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How To Get into Kayaking

You may have seen images of people serenely gliding along the surface of the water, with a gorgeous mountainous backdrop. Maybe a friend told you about how fun kayaking is. It could just be something you’ve always wanted to try.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to start, there’s some things you need to know first.

How To: Get into Kayaking

1. Research

Learning all you can about kayaks and the art of kayaking is the first step to getting into it properly. Sure, you could get all excited and go out and purchase your vessel, paddle and essential gear, but that would be a rookie mistake.

Your Kayak Education

Relatively speaking, kayaking is not a difficult sport to become proficient, but it does require some basic skills you must learn to keep you safe and happy. It’s all about the personal experience and finding a hobby that brings you joy, right?

So trawl the internet for some great information to get you started.

Taster Terminology

There may be a lot of kayaking jargon you don’t know. We’ve listed some of the most common words below to give you a head start.

  • Cockpit: The hollow space where the kayaker sits.
  • Coaming: The raised lip that circumferences the cockpit.
  • Deck: The external top half of the craft.
  • Hull: The external bottom of the craft.
  • Kayak: A one-person, small watercraft. Materials used can vary from fibreglass, to plastic, to wood.
  • Paddle: The double-bladed implement used to move through the water.
  • Spray Skirt: A waterproof covering that helps to stop water from getting inside the cockpit.

There’s plenty more terms to discover, and I have linked an excellent guide to kayak terminology.

2. Safety

Water safety is the most vital component in a person’s journey into water sport. Safety should always come first in the water. Regardless of how the water appears, it can hide many dangers such as strong currents, or deceptive depths. No matter how much the element of water draws us in, we are only ever visitors to it.

During your research, you should have found an instructor who can teach you kayak safety in a swimming pool. Pools are the ideal space to learn, because they’re generally warmer than open water and crucially, they’re constantly calm. 

Taking lessons in kayak safety will also provide the bonus of trying out kayaking in the safety of a pool with someone who knows all about it before unnecessarily splashing out a lot of money on equipment before you know if you even like it.

Getting to know your kayak

Become intimate with the features of the kayak before you put it into the water and excitedly climb in. What is its weight? Can you carry it easily? What material is it made out of? How will the kayak react in the water under certain conditions in certain situations?

Getting into a kayak

Whichever way you choose to launch, you need to have your kayak in the water running perpendicular to the solid ground. You will have to straddle your craft at the cockpit rim and sit down on the back of the cockpit. This may not be elegant, but it’s necessary. Put one foot in at a time and ease your legs and bottom down into the cockpit.

Capsizing a Kayak

Don’t panic – that’s very important. Just know that capsizing is an inevitability. You’re going to roll at some point, so that’s why you are learning how to do it, and get out of it.

You will thank your instructor for being there with you as you learn to capsize. It should be said that the best way to learn to capsize and recover is with a capably trained expert. Don’t try it on your own.

Of course you can find guides for this on YouTube, but do you really want to entrust a life-saving technique to an online video? With an instructor beside you, you can learn exactly what it feels like, what you’re doing wrong, and how to do it right next time. No online guide is a substitute for that.

Exiting a Capsized Kayak

Don’t forget to put the paddle in your lap. Pull off the spray skirt by the handle. If you can’t find it, you can pull on the skirt directly from the side. Secure the paddle tightly between your hands and grip onto the coaming and push your hips side to side to wriggle out of the cockpit. Watch your head that you don’t get hit by the kayak or paddle. The last you thing you need is a head injury.

Uprighting Your Craft

Once you’re out of the kayak, rest the paddle on your weak-side shoulder. Then go to the bow of the kayak and lift it from the water’s surface, holding it with your stronger shoulder to allow the trapped water to flow out. Lift the kayak into the air quickly, pull the paddle underneath, and as the craft comes down, turn it over.

If you won’t be able to get back into your kayak, then keep it deck down in the water with the air trapped inside, and the craft will remain buoyant. Make sure to stay with your craft. If you ever have to lose the paddle or the kayak, then lose the paddle. It’s cheaper and matters a lot less.

If you happen to be kayaking with a friend, then they can always help you empty your kayak and re-right it.

Paddle Float Re-Entry

If you’re using a paddle float to get back into your kayak, you’ll need to fix the float to the paddle itself.  Then take the opposite end and rest it on the kayak at the back of the coaming. The paddle should be between you and the cockpit.

Place your arm over the paddle and hold onto it and the cockpit. Grip the side of the kayak, making sure that the paddle is 90 degrees to the craft forming a T. Hoist yourself up, kicking your legs, and swing one leg over the paddle and then the other.

Slide your body onto the rear deck while keeping weight on the paddle float and move the other leg into the cockpit. Place your other hand onto the paddle and grip it tight before swinging your remaining leg into the cockpit. Turn yourself back to a sitting position and ease yourself down into the cockpit.

Once inside, if there is still water, you can scoop it out before fastening the skirt and removing the paddle float.

For more information about water safety, there’s a guide on braces and rolls.

3. Equipment

Of course, you are excited to get to this stage of your journey, because now you can look for the essential gear you need and the beautiful kayak of your dreams. Make sure that you have done your research and have shopped around, before committing to purchases to avoid wasting your money on unnecessary items.

Essential Kayaking Gear

Other gear can be helpful too, such as survival gear like a compass, multipurpose tool, watch, paddling knife, emergency flares, GPS device, and a comms device (like a two-way radio and cell phone). You should have sunscreen, a head covering, sunglasses, emergency shelter and blanket. Plus, you should have prepared a trip itinerary and told a friend.

You should also have clothing gear that is suited to the water temperature you will be around. It must be quick-dry clothing to avoid hypothermia.

4. Excursions

Find the best watering hole with breathtaking scenery and get yourself ready for your maiden voyage. Getting into the water on your first solo excursion (and by solo excursion I mean without your instructor). Until you are a truly seasoned kayaker, you should always plan kayaking trips with a friend. They’ll be great company too. Don’t forget your planned itinerary, all your essentials, and maybe bring a GoPro to record your adventure.

Kayaking is a wonderful sport and pastime. It can take you to gorgeous places all around the world. The scenic backdrop is up to you, whether it’s a mountainous lake, a tree-lined river, or the open ocean. Your excitement to launch is understandable, but being trained and well-prepared is of the utmost importance. Happy trails.

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