Water Sports

Kayaking for Beginners: Complete Guide on How to Kayak

Are you thinking about going kayaking for the first time? Then read our complete guide on how to kayak for beginners where we cover the basics.

Are you looking for a new activity? Perhaps a way to get in shape without having to go to the gym? Something that will allow you to enjoy the beauty of the natural world? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then kayaking is the perfect activity for you!

This sport is the perfect way to get outside, soak up the beauty of nature, get some much-needed respite, and not to mention, a really good workout.

While kayaking is certainly an enjoyable and rewarding activity, if you’re new to the sport, you need to make sure that you’re properly prepared. If you just “wing” it, your experience may not be as enjoyable as you hoped it would be; plus, there’s a really good chance that you could end up putting yourself in a dangerous situation.

To ensure your first experience kayaking is as successful and enjoyable as possible, we’ve put together this kayaking guide for beginners, which highlights several tips, tricks, and other important details that will ensure your adventure on the water goes as smoothly as possible.

Reasons to Kayak

Before we get into tips and other pertinent information related to kayaking, let’s talk about some of the great reasons why you should consider taking up this activity.

An Appreciation for Nature

Nowadays, the average person spends so much of their time cooped up inside. Getting outside and enjoying nature is beneficial for so many reasons; it helps you de-stress, clears your mind, lets you soak up some sunshine (and vitamin D), and some fresh air, just to name a few of the physical benefits.

Plus, kayaking lets you enjoy so much of the beauty that nature has to offer. There’s really nothing like paddling so close to the water and seeing some pretty incredible shorelines.

Depending on where you’re kayaking, you may even have the chance to get up-close and personal with wildlife; fish, birds, and maybe even dolphins and whales.

Kayaking is a fun and physical activity
Kayaking is a fun and physical activity

Physical Activity

Regular physical activity is vital for your overall health and well-being. While going to the gym and enrolling in exercise classes are certainly ways that you can get into – and stay in – shape, these activities aren’t for everyone.

If you’re looking for a more exciting way to get some exercise, kayaking is definitely a great choice. Paddling on the water is a great workout for the upper body and it will strengthen your cardiovascular system, too!

Plus, there’s nothing boring about it! Lakes, oceans, bays, sounds; there are so many different bodies of water that you can kayak on. And, even if you kayak on the same body of water all the time, each excursion is sure to offer something different.

The scenery is constantly changing, as is the water, so it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll never get bored (the same can’t be said for working out at the gym or while following along to an exercise video).

Solo Kayaking is a great way to relax
Solo Kayaking is a great way to relax

It’s Relaxing and Relieves Stress

Above, we mentioned that kayaking is a great way to relieve stress, but we feel that this is one of the most important benefits of this activity that we really need to discuss it in greater detail.

Between work, taking care of children, school, tending to your home, and the never-ending list of chores that you have to attend to (or whatever your specific circumstances may be), it’s easy to get overworked and overwhelmed.

When you start feeling like the weight of the world is on your shoulders and you’re going to buckle under it, jump in your kayak and hit the water! Breathing in the fresh air, being physically active, feeling the rhythmic motion of the water underneath you, and taking in all of the gorgeous scenery is sure to instantly relieve your stress.

In fact, most kayakers say that they feel like re-charged and like a totally new person after they hit the water in their vessels.

It’s a Great Way to Connect with Loved Ones

Lastly, kayaking is an awesome way to reconnect with the ones that you love. Whether you have a two-person kayak or you paddle the water with a few of your friends or family members, kayaking is an awesome way to get together with the people who matter most with you.

There are no phones, computers, TVs, or other distractions to contend with that commonly pull your attention away.

Paddling on the water and taking in the sites is a really great bonding experience.

Kayaking: The Basics

Now that’s we’ve touched on some of the very good reasons why you should consider taking up kayaking, let’s discuss the basics of the sport for beginners.

Below, we’ll touch on some important tips, details, and other pertinent information related to kayaking, including:

  • Types of kayaks
  • Whether you should rent or buy
  • Essential equipment
  • How to set yourself up for success
  • How to launch your vessel

Among other important details.

Types of Kayaks

First, let’s review the different types of kayaks, because there are several different options to choose from.

