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5 Mistakes to Avoid When New to Kayaking

The excitement of launching your kayak for the first time may make you a little quick to jump in without thought. Here are a few mistakes to avoid as a newbie in the kayak world. When new to kayaking, taking a few minutes to plan can help make your learning process go much more smoothly.

Mistake #1: Launching in dangerous water

One rookie mistake that new kayakers make is attempting their first paddle on ambitious waterways. Instead of tackling waves, rough current, or a rocky entry, choose your debut paddle on as quiet and calm a pond / lake as you can.

This isn’t weakness; it is wisdom. Let yourself get comfortable with the balance, strokes, and maneuvering of your kayak before you have to face rapids, rollers, or more. 

Mistake #2: Attempting busy waterways

Another initial mistake is trying your first attempt at kayaking at a busy, crowded location. If you are having to dodge other boats, SUPs, kayaks, canoes, and swimmers, you run the danger of hurting yourself or others. And that first kayaking experience will not be enjoyable.

Not only will you tire quickly from the extra vigilance, you might not be able to avoid collisions or focus on honing your skills. Like mentioned above, a nice quiet pond or lake is a great place to start kayaking. This means your first outing probably shouldn't be on the first warm weekend of the year. If possible, select a weekday or other option that will provide you with smaller crowds. 

Mistake #3: Choosing uncomfortable weather

Once you get your kayak, you are sure to be raring to go. But take a beat. Check the weather. When you are first learning to kayak, you want to remove as many variables as possible so you can focus on improving your technique. And, of course, you want to be as comfortable as possible while you do it.

So, don’t try to launch on a windy, rainy, freezing (or boiling) day. Try to give yourself every opportunity to be successful, and this means not out-running a thunderstorm on your first foray into paddling.

Mistake #4: Overextending or Overconfidence

In keeping with many of the ‘new to kayaking’ mistakes already mentioned, check your ego (and your enthusiasm) a bit. Remember that there is a learning curve to every new endeavor and that means it takes time to become proficient, let alone an expert. Keep your first few paddles to a couple of hours. Then extend to a day long trip or maybe an overnight. Don’t make your first paddle a 4-day overnight excursion.

Along with that, don’t let overconfidence assume that nothing bad will happen. But don’t be a worry wart, either. Likely nothing untoward will happen. However, confidence comes from being prepared, not blindly optimistic. Be sure that you are as prepared as you can be for any emergency. Carry a first aid kit (no matter how short or long the trip) as well as a signaling device (like a whistle) in case you need to get the attention of those around you.

Mistake #5: Utilizing gear improperly

Another common mistake of new kayakers that can easily be avoided is using their gear improperly. First and foremost is a tendency to forgo the PFD (personal floatation device). This is a bad idea.

Not only are PDFs a requirement on many waterways, they are also just good common sense. No one plans on having an emergency, so if you need your PFD, it needs to be ON you if it is going to work. Having it on board “just in case” is foolish. If a true emergency happens, you won’t have time to reach for it.

Another easily fixed gear issue is wearing the correct clothing. Make sure that you dress appropriately for the weather which usually means having or wearing layers, using a wetsuit in cold temps, and wearing quick-drying materials. Avoid cotton clothing as it takes a long time to dry. And even on the best kayak outing, you will get at least damp. Also, think about footwear. Flip-flops are not recommended. Invest in a water shoe/bootie (especially for a sit-in kayak where you don’t want it to fall off inside the ‘yak) or a water-resistant sandals or shoe that can be secured to your foot.

Lastly, make sure that you use sunscreen, stay hydrated, and secure your valuables in the kayak so they aren’t sliding around. A little bit of initial prep (like setting your seat and/or footpegs, stowing your dry bag, snacks, bottles, and making sure necessary items are within reach) will go a long way toward a more pleasant experience.

And Tip #1: Practicing good technique

This last entry isn’t so much a mistake as a tip. Make sure that you are practicing good technique. You aren’t going to have it perfect the first time. This isn’t a mistake; it is learning. So, give yourself some grace.

  • Make sure you are holding the paddle correctly. Your arms should be at ninety-degrees so that you can efficiently reach the paddle to your toes and pull back. And know your basic strokes.
  • If your paddle has drip rings those should be placed about a hand-width back from the blade of the paddle. (They are intended to prevent water drips from running down the shaft to your hands. They are not markers for where you place your hands on the paddle.) They should be far enough away from the blade that they don’t actually enter the water when you stroke (or that would defeat their purpose.)
  • You should have a self-rescue / capsize plan. Because it takes time and strength to learn to self-rescue/reenter a kayak in open water, you will need to practice. But what do you do in the meantime? Can you still kayak, even if you can’t get back in your boat? Yes. But you need to have a plan. If you get tipped out of your kayak, you will likely need to swim to shore. So, your capsize plan should include staying within swimming distance of shore and perhaps making sure that you only paddle with a group so that someone can tow your boat back for you (or be prepared to have to get it to shore by yourself.) Once you are back on land with your kayak, you can re-launch and get back out there.


Now that you know a few avoidable mistakes, you can get out there and enjoy the process of learning and growing as a kayaker.





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