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10 Kayaking Tips for Beginners

Kayaking is a great water sport that even the least athletic – or aquatic – among us can embrace. It won’t be long before a beginner kayaker will be paddling along like a pro, but starting a new activity can be confusing. For those who like to do their research beforehand, we’ve answered 10 questions that any beginning kayaker might ask.

What should I bring with me?

  1. Bottled water for hydration
  2. Snacks for fueling your body
  3. Sunscreen UPF/SPF 30 or higher
  4. Sunglasses that decrease glare
  5. Whistle for safety
  6. Floatation device or life jacket

While kayaking is fun, you will still be exerting a lot of physical energy, even at the beginner level — so make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks to keep you fueled and hydrated. Sunscreen is essential, especially for long paddles, and sunglasses will help cut the glare from the water.

It’s good practice to keep a whistle on hand in case you get lost or encounter trouble while kayaking. The standard distress signal (three long blasts) will get the attention of other boaters and people on land.

As with any water activity, a good flotation device is a prerequisite. Invest in a life jacket that fits snugly and is comfortable enough to be worn at all times.

What should I wear when kayaking?

  1. Wetsuit (if under 60°F)
  2. Layer clothing if chilly
  3. Swimwear (in warmer weather)
  4. Waterproof footwear
  5. Sun shielding hat

When kayaking, you want to think about both the water and the weather. Even if it’s warm and sunny on land, the water may still be chilly away from shore.

In conditions under 60°F, you should wear a wetsuit, as well as a lightweight fleece jacket or vest. In warmer waters, swimwear or shorts and a rashguard top will do just fine. Waterproof footwear and a sun-shielding hat are musts, no matter the weather.

Where should I go as a beginner kayaker?

  1. Calm body of water
  2. Avoid lots of motorized boat traffic
  3. Lake or pond with gentle sloping shoreline

Once you have your kayak, it’s tempting to just get in the boat and set off for a marathon paddle down the river or out to sea. However, it’s probably not the best idea for beginning kayakers.

Instead, choose a small, calm body of water without motorized boat traffic. A lake or pond with a gently sloping shore will make for the easiest launch. This should present the fewest number of water hazards, allowing you to practice paddling in peace.

How do I stay safe while kayaking?

  1. Bring a friend along
  2. Don’t veer off to isolated areas
  3. Avoid inclement weather conditions
  4. Know your limits

Safety is key on the water, especially for beginning kayakers. Whenever possible, bring a friend along and commit to keeping each other within sight or earshot. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, as well. You don’t want to get bogged down in a downpour or battered by choppy waves.

It’s also important for beginners to know their limits. Never paddle out further than you can reliably swim until you have more experience. It’s easy to over-exert yourself your first time out — set an easy pace and get a feel for the kayak, the paddle, and the water.

How do I keep my stuff dry?

  1. Sealed plastic storage bags
  2. Dry bags

Even though you aren’t directly in the water, you can count on getting wet while kayaking. Press-and-seal plastic storage containers work fine for items that can take a little spray, like wallets or food.

For more sensitive items like electronics and clothing, you may want to use a dry bag — but make sure you seal it correctly, with at least three folds of the top rim.

How do I get my kayak in and out of the water?

Launching your kayak can look awkward, but if all goes well, it should only take a moment.

Move your kayak as close to the water as possible, perpendicular to the shoreline. The front of the boat should be floating, while the back stays moored. Sit in the cockpit and adjust your legs, then use your arms or paddle to push off from the shore. To get out later, simply reverse the steps.

How should I sit?

Sit as upright as you can; good posture will save you neck, back and shoulder pain later. Slide your legs forward until the balls of your feet are resting against the footpegs. Turn your toes slightly outward, and check for a gentle bend in your knees. You’re ready to move!

How do I hold the paddle?

Kayak paddles are pretty intuitive, but there are a couple of ways to get the surest and most comfortable grip.

Hold your arms so that your elbows are at a 90° angle, with your hands equally distanced from the center. Make sure the long end of each paddle blade is on top, and that the scooped side of the blade is facing you — this will keep you moving through the water smoothly.

As for grip, make a loose “O” with your thumb and forefinger, then lay the rest of your fingers gently along the shaft. A relaxed grip will keep your hands from tiring too quickly.

What’s the best kayak paddling technique?

Kayaking is a forgiving sport, but learning the proper strokes will make your time on the water more enjoyable and efficient.

The stroke you’ll be using most is called the “forward” stroke: immerse the blade fully by your feet, twist your torso to pull the blade back, then “slice” it out of the water when it reaches your hip. To stop your kayak or move backwards, simply reverse the motion.

What should I do before heading home?

Breaking down is just as important as setting up, so make sure to double-check and dry off your gear. Look for any dings or dents on your kayak and paddle. Carefully dry all items to avoid mold and rust buildup. And, of course, make sure no gear gets left behind in the parking lot.

Make time to care for yourself, too — you likely worked up a sweat out on the water, so perform some gentle stretching exercises and drink plenty of water before getting in the car. You’ll be back on the water again in no time!


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