  • Sit-on-top. If you’re only planning on kayaking on calm bodies of water, such as a smaller lake that doesn’t tend to have a strong current or waves, then a sit-on-top kayak is a good choice for you. Additionally, they’re better to use in warmer climates, as you’re more likely to get wet. As the name suggests, with this type of kayak, you sit on top of the vessel and getting into and out of is pretty easy.
  • Sit-in. Sit-in kayaks, as you can probably guess, are those that you, well, sit in. They feature an opening that you climb into and the vessel surrounds you. They’re great for cooler climates and on active waters, as they provide more protection and let you have better control than the sit-on-top variety, making them the perfect option for choppy water and long-distance trips.
  • Touring. This type of kayak tracks straight and is intended for long distances on either choppy or calm waters. They’re a bit bulkier than the standard sit-in variety, however, and they tend to have a heftier price tag.
  • Inflatable. This type of kayak is ideal if you’re short on space, as it can literally be inflated and deflated, making it easier to tuck away when not in use. They’re durably built and there are recreational options, as well as more rugged models.
  • Tandem. If you’re planning on kayaking with loved ones on a regular basis – a spouse, a child, friends, etc. – a tandem kayak is a great choice. As the name indicates, it’s a two-person kayak, in which you and your kayaking partner will sit one in front of the other. It should be noted, however, that they’re larger than single-person kayaks and can be a bit too heavy to operate on your own.
Kayaking is also fun in groups and family
Kayaking is also fun in groups and family

To Rent or To Buy? That is the Question

A lot of beginner kayakers wonder if they should rent or buy a vessel. It’s a hard question to answer and really depends on your specific situation; however, we do have some recommendations.

For your first few excursions, you might want to rent a kayak to make sure that you really like the activity (once you get on the water the first time, most people find that they love it!). Even better, if you know someone who owns a kayak, consider asking if you can borrow it for a few rounds on the water instead of renting one.

If you do decide that you enjoy it and this activity is something that you want to partake in on a regular basis, then you should definitely make the investment and purchase a kayak. While you’ll have to pay more upfront, in the long run, you’ll spend a lot less than you would if you were constantly renting a kayak.

Essential Equipment

So, what other equipment will you need in addition to a kayak? Here’s a rundown on the basics:

  • A paddle. Obviously, you’re going to need a paddle to get where you’re going; a kayak isn’t going to move itself; well, currents could certainly move the vessel, but you want to be in control, and that’s why you need a paddle. Paddles come in a variety of types and sizes. Be sure that the one you purchase coordinates with the style and height of your kayak. If you need assistance, an experienced kayaker can offer you guidance.
  • A personal floatation device (PFD). Even if you’re an expert swimmer, you absolutely must have a personal flotation device (PFD) when you’re kayaking. Even when you are paddling on seemingly calm waters and stay close to the shore, you never know when conditions could change. If you capsize, you’ll be thankful that you have a PFD to rely on. Safety always comes first, and a PFD will ensure is the #1 safety rule for kayaking. Make sure that it’s approved by the coast guard and that it fits you properly. Try before you buy; you want to be sure that it’s snug enough so that it won’t shift if you do happen to go overboard, but that it also provides enough space so that you can move comfortably.
  • A spray kit. If you’re planning on using a sit-in kayak, you’re going to want to bring a spray kit along. Also known as a spray deck, this handy device acts as a barrier, preventing water from entering into your vessel while you’re paddling or when you encounter choppy or rainy conditions.
  • A bilge pump. You’ll also want to have a bilge pump on-board. This device is used to remove any water that accumulates inside your kayak. Not only will it help you stay dry, but it can also help to keep your vessel balanced. Additionally, if you do capsize, you can use your bilge pump to remove any water that remains inside your kayak.
Recommended Kayaking equipment
Recommended Kayaking equipment

Additional Items

In addition to the above-mentioned gear and equipment, you’ll also want to bring along the following:

