Innovators in the 16th century invented the kayak as a means of getting around. At that time, cruising along the river in your kayak would have been the equivalent of a drive down the freeway, though a bit more exciting. It was not, however, the popular recreational activity it is now.
Modern kayaks are more frequently used for recreation than transport. They offer enthusiasts a way to explore parts of the great outdoors in an exciting, sustainable way with the added benefit of great exercise.
With that in mind, here are seven tips to remember if you’re putting paddle to water for the first time.
1. Kayak Rentals Are a Great Way to Start
For those with zero experience in kayaking, renting is the way to go. You’ll often find a shop with the necessary gear near the body of water you want to explore, but if you don’t, do a little searching around.
Renting will give you the opportunity to try out the equipment, get a feel for the sport and avoid any long-term investments. Many shops offer deals for frequent renters that will make it easy to get some experience and see whether you enjoy yourself.
Depending on whether you’re kayaking inland or elsewhere, what your local rental shop offers will differ. You should try both open-top ocean kayaks and river kayaks to see which you prefer. Keep in mind that where you live might make you partial to one style or the other.
2. Get Ready for a Rigorous Workout
If you’re going kayaking for the first time, you shouldn’t expect to lounge all day. Time on the water is relaxing and restorative, but kayaking can be hard work. Holding yourself upright and paddling is a serious upper-body and core workout. Paddling is one of the rare cardiovascular exercises that focuses on the upper body. It’s a hobby that can help you get in great shape, but be sure to bring some snacks if you plan to stay out long!
Speaking of staying out long, all that hard work can be rough on your back if you don’t have a boat that fits. Make sure you’re very comfortable in a kayak before you rent or buy it.
3. Protect Yourself From the Sun
Most of the world’s waterways get plenty of sun. That’s a benefit of the sport of kayaking, but it’s also a risk. When you go out, you need to protect yourself from sunburn for potentially long durations.
Wear a quality, water-resistant sunscreen and bring enough to reapply. As we’ll touch on later, you’re going to get wet. You can augment the sunscreen with sun-protective clothing like a wide-brimmed hat and a UV-protective long-sleeve shirt and pants. As always, don’t forget to hydrate. Even on the water, it’s very easy to get dehydrated, especially when it’s warm outside.
4. Catch up on Paddle Techniques
When you look at a kayak paddle, you might think the stroke is self-explanatory. It’s not rocket science, but with a little instruction, you might uncover a few techniques that you’re not using. Doing so will make you a great deal more nimble out on the water.
The typical forward stroke will get you moving toward your destination, and by practicing your form, you can make less work of the job and avoid splashing yourself all the time. There are also some clever strokes to help you reposition the boat on the water and travel in reverse when you need to.
You also need to choose the right paddle for your torso. If the height of your torso exceeds 28 inches, you’ll need to use a paddle length of 200 centimeters or above. If it’s under 28 inches, you’ll use a paddle length under 200 centimeters.
5. Keep Your Gear Dry
Don’t risk going out on the water with your cell phone, wallet and other valuables if you don’t have a dry bag. A dry bag is precisely what it sounds like. Typically made of waterproof material like silnylon or plastic with rubberized edges, these bags have special closure mechanisms that help keep water out. As an added bonus, they float!
Most rental shops will have dry bags that you can use when you take their boats out. If you’re planning to buy, you’ll need to invest in these bags along with your boat and paddle.
6. Accept That You’ll Get Wet
People sometimes believe that because they’re inside a kayak, they don’t have to be concerned about getting wet. If you’re considering this sport, erase that idea from your mind. You should plan on getting wet — even soaked. Depending on where you’re kayaking, the water will move around you, and some of it will make its way into your boat. Some recreational kayaks include skirts to keep your legs as dry as possible, but even those work only to a point, and you won’t find them on most rentals.
If you go kayaking, be ready to get wet. Wear quick-drying technical fibers and water shoes. Pack all your gear in dry bags and remove any jewelry or medical equipment that can’t handle water. It’s all part of the experience.
7. Learn to Roll the Kayak
If you’re going to go out alone in a sit-in model kayak, this is an important maneuver to know. Weight transfer is critical in any watercraft, and kayaks are particularly sensitive. Should the kayak roll over, you’ll be submerged and need to shift your weight to get the boat back upright or leave the kayak entirely. Fortunately, it’s not a difficult skill to learn.
There’s a technique to get back into a kayak from the water, but it’s challenging to master. We strongly suggest that you get some instruction on how to right a rolled kayak if you’re planning to take out a sit-in boat. It’s a good idea to have this information anytime, but if you’re going out alone, it’s essential. Plus, if you end up deciding to pursue the sport further, you’ll have an important skill under your belt.
As with any outdoor sport, the most critical part of enjoying kayaking is making time to get out and do it. Find some friends to paddle with. If you enjoy fishing, you’ll be happy to know about the whole communities of people who catch fish from their kayaks. Do you have a surfing background? Ocean kayaks can quite literally surf waves.
There’s a lot to unpack and enjoy with the sport. Maybe you’ll learn to navigate whitewater rapids, or perhaps you’ll never navigate a rapid in your kayaking career. What’s important is that you get out and do it. Do you have a favorite story from your early kayaking days? Tell us about it in the comment section below!
Dylan Bartlett is a lifestyle blogger with a fondness for fitness, outdoor recreation and similar topics. You can read more of his work on Just a Regular Guide, or check out his Twitter @a_regular_guide for frequent updates!