Kayaking is a water sport that involves a small water-going vessel (a kayak) that’s propelled using a dual-bladed paddle. It’s a fantastic hobby that can be enjoyed by almost anyone. Kayaking keeps you fit and healthy, and getting out into nature is brilliant for the mind.
If you’ve been thinking about kayaking you may be wondering whether you require lessons before you start putting paddle to water. There are several different types of kayaking and some types require more skill and experience than others.
So, can you teach yourself to kayak?
In short, yes. You definitely can teach yourself to kayak but as mentioned there are several different disciplines in the hobby.
If you’re just looking at kayaking as a way to get out on your local lake, self-teaching is definitely possible. However, if you want to start whitewater kayaking or touring around the coastline in a saltwater kayak, you may need lessons.
In this article, we’ll be looking at the different types of kayaking and whether you’ll need lessons or can teach yourself. We’ll also be giving you some tips if you’re ready to start learning to kayak. Enjoy!
Which Forms of Kayaking Can You Learn Yourself?
There are several different styles of kayaking. Some are relatively low risk and some are much more dangerous. In this section, we’ll be looking at what these different forms of the sport entail and whether you can self-learn or would need lessons.
Can You Teach Yourself to Kayak Recreationally?
Experience Level: Beginner
Can You Self-Teach: Yes
Recreational kayaking is basically casual kayaking. This form of the sport is done by average people that simply want to get out on the weekend for a few hours on their local lake. There's not a huge amount of skill involved with recreational kayaking as you’ll usually be navigating calm waters on sunny days in a fairly stable recreational kayak.
You can definitely teach yourself to kayak recreationally providing you have some experience with water sports and can swim confidently. If you’ve been stand up paddle boarding, canoeing, or rowing in the past, then recreational kayaking will come extremely naturally to you.
If you want to teach yourself to kayak recreationally, it's handy to have a friend who's also interested in kayaking, or better, already kayaks recreationally. This will speed up the learning curve and provide you with someone to watch over you while you learn the basics.
Can You Teach Yourself to Navigate Rivers With a Kayak?
Experience Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Can You Self-Teach: Yes & No
Navigating rivers in a kayak is where things get a little more complicated. However, if you're interested in kayaking on a calm river without much in the way of rapids or dangerous currents, it's definitely possible to teach yourself.
If you want to learn how to navigate rivers in a kayak it is essential that you go about the task with someone that has some experience on the water. Even the calmest of rivers can be dangerous, so until you're confident and experienced you should always head out in pairs or groups.
A good way to learn how to kayak on a river is to head out on a guided tour or an A to B route with a group of friends. You'll quickly learn how to navigate smaller rivers with fewer obstacles this way.
Rougher stretches of river definitely require more experience and you should never self teach on any river that has fast-flowing stretches, weirs, or whitewater…
Can You Teach Yourself to Whitewater Kayak?
Experience Level: Advanced
Can You Self-Teach: No
Whitewater kayaking is an adrenalin-fueled hobby that can be extremely exciting. However, there's no way you can teach yourself how to do this, you must get some instruction, and even once you're experienced, you should never head out alone.
If you’re interested in learning to whitewater kayak it’s a good idea to head out on calmer waters first. You should first learn how to kayak recreationally on still and flowing water. Doing this will allow you to learn the basics of kayaking. You should know how to confidently get in and out of the vessel, how to undertake different paddle strokes, and how to recover from capsize before even thinking about whitewater.
Once you have the basics down, you can get in contact with a kayaking club or a business that takes people out on guided tours. Your instructor will help guide you through different whitewater environments from the most basic of rapids through to raging gorges if you wish to put yourself through it!
Can You Teach Yourself to Tour Using a Kayak?
Experience Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Can You Self-Teach: Yes (In Most Cases)
Touring is one of my favourite ways to get out exploring in my kayak. I particularly love island hopping on the large lakes over in Sweden camping as I go but also really enjoy A to B river tours with friends.
You can teach yourself to head out kayak touring/camping but it’s a venture you should definitely do with friends. One, for the shared experience, and two, for the safety aspect of having other people around through the entirety of your tour.
If you have friends that are semi-experienced with kayaking this will be easy. You can park one car at point B and one at point A so you have a way to get back after the tour. Otherwise, you can take a circuit route around a lake.
Another great way to ease into this side of the sport is to get in touch with an activity centre that runs kayak and canoe touring experiences. If you have a group of friends you can rent or use your own kayaks to take a pre-planned tour down a local river. The activity centre will drop you off at the start point and pick you up a few days later at the finish point.
This is a great way to ease into kayak touring and it allows you to get a feel for it and understand whether this is something you want to pursue in the future.
Can You Teach Yourself to Kayak in Saltwater?
Experience Level: Intermediate
Can You Self-Teach: Yes & No
Saltwater kayaking or coastal kayaking is where you kayak in the ocean. This can be a fantastic way to explore the stunning coastlines around Ireland and get a different perspective on the interesting geology around our shorelines.
You can teach yourself to kayak in saltwater but you must have some experience in freshwater first. If you already know how to handle a kayak in freshwater, heading out on the coast in calm conditions shouldn’t be a problem for you. However, you should always head out in pairs or groups, ideally with people that are more experienced than yourself.
The sea can be a treacherous place and you’ll be battling with things that aren’t a problem in freshwater such as difficult currents, the tide, waves, and hidden obstacles under the water. It’s definitely wise to head out with an experienced friend or seek guidance from a local instructor.
There are plenty of coastal kayak rental businesses, clubs, and activity centres that can give you guided tours, safety information, tide times, and routes to take around the coast.
Although it’s possible to teach yourself to kayak in the sea, you should never head out alone and you should make sure you have an instructor or friend that’s experienced and in touch with the local area.
A Final Word: How Can You Teach Yourself to Kayak?
Teaching yourself to kayak is definitely possible. However, if you're not a confident swimmer or have doubts in yourself, it's far wiser to get an instructor. It won't take too many lessons out on the water before you get the hang of things and build the confidence to go out rowing on your own.
If you feel you're ready to start learning to kayak by yourself, there are a few things you can do to speed things up and learn the correct techniques.
In this modern age we're blessed with useful media at the touch of a button. YouTube is by far one of the best resources you can get, if you don't have an experienced kayaking friend to hand. There are plenty of videos on how to kayak on the platform and loads of useful content on everything from getting in and out of your kayak, recovering from capsize, and technical paddle strokes.
Definitely watch a few videos before you head out and attempt to learn to kayak by yourself. You'll gain far more knowledge than you may think from doing this and it'll give you an idea of what you need to practice to become confident out on the water.
Of course, if you have a friend or colleague that's an experienced kayaker, you'd be a fool not to head out for a few sessions with them. Getting firsthand knowledge from someone that's experienced is by far the best way to learn how to kayak.
That's all for today, thanks for reading and good luck on your kayaking journey!