Five Tips for Beginner Kayakers
When you see colorful kayaks floating effortlessly across the surface of a lake, it’s easy to say “I want to do that!” It’s a hobby that naturally incorporates exploring, exercising and communing with nature in a single package. It’s low-impact, works core muscles and can help you relax, too.
Paddling’s something you can learn in an afternoon and master over a lifetime.
Get a Guide When You Go the First Time
It’s better to borrow or tag along with friends who have kayaks – they can usually help you with the basics of paddling. So hit up your coworkers or buddies who already dig into the sport. If you don’t have paddling friends, there are some outdoors outfitters who rent gear. In South Dakota, a non-profit group also hosts events and offers help for beginners.
If you get to go with a guide/friends, listen carefully and watch the way they approach the paddle strokes, the entry and exit of the cockpit – having someone give you a lesson really makes it easier – and safer.
Safety is Always Priority
It’s simple for newcomers to a sport to think they’re only going to do a little spin around a shallow part of the lake – so they don’t need a personal flotation device (PFD, or life jacket) in this heat.
That’s just wrong! Wear a PFD every time you pick up a paddle. It’s the No. 1 thing keeping you safe, and it doesn’t help you if you’re not wearing it – do that every time you climb in your cockpit. Get a good life jacket, meant for active use, rather than an inexpensive bulky one.
Wind, waves and weather can change rapidly. Be smart, wear it every time and be cautious as you develop your skills.
The Engine of Your Paddling Adventure
Like any hobby, paddling requires some financial investment. From the boat itself to the gear you’ll need to safely and successfully explore 7/10ths of the world, there are requirements. A great place to invest more is in the paddle itself. The paddle is your motor, so find one you like, that’s lightweight and responsive. It’s better to have a so-so kayak and a top-shelf paddle than the other way around. Each stroke is work – so the less weight you’re moving, the better, over a long haul.
Gear, Hauling and All the Little Things
One necessity folks often overlook is how to haul your kayak. If you don’t already have a roof-rack for your car, a trailer or some other means to move that boat – you won’t do much kayaking.
Trailers are handy, easy to use but require some practice to understand, especially when you’re backing up. Roof-racks are easier to get, but they require teamwork or upper-body strength, especially if you have a larger boat. It can be a chore to load and unload that non-motorized craft.
Quick-drying clothes, amphibious shoes and other items can also make your experience better. Don’t forget necessities like sunscreen and water.
Beware of Creating a Monster
Kayaking is habit-forming because that sweet combo of nature, sunshine, water, and exploring is a potent mix and can lead to organic intoxication – as well as summers filled with great times.
But paddlers can get caught up in sub-niches of the sport. You might want to paddle faster, you might want to get a big bass on the line in your kayak or you might even want to do a huge trip, like circumnavigating Iceland or something. All are awesome choices, but beware: there’s no limit to how far kayaking can take you.
It can be a great family activity, too, and a good way to make friends. Couples enjoy it, too, and they can a lot when together they explore waterways near and far.
Avera Content Developer, Jarett C. Bies, author of this story, is a long-time kayaking enthusiast, former president of the South Dakota Canoe & Kayak Association and founder of several competitive kayaking events on the Missouri River.