Beginner’s Guide to Kayaking [Learn How to Kayak]

If you are reading this, chances are you have recently been bitten by the kayak bug and want to know how to get started.

Well, congratulations. You are about to enter into a fun and rewarding sport that will keep you active, healthy, and stress free.

This article will take you through the process of learning how to kayak, the equipment you will need, safety precautions as well any other necessary information on Kayaking for beginners.

A Brief History of Kayaking

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Kayaking, as we know it today began as a means of transportation for coastal peoples in places such as Greenland and Alaska.

The first modern day kayaks were made from animal skins stretched over wooden frames. Using their own bodies as paddles, these people could maneuver their boats with incredible speed and grace through incredibly rough seas and around jagged rocks.

These early crafts were so good at what they did that people stopped using canoes and began using kayaks as a way to travel.

Kayaks are typically divided into two main categories; Sit-On-tops and sit inside kayaks (also known as SIK). The differences between these two types of boats are mainly superficial but they do have a few key points that set them apart from each other, but for now let us look at how to kayak.

Equipment Needed For Kayaking

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Most people underestimate the equipment needed to kayak for beginners, thinking that all you really need are a paddle and boat. However, in order to have a successful trip it takes much more than just these two things. Below are the major equipment needed for kayaking.

A lifejacket or Personal Floatation Device (PFD)

The whole point of wearing this is so you don’t die if you ever fall into the water, so I think it’s important to have one. Moreover, they are comfortable in general. You will be surprised at how much less fatiguing kayaking is when your shoulders aren’t being crushed by twenty pounds of gear strapped around them.

It works out pretty well because most modern day PFDs double as flotation devices for people who are unfortunate enough to wind up in the water.


Kayaks typically come either with one paddle or two, so all you need to worry about is making sure that you have enough for yourself and the people who are going with you. Make sure to test them out in store if possible because paddles can vary greatly in terms of quality even when they look similar. A good paddle will have a large surface area, which absorbs much of your power when applying force on it while also being lightweight so it is not exhausting to hold over time. Another thing to look out for when buying paddles is whether or not the blades are covered by foam grips. This makes for a more comfortable grip and less blisters.

Dry Bag, Pump/Bailing Device, Etc.

You will definitely want some sort of compartment to place your things in that is watertight so that they don’t get wet when you’re on the water. Many kayaks come with multiple compartments or deck rigging where you can strap gear down so there are plenty of options for this.

Another thing you might need is equipment to help bail out excess water from the boat if it starts taking on more than it can handle. You never know how bad conditions are going to be so it is best not to skimp on safety precautions.

Kayak Trailer

This is very important. It can be easy enough to throw your kayak onto the top of any old car but if it tips over you are going to wind up with a very expensive bathtub toy. You should always invest in a trailer that is specifically designed for hauling kayaks and can haul your boat safely without fear of tipping or falling off.

Finally, do not forget sunscreen, bug spray, beverages, snacks etc. It never hurts to be prepared. These all come down to personal preferences so just remember what you need when you go out on the water.

The Basics of How to Kayak

© Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

Adjusting the Kayak

·         First, you need to find a suitable location, whether it is on flat ground, or an incline doesn’t matter. As long as you can sit on the kayak and paddle easily while keeping your balance then that spot is good to go.

·         Once everything is set up, grab the kayak near the cockpit (where you are sitting) and flip it over. Now take off any wing nuts/bolts that are holding the other side onto the boat.

·         Place one foot in front of the other with your back facing away from the boat until you are crouched down behind it with both hands gripping under either side of the cockpit.

·         Now simply lift up by pushing yourself back away from the kayak as you are crouched down.

·         Now that it is off, you can take your time to unscrew any other bolts that might be holding on a seat or anything else and place them inside the boat for safekeeping.

How to Launch Your Kayak

Launching your kayak is probably one of the easier parts of kayaking after you have done it a few times.

·         First, make sure to pick a spot on land where there aren’t any obstacles on either side. If you want to practice first, a good place would be on steep ground or on a ramp since this will make it harder to tip over. Make sure that the area is clear for at least four feet behind and alongside your boat as well.

·         Next, push your yak back until it balances on its own with both ends of the hull resting evenly roughly 2-3 feet apart from each other. Try pushing down from high up with both hands to get the boat to slide faster.

·         Next, drop both of your feet into the kayak right beside each other so they are resting on either side of your yak. Slowly, lower yourself down until you are sitting inside it but don’t let go just yet. Once you are ready, let go with one hand at a time so that you can steady yourself as you sit down.

·         Now sit back up on your knees and stretch out both of your legs in front of you. Before you attempt standing up on the kayak, make sure it is on relatively even ground, or else it will be very easy for it to tip over. Take a deep breath then stand up slowly by pushing first on one knee and then the other.

How to Paddle Your Kayak

·         Paddles are an essential component of any kayaking trip. If you don’t have one with you, then there’s no way you can expect to get very far. Picking out a new paddle is important but it does not have to be difficult either. Here is how to paddle.

