Top 10 Kayaking Tips for Beginners

Beginning any new hobby can be difficult and daunting at times. When you first start an outdoor sport that involves working with the power of nature it can even be scary! Luckily, kayaking is simpler than you think and once you get started you will quickly learn the way of the water.
Although daunting at first, once you are out on the water you will naturally learn how to paddle, and you’ll push through your first mile before you know it. In fact, the hardest part is getting in the kayak, and if you are going to get wet, this will be the time! Don’t worry though, you will learn quickly and with a hand full of must-know tips, you’ll be a pro in no time!
In this article, we have 10 kayaking tips for beginners that will help you grow your confidence and skills on the water. By the end of this read, you will feel less like a fish out of water when you jump in your kayak for your first outing!

Start from a Beach or Ramp

When you first start kayaking, you will find getting in your kayak the hardest part. Sit-on-top kayaks are generally easier to mount than sit-inside kayaks however you will experience difficulties with both types. Your best bet, whatever kayak you have, is to start from a beach, ramp, or shallow bay.

Place your kayak perpendicular to the shoreline. Leave the rear of the kayak on land and the front in the water so it stays stable but is sitting on enough water to allow you to push off and float. To get in your kayak, straddle it just behind the cockpit and sit down. Bring your legs round one at a time, slip them inside, and straighten them out. Now you can slide forward into your seat.

If you have a sit-on-top kayak, the process is more or less the same but instead of sitting above your seat you can sit directly on it and bring your feet round into place. Once you are in, use your paddles to “un-beach” yourself until you are afloat in the water. Remember to make sure you pack everything on board before you get in your kayak, there is nothing worse than finally getting afloat and seeing a dry-bag sitting on the beach!

Think Big but Start Small

Ambition is a great quality and jumping into new situations is how we grow, however, when you first start kayaking you should pull in the reins a bit. By all means, think big and plan that epic 4-day trip down the Barrow but when you first start keep it as something to work toward. On your first few outings, start small and plan shorter journeys on calm waters until you home-in your skills and confidence.

Start on a still water or a slow-flowing river and plan your route well. Make sure you can launch from a beach, ramp, or shallow area and land in the same place or an equally flat area. This will make things much easier as you climb the learning curve. Once you have built some confidence in the water, start to launch and land in more difficult areas until you are ready to plan a more ambitious journey.

At first, head out with a friend or group so they can help you if you get into a sticky situation. You will quickly learn the ropes and be able to materialize those kayaking dreams you have and be well on your way to your next big adventure. Just make sure you are 100% ready before stepping up to the next level!

Hold a Good Posture

Posture is extremely important in kayaking for many reasons. The main reason you should hold the correct posture is to keep your body in good health. If you are slouched over and twisting your back on every stroke, then you will quickly develop aches and pains and potentially chronic back pain. You will also become consistent and more efficient with every stroke, going further with every paddle without burning as much energy. You will find kayaking much easier if you simply sit tight and sit straight!

Sit with your back straight and supported by the back-rest with the balls of your feet firmly on the foot guides or pegs. Your feet should point out to the sides of the kayak and your heels should rest in the centre; this will help you stay balanced. Your knees should point outwards and your thighs should be able to comfortably apply pressure to the braces. As you paddle, make sure you hold this posture and limit unnecessary slouching or twisting as much as possible.

Learn Your Strokes

Learning to paddle properly is paramount and it goes hand in hand with holding good posture. With a straight back, a firm sitting, and your paddle centred, you will be able to engage your core easier upon each stroke of the paddle. Doing this will take the load off your arms and allow you to paddle extremely effectively.

As well as your general technique, there are four different strokes you should learn, these are the forward stroke, the reverse stroke, the sweep stroke, and the draw stroke. It would be difficult to explain how to do these movements within this article and your best way to learn is out on the water. We recommend checking out some useful video tutorials and getting out as soon as possible to try the strokes yourself. Remember, practice makes perfect.

Look Down Your Path

Always look far across the water in front of you. You should do this at all times, whether you are kayaking in a flat calm lake, a trickling stream, or a raging river. Locating and assessing hazards far before you approach them will give you enough time to react and make an appropriate manoeuvre.

Look out for areas of fast water, shallow areas, rocks in the water, and other people using the waterway. Take it slow, pace yourself, and figure out how you are going to deal with oncoming hazards before you reach them. Knowing how to deal with certain hazards will come with time but identifying and avoiding them should be practiced as soon as you get out on the water.

Pace Yourself

Pace yourself. This is something that you should do not only as a beginner but as you develop your kayaking skills as well. Using bursts of energy to quickly cover distance never works because you will only end up slowing down as your energy drains. The key is to keep a moderate pace that is easy for you, this way you will cover the water at a consistent speed without draining all your energy at once.

Pacing yourself will give you more time to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and allow you to tune in to how your movement affects the balance and course of the kayak. Focus less on speed and more on technique — the skilled kayaker will always win against a hasty kayaker.

Secure Your Belongings

This one should go without saying, but I have seen enough people lose their belongings on the river to warrant mentioning it. When you are packing your kayak for a day-trip or a longer adventure, always make sure you tie down your dry-bags and secure your belongings as best you can.

Most kayaks come with tie-downs and some with watertight storage hatches, make use of these features as they are there for a reason! You should also keep your paddle secured to your kayak as best you can. Your paddle is your most important item so when it is not in use, stow it securely using a paddle clip. You can also instal a paddle leash if you are worried about losing your paddle while navigating fast water.

Prepare for the Worst, Experience the Best

Always prepare yourself for the worst possible scenario, this way you can have the best of times without fearing the worst! Although unlikely if you are navigating calm waters, you should prepare yourself for a capsize. Make sure your life jacket is always on (this will help you get back upright). You should also learn how to correct yourself if you do tip over.

Bring a change of clothes with you and if you are planning on paddling in cold water, we highly recommend taking a winter bath. Exposing yourself to cold water on purpose in a controlled environment will help you deal with it better if you do fall in the water. Learn how to recover from a capsize from an instructional video, or better yet an instructor or experienced friend. Preparing yourself will help you deal with an emergency situation properly without panicking.

Prepare for the Weather and the Water

Always check the weather and wind prior to getting on the water and if the conditions look dangerous it is safer to stay at home. Before you head out kayaking you should dress appropriately for not only the weather but the water as well. As mentioned in the last tip, you should prepare for the worst, so think about how your clothes are going to affect you if you do end up in the water.

If it’s winter and the water temperature is low, dress in something that you know you’ll be able to get out of quickly to change into your dry gear as fast as possible. If it’s a scorching summers’ day, then swim shorts and a t-shirt will keep you cool and will dry out quickly.

Make Friends!

We have saved the most valuable tip until last and it is the simplest! The best thing you can do as a beginner is to go out and make friends in the kayaking community. Heading out on the water with experienced friends will help you learn new techniques, paddle further, and give you the confidence to try new things.

Your friends can teach you things first-hand which is much more effective than reading how-to articles or watching instructional videos. Heading out with a group of friends will also enable you to jump on to more difficult waters as they will know how to deal with tricky situations better. They will also know their regular kayaking spots like the back of their hands which means you can get an insight into routes, hazards, and features before you even put paddle to water!


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