Kayaking 101: What Newbies Need to Know Before Getting on the Water

Headwaters Kayak teaching some beginner kayak strokes

If you’ve never been kayaking before, you’re in for a treat. This article takes a look at the most important beginning kayaking tips every first-timer needs to know.

The modern sport of kayaking has been around for decades and continues to grow in popularity. No matter your age or gender orientation, spending time in a kayak is really hard to beat.

After all, it provides the perfect way to escape the stress of everyday life as you explore the great outdoors with just a paddle and the smile on your face. 

Here’s how to make the most of your first experience in a kayak.

Check the Forecast

Safety should always be your top priority, so you should keep in mind that the weather could change at any moment, and the last thing you want is to get caught out in a storm. Trust me, lightning is definitely not your friend when out on the water.

So before leaving the house in the morning, take a look to see if rain is in the forecast in the area where you’ll be kayaking.

Invest In a Good Paddle

You’re going to be dropping some cash on a few kayaking items, and the first should be a good kayak paddle.

While you don’t have to buy the most expensive paddle on the market, some people do spend couple of hundred dollars on a good one. This will make life on the water much more pleasant.

When you spend hours on the water, you’re going to get a serious workout, and a quality paddle will help with this workload and make your life easier.

As with any other piece of outdoor equipment such as hiking boots or tents, you almost always get what you pay for.

Take a Whistle

A whistle should be next on your list for emergency situations. 

For example, if you tip over in your kayak, a whistle is an effective way to attract attention to yourself in order to get help. It’s also a way to signal a friend when they’re too far away to shout to them.

Understand that You’re Going to Get Wet

Don’t think for a second that you won’t get wet. 

The sooner you make peace with this, the more pleasant your kayaking experience is going to be.

The key is to be prepared for this by wearing the right type of clothing while on the water. You’ll also need to bring dry clothes to change into afterward.

And don’t forget your lifejacket, because when you go into the water, you’ll want to be sure that you’re as safe as possible.

Learn How to Get into Your Kayak

Once you’re ready to go, you’ll need to be able to safely get into your kayak, whether it’s a  traditional kayak, inflatable kayak, or folding kayak. This includes getting in from the shore, from a dock, and out in deep water.

To get into your kayak from the shore:

  • place your kayak at the edge of the water
  • get in and sit down
  • push off with your paddle

To get into your kayak from the dock:

  • lower your kayak down to the surface of the water
  • place your paddle so that it’s easy to grab
  • sit on the edge of the dock and lower yourself feet-first into the kayak while holding onto the dock

To climb into your kayak from the water:

  • place your hand on the opposite side so that your arm is extended across the seat opening
  • pull yourself up until your belly is over the seat and your legs are halfway out of the water
  • twist around into sitting position with your legs still in the water
  • once the kayak is stable, pull your feet in and grab your paddle

Familiarize Yourself with Kayak Strokes

Now let’s discuss paddling techniques. There are several basic kayaking strokes.

Types of Kayak Strokes

  • Forward Stroke – this is the most common stroke and will be used most of the time in order to propel your kayak forward in the water.
  • Reverse Stroke – this is the exact opposite of the forward stroke and is used to move the kayak backward once you’ve come to a complete stop. 
  • Sweep Stroke – this is the basic turning stroke and is the same as the forward stroke, except for the fact that you’ll alter the blade path in order to carve a wider arc on one side of the kayak.

Move with Your Kayak

When paddling, remember to always move with your kayak rather than against it. Otherwise, you’ll likely find yourself in a spin. The key is to try to use the kayak’s kinetic energy to your advantage.

Know How to Sit in a Kayak

Posture is important for properly paddling and steering. Let’s look at proper kayak posture.

How to sit in a kayak

  • place the balls of your feet in the foot guides
  • point your toes outward
  • bend your knees upward and outward
  • allow your legs to apply pressure against the thigh braces

Paddling in Windy Conditions

Paddling into the wind can be exhausting. The key is to learn how to conserve energy.

You’re going to have to paddle harder but resist the impulse to fight your kayak or overcorrect it. Why? Because this will probably just make the situation even worse.

Instead, simply try to maintain as much control as possible and just be patient until the wind dies down.

A Guide to Beginning Kayaking Tips 

Learning to kayak provides the chance to discover an entirely new world of excitement and adventure. I hope this gave you some helpful advice for getting you started! Here are some more frequently asked questions I get from first time kayakers.

Kayaking 101 FAQs

What to wear kayaking
  1. Always (ALWAYS) wear a life jacket when kayaking. Your safety is the most important thing.
  2. Dress in layers so that you’re protected from the sun, but can take layers on or off as the temperature changes.
  3. Avoid cotton. It soaks up water and stays wet longer. Try quick-drying fabrics instead.
  4. Avoid zippers or buttons that will easily rust.
  5. A really great pair of water sandals is a must!
What are the different types of kayaks
  • Recreational Kayaks
  • Crossover Kayaks
  • Inflatable Kayaks
  • Day-touring Kayaks
  • Touring Kayaks
  • Sea Kayaks
  • Whitewater Kayaks
  • Folding Kayaks
  • Fishing K​​​​ayaks
  • Tandem Kayaks
  • Diving Kayaks
  • Surf Kayaks
  • Sail Kayaks
  • SUP Kayak Hybrid
  • Specialist Kayaks
How dangerous is kayaking

It depends on what type of kayaking you’ll be doing. If you’ll be paddling in a lake or a slow-moving river, there is relatively low risk involved as long as you’re wearing a life jacket. 

However, whitewater kayak has very real, high risk. If you’re a beginner, please don’t try whitewater kayaking without a professional guide.

What to bring kayaking

When you go kayaking, make sure you have:

  1. Paddle
  2. Life jacket
  3. Dry bags to store your cell phone and other belongings
  4. Sunscreen and sunglasses
  5. Whistle (for emergencies)
  6. Kayak repair kit

How many calories does kayaking burn

On average, people burn about 375 – 475 calories per hour kayaking.

Of course, the actual number of calories burned kayaking depends on your weight, the distance and speed you kayak, and difficulty of the paddling trail.

A 200-pound person will burn around 477 calories per hour kayaking with moderate effort. A 150-pound person will burn 358 calories per hour with the same level of effort.

What muscles does kayaking work

Kayaking mostly targets your upper body, but it can also really work your back muscles, chest, and core.

Primarily, you’ll be using your upper trapezius, rhomboids and lower trapezius, as well as your shoulder muscles, like your posterior deltoids.

Have questions I didn’t answer? Drop ’em in the comments!

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