A Beginner’s Guide to Kayaking: From Learning to Paddle to Buying a Kayak – TravelAwaits | Gmx Pharm

Kayaking is one of our favorite pastimes. We love the feeling of being in the water, seeing wildlife and birds, and the relaxation of just dipping in a paddle and floating around. Because we live on a lake and own kayaks, we have endless opportunities to be on the water.

We’ve also kayaked on vacation, exploring the bioluminescent bays of Puerto Rico, kayaking around Arcadia Bay, spotting grizzly bears from Alaskan waters, and swimming down the Delaware River in the Delaware Water Gap. And the highlight of your life – kayaking in Antarctica.

For us, kayaking is relaxation—we’re not whitewater, long-distance, or fast kayakers. Sure we get exercise and did some challenging kayaking, but enjoying the scenery and being with the water is our main goal.

Almost anyone can kayak. Here are some tips to start your kayaking journey.

Regina in her seat kayak

Photo credit: (Photo credit: Sue Davies / Travel For Life Now)

1. If you don’t try kayaking, you’ll never know how much fun it is

Our first piece of advice for beginners is to just do it. If you don’t try, you’ll never find the joy of being in the water and paddling through the stillness. Take a deep breath and let go.

2. Start slow – don’t bite off more than you can chew

Kayaking looks very easy and it can be. However, if you are brand new to kayaking, it is best to take it slow. Starting in a calm lake is much easier than tackling rapids in the Delaware River or the ocean on the first attempt.

It can be helpful to make your first trip with an organized tour or take a lesson. This way you have someone to teach you how to hold the paddle, turn, avoid danger and have the most enjoyable experience. If you decide to take a tour, look for a short trip rather than rushing into a 2-3 day adventure.

3. Learn how to paddle, turn and stop

Learning how to maneuver a kayak is essential. You need to know how to turn right, left and stop or even reverse. Basically, the kayak travels towards the side you are paddling. If you join an organized tour, you will receive a lesson on how to do this on the first day. Some kayaks (often used by tour operators) have oars for steering.

4. Rent before you buy

We had been kayaking for more than a decade before we ever considered buying a kayak. In the early years we mostly rented kayaks or took part in organized tours. This had many benefits. We learned that we love kayaking and got to know different types of kayaks. When we felt strong enough, we switched from organized tours to kayak rentals and went off on our own. From there we bought our own kayaks.

Kayaking on Kemah Lake

Sue and Regina kayaking on Kemah Lake

Photo credit: (Photo credit: Sue Davies / Travel For Life Now)

5. Always go out with a buddy

It is safe enough for a very experienced kayaker to go out alone. For new kayakers it is not. We always kayak together, even in the lake in our backyard. You never know when things can go wrong, and you can put yourself in a dangerous situation.

6. Don’t forget water, snacks, sunscreen, insect repellent and hats

One way to ruin a kayak trip is by not being prepared. Being out on the water in the sun means you are exposed to the elements and can become dehydrated. Make sure you bring water, sunscreen and a hat. We wear a rash guard so we don’t have to put sunscreen on frequently. When spending a long day in the water, snacks are essential. Insect repellent will also come in handy. We wear water shoes to get into the boat.

7. Always wear a life jacket

We always wear life jackets. It doesn’t matter whether we’re only on the road for half an hour or longer. You could accidentally capsize and wearing a life jacket could be the only thing keeping you afloat. In fact, we require every visitor to the lake to wear a life jacket when kayaking.

8. Keep things dry when kayaking

In the summer, you probably don’t mind getting wet from the spray while kayaking. But your camera, phone, and wallet won’t be so happy getting soaked. This is where a stuff sack comes into play. Dry bags are inexpensive and are designed to keep things dry in a boat or kayak. It’s an essential investment if you want to take photos from your kayak or just want to have your phone with you. Nowadays you can even buy a small protective case just for your smartphone and attach a foam float in case your phone falls in the water.

