Kayaking for Beginners: 15 Tips and Tricks You Need to Know

Kayaking for Beginners- 15 Tips and Tricks You Need to Know

For those who are new to the kayaking scene, it can seem overwhelming with all the different techniques you need to master. If you are a beginner looking for a little guidance before you head out onto the water, have a look into these fifteen tips and tricks you need to know.

1. Taking A Lesson

From the first moment your interest in kayaking has sparked, you should plan to take at least one lesson. Consulting a professional will give you an opportunity to kayak in a safe and controlled environment. In a lesson, the instructor will go over the basics needed to kayak successfully.

Many times taking a lesson will allow you to have access to kayaks and gear without having to purchase them. This is not only a great chance to see if you will actually enjoy kayaking, but it allows you to do so without making the investment.

Kayak lessons are generally inexpensive and can be done one on one or with a group. It is ideal to learn from experienced professionals before you head out on the water. This way you are aware of what to expect and what you will need to know and do to stay safe and have fun.

2. Know the Basics of Paddling

Learning and understanding the proper paddling techniques will not only help you kayak successfully but also help you kayak for longer periods of time. There are several things involved with the correct paddle technique. 

In order to correctly use your paddle, do the following:

  • Sit up straight- Correct posture will not only help you stay balanced, but it will help you steer the kayak and keep it going the direction you want it to go. Sitting upright with a slight lean forward will give you the most control. If you are leaning back, you will begin to lose control of the kayak.
  • Holding the paddle- You should grip your paddle with your hands over and your thumbs under. Keep a firm, yet relaxed grasp onto the paddle.
  • Starting to paddle- Your torso is the source of power when you are paddling and you should use it as such. This ensure that you take strain off of your shoulders, back, and arms while at the same time propelling you forward. From here, you want to start with a basic forward paddle.
  • Basic Forward Paddling- To use this basic paddling technique, you will need to use deep and even strokes. Start by winding your torso to one side. Place the blade of your paddle parallel to your foot. The paddle should come out of the water by the time the blade reaches your hips. From there, unwind your torso and repeat on the opposite side.
  • Basic Turning- To turn your kayak, all you need to do is use your paddle as a rudder and drag it closely to your kayak. The kayak will turn towards the side that the blade is on. This technique will cause you to lose a lot of your momentum. To keep your momentum going, add in a sweep stroke.
  • Sweep Stroke for Turns- Using a sweep stroke to turn can be done by alternating a forward stroke on one side followed by a sweep stroke on the other. You will sweep the paddle wide on one side of the kayak until it touches the stern (also known as the back of the boat). Repeating this pattern will turn the kayak in a wide arc.

To see these skills demonstrated, refer to the video below.

There are several common mistakes that you want to avoid when you paddle. Many beginners often find they make these mistakes without realizing they are doing so.

Common mistakes

  • Not using correct posture
  • Placing strain on the wrists by letting them bend
  • Not using enough torso rotation
  • Ending the paddle stroke too soon or too late
  • Rocking the kayak side to side due to abrupt weight shifting

Remember to prevent these mistakes so you do not form bad habits, but learning to paddle with the correct skill does take time. Be patient with yourself and keep practicing.

3. Size matters

It is very important that you are fitted with the appropriate size kayak, paddle, and gear. An instructor will make sure that you learn the basics of kayaking, but they will also ensure you are fitted with the right sized equipment.

Sea kayaks are known to be less tippy than say, the short white water kayaks which make them a better choice for beginners. You will need to adjust your foot pegs and seat to fit you, as well as your paddle length. An instructor can easily guide you on how to adjust these accordingly. It is also important that you have a well fitted PFD (personal flotation device) as these devices can only perform well if they fit correctly.

If you choose to not use an instructor to assist you, you can go to your nearest kayak outfitter. There you will find associates who are familiar with the gear and can help you to find what will fit and suit you best.

4. Getting in and out of your Kayak

Learning how to properly get in and out of your kayak is a very important step for successful kayaking. There are a couple techniques you can use to get in and out of your kayak if you are not using a dock to do so.

Technique 1

  • Make sure your kayak is in the water with the nose facing out.
  • Place your paddle out of your way, but make sure it is still within reach when you get in the kayak.
  • Place one foot into the kayak.
  • Grab both sides with your hands for balance.
  • Lower yourself into the boat and bring your other leg inside.

