How to Start Kayaking: New Paddlers Start Here

Feb 09, 2023

Man in orange kayak.

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You can’t ignore the beauty of a kayaker’s photos — the breathtaking valleys alongside the sparkling blue water would make anyone curious about how to start kayaking. So, let’s explore the essentials so even individuals unfamiliar with it can pick up a paddle and try riding down the river.

Essential Preparation

If you have friends who kayak, consider asking them to take you out one day by borrowing theirs. There are also plenty of guided tours and classes with professionals who can make you feel even more comfortable with your first paddle without investing in a kayak. 

However, there is other necessary gear to consider. Ensure you wear a Coast Guard-approved personal floatation device, or lifejacket. It should fit snugly, and testing it in shallow water is recommended. 

There are a few other safety requirements from the Coast Guard, including:

  • A sound-producing device like a whistle
  • A visual distress signal like a beacon
  • A light source like a headlamp or flashlight

There does not have to be an astronomical entrance cost for trying kayaking if you don’t want there to be. With the kayak, there is the paddle, water clothes on top of the safety equipment to purchase. 

Getting excited about a new hobby is understandable, especially if you’ve already tasted river life. If you think you’re in it for the long haul, check out some more advanced kayaking equipment, including kayak sails or a GoPro.

Before You Get in the Kayak

You’re wearing your swim trunks and maybe a rashguard. Sunglasses and a hat are on, and sunscreen is applied. It’s almost time to hit the water. 

Find a safe and familiar environment with knowledgeable supervision. River difficulties are measured by class — one being easy and six referring to extreme and exploratory rapids. Locate a calm area, so there’s less pressure to adjust for currents. However, water will still pool in your kayak, so consider packing a bilge pump to get water out.

Now, let’s dissect your sit-in kayak into its most important parts:

  • Bow: The front-facing tip, which contains a handle.
  • Stern: The back-facing tip, which contains a handle.
  • Cockpit: Where the kayaker’s seat and footrests are located. Kayakers should fit snugly with the ability to maintain good posture. They also contain coaming, which allows boaters to attach a spray skirt to protect from water entering.
  • Deck: The top of the kayak surrounding the cockpit.
  • Hatches: Located on the deck. These are places to protect and store gear and personal items like phones, water bottles and cameras. Get waterproof protectors or a dry bag to keep them extra safe.
  • Hull: The bottom of the kayak.

Why is this important? First, a kayaker must know how to use the parts to maneuver comfortably. Second, you must know how to exit and reorient the kayak if it capsizes. 

Remain calm if this occurs, as it is normal. Instructors will teach proper technique, but the Eskimo roll is the go-to, performed by maneuvering the hips and paddle for a flip.

Techniques for Safe Paddling

Know that reading online paddling tutorials does not replace live practice. Sit upright in your seat and have an appropriately sized paddle for your stature. Support yourself with the footrests and adjust the seat so there’s no discomfort. 

Hold the paddle as if you’re riding a bike in a formation known as the paddler’s box — this will ensure you are well-balanced and using the right muscles to power the paddle. 

Twist your torso to drop the paddle into the water, propelling you forward as you pull back toward your seat. Proper technique will help avoid unnecessary muscle stress and exhaustion.

Excitement can get the better of all of us, but understand your limits as a beginner and listen to instructors or experienced friends. Tune in with yourself regularly to ensure you are not fatigued or dehydrated. 

How to Start Kayaking

Engaging in a new sport could reinvigorate even the most seasoned athlete or curious adventurer, especially if this is your first foray into water sports. Kayaking is not hard to pick up — but it’s essential to be prepared to have the best paddling experience. Enjoy the water and soak up all that nature has to offer.

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Jack Shaw is a senior writer at Modded. Jack is an avid enthusiast for keeping up with personal health and enjoying nature. He has over five years of experience writing in the men's lifestyle niche, and has written extensively on topics of fitness, exploring the outdoors and men's interests. His writings have been featured in SportsEd TV, Love Inc., and Offroad Xtreme among many more publications.