Learning to Kayak

two person riding on kayak

There is nothing more exciting than approaching a rapid and paddling through it. However, the first time out in a kayak can be scary. There are a few things to consider when approaching kayaking as a new paddler.

  1. Safety
  2. Physical Ability
  3. Mindset

Benefits of Kayaking

Kayaking outdoors is low impact on the body, a lifelong challenge. The fitness gains are good when going long distance, but the strengthening of the arms, joints and shoulders are genuine and important. However, the biggest benefit is in the attitude and perspective. Kayaking brings people face-to-face with real nature, the frothing and often cold chaos of whitewater. It can carries them to the most intimate and beautiful spots in the world. The simple pleasure of floating in that realm allows one to gain a whimsical maturity and humor that is hard to find elsewhere. And it is a lot of fun too!

Safety While Learning to Kayak

It is imperative that while learning to kayak that its done in a safe environment. Any sport involving water is dangerous and therefore the new paddler needs to be aware of these dangers. To eliminate some of the concerns, a new kayaker should choose an instructor that they are comfortable with.

Also, start learning in a pool setting so that the student can learn how their movements in the kayak are going to cause the boat to move. Most importantly, learn how to roll the kayak before getting into white water. Last but not least, choose a team to kayak with that employs good safety measures on the river to include safety boaters in a catch eddy down stream so that a ” T” rescue can be deployed swiftly if need be.

Physical Ability for Kayaking

A person does not have to be a marathon runner to kayak, but it is important that a person is in relatively good shape and can swim. River currents may be swift and if a person does come out of the boat then its a sure thing that swimming to shore, or a calm eddy behind a rock is going to require some strength.

Its also important to have a strong upper body and flexibility to move the hips with the boat and to be able to have a strong paddle stroke when needed. Many times put ins and take outs require a hike and carrying equipment. These things need to be considered. Flat waters may be easier at first, but swimming ability is still a concern.

Mindset for Learning to Kayak

Kayaks are flatter than canoes and kayaking is on top of the water. It is intimidating to look a white spray of water in the face, or to know that if something does go wrong, and it will, that currents may push or pull a swimmer in many directions.

A new paddler needs to have a survival instinct when it comes to the river and an understanding that if one does swim that the other kayakers will be there with a safety line, “T” rescue or a boat to hang on to. It is also a different feeling when the kayak rolls and a person has to make the decision to get out of the kayak and “pop the skirt”.

River waters are dark and when a person first rolls, it can be scary trying to get right side up again. In the moments taken to set up an Eskimo roll to right the boat, a kayaker’s head can hit a rock or the paddle may come loose. Its keen to have a strong mindset and confidence in one’s ability to right the boat and or to stay calm enough to do the right things under water.

Practice makes perfect when rolling and it can not be stressed enough that pool work is key to maintaining good practices in the off season. Timid strokes and slow decisions usually result in worse things happening than strong strokes and wrong decisions on the river. However, when considering safety, physical ability, and a good mindset, anyone can learn how to kayak.

Paddling Advice for Beginners

Get into kayaking with patience and with professional guidance early on. A few useful tips from a pro early on can save time, money and energy. The biggest recommendation is getting familiar and comfortable with immersion and with the basic techniques of swimming in whitewater and rolling a kayak.

Take a clinic from a reputable kayak school. So many people learn from their friends, and it often shows on the water (poor technique and judgment). Join a paddle club and get involved with the organizing and logistics of taking a paddling trip: half the fun is often the community and thrill of traveling with other paddlers. It’s a special tribe – get to know it.

At the outset, it’s also a good idea for beginning paddlers to explore venues that allow them to build skills before venturing into more challenging “wild” rivers.

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