Kayaking can be a great outing with wonderful health benefits. But it is important to know exactly what you are getting into before getting started and how to get into kayaking the right way. From lessons, to equipment and even the weather, it is important to understand how to stay safe, smart and within your budget.
How to Get into Kayaking : Complete Getting Started Guide
Some things to consider before starting your kayaking journey:
Why should I start kayaking?
Kayaking can provide a whole host of benefits both physically and mentally. Some of those benefits include:
- Weight loss: kayaking burns around 400 calories per hour and if you spend a day on the lake you will burn thousands of calories.
- Stress relief: It may be stressful in the beginning as you get the hang of kayaking, but once you have gains some confidence and experience it will quickly become one of your favorite relaxation techniques. You are out in nature with nothing else to worry about but moving the paddle through the water.
- Better mental health: Aerobic exercises like kayaking release chemicals in your brain that improve your mood and make you feel better.
- Social sport: Kayaking can be done both by yourself and as a group. This not only brings existing friends closer together, but allows you to meet new people. Strong social bonds can also benefit your mental health.
- Upper body workout: Paddling a kayak requires you to use your arms, upper back and shoulders. If you want to move you must use those muscles and the more paddling you do, the more of a workout those muscles get.
- Heart health: A healthy heart needs exercise and kayaking fulfills that need. As you paddle you elevate your heart rate and give yourself a nice cardiovascular workout.
- Toned legs: Your legs are what hold you securely into the kayak by applying pressure and helping to balance as you maneuver through the water. As you go you will contract and relax your leg muscles hundreds of times, strengthening your legs and toning them.
- Core muscle strengthening: Kayaking is one of, if not the best forms of core exercises. This is because paddling, turning, and balance all act as mini crunches. As you paddle you are strengthening your core and helping define your abs.
- Self-esteem boost: As you continue kayaking you will more than likely feel a boost to your self-image. Your body will be changing for the better, you will be getting healthy, and the chemicals released in your brain all add up to a very happy kayaker.
- Vitamin D supply: Being outside in the sun will increase your intake of vitamin D. This is great for you as the sun is the primary source of vitamin D and most of us are lacking in it. Vitamin D helps with mood, depression, and overall mental states as well as a whole host of other benefits.
What is a kayak?
Kayaks are similar to canoes in the shape and style but are much more technical than canoes. While canoes are more leisurely, kayaks are seen as sportier and for athletic purposes. Kayaks have a cockpit you sit in that is closed in (rather than the open canoe) so water cannot get in is designed to have you sit on the bottom of the kayak with your legs out to gain better balance. This allows the kayak to be moved more smoothly and allows you to help maneuver the boat with both the double sided paddle and your body.
Are there different types of kayaks?
There are six types of kayaks that are all designed for a specific purpose.
- Recreational: These kayaks are nine to 12 feet long and designed for paddling on calm bodies of water. This includes lakes, slow rivers, canals, and any other flat and easy flowing body of water. These are great because they are easy to control and hard to capsize so they are perfect for beginners.
- Whitewater: These vary from 5.5 feet long and 9 feet long and are ideal for whitewater journeys. They are very highly responsive and are incredibly buoyant so they can get tossed around and still stay upright and under your control.
- Touring/Sea: These are 12 to 18 feet long and much slimmer than the recreational kayaks. This design is so the kayak can go faster and further than their counterparts. This type of kayak also typically has storage spots in the front and back of the design and can be fitted for rudders to help make steering easier. This style is ideal for water tours on relatively calm water as well as longer journeys in the sea.
- Sit-on-top: This style of kayak has no cockpit to sit inside but a molded seat on the top of the kayak. These are more common in the warmer climates as it offers little protection from falling into the water, but is great for beginners and families. This is because the simple design makes it easy to get on and off and only basic skills are needed to control these boats. SOTs are great as a way to explore calm waters, fish and dive off of.
- Inflatable: For obvious reasons this type of kayak is far less durable than the other models. They function much like SOTs as beginner kayaks for basic paddling, fishing and diving. They also usually are designed for two people. They look more like canoes than a kayak but are members of the kayak family. And obviously they is an added benefit of it being easy to transport since you can inflate it anywhere.
