Taking in the views of shores and riverbanks as you soar across the water is a fantastic way to get to know your surroundings.
It’s also great for spotting wildlife. In some areas, you can be lucky enough to paddle alongside creatures such as manatees, dolphins, and turtles.
It’s not surprising, then, that kayaking has become a favorite activity among water enthusiasts from around the world.
However, kayaking isn’t always a walk (or swim) in the park – it can be hard work too. Currents, wind, and obstacles in the water mean that you have to have your wits about you when setting off on any kayaking adventure, and it can be a little daunting for beginners.
From gear to paddling techniques, there’s a lot to learn about kayaking. So, to help you ease your way into your kayaking endeavors, we’ve put together this list of top kayaking tips for beginners.
Try Before you Buy
As a beginner kayaker, it’s a good idea to rent before you buy. After all, no two kayaks were created equal, and trying a few different types of kayaks means you can see which one you prefer before you invest.
If you have friends who are already into kayaking, why not take theirs for a whirl and save yourself some rental costs?
We’ll look at techniques in a moment (below), but it’s worth bearing in mind that you can practice some of them before heading out on your first trip.
If you want to brush up on your paddling, why not watch some YouTube videos or ask for some tips in store and then practice at home? You could even have a go at kayaking in a pool or pond first to build up your confidence.
Personal Kayaking Gear
What gear you take with you on a kayaking trip will depend largely on the kind of trip you’re planning – you’ll probably take different things with you if you’re on a wildlife spotting trip versus a daily exercise mission.
Despite this, there are a few bits of gear that are worth taking with you on almost any kayaking trip.
Wear Sunglasses (and a Lanyard!)
If you’re out on the water in the sunshine, you should definitely protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. Ordinary sunglasses are fine for most outings but, if you’re looking for wildlife or fishing from your kayak, it’s worth investing in a polarized pair that lets you see what’s going on underneath the water more easily.
People are often put off taking sunglasses with them out of fear that they’ll tumble into the water at some point (they aren’t the cheapest bit of gear, after all), but this is easily avoided by using a good lanyard. They might not look super cool, but boy are they worth it if you don’t want to watch your favorite pair of glasses disappear into the depths of the waters below.
People kayak in all kinds of climates, so there isn’t a one-rule-suits-all approach to kayaking clothes.
Essentially, you don’t want to be too hot or too cold, so you might want to take anything from hats to rash vests to wetsuits to even rain jackets to protect you from the elements.
Keep your Gear Safe and Dry
No matter what you decide to take with you, you’ll want to keep most of it dry.
There are heaps of options out there catered to all kinds of budgets. For instance, if you’re only after something to keep your warm layers and packed lunch dry, you can pick up a dry bag for a fairly low price.
The more economical bags can stand up to some splashes or enter the water briefly, but they won’t stay waterproof if submerged for a long time. So, if you’ll have valuable items with you, such as a phone or a speaker, then you might want to invest in a full-on dry rucksack (like this one from YETI) – I swam across a creek once with it on my back and the contents stayed dry as a bone.
They can be quite expensive though, so if you’re on a tight budget you might prefer a sealed container instead.
Take Extra Snacks
Last but by no means least… snacks. If you’re heading out for a full day’s exploration, you’ll need to keep up your fuel. Paddling can be hard work, especially for beginners.
I recommend taking more than you think you’ll need (you can always bring them back with you). The same goes for water, especially in hot countries where dehydration can rapidly lead to heat stroke and other serious conditions.
Even for shorter trips, it’s worth having some back-up food and drinks aboard in case you get lost, need more breaks than you thought, or the conditions change and you’re out for longer than expected.
Plan Your Trip
We don’t want to take all the fun out of your kayaking trips, but a bit of pre-planning is definitely worth it to make sure your trip goes as smoothly as possible.
Check the Weather
Just because you wake up to a clear sunny day, it doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Conditions can change rapidly, and bad weather can make your life difficult – rain can fill your kayak, fog can hide your route, and winds can make paddling tough.
You should also get to know water patterns in your local area, including whether tides and currents are likely to affect your trip.
Plan a Route
If you’re renting a kayak, ask a member of staff about routes in the area. Alternatively, there are heaps of kayaking routes online or you can research one yourself.
Go for shorter routes to begin with, and slowly increase the distance over time as you become more confident on the water. If you’re worried about remembering you’re planned route, there’s nothing wrong with taking a hard copy of a map or a GPS along with you.
Factor in Some Breaks
Make sure you factor in some spots where you can pull up and take a break if you need to.
It’s a good idea to mark out some potential early exit points from the water in case of emergencies too.
Allow Extra Time
Make sure you allow plenty of time for your trip – there’s nothing worse than manically paddling to get home before darkness hits.
You also want to make sure you have enough energy to get home. In some waters, it’s a good idea to set off into the current so that you can sit back and let the current bring you home, but it will depend on the water in your area.
Beginner Kayaking Techniques
There are plenty of videos and step-by-step guides on kayaking online, so we’ll add a few good ones here to get you started.
Here are a few things that beginner kayakers often forget or struggle with.
Take Off From the Shore
The easiest way to launch your kayak is definitely from the shore. Simply place the kayak on the edge of the water or in very shallow water, use the paddle for support, sit in it, and push yourself off. Like this:
Beginner kayakers often complain of back troubles on their first few outings, so remember to use your core when paddling and save your back muscles some work.
A good sitting position will also help – place your feet in the slots and apply some pressure with your feet pointed ever so slightly towards the edges of the kayak… and avoid slouching as much as you can.
Remember your Reverse Stroke
As you spend more and more time on the water, you’ll end up branching out and using various types of strokes.
As beginners, you’ll likely want to master the art of the basic forward stroke before you progress to the others, but it’s worth learning your reverse stroke as soon as possible. Far too often, beginners waste precious energy using their forward stroke to turn in large circles, when actually a quick backwards stroke would get eh job done far more efficiently.
So, there you have it, some tips for anyone new to the world of kayaking.
We haven’t touched on safety features here, but there are loads of online resources available that you can check out before your next watery adventure.
If you’re still feeling hesitant about setting off on your first kayaking adventure, then why not sign up to a kayaking tour? That way, you’ll meet other beginners and you can exchange stories, all while knowing that you’re in the safe hands of a seasoned guide.