The Ultimate Guide To Learning How To Kayak

There are a few images that immediately pop up in your head when you think about exploring the outdoors, and one of them is a man going toe-to-toe with a rippling stretch of water in a kayak, complete with snow-covered peaks in the background. Not only does kayaking immerse you into the wilderness, but it also gives you quite a workout while you’re exploring, which is why we definitely recommend that you give it a shot.

While it doesn’t seem like the hardest activity in the world, there’s more to it than just paddling to glide on top of the glassy water. For those who want to try a new hobby like kayaking, there are plenty of places that allow you to rent kayaks, so you can get in the cockpit and shoot across the sea with relative ease. However, it would be beneficial for you to learn some tricks of the trade before you venture off on your aquatic journey. To help you get a grasp on kayaking, we’ll go over the anatomy of a kayak, making adjustments for a snug fit, getting into a kayak, holding the paddle correctly, and some basic paddling techniques. On top of that, we’ll even give you suggestions on some of the best kayaking gear out there, in case you want to take your relationship with your craft to the next level.

Safety First

A Quick Disclaimer

If it’s your first time kayaking, you’ll want to go with a group that’s led by a professional kayaking guide. Going solo may seem like more of an adventure, but it’s not so fun if you end up with some issues on the open water. Stick with your group and stay within earshot so that communication is always open. It would also be a smart idea to stay within a reasonable distance from the shore. Do not paddle out farther from shore than you’re able to easily swim. Additionally, it would benefit you to be aware of the weather and the temperature of the water. Wearing a wetsuit is highly recommended when the water is 60° F or lower. Although it might seem kind of odd, a whistle might come in handy as well as an extra safety precaution. Lastly, it almost goes without saying, but you should always wear a personal flotation device (PFD) and never take it off while you’re on the water.

Anatomy Of A Kayak

Learn The Basic Parts

Bow: The forward or front part of a boat.

Stern: The rear end or back of a boat.

Spray Skirt: It’s a flexible, waterproof cover for a kayak with a hole for the passenger’s waist that prevents water from entering the cockpit. A spray skirt is common among whitewater and touring boats.

Rocker: The rocker is the curvature of a kayak from the bow to the stern. Having more rocker allows for better maneuvering of the kayak because the bow and stern face less resistance.

Skeg: A detachable (or sometimes retractable) fin that stabilizes the kayak and also keeps the kayak in a straight line.

Rudder: A blade at the stern of a kayak that is able to pivot from side to side via foot pedals in the cockpit that’s mainly used to keep the kayak running straight.

Kayak Adjustments

Setting It Up For The Perfect Fit

When you’re out exploring nature and the beautiful sea life, the experience will definitely be ruined if you’re uncomfortable or wobbling on the water. That is why you should make the proper adjustments to your kayak while you’re on dry land.

  1. Take a seat in the kayak and see how supportive the positioning of the seat is. Check to see if the boat’s seat or setback is adjustable and fine-tune it accordingly. Take your time doing this, as it’s quite difficult to make adjustments while out on the water. As you’re doing so, keep this in mind: sitting more upright provides you with more balance and power.

  2. Next, you’re going to want to check the foot pegs. Set the balls of your feet on the foot pegs and make sure you have a slight bend in your knees. In most kayaks, the foot pegs can be adjusted by tilting and sliding them along a rail with preset stopping points. Note that it’s much easier to adjust the pegs when you’re not sitting in the kayak.

  3. After adjusting the foot pegs, get into the captain’s chair and make any further adjustments to the seat that allows your knees to be slightly bent and in firm contact with the sides of the cockpit. When you’re out there, this will help you control the boat if it sways too much. Your fit in the kayak should be snug, but you should still have enough room to shrimp out if you happen to capsize.

Boarding A Kayak

Getting In The Cockpit Like A Pro

I know what you’re thinking, but it’s actually not as simple as it sounds. There are plenty of people out there who have difficulty slipping into the driver’s seat of a kayak, so let’s take some time to go over the proper method of doing it to save you from the embarrassment of wobbling all over the place like you just had your first beer ever.

Scout around for an area where the water is shallow, calm, and free from rocks. Carefully slide your kayak into the water bow first. Keep your hand on the stern’s grab loop to keep it from floating off without you. Place the kayak into the water so the cockpit is in water that’s shallow enough to stand in. It is best to position the kayak alongside the shore for more control.

Place your paddle right behind the cockpit and center it, so you can use it as a brace while getting in. Step right over the cockpit so that the kayak is right between your legs. Sit directly on the paddle shaft and hold onto it for stability, and then get your legs into the cockpit one at a time. The leg that’s on the side of the shore should go in first so that you can lean toward the shore and use the blade of the paddle as support if needed. Once both of your legs are in, you can slide your rear-end into the seat and you’re golden.

Now that you’re sitting snugly in the kayak, you can put on your spray skirt if you have one, making sure the skirt covers the cockpit entirely. To launch your kayak, first place your paddle in front of you and push off from the shore with your arms and transition to the paddle when you’re ready. It’s as simple as that.

Get A Grip

How To Hold A Kayak Paddle

Your paddle is what keeps your adventure going while you’re out in the water and it’s also your saving grace because it can help you avoid the dangers that Posiden may place in your path. Before you head out, make sure the paddle blades are in line with one another. If the blades are offset, then they may be feathered, which is a better look for kayaking veterans, so you should put them back in line via the push-button or twist mechanism at the center of the shaft. Now, take a look at the paddle blades and adjust them if necessary so that the longer edge of each blade is on top, allowing them to cut into the water smoothly for more efficient strokes.

