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Basic Kayaking Tips for Beginners

So now you have a kayak in your garage and you are surely excited to take it down in the lake. Kayaking is such an outdoor leisurely activity that can really cheer you up from the monotonous boredom of city life and offer enough muscle building at the same time. In short, the means to have joyous and healthy outing day is just sitting right there in your garage. But wait before you start inflating your kayak, as there are plenty of other things you need to still know about kayaking before you are ready to sail through.

>> Read more kayaking for beginner here

First of all, you need to learn a great deal about the size and handling of your paddle.  This paddle is your only armor in the water and is going to be of an extreme importance to you while kayaking. Next you must know the basics of how to paddle and maneuver the kayak in different directions and how to keep your speed up with your fellow kayakers. Another thing to remember is to understand how to control your own body movements, just to ensure to have maximum energy in kayaking with least tiring experience. Lastly, one of the most important and basic thing to learn about kayaking is to how to deal with emergencies in water. Let us now see how so many such big and small things about kayaking can affect your entire experience of kayaking as a beginner, and how learning few basics can effectively enhance the quality and pleasure of the Kayaking as a whole.

Holding the right paddle in the right way

Which Paddle to choose and how?

kayaking, like any other outdoor activity, is supposed to be exclusive fun, maybe with muscle exercise and exertion to some extent. But who would want having sore palms and painful shoulders?  To avoid such unanticipated disasters, the basic and most important kayaking lesson for a beginner is to choose the right paddle. Now what you need to understand about buying a paddle is the fact that how all other aspects related to your kayaking plans will affect the type of paddle you might want to buy.

how to choose a paddle kayak - beginner

Your kayaking destination: The place and the activity you choose for kayaking mainly helps you decide what kayak you must have and also determines the size and material of the paddle you would need.

A whitewater kayak paddle is generally shorter in length for better handling. Kayakers for sea touring or recreational kayaking, where the kayakers will be spending a lot of time in the water, prefer the paddles to be essentially lighter in weight to support the kayakers’ stamina for paddling. Similarly, the whitewater kayakers would also require shorter and stronger paddles. This is because longer paddles do not offer as much control on swifter turns as shorter paddles.

Also whitewater kayaking and Performance kayaking paddles must be sturdier and stiffer in their make as they must be able to withstand abuses from gravels and rocks in shallow whitewater or to enhance the power of the stroke in Performance kayaking. Flat water kayakers need a longer paddle to cover more distance in lesser time. At the end, it goes without saying that wider kayaks would need longer paddles.

At last, the SUP or the Stand up Paddle is the single ended paddle with a larger blade that is used in Stand Up kayaking where the kayaker stands on the kayak board and sails through water.

Stand up Paddle is the single ended paddle with a larger blade

Paddler’s Body built, Fitness and Kayaking style: The physical and the practical attributes of the paddler plays a deciding role in choosing the Kayaking paddle. A thumb rule that is prevalent among the beginners says, if you have a smaller glove size, then you must have a smaller paddle size.

In simpler words, if the paddler has a smaller built or has shoulder issues which decrease the efficiency of the paddler, then a smaller shafted paddle with smaller blades is appropriate as it will need less effort from the paddler’s side. For taller or heavy weighted paddlers, a longer shafted paddle is considered better as it will be helpful in utilizing the height or the weight of the paddler in producing more effective paddling. Lastly, the athletic and fitter paddlers or the kayakers in performance activities like racing etc, they require the paddle to generate as much energy as possible to advance the kayak forward in the water with each stroke. So they need shorter paddle shaft with wider blades for the purpose.

Similarly, the style of kayaking also can be a factor for choosing the paddle. The low-angle kayaking style is more of a relaxed activity and relates to the touring kayaking on majority. It requires longer paddles with wider blades. The high-angle kayaking style is an aggressive paddling style using short paddles and is mainly used in white water kayaking to generate more horsepower.

The length of kayak paddle that you should care

Blade material and design: Aluminum or Plastic blades are heavier but are much easy to afford. They also require lesser care. The Fiberglass or Carbon Fiber blades are lighter in weight, however they may be relatively heavier on the pocket. These are used for touring or recreational kayaking paddles or performance kayaking paddles.