·         First, lay your paddle flat on the ground in front of you. Make sure that the curved end is pointing toward your torso, not away from it.

·         Now grab both sides of its shaft with one hand at a time until they are roughly three inches apart. The paddle should stay flat against the ground the entire time. If it does not, then it is either too long or too short.

·         Make sure that you can easily grip each side of its shaft with all of your fingers (excluding your thumb) comfortably. It should not be too easy or too difficult to hold onto.

·         To get started, start from the middle of the kayak and hold your paddle in front of you perpendicular to the surface of the water.

·         Next push down at an angle until you hear a splash, stop when the tip hits the water and bring it up again to the middle.

·         Repeat this motion as you paddle down and then up again, never letting go of your paddle or moving it too far from the center.

·         Paddle using quick, short movements back and forth alternating between either sides of the boat. Make sure that your arms are always straight while doing this.

·         If you find yourself tiring, then reevaluate how much strength you are putting into each stroke so that they are not too exhausting.

·         Remember, there is no prize for crossing first just having fun with it. Once you have gotten the hang of it then try paddling in a straight line.

·         Each time you want to stop paddle backwards until your kayak is parallel to the shore and simply stand up on it. If you need to make a quick getaway, head for shallow waters where you can stand without having to worry about tipping over. That being said, most kayaking injuries stem from beginner accidents so if something does go wrong just take a deep breath and relax.

Kayaks are extremely stable boats so chances of capsizing are very slim. Just remember that there is no shame in calling for help when needed. Once you have gotten the hang of it, kayaking is a ton of fun and makes for good exercise too.

Basic Kayaking Strokes

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Just like any sport, there are different ways to use your kayak and each one makes it easier to navigate differently. Here are some of the best ones for beginners:

The Draw Stroke

This is probably the most used stroke all over the world. If you want to steer left, pull your paddle from right to left along your desired path. Repeat this motion as needed until you have made a full turn. If you find that turning becomes too difficult, then try angling your paddle more towards yourself (this will be useful when trying to go straight).

The Forward Stroke

This works just like drawing but backwards. To get going forwards , push away from yourself with both hands at once while still facing into the direction that you want to go.

Keep in mind that it is usually easier to go backwards than forwards so only use this if you are leaving shore or need to move swiftly somewhere else.

The Sculling Draw/Forward Stroke

This is probably the trickiest one but it is very useful when you are kayaking through narrow passages.

To do this, start by placing your paddle flat on the surface of the water with your hands at either end. Next, tilt it slightly towards yourself and swipe back and forth along your desired path. You can do these strokes anywhere on the boat but if you find yourself tiring out then try using one arm instead of two.

Kayaking Safety Practices

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There are many ways to die while kayaking but most of them are all avoidable. Below are the safety tips to keep in mind while kayaking:

·         Before you try paddling, make sure to take a deep breath and hold it. That way your head will be out of the water if the kayak flips over, making it easier for somebody to rescue you. Keep your paddle close by in case something goes wrong.

·          Never kayak alone. If you happen to capsize then it will be much easier for somebody to rescue you or deliver help if they are nearby.

·         Keep your boat close by. It is not worth losing your kayak just because of a silly accident so try keeping it near at all times. That way, even if something goes wrong you can use your paddle as a flotation device or have somebody tow you back.

·         Wear the appropriate gear. Dress according to the weather and water conditions on the day of your trip but make sure that there is nothing loose which might get caught in the blades of your paddle (like ponytails). As footwear, choose sturdy shoes with a good grip.

·          Know your limits. If you are kayaking in choppy waters or through strong currents, it might be a better idea to stay ashore until you have gotten stronger. Your paddling ability is not the only thing that determines how difficult each trip will be so use common sense whenever possible.

·         Do not drink and paddle. Even if you are just taking a short trip around the block, chances are that alcohol will still screw up your coordination so it’s best to avoid this practice altogether. Besides being illegal in most states, drinking while on the water can result in serious injury or even death.

·         Get organized before you set out by knowing what gear you will need for your trip and where it can be placed on your kayak.

·         Do not panic. If something goes wrong while out on the water, try to find a spot where nobody else will get hurt and call for help immediately. Do not wait around and keep trying because chances are that things will only get worse.

·         Before setting out on your trip, do a general inspection of your kayak (and paddle) to make sure that nothing looks damaged or worn-out. Also, check for cracks in the hull, which might weaken its structural integrity when under strain, especially in choppy waters

·         In the event of an emergency, try paddling towards shore as fast as possible. Not only will this result in you getting out of trouble faster but if somebody else happens to be nearby then he or she might be able to help or call for help. Also, unless the water is shallow, do not bother swimming because you will simply tire yourself out too much.


Kayaking is a fun way to get out onto the water and learn more about your surrounding area. Although, like most hobbies it can be dangerous if not done correctly so always make sure to follow these simple (but important) steps before embarking upon your next trip.

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