9. Gracefully step into a kayak

The easiest way to get into a kayak is from a beach or the shallow end of a lake. You just sit over the kayak, waddle to the seat, put your butt in the seat, and then bring your legs in. It sounds simple, but it takes some getting used to. It is also possible to board a kayak from a dock or a Zodiac. This takes more practice or you’ll end up in the water next to the kayak – which we’ve done more than once. Make sure you have your paddles nearby as you won’t want to climb back out.

seat kayak

seat kayak

Photo credit: (Photo credit: Sue Davies / Travel For Life Now)

10. Buy your first kayak

Our first kayak was an inflatable kayak. It was inexpensive and easy to transport and inflate. It’s also easy to store. 7 years later we still use it occasionally. We then bought inexpensive Pelican recreational sit-in kayaks, which are our main kayaks today. Since our car didn’t have a roof rack, we had to make two very slow trips with the kayaks tied to our car to get them home.

When buying a kayak, you must be prepared to store it during the off-season and to transport it to wherever you kayak. We have difficulty lifting our kayaks to put them on a roof rack so make sure you are able to do this before investing in a rack and kayak.

11. Choosing the right type of kayak

There are many types of kayaks including touring, fishing, competition and whitewater kayaks. Some are designed for one person and others for two people (tandem kayaks). It’s best to do your research before you buy. There are sit-on-top and sit-in kayaks. If you are very tall, be sure to buy a kayak that you are comfortable in.

Seat kayaks are towed

A couple of sit-on-top kayaks

Photo credit: (Photo credit: Sue Davies / Travel For Life Now)

What are the advantages of a sit on top kayak?

In a sit-on-top kayak, you sit on top of the kayak. Your legs are exposed to the sun (make sure you wear sunscreen) and the elements. They are very easy to put on and are best suited for warmer climates as you tend to get wet. Sit-on-top kayaks tend to be wider and easier to re-board if you should capsize. They are good for beginners.

What are the advantages of a sit-in kayak?

Sit-down kayaks offer more protection from the elements because you’re sitting indoors. They can be more of a challenge for a beginner and you need to make sure you are comfortable with the size of the kayak. Sit-ins have a lower center of gravity, so they are very stable and easier to control. Most sit-ins have dry bag compartments and cup holders for drinks.

In any case, make sure that the kayak provides sufficient support for your back, otherwise you will end up with back pain.

What about foldable kayaks?

There are a few companies that make folding kayaks. We have kayak friends who love them. They fit in a trunk and can be much easier to store for city dwellers.

Reggie with kayak paddles

Regina with kayak paddles

Photo credit: (Photo credit: Sue Davies / Travel For Life Now)

12. Buy your paddles

Paddles also come in a wide variety. We have paddles that are dismountable and adjustable in size. They are not very expensive and easy to store. Make sure you choose the right paddle length for your kayak and your height.

13. The meaning of a skirt

A splash guard is a waterproof fabric that fits around your waist and covers the opening of a sit-in kayak. It keeps you from getting wet from the spray and is essential when you’re kayaking in the cold, like in Alaska or Antarctica.

Sue kayaking in the fall with a wetsuit

Sue in her sit down kayak and wetsuit in the fall

Photo Credit: (Credit: Regina Ang / Travel For Life Now)

14. You can kayak in the cold…with the right gear

You can kayak in cold weather, but it’s important to have the right gear if you’re considering it. We recommend investing in a quality dry suit and skirt. A wetsuit will keep you warm, but a drysuit will keep you dry. In Antarctica we kayaked with thermals under a dry suit. In the fall, we wear wetsuits in New Jersey to keep warm. You also need to be careful not to get your hands wet. Large dishwashing gloves over warm gloves can be very effective.

We’ve spent hundreds of hours in our kayaks, enjoying the wildlife, the sunset or just swimming. We hope these tips are helpful to you as you get on the water. Have fun kayaking!

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