The blade design can be feathered or non-feathered. Feathering defines the angle at which the 2 blades of the paddles are arranged with respect to each other. In stronger winds, where wind blows flat to the surface of the blade, it makes sense to have an angled blade to reduce the resistance and force to the kayaker’s movements.

The Paddle Shaft Design & Learning to hold it

Among the paddle shaft cross sectional designs, the oval shape offer a comfortable grip in comparison to the conventional round design. Along the length, the usual shafts are straight. However, newer designs of shaft include a “kinked” feature. It includes a bent shafted paddle providing more appropriate angle to the kayakers while paddling, thus reducing the fatigue.

paddle-shaft-design-and-learning-to-hold-it

Smaller diameter shafts are appropriate for men or women with smaller palms. Most important form of shafts is the detachable shaft that comes in pieces. It is easy to store or carry in a back pack and is most appropriate for use along with inflatable kayaks.

Smaller diameter shafts are appropriate for men or women with smaller palms

Next important aspect is to hold the shaft right. Most paddles blades are asymmetrical in shape, having one edge longer than the other edge. Having the longer edge on upper side ensures less resistance and smoother move of the blade in water. Also make sure to hold the shaft at a distance that is roughly equal to or a little less than the distance between the elbows. Although do not forget to keep changing the grip to help dissipate equal fatigue on all muscles.

For a right handed person, the right hand is the control hand and the grip on that hand does not change while stroking. So while using the feathered or angled blades on paddles, make sure to keep the grip on the left hand loose. The left hand must be used most effectively to utilize the angle of the blade while paddling.

Getting your kayak in water

To carry your kayak you do not necessarily have to have a good muscle mass or heavy built-up. With some practice and correct technique, anyone can lift and carry their kayak from their garage to their kayaking destination.

For short distances, you may consider lifting the kayak on your shoulder. It follows a set of rule steps where first you hold the hull of the kayak and pull it over your thighs where the cockpit is facing away from you. Then with slightly bent knees you grab the other side of the hull from one hand while balancing it on your thighs from the other hand. With firm grip you pull the outer/lower end of the hull towards yourself, the cockpit making an arc movement while turning and the center of rotation remains on your thighs. Balance the lifted end with your gripping hand and bring that end of the hull on your shoulder. You may stand straight now and adjust the kayak on your shoulder or over your head with other hand. You are ready to carry your kayak now.

o carry your kayak you do not necessarily have to have a good muscle mass or heavy built-up

Another way is to drag the kayak. You may even consider grabbing the front grab line of the kayak and may want to drag it all the way. However, this is definitely not recommended for lighter bodied fiberglass or composite kayaks as it may do extensive damage to the kayak body.

For little longer distances, you can use the kayak carts. Using them basically add wheels to you kayak and reduces your effort by a great deal. These carts are easy to dissemble and store; and they can also be tucked to your car or bike.

Using them basically add wheels to you kayak and reduces your effort by a great deal

 

Or maybe the roof rack on your car may be extremely useful for taking a long drive with your kayak before reaching your kayaking spot. You can install added accessories to your roof rack that would fit your kayak. With proper technique and enough help, you can put your kayak on top of your car roof rack and strap it up to secure it in place. Do not forget to keep checking the straps carefully at regular intervals, especially when you are up for a longer drive.

put your kayak on top of your car roof rack

The Launch Pad training

Now you have your kayak on the river bank (or on lakeside or sea coast for that matter!!). Till now you possibly did not give a thought about how to actually get the kayak in water without it drifting it away in water. And about how you are supposed to settle yourself down in the cockpit with the kayak bouncing away in water.