To find the true center of the paddle, grab it with both hands and place it right on top of your head. Next, adjust your elbows until they are bent at a 90° angle and then you can lower your paddle, finding yourself with an optimal grip. Take a close look at the subtle blade curvature and make sure the scooped sides of the blades are facing toward you. Your large punching knuckles should be in line with the top of your paddle blades for maximum effectiveness in your stroke. Remember to employ an ‘O’ grip with your thumb and index finger, and not a death-grip because that will tire your hands out real quick.

Paddling Technique

Control Your Journey

In order to gain full control of your aquatic adventure, you need to learn a few basic paddling techniques. These three strokes comprise the fundamentals of kayaking, allowing you to glide through the water with ease: the forward, reverse, and sweep stroke.

Forward Stroke

Just like the jab in boxing or the crossover dribble in basketball, this is the most commonly used move in kayaking. To properly execute a front stroke, you have to wind your torso up to one side and pierce the water with your blade on the same side next to your feet, submerging it. Then, rotate your torso until the blade moves behind you to propel the boat forward. Use your entire upper body, in addition to your arms, for more power. When your hand goes past your hip, slice the blade right out of the water and repeat the stroke on the other side. In order to keep your stroke at a comfortable angle, imagine that you’re checking the time on your watch with every stroke.

Reverse Stroke

This stroke has two purposes: moving you backward and stopping the forward motion of the kayak. In essence, this stroke motion is the exact opposite of the forward stroke. Cut into the water with the paddle’s blade close to your hip, push the water forward, using your arms and torso, and then slice the blade out of the water when it reaches your feet. Continue to repeat the stroke, alternating sides, and your boat will be moonwalking on the water. Remember that smooth is fast. Operate the stroke well by making clean slices into the water.

Sweep Stroke

If you continuously execute forward strokes on the same side, you’ll see that the kayak will turn very slowly, which is an effective method to turn if you’re looking to kill an hour or two without covering much ground. The sweep stroke can be thought of as an exaggerated forward stroke that’s used to turn the boat left or right much more effectively. Utilize the same motion as the forward stroke, except change the blade path so that it carves a much wider arc, like a half circle. A sweep stroke on the right side of the kayak will turn the boat left and vice versa.

Kayaking Gear

What You Need To Get Started

Many people find peace in kayaking, making it a fairly alluring hobby as it allows you to unplug and escape for a little while. After your first few boating sessions via kayak rental, you might want to consider grabbing your own gear. We’ve compiled a list of quality kayaking essentials that will allow you to quench your thirst for cutting through the water.

SeaSense Hand Bilge Pump Hose

Boasting an anti-leak design and a removable hose for easy storage, this bilge pump is just what you need if you get water in your kayak’s cockpit. It’s able to reach small, compact areas in your boat and is a breeze to use with its ergonomic, high-impact handle. This lightweight, corrosion-resistant bilge pump is 24 inches long with a 72-inch hose.

Purchase: $30

Seals Neoprene Kayak Cockpit Cover

Just in case things get a little choppy out on the sea, this neoprene spray skirt will keep your boat from filling up with water. It’s made from a durable, 3.5 mm high-performance neoprene with a stitched bungee attachment on the rim that allows it to make a completely dry seal. The tether hook, along with a very snug fit, will make sure nothing enters your kayak when you’re out paddling through the open sea.

Purchase: $55

Cannon Paddles Escape E Kayak Paddle

This is the ideal entry-level paddle for all types of kayaking. It has lightweight, tough fiberglass-reinforced nylon ‘Escape’ blades that provide excellent stability and make it easier for you to pierce through the water smoothly. The shaft is heat-treated and made from anodized aircraft-grade aluminum with oval grips, offering a solid strength to weight ratio. Made in the USA, this unfeathered paddle has three blade offset angle settings: 60° right or left-hand control and unfeathered.

Purchase: $70

Stohlquist Edge Life Jacket

Made from ripstop nylon, this PFD features padded shoulder straps, a lash tab, a front pocket for easy access to essential gear, adjustable straps for a personalized fit, mesh sides, and reflective markings for extra safety. This versatile life jacket is ideal for kayakers because it allows plenty of arm mobility and comfort. To ensure a snug fit, this PFD has a ‘WRAPTURETM’ shaped torso, contoured shoulders, and side pull adjustments. It also features ultra-soft buoyancy foam to further improve the fit of the jacket.

Purchase: $100

Riot Kayaks Edge 13

With a custom-fit seating system, quick-lock adjustable foot braces, bulkhead-sealed front and rear compartments for plenty of your gear, reflective lifelines, a security bar, a drain plug, integrated thigh races, a retractable skeg and foredeck shock cord storage, this kayak has everything you need. Measuring 13 feet long, this boat also comes with a flush mount rod holder in case you want to pause your journey and see if any fish are biting. Constructed with high-density polyethylene and weighing in at just 58 lbs, this kayak will serve you well whether you’re a beginner or have been kayaking for years.

Purchase: $871

20 Best Books For The Outdoorsman

Since you’ve taken up the outdoor hobby of kayaking, it would be beneficial to pick up some reading material for adventurers. Check out our picks for the best outdoorsman books on the market.