Kayaking is an exciting way to be out on the water, get some exercise, breath in fresh air and sample the beauty of your surroundings from a duck’s-eye view. For beginners however, kayaking is a complex dance of maneuvers, strokes and balance between the person, paddle and boat which often seem strenuous, technical and too much of a hassle. But while kayaking requires some degree of skill, agility and strength, it is a sport that every person can master with a bit of practice as long as they are ready to learn the basics. If you are planning to go out and have some kayaking fun, here are the top 10 tips you should know before your first experience.
(1) Get a lesson.
The first thing a beginner should do is get a kayaking lesson. While you might think that you don’t need instructions on how to paddle a kayak, those who go out without paddling lessons often end up wasting a lot of time going around in circles and may end up in danger should they have trouble on the water. In fact, lacking skills such as paddling strokes, maneuvering your boat and recovering when your boat capsizes will certainly ruin your outing. It is important to get proper instruction before buying your gear so you can know what gear suits you best, how to use your gear properly, and the best techniques for boosting stamina and reducing the likelihood of injury. Remember, paddlers with better knowledge and skills know how to make smarter choices when purchasing gear and know how to paddle safely when kayaking conditions get unexpectedly worse.
(2) Know and practice the basics.
While it appears quite straightforward, pulling a paddle in water is often a big challenge for beginners. If you are a beginner, make sure you know what works and what does not. The fundamentals of kayaking include:
- Gripping your paddle lightly to be able to control your boat’s movements while remaining flexible and reducing your chances of muscle strain.
- Using rapid, rhythmic and deep forward strokes to move your boat faster.
- Using sweep strokes to correct your moves and maneuver your boat. The sweep strokes ought to be wider than forward strokes and may be reversed according to the turns you wish to make.
- Sticking to your pace and range of paddling, making sure you are comfortable and can move naturally on water.
- Ensuring your upper body retains a balanced center of gravity so you can steer your boat easily and avoid tipping into the water.
Once you know the basics, make sure to practice them on the beach before going on the water. Repeated strokes on land ensure muscle memory. After practicing on land, you can practice on shallow, calm water to see whether the boat moves efficiently and you are confident and comfortable enough in your paddling. As soon as you have mastered good forward strokes, good corrective strokes and good sweep strokes, you can move to open waters and enjoy yourself.
(3) Choose the right boat.
There is a wide range of kayaks in the market, from the long racing kayaks to the squat freestyle playboats. Before you try it, you might want to learn what kayak is best for the water you will be paddling in and which type will give you the best value for your money. Captain Mike’s Kayak Rentals offers a range of high-quality vessels of varied sizes, including one-person, two-person and three-person kayaks. Sit-on-top kayaks are perfect for beginners as they are reassuringly stable and easy to paddle, but you may also consider renting a flat-water boat if you are going to paddle on a river or lake. Remember that using the wrong kayak can be dangerous. For example:
- Whitewater kayaks are fitted with special safety features and are quite easy to maneuver, making them ideal for fast-moving rivers and rapids.
- Recreational kayaks must only be used on slow-moving rivers and small, inland lakes because they lack the design and safety features found in sea and whitewater kayaks designed for more challenging environments.
- Sea kayaks have greater buoyancy, often in the form of hatches and bulkheads, making it possible to perform re-entry skills when the boat capsizes in deep water and they can be rolled easily by a person having that skill.
Get a boat that suits you, picking one that is slightly too large over one that is too small as you can always modify or pad the cockpit of a large kayak. To improve the stability and comfort level of your kayak, you can adjust the foot braces, seat back and the front edge and thigh braces of your seat on every kayak you paddle. You can add ballast to boost the stability of a boat if it seems too tippy for you, or modify the cockpit and use stretches and other exercises to reduce pain and numbness in your legs and paddling muscles.