Technique 2

  • Make sure your kayak is in the water with the nose facing out.
  • Place your paddle out of your way, but make sure it is still within reach when you get in the kayak.
  • Grab both sides of the kayak.
  • Sit your bottom down into the boat.
  • Swing both legs around and place them inside the kayak.

In order to successfully get out of the kayak, simply use either of the above techniques, just use them in reverse.

To see these skills demonstrated step by step, watch the video below.

5. Learning How to Launch

Launching your kayak from the shore can be done quite easily. Simply follow these steps:

  • Make sure your kayak is facing with the nose towards the water.
  • Get into your kayak.
  • Grab your paddle and begin using the forward stroke.
  • If you are in shallow water you can use the ground to push yourself out.
  • Keep your body balanced throughout to lead your kayak where you want to go.

For coming into shore:

  • Simply paddle as far as you can go until the kayak stops or you reach a point where it is safe to get out of the boat.
  • Follow the techniques listed above to get out of your kayak.
  • Grab your kayak and turn it over if you have noticed there is water inside the hull. Remove the water by giving the kayak gentle see-saw motions. Once the water is gone, you can carry or pull your kayak to shore.

6. Learn How to Roll

It is inevitable that you will flip your kayak at least once, whether you are a beginner or not. You should prepare yourself in the instance your kayak will flip so you do not panic and cause harm to yourself or damage to your kayak. There are a few different ways to roll your kayak, but we will start with the most basic way.

This technique is called ‘The Buddy Roll’, named because you will need a second kayaker to practice this skill.

In order to do the Buddy Roll, follow these steps:

  • Tuck close to the boat- As soon as you find yourself upside down, immediately tuck your body as close to the kayak as possible. This is in case there are rocks under the water. If you have tucked your body and head to the deck of the kayak, any rocks will hit your PFD or your helmet instead of hitting your face.
  • Reach towards the sky- After you have tucked you will want to reach both of your arms up and out of the water. This will indicate to your kayak partner that you are in need of a rescue. The fellow kayaker should paddle to you as fast as they can.
  • Waving and Looking- Once you have your arms out of the water, you should begin to wave them back and forth, feeling for your friend’s kayak. You should also be looking towards the surface of the water in order to see the kayak approaching. The fellow kayaker should bring their boat as close to the waving arms as possible.
  • Grab the kayak- When you see or feel that your partner’s kayak is close by, grab the kayak. If you can feel for the kayak loop, this is a great place to grab the kayak.
  • Rolling yourself up- Once you have grabbed the kayak, you will need to use your hips to flip your kayak back around.
  • Find your paddle- Your paddle should be near you, but in case it isn’t ask your friend to retrieve your paddle. You should keep your hands in the water and use them to paddle alongside your friend until you have gotten your actual paddle back.

This technique can only be used with a kayaking buddy and can take up to fifteen minutes to master. It is a great skill to have once you understand how it works and can be used in the event you flip your kayak when you are with your friends.

7. Wet release

If you find that you are out practicing or kayaking alone, it is vital for you to learn how to use a wet release. This is used in the event that you flip over your kayak and need to exit your boat quickly. 

If you have found yourself flipped over and need to exit, follow these four steps:

  • Lean forward
  • Push the bottom of your kayak with your paddle
  • Release the spray skirt which keeps you tied into the boat
  • Ensure that the skirt is all the way off and exit the boat and swim to the surface

It is important to stay calm and not panic if you do find yourself in this situation. Practice this a few times with a friend to spot you until you can follow through with a wet release confidently and quickly.

8. Picking a Route

When you are first starting out with kayaking, you will be amazed at how many different routes and water ways you can now access. It is important to choose a route or water way that has calm waters. You should not take your kayak to white waters until you are more advanced.

Keep in mind any bays that are featured on your route in the event you need to anchor your kayak and take a break. Try to choose a route that will be easy enough for your skill set. Start small and work your way up as you have more practice and gain more advanced skills.

9. Check the weather

It is absolutely essential to check the weather forecast before going on any kayak outing. Knowing what is expected will help you to stay safe and prevent any accidents. It is important to avoid fog at all costs. Visibility can be lost as quickly as five to ten minutes and if you lose sight of the land it can be a scary situation.