  • A few water bottles, so you can stay well-hydrated while you’re kayaking. Paddling can work up a serious sweat; add in the sun and high temperatures (if that’s the type of weather you’re kayaking in), and you’re definitely going to get thirsty.
  • If you’re only planning on a short excursion, a few healthy snacks, such as trail mix, fruits, veggies, and granola bars should do just fine. If you’re going to be going out for a longer trip, pack a meal of healthful foods. If any of the food you’re planning n bringing needs to stay cool, pack it in a cooler with plenty of ice packs.
  • Sunscreen and a lip balm that contains SPF to protect your skin and lips from the sun. Even if it’s cloud, you’ll want to protect yourself; it’s definitely possible to get a sunburn on cloudy days.
  • Sunglasses and a strap to secure them in place. Sun glare can get pretty bad on the water, as light reflects off of it. Like sunscreen and lip balm, you’ll also want to bring them along on cloudy days. Back a case if you don’t need them, but if you do, you’ll be glad you have them.
  • A whistle that you can sound to alert others of your location in the event of an emergency.
  • A headlamp or a flashlight, especially if are paddling in the late afternoon or close to sunset. If you’re setting sail early in the day but you’re planning on a long excursion, you’ll also want to bring at least one of these items along.
  • A compass and maps so that you can track your location and stay on course.
  • A first aid kit filled with all of the essentials; bandages, antiseptic wipes, antibacterial cream, etc.
  • Insect repellent to keep those pesky critters at bay.
  • A change of clothes. If you capsize or hit choppy water, you’ll be happy that you brought them, as you’ll be able to continue your trip warm, dry, and comfortable.
  • Waterproof bags to stow all of those items that you don’t want to get wet; your phone, wallet, ID, maps, and a change of clothes, for example.

How to Set Yourself Up For Success

As a beginner kayaker, there are some important things that you should do to set yourself up for success to ensure that your experience is as enjoyable, successful – and most importantly, as safe – as possible.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • When you’re first starting out, we strongly recommend choosing calm waters as opposed to rough, choppy seas. Getting the hang of kayaking can be a bit tricky in the beginning. Until you’re comfortable steering your vessel, for safety sake, it’s definitely best to paddle on calm water. As you become more experienced, you can begin exploring rougher locations.
  • Stay close to the shore. In the event that you capsize, you’ll have an easier time getting back to dry land. Furthermore, paddling is hard work and you need to work up your upper body strength. Staying close to shore is the best way to ensure your safety; if you go out too far, you could end up becoming over-exerted.
  • Check the forecast before you head out. When you’re just starting, kayaking in clear weather is strongly encouraged. Navigating in the rain can be tough. Until you are comfortable handling your vessel, it’s best to paddle under clear skies.

Getting Into Your Vessel

It might seem pretty simple and straightforward, but a lot of beginners are surprised to find that getting into their kayak is a bit trickier than they imagined it would be.

  • When you’re just starting out, getting into your kayak from solid ground.
  • Pull your kayak close to the shore and sit inside or on top (depending on the kayak you’re using) the vessel.

If you’re planning on entering the kayak from a dock, getting into it is a bit trickier.

  • Slowly lower your vessel into the water.
  • Position your kayak so that it’s parallel to the dock.
  • Set your paddle on the dock so that you can easily reach it once you’re on board.
  • Sit on the edge of the dock and slowly lower yourself into the kayak.
  • Once you’re in place, grab your paddle off the dock.

How to Launch

Once you’re in your kayak, you’ll need to launch so that you can start paddling; that is, if you’re leaving from shore.

  • When you’re seated in your vessel, just use your arms or your paddle to push the kayak – and yourself – off of the shore.
  • If you’re going out with someone else, consider having them push you off the shore.
  • If you’re going to be kayaking from a dock, use your hand or your paddle to push you off the dock.
  • Alternatively, you can use your paddle to push off the ground under the water.
  • Once your cleared from the dock, you can dip your paddle in the water and start moving can.

Holding Your Paddle

Another thing that seems pretty obvious, but that many beginners find a bit more challenging than they expected is holding the paddle.

To hold your paddle, using both hands, grasp it in the center of the shaft. Your arms should be positioned at a 90 degree angle and your hands should be a little wider than your body width.

Jake is an explorer, he loves all types of outdoor pursuits such as hunting, fishing & hiking. Jake has been a full-time writer & blogger for many years now and he's here to share his passions with the BeActiveOutdoors readers. Contact Jake@beactiveoutdoors.com

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