- Racing: As the name suggests this kayak is designed for racing. They range from 17 to 36 feet, are very slender, light weight, and can hold anywhere from one to four people per boat. The racer style is much lower to the water than other kayaks and usually has rudders to help steer. Racing kayaks are used on flat water so they can perform without other complications like strong currents or choppy waves.
Do I need to buy equipment before I start kayaking?
If you want to spend a lot of money right out of the gate then buy away, but there are other budget friendly options out there. If you take a lesson it is more than likely that the equipment will be provided for you. You also have the option to rent equipment as long as you take care of it or even borrow from a friend. If you aren’t sure if kayaking is right for you then don’t spend a lot of money to own the equipment. Find out if this is something you really want to do first and get some experience before buying.
Do I need lessons?
Have you ever heard the phrase “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”? Well with kayaking that simply isn’t true. You need to know how to be safe and lessons will help you do that. It can also teach you technique, how to get in and out of a kayak, how to adjust it, the correct way to paddle, and above all else, what to do when something goes wrong. If you really don’t want to take a lesson then you need to do your own research online and understand what you are getting into before getting into the water.
Where can I rent equipment?
Check with lakeside rental booths as they most likely will have all the basics you need. This includes the kayak, paddle and personal flotation device (PDF). Never go out on the water without a PDF and make sure it is secured correctly. Call ahead and find out exactly what they offer and compare prices with other local shops. Google is your friend and looking around will give you the best price for what you need.
Where should I go?
Your first kayaking trip is exciting but it is best not to overdo it. Until you get your techniques down and have the proper experience to feel comfortable on the water, you should stick to lakes. Even a mild current may seem to be too much if you aren’t experienced. So stick to a slow and steady river and build your confidence up. There are also groups you can sign up for which will give you experience while providing company to make you more comfortable.
What should I wear?
It is crucial to remember that you are dressing for the water and not the weather. It can be a nice, sunny day but if the water is freezing you need to be prepared. Layering is your best weapon against the elements and quick changing weather. Even if it is warm out you should always bring extra clothing in a dry bag so you can get warm quickly if need be. This includes a short sleeve shirt, long sleeve shirt, shell jackets, shorts, pants, shell bottoms, dry suit, water shoes, a hat, gloves and sunglasses. While this may seem like a lot you must also consider wind damage, sun and UV rays beating down on you and the risk of falling into the water. And of course you need a PFD. It doesn’t matter how strong a swimmer you are, if you get stuck in the water the PFD will be the difference between life and death.
What should I bring?
You should make sure to pack lots of water, some high protein snack, sunscreen, your extra clothing, and of course your PDF. This should all be carried in a dry bag. Dry bags are water proof and will keep your items safe during the kayaking trip.
Buying your first kayaking equipment:
It can be very overwhelming to buy kayaking equipment since there are so many options and can be very expensive. Having a good idea of what you need and what you can afford before going shopping is the best way to go. If you think you are ready to purchase your equipment here are some tips:
- Kayaks: The ideal first kayak purchase is an inflatable kayak as it is easy to transport, can hold two people, and usually comes with paddles. If you do not want to go with an inflatable option the SOT model is a great solid body design for beginners.
- Paddles: Paddles should be chosen based on your own height and the width of the kayak you are using. If the kayak is wider with a tall person paddling the paddle must be larger than a narrower kayak paddled by a shorter person. If you take a lesson the instructor can help you find the right paddle length for you. You also may need to get different paddles for different kayaks as the widths change so be prepared as paddles are not one size fits all.
- Personal flotation devices: This is the most important part of your kayaking equipment as it is what keeps you safe when things go wrong. You should measure yourself before going shopping and try on the vests to make sure they fit correctly and comfortably. It also needs to provide enough buoyancy for your specific body weight. Lesson instructors can help you find the right one for your needs.
- Helmet: It is optional for the other forms of kayaking but a helmet is absolutely necessary for whitewater kayaking. A helmet may help you feel more comfortable while starting out with kayaking and allow you to take more calculated risks while learning how to kayak. But if you don’t want to wear a helmet while whitewater kayaking then you should stay off whitewater!
Kayaking is a great form of exercise and serves many purposes both mentally and physically for your personal health. Whether you want a casual new hobby or an extreme sport, signing up for a lesson is a good way to gain some experience and knowledge and get into a new fun way to get in shape and clear your mind. Look around, find something you like and go row your boat. I hope this guide on how to get into kayaking has helped you learn more about the exciting world of kayaking!