In the surf zone, like sea coast or even lakes with wavy tides, you need to understand the behavior of the tides before you choose your spot. You must observe and learn about the interval between the surge water and the height of the waves. One way is to grab and take your kayak sufficiently into the water where you can avoid the resistance from the sand or the gravels that might abuse the outer part of the hull. However, it requires you to get wet even before you start your launch and it involves the risk of getting your cockpit turned into a water pool with the first stronger wave, if you are unable to set yourself in the cockpit and secure the spray skirt in time. No adjustment of equipment is possible once you have taken that “mermaid’s walk” into the water for this technique. So be prepared for everything while on coast side only. Another way would be to get your kayak just near to the water on the shore side after you have found a spot of stronger surge water. You settle yourself in the cockpit with skirt in place and you place your paddle firmly in the sand right next to the kayak. Wait for the stronger surge water and push yourself ahead by pushing the paddle backwards and downside on the sand. You can even use the other hand to add force by pushing against the beach sand. The force acts as leverage and breaks the suction created by the beach sand with the lower part of the hull. Use the incoming surge water to push you away from the shore using the paddle and you will soon find your kayak floating in water, getting away from the shore.

For low lying docks or boat ramps or sloping river banks, all you need is to put your kayak just inside the water at the edge of the hard ground and parallel to it.

practise-kayak-1

ut both your legs on each side of the kayak while standing over and across the kayak. Wear the spray skirt beforehand and place your paddle upside down just behind the cockpit, across the kayak, while tipping the paddle towards the ground edge side. Sit on the paddle (still behind the cockpit, over the kayak body) and tip your weight on the side towards the land while putting up your leg and placing it in the leg space in the cockpit.

practise-kayak-2

The sitting on paddle part may sound awkward to beginners, but it is a very effective way to avoid losing your paddle (or even your kayak) to the water while you are trying to settle in the kayak by keeping contact with the ground edge.

Now tip the body weight in other direction and place the other leg inside as well. Slide inside the cockpit, securely place your spray skirt to the cockpit rim and retrieve the paddle. Do not forget to let the skirt hook hang out before you secure it cockpit. Now you can just use your hands to push yourself away from the ground and there you go.

practise-kayak-3

practise-kayak-4

Are you sitting right?

No matter how exhausting is the kayaking activity, it can still get much worse for your hands, shoulders and torso muscles, if only you don’t sit in right. You might want to take down few points you must remember about taking the correct position inside the cockpit to avoid fatigue of your muscles.

Bend your knees at an angle and avoid keeping them straight to reduce jerks on knees. Place the feet comfortably on the foot paddle rest.

Ensure enough leg space to move legs freely. Also, confirm the thigh and knee braces in place that will absorb the force on your legs.

kayak-sitting-right

Keep a straight posture. DO NOT lean back.

Make sure to keep your torso free and movable. This freedom of movement is only going to help you in paddling.

kayak-sitting-right-2

Paddle away!

A professional kayaker might need learning numerous strokes and maneuvers to represent their skills in kayaking. But as a beginner, there are only little basic moves you must learn to taste the fun of kayaking.

  • Make a firm grip on the paddle using the guidelines mentioned above. Too tight grip will fatigue the hands. Too loose grip will reduce power in strokes.
  • Grab the paddle at an appropriate distance on the shaft. Narrow hand spacing will reduce the stroke power. Too wide spacing will generate energy but reduces stamina in kayaker.
  • Use the core muscles of your back and torso more than using biceps and shoulder muscles. This ensures less fatigue and more endurance for a longer kayaking trip.
  • Sit straight and do not lean in the cockpit.

Paddling Forwards

It is the most prominent stroking method to learn in order to reach from one place to other in the water. It is completed in three parts:

  1. Winding: Generate initial stroke power in your torso by winding it up.
  1. Catch Up: Dip the blade of the control hand completely in water by angling the paddle across the torso. Keep the control hand firmly gripped and the other hand must be at the level between shoulder and eyes. Turn the torso again to pull the kayak ahead in water until the control hand reaches the level of your hip.
  2. Unwinding: Take the blade out of the water while unwinding the torso. You will find yourself already set to take the next forward stroke.

paddling-forward

Paddling Backwards

On entering a closed end creek or if it is easier to move backward at times, learning this stroke can come handy. It may just seem like a reverse action of a forward stroke.