(4) Get a good paddle
Having a great paddle is critical for your kayaking adventure. Ideally, a light weight paddle is preferable as you will be lifting the paddle many times for each mile you row. For a beginner, smaller paddle blades are appropriate as they are less tiring and will enable you to maintain a higher cadence. Stay away from plastic and aluminum paddles if possible, and for a high quality paddle expect to pay between $150 and $250 or more as it is common for paddlers to pay a higher price on paddles than on kayaks. You should also get your paddle before getting your kayak in order to test your paddle on all the boats you intend to rent. When having problems with choosing your paddle, find qualified help with selecting the right length and design for the kind of kayaking you have in mind.
(5) Dress to suit the water, not to suit the weather.
Kayaking is a sport for the water and your clothing should be suitable for the water temperature instead of the air temperature. If your boat tips over, you will learn how crucial planning for the water temperature is as only a few minutes of cold shock can be more harmful than hypothermia. When planning for a kayaking trip, it is important to prepare and carry items such as a paddling jacket, wetsuit, hats, sunscreen and sunglasses. You will also need footwear such as water shoes or sturdy, strap-on sandals.
(6) Wear a fitting and comfortable life jacket whenever you are on water.
For every kayaker, whether an experienced paddler or a beginner, wearing a life jacket and appropriate buoyancy aid is vital. Since most fatalities occurring on water are due to drowning, wearing a life jacket will keep you safe and reduce drowning risks. Avoid buying cheap, type-II horsecollar styles that are uncomfortable and less secure and go for a jacket that will act as a true lifesaver. Women with a curvy bustline or short torso should opt for life jackets designed specifically for women while individuals planning to use recreational kayaks with high seat backs may go for PFD jackets with little to no foam on the lower portion of their backs. Apart from a life jacket, you can get a buoyancy aid to allow you have more movement around your neck and arms. When wearing your life jacket or buoyancy aid, you should close all the buckles and straps.
(7) Set aside a budget for accessories before thinking about a kayak.
You will need a number of accessories in order to enjoy your kayaking escapade. For example, when using a recreational kayak, you will need to buy a paddle, jacket, immersion clothing, transportation trainer/rack, and a kayak. Similarly, you will need a paddle, life jacket, helmet, sprayskirt, throw bag, nose plugs, rack/trailer, immersion clothing and a kayak when going out with a whitewater kayak. And if you intend to use a sea kayak, you will need a paddle and spare, life jacket, pump, sprayskirt, immersion clothing, rack/trailer, paddlefloat, a kayak, and even a towbelt and cart. Therefore, you need to budget for your accessories so you can get all you need after thorough research and avoid risking your life by going on the cheap.
(8) Pick your route, understand the weather and carry a map.
As a beginner, it is important that you are familiar with the area where you are going to paddle. The best areas for beginners are bays and other sheltered places that are protected from choppier waters and stronger winds of the open sea. Check out a marine forecast to have a good idea of what the weather might be when you are out there. It is also prudent to expect some waves and wind when you go out on even the most beautiful, bluebird day. Make sure to avoid fog as it can come really quickly, interfering with visibility within 5-10 minutes. On a foggy day, you can easily lose sight of the land completely and that is a scary thing. Remember to also bring a map just in case your GPS and Android or iPhone tools fail while you are at sea.
(9) Know how to rescue yourself and others.
Safety comes first when you go paddling. Out on the water, you are always responsible for your safety and must never rely on the experience and skills of other paddlers for any eventuality. Remember that other paddlers may either not have as much skill to save you or may also struggle to save themselves in extreme situations, making it difficult for them to assist you. Likewise, even the best efforts of another skilled paddler may not be enough to save a novice who has become extremely anxious in a challenging situation. As a beginner, it is critical to know how to rescue yourself and others to avoid capsizing and drowning during your first kayaking excursion. Make sure you are prepared for your trip, going through a basic capsize drill and mastering how to right your boat and get it back again.
(10) Remember that people are more important than boats.
This might sound obvious, but it often occurs in panicked situations that paddlers forget that the most critical thing is keeping one another safe. In fact, it does not matter whether you lose your paddle or kayak as long as you ensure that fellow kayakers are safe and sound. Remember that boats and kayaks can be replaced, but people cannot be replaced. It is also prudent never to kayak alone no matter how much experience you have gathered. Team up with other kayakers so that when you get into trouble there will be someone to lend a helping hand.