Beginners should also remember to avoid high winds and choppy waters. Both of these elements make it difficult to steer and control the kayak. Even on the clearest and sunniest of days, expect to have some amount of wind and waves. Consulting a marine forecast before you go out on the water is the best way to prepare for what is ahead or even change the date of your trip to stay safe.

10. Bring a map

With today’s technology bringing along a smartphone can be of great help for GPS signals. However, phones can only last as long as their battery allows or as long as they are range to maintain a signal. While using technology like a smartphone makes it easier to navigate waters, it is not always a reliable way to maintain course.

It is suggested that anyone who wants to be on the water regularly should learn how to read a nautical map and a compass. Learning these skills can be vital if you find yourself in a dire situation without any technology. Just be sure that you also remember to pack your compass and nautical map before you go.

11. Take along a friend

Kayaking with a friend (or two, or three) is a great way to have fun and make memories. It is also a way for you all to stay safe in the event of a flipped kayak or rougher waters. In fact, kayaking alone is not recommended, especially if you are a beginner. If you can go on the water with experienced kayakers, you will not only feel and be safer, you might learn a thing or two from the more advanced kayakers.

Overall kayaking with a friend or group of experienced kayakers is the way to go so you all stay safe, have fun, and learn from each other.

12. Waterproofing essentials

When you are packing gear for your kayaking trip, you will need to include water proof items. Having a waterproof bag, often referred to as a wet sack, in your kayak will help keep any valuable items safe and dry. You should put any items that you do not want to lose or damage in the event of a boat flip inside the wet sack.

Items to include in a wet sack are:

  • Phone or electronics
  • Watches or jewelry
  • Wallet
  • Car or house keys
  • Snacks or food

Many brands of wet sacks will actually float should they end up in the water. If you are going to purchase one, having one that floats will save you from panicking should your kayak flip and everything go over-board. Even if your wet sack floats, it is suggested to secure it to your kayak by tying it down.

13. Stay safe

Staying safe while you are out on the water is one of the most important factors of kayaking. 

You can maintain a safe and fun kayak excursion by doing the following:

  • Letting a friend or loved one know where you are going, how long you intend to be gone, and what time you will be coming back.
  • Kayaking with friends or more experienced kayakers.
  • Checking the weather before you go.
  • Avoiding areas that are prone to sharks or alligators.
  • Avoiding rough or choppy waters.
  • Learning how to wet release or buddy roll before you go out.
  • Come back to shore well before dark.
  • Always wear a Personal Flotation Device.
  • Always wear a helmet, especially if you are in an area that has rocks under the water.
  • Tie down any gear or supplies so they are not lost in the event of a flip.

14. Know your limits

While kayaking can be a fun and relaxing way to spend an afternoon, make sure you do not bite off more than you can chew. When you first start out, stick to calm waters. This will give you the chance to master paddling techniques, practice wet releases or buddy rolls, as well as make sure you are familiar with your kayak and how to control and steer it.

It is vital to be honest with yourself and your body’s limits. Do not push yourself too far or you could end up exhausted and still have to paddle back to shore. Over exhausting yourself is how you can become injured as well. Go easy on yourself at first and just focus on getting down your technique. When your techniques become second nature and your stamina has become stronger, then you will find yourself ready to advance to stronger currents or rougher waters.

15. Practicing

No matter which technique you need to work on, it is important to keep practicing until each of the kayaking skills you need to be a successful kayaker are second nature. It is advised to practice with a more skilled and more advanced kayaker so they can correct your technique should the need arise. They will be able to spot any mistakes or bad habits forming and they can help you to correct that behavior.

Practicing on flat water (such as a lake or a pond) is ideal for beginners who are not athletic or confident enough to practice on rivers. The calmness of flat waters will allow you to focus on honing your technique instead of losing your energy fighting a current or keeping your kayak balanced and straight.

At the end of the day, practicing is what will make you a better kayaker. Do not give up or be hard on yourself as kayaking skills can take time to master. In due time, you will be paddling with the best of them.

For those who are just starting out with this water sport it can seem like there is so much to learn before you can go out on advanced waters. As long as you take your time, know your limits, and practice as much as you can, beginner kayakers will soon find themselves advancing and joining their kayaking friends on rivers and white waters.

Kayaking as a beginner can be a long road but with due diligence and keeping these tips and tricks in mind, you will discover the fun and joy of what kayaking has to offer. Just be sure to always stay safe, kayak with a few friends, and the techniques that you’ve been practicing will soon be a thing of the past.