  1. Wind up the torso and let the blade enter the water behind the hip level, few feet away from the hull of the kayak.
  2. Pull the kayak backward while unwinding the torso. Exit the blade at the knee level while winding onto the other side.
  3. Repeat the torso rotation on the other side.

paddling-backward

Paddling Sideways

Sometimes to reach up to your kayaking partner or to get parallel to a dock, you might need to execute the sideways paddling. There are few strokes to help in that.

  1. Basic Draw Stroke
  • Turn the torso towards the direction you want to move sideways and look in that direction. Now place the paddle vertically in the water, 2-3 feet away from the kayak. The blade should be used to draw in water by pulling the blade towards the kayak inside the water.
  • When the paddle blade is next to the kayak, turn the blade 90 degrees and move it back in water away from the kayak to repeat the motion.
  1. Sculling Draw Stroke
  • It is the more effective sideways paddling stroke involving the repeated opening and closing motion of the blade in the water.
  • Requires good use of wrists in rotating the blade inside the water.

Paddling to turn

To turn the direction of the kayak, these are few steps to follow:

  1. Forward Sweep: Keep a low shaft angle and put the blade in water at the level of your feet on the side opposite to the direction you wish to turn to. Take a complete sweep of the blade in the water till the blade reaches behind the hip region.
  2. Reverse Sweep: Turn the torso to the side towards the direction you wish to turn. Then position your blade in the water behind the hip region. Sweep the water in reverse direction and your kayak will be spun in that direction.

Coming to a halt

To stop the kayak in the water, just drop the open blade vertical in the water to reduce the momentum of the kayak. Repeat the motion on either sides one after other to reduce the speed without spinning the kayak.  If required, small backward strokes can also be used to reduce the speed of the kayak.

Damage control techniques & Emergency (Wet) Exit

Capsizing or turning of a kayak upside down is any kayaker’s nightmare. In stronger currents and in whitewater kayaking, it must be well anticipated that the kayak will probably spin and capsize. Slowing down the speed to minimum and creating maximum balance using your body is the only way to minimize the risk of capsizing.

If the kayak is just kneeling on either side then trying to balance the kayak by creating a momentum with lower body movements can be useful to regain the balance. This will prevent capsizing.

damage-control-techniques-and-emergency-exit

But if the kayak is rolled upside then you might not have much time before you would need air. In worst case scenario, learning to roll a capsized kayak may be useful. Most useful is to wriggle the hips and lower body vigorously in left and right direction. The kayak can gain momentum from the flowing water current added to the momentum created by your body moving inside the kayak and it will flip over on one side. You can recover an upright position from there using your hands and torso balancing.

damage-control-techniques-and-emergency-exit-2

 

If you are sure that you will not be able to roll over the capsized kayak, then get ready for the emergency exit. The wet exit is to be executed in a matter of few seconds while you struggle for air under water. First step is to disengage the spray skirt with the help of the skirt hook. Once the skirt is out of the cockpit rim, move your hips away from the cockpit and try to free your legs away from the kayak. Till this time, your hands must reach around the kayak and you may want to use the kayak base as a drum to call for the fellow kayakers for help. Now you can get yourself on the side of the kayak and flip it over in the water before climbing back in. Also, do not forget to keep hold of your paddle, as you might not want to lose it midway.

Self-rescue: what are you forgetting?

The most important equipment of the kayaking cannot go without a mention. The Life jacket, or the PFD – Personal Floatation Device, is the life saver. Wear it before getting in the kayak and wear it till you exit out of it. Modern PFDs equipped with LEDs and whistles do not leave any scope of any fail for any kayakers; adding to the benefit of buoyancy.

life-jaket

James R. Douglas
 

Dee Francis - February 4, 2016

Thanks for going over these kayaking techniques and tips. I’m going on a kayaking trip with my boyfriend and his family for the first time this summer, so I should start getting these techniques down before the trip. Making sure that I’m sitting in the kayak correctly seems like an important part of staying above the water. It’s helpful to know that I should keep my knees bent and to have my feet in the foot paddle rests. That will help make this trip with my boyfriend and his family more enjoyable, so I’ll remember these tips.

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