.
- Put it all together – While you are in the water, practice moving your paddle as if you were swimming. As you come down with each side of the paddle, cut in the water and pull back. Rotate sides every time, and you should see that the kayak is moving!
Kayaking for Beginners: Learn Basic Paddle Motions while in a Kayak
This is the stroke that is used the most by every kayaker. Becoming familiar with the forward stroke as a kayaker can save you time and energy. If you learn the proper stroke it can actually save you from an injury such as a pulled muscle in the abdomen.
We will break this up into three steps:
- Scooping the Water – Wind your torso to either side. Lean in and immerse the blade in the water. Use your feet as the distance target area for scooping.
- Power – Simultaneously, pull back on the paddle like you are scooping the water backward. This is where your torso and abdomen engage and create power. Muscle will grow and fat will disappear in these areas just from kayaking.
- Releasing the Water – As you pull back and the blade reaches your hip, slice that blade up and out of the water. Try not to hit the kayak when releasing because you will lose a significant amount of power in your stroke.
Continue this by rotating and immersing each side of the paddle in the water. Repeat steps 1-3.
TIP TECHNIQUE: To keep comfortable while paddling, make it a habit to “check your watch”, or look at your wrist as you rotate those arms (even if you do not have a watch on).
The reverse stroke is a valuable skill to learn while kayaking because it can save you from hitting a big rock or from going down the wrong rapid. It is also an important stroke because you need to stop and move backward at times.
Do the exact opposite of the forward stroke. Stick the blade in the water at the hip. Push forward this time with your lower hand. Slice the blade out of the water when it gets close to your feet. Again, try not hit the kayak if you want more power in your stroke.
If you want to navigate through the water effortlessly while operating a kayak, you must learn this stroke. A sweep stroke helps you steer a kayak in the right direction.
- Repeat a forward stroke on just one side. You will notice you go around in a circle but move in the opposite direction that the paddle went in the water. This is important to learn because turning can be confusing. I will sum that up just below.
- The kayak goes in the opposite direction in which you put the paddle in the water. While the sweep stroke is similar to the forward stroke, it is also different. Alter the blade path so that it carves a wider stroke. Pull back with power and watch the kayak turn. The more power in the stroke the quicker you will turn.
To sum up, sweep strokes on the left side of the kayak will turn the kayak right, and a sweep stroke on the right side of the kayak will turn the kayak left.
Safety is of Utmost Importance while Kayaking
Kayaking for beginners requires an additional level of safety precautions. Having the right safety gear and proper kayak knowledge is crucial when on the open water. It is critical to know safety tips about any outdoor activity you are participating in. Safety saves lives every day!
Kayaking for Beginners: Top Safety Tips
- Know your distance. Plan out your trip and know what level kayaker you are.
- Know the water temperature. Dress appropriately. Do your research on the spot picked to kayak.
- Bring a buddy. Always try and bring a buddy with you just in case anything does go wrong.
- Have a good PFD. Make sure the vest fits properly. Have it loose enough that it won’t interfere with your breathing but at the same time, will not fall off if you flip or get tossed around.
- Know how to pop your spray skirt off. Practice clipping the spray skirt on and off at home and while on the water. You are now in a better position if anything were to happen on the water because you have experience in clipping your spray skirt on and off.
- Don’t be afraid to blow your whistle. If you feel you are in trouble or lost, blow that whistle! The whistle has saved many stranded kayakers. Always bring the whistle!
If you are interested in kayaking and don’t have much experience on the water, consider taking beginner kayaking classes or rescue classes. This will help you on the water if you are put in a dangerous situation. You will learn how to handle stressful situations on the water so that if faced with a situation, you can paddle yourself out or signal for help. It could save your life and someone else’s.
Skegs and Rudders
Some kayaks have skegs and rudders connected. As a beginner, you don’t really need to worry about these, but I figured it is useful to know about too.
- Rudders – You will find rudders at the back of the kayak. When a kayak has rudders it also has foot pedals inside the cockpit. Those foot pedals turn the kayak: the right pedal turns the kayak right and vice versa.
- Skegs – A skeg is a fin that drops down from the hull and can steer the kayak in whatever direction you face it, but the main purpose of a skeg is to track, to make sure you are going straight especially in windy or rough conditions.
As a beginner, skegs and rudders tend to be left alone because it is more critical to learn how to paddle. Also, another mistake often made when using skegs and rudders is not pulling them back up when coming into shallow water. The equipment will break if you let it drag on the bottom.
By now, the forward stroke, reverse stroke, and sweep stroke should be etched into your brains. The truth is that kayaking can be a great workout and a mental escape that’s second to none. If you are new to kayaking (which I hope you are if you are still reading), here are some tips!
Kayaking for Beginners—Last Minute Tips:
- Pick a body of water that is small and flat.
- Find a subtle shoreline to drop your kayak in the water.
- Always prepare for unexpected situations.
- Watch the weather and take the kayak out on a nice sunny, windless day.
- While sitting in the kayak on the open water for the first time, don’t go exploring the whole lake. Save your energy and practice your strokes.
- If there is wind, paddle into it. This will help in the long run because you do not have to paddle against the wind when coming back to shore.
After reading this article about kayaking for beginners, I hope you already feel a little more like an expert! As you get older, the search for tranquility becomes more of a quest. Kayaking is the ultimate activity to find that peace and quiet. Start now and begin the quest for serenity.