Kayaking is a great sport for any beginner to learn. Like cycling, it’s relatively simple to pick up. Within a few hours you’ll be paddling along happily. There are so many different types of kayaking - from flatwater kayaking to sea kayaking and whitewater kayaking.
As part of our kayaking for beginners series, here are our top ten tips every kayaker should know before they get in the water for the first time.
1) GET A LESSON
Tip number one, get yourself a kayaking lesson. You might not think that you need one. How hard can it be to paddle a kayak, right?
It’s not rocket science but you might find yourself paddling around in circles for the first half an hour without some proper coaching. You’ll waste a lot less time and learn how to paddle and recover from a capsize.
Kayaking lessons aren’t expensive. Go Canoeing! have a great search tool online to help you find a kayaking centre near you with details about kayaking for beginners lessons called starter sessions starting at £5 per person.
2) DRESS FOR THE WATER, NOT THE WEATHER
It might be a hot sunny day, so you’ll be tempted to wear shorts and tee to go kayaking. But the water temperature might be icy cold.
Make sure you wear clothes that are appropriate for the water not the air temperature. If you fall in (which isn’t totally unlikely) then you will be glad you wore a wetsuit, kayaking gloves and waterproof cagoule rather than summer clothes.
3) CHOOSE THE RIGHT BOAT
There are a whole range of different types of kayaks available - from long narrow racing boats to tiny squat freestyle playboats.
You want to learn in a recreational kayak that’s suited to the water you’ll be paddling. For example, if you are paddling on a lake then you’ll want to rent a flatwater boat. Sit-on-top kayaks are great for beginners as they are easy to paddle and reassuringly stable.
4) ALWAYS WEAR BUOYANCY AID
Wearing a buoyancy aid is essential for any kayaker - whether you are a beginner or an experienced paddler.
You’ll read this in any kayaking for beginners guide. Buoyancy aids are like life jackets but allow more movement around the arms and neck, which make them much more suited to kayaking. Even if you are a strong swimmer, you never know when you might get into trouble in the water.
Buoyancy aids will always be provided by kayaking schools, but if you are paddling alone we recommend buying your own or renting from a nearby watersports centre. Read more about choosing the right kayaking buoyancy aid here.
5) SIT PROPERLY IN YOUR KAYAK
Learning how to sit properly in a kayak will make it so much easier when you start paddling. Your kayak might have a nice comfy backrest but don’t slouch. It’s best to sit up straight with your lower back and buttocks at 90 degrees to each other.
You’ll find foot pegs on each side of your kayak. Rest your feet here. Your toes should be pointed outwards and heels towards the centre. Your knees should be bent upwards and outwards, allow contact with the thigh braces. Read more about beginner kayaking techniques here.
6) HOLD THE PADDLE THE RIGHT WAY
This might sound obvious but plenty of people hold their paddle the wrong way when learning to kayak. Hold the paddle with both hands just over shoulder distance apart. Make sure the concave part of the blade is facing you. When you dip the paddle blade into the water, the concave part should sweep through the water. Check your knuckles are in line with the blade.
7) ALWAYS BRING A CHANGE OF CLOTHES
This is another simple piece of advice but easy to forget. Always bring a change of clothes, even if you don’t think you are going to get wet. I can’t emphasise the number of times I’ve been grateful for that spare set of clothes.
8) KNOW HOW TO RESCUE YOURSELF AND OTHERS
Number one rule of kayaking for beginners is knowing how to rescue yourself and others. You might not capsize on your first kayaking excursion - especially if the water is calm and flat - but it’s always good to be prepared. Always stay with your boat if you capsize. Make sure you go through a basic capsize drill with your instructor. They will teach you how to right the boat and get back in again.
9) PEOPLE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN BOATS
Again, it sounds obvious but sometimes in panicked situations, people forget that the most important thing is keeping each other safe. It doesn’t matter if you lose a paddle or even a kayak, as long as you keep your fellow paddlers safe and sound. Boats can be replaced. People can’t.
10) DON’T KAYAK ALONE
If there is one tip I would like to read in every kayaking for beginners guide, it would be don’t kayak alone. It’s never a good idea to go kayaking by yourself - no matter how much experience you have had. Team up with another kayaker. If you get into trouble, at least there is someone there to help.