By Jennifer Pudenz
One of the things I love the most in life is being on the water, and one of my favorite ways to do that is through kayaking. My first time kayaking was actually at the opening of a new state water trail where they had a wonderful free event with kayaks, life vests and paddles available to whoever showed up! That soon turned into me renting kayaks and then having to have my own! There are so many different ways to kayak, here are some tips to get you started off right and then you’ll be hooked too!
If you see someone on the street with some really strange tan lines… it could be a fellow kayaker! Ha! You’re often enjoying your kayak while the sun is strong, and with being so close to the water, you are going to get burnt if you’re not careful. And since you are sitting down, you are going to burn in different places that you normally wouldn’t apply sunscreen on. After you’re out a few times, you’ll see what I mean – those odd areas are often on the inside of your thighs, knees, below the knees, ankles/feet and the most unexpected… the top of your hands and knuckles as you grip your paddle! Wear sunscreen, reapply often (I know easier said than done) and cover yourself with long sleeves and pants when you need to.
The best clothes to wear while kayaking include light, quick-drying clothes. Luckily nowadays, there are really great options out there! Some of my favorite high-performance clothing comes from Duluth Trading Company, Under Armour, Ascend and Fishe Wear. These help you stay cool by wicking sweat, dry quick when you get splashed with water and often include SPF in the clothing, as well as being designed to move with ease while being active.
Another important factor is your shoes. You want to have shoes that can get wet because whether you have to drag your kayak off the bank or to the bank, you usually have to get in the water a bit when getting in or out. There are a lot of different kinds of shoes out there that will work so find what works best for your usage. I recommend shoes that float and go over your whole feet (not flip flops), whether they are completely enclosed or have holes throughout. While I have an expensive pair of shoes specifically for water, my favorite is actually an old pair of Sketcher Go Walks that are enclosed, but slip-on and lightweight with light material and soles because I can easily slip them on and off while in the kayak. Though since they are not made for water, I have destroyed the look of them and they do get stinky if you don’t put them on a boot dryer afterward, while my water shoes look great still after each use.
The most important thing you can wear is a life vest. If you are renting a kayak, your renting fee should include a life vest. If you have your own kayak, there are life vests specifically for kayaking that are shorter in the back so it isn’t against your seat – though regular life vests work too. Drownings happen every year to people enjoying ponds, lakes and rivers, and drownings happen every year to kayakers specifically. In most of the statistics, those who don’t survive were not wearing a life vest. Wear it! It doesn’t matter how good of a swimmer you are, unexpected things can happen on the water, there are undercurrents you are not aware of, and being entangled or trapped under water can happen. Play it safe, play it smart – wear it.
There are many different types of kayaks out there, and it’s just a matter of picking one that works for you and how you’ll use it. A great way to start kayaking is by renting and/or joining group kayaking events. This lets you try out different brands, styles and lengths of kayaks so you find what you like the best, especially before you consider buying. Prices for kayaks can be as affordable as $200-$250 at the cheapest or as expensive as $5,000! Ascend kayaks by Bass Pro Shops are continuing to gain in popularity due to their great quality for very reasonable prices.
Typical kayaks are usually in the range of 8-, 10- or 12-feet in length. However, there are smaller kid kayaks and bigger small-boat-like kayaks! There are also kayaks where you sit inside the cavity or are exposed sitting on the top.
Beginners are best to start on shorter, wider kayaks, as these are sturdier until you get the feel and your balance on the water. However, these traits make them slower for paddling, so more experienced kayakers often like to upgrade to skinnier, longer kayaks that cut through the water smoother and quicker, but are tipsier.
Another great kayak for beginners or just for fun is the double kayak. That way you learn with another person, whether experienced or a beginner also.
Kayaks can even be designed for specific for reasons such as fishing, coming with rod holders, places for your tackle, sliding systems for anchors and much more! If you love kayaking and you love fishing, combining the two can be a lot of fun! Some kayaks are even made large and stable enough for standing up or have options of stabilizing sides, so I’ve even heard of kayak bowfishing!
Like with the kayak, finding the right paddle can require trying out different types. While canoes use single-bladed paddles, kayaks use two-bladed paddles. Choosing the right paddle actually depends on your stature, size of the kayak and how you’re going to use it. Wider and taller kayaks require longer paddles. Flat, flimsier blades are generally cheaper, but curved, sturdier ones increase the power of your stroke and help while pushing off shore.
A lot of beginners worry about what to do, and honestly there’s not a lot to it. When working with a new kayaker, I usually show them the movement of the paddles real quick and then slowly push them out a bit to give it a try. Most people are going to figure it out naturally on their own. Unless you’re going into competing or strenuous long trips, you really don’t need perfect technique to paddle around just fine and enjoy yourself. However, a few tips…
For beginners, it’s important to begin in on safe, calm waters. The most challenging thing can actually be getting into the kayak. Whether that’s on the shore or against a dock, keep your weight low and centered. Stabilize yourself by using your paddle against the shore or grabbing onto the dock while putting one foot at a time into the cockpit. Then slowly lower yourself into the kayak.
If you’re pushing yourself off into the water, put the paddle vertical into the ground on one side and push, switching sides of the kayak until you’re free in the water. A partner is very helpful with stabilizing the kayak while you get in and pushing you out.
To begin paddling, grip the paddle with hands over, thumbs under. Wind your torso, placing the blade parallel to your foot. Stroke deeply and evenly with the paddle coming out of the water when your hand reaches your hip. Unwind your torso and turn to your other side to repeat.
To turn, you can use simply paddle more on one side of the kayak or use the paddle as a rudder, dragging it next to the kayak. The kayak turns toward the same side of the blade. You’ll get better and better at controlling your kayak as you go.
Anytime you are on the water, safety is a must whether you are a beginner or have a lifetime of experience. Weather plays a huge roll and it’s important to keep an eye on storms, flooding and wind, especially in a kayak. I have The Weather Channel app on my smartphone and check it before heading outdoors and throughout the day.
Another large key in safety is to know the water you are on. If you’re new to paddling, it’s especially important to play it safe and stick to smaller, slow-moving water until you are more experienced. Small lakes and ponds are perfect for this. Even experienced paddlers need to be extra careful with large, open water as you don’t want to get stranded too far from shore if something goes wrong, and rivers that can have a current that could push you into structures as well as have a hidden undercurrent.
It’s worth repeating. Again – always have a life vest with you and WEAR IT! I especially recommend wearing it all the time if you are a beginner, are actively paddling, in riskier water or have a lot of gear with you that could potential tangle with you if you should flip. I have never fallen off or flipped in any paddling situation, whether a stand-up paddle board, kayak, canoe or small boat, so it’s not something you want this to scare you from trying something new, but you just want to be safe and prepared.
There are so many ways to enjoy paddling and have fun with kayaking! Try a paddling event and meet new people, kayak with friends/family, teach others how to kayak, float a river with your kayak, bring your dog who also loves the water aboard, fish in your kayak, catch turtles, relax on the water and much more! Whatever you do, get out there and give kayaking a try! ~JP