First things first, don’t get kayaks and canoes confused. A kayak is a boat you sit in and the paddle has a blade on each end. A canoe is a boat you kneel in and the paddle has a blade on one end and a handle on the other. Read our full guide to kayaking vs. canoeing here.
KAYAKING FOR BEGINNERS: ESSENTIAL KIT
You might think kayaks are pretty straightforward, but there are dozens of different types of kayaks on the market – from sea kayaks to slalom boats to sit-on-top kayaks. So which one is right for a beginner?
Most beginners will start paddling a simple recreational boat. Most recreational kayaks are quite short, 4.5m long or under. They have large cockpits for paddlers to climb in and out easily. They often have comfortable back support and possibly a foot pedal which operates a rudder on the back to help the paddler steer in choppy conditions.
Alternatively you might paddle a sit-on-top kayak. This boat has no cockpit. You just sit on top in a moulded seat. It’s great for beginners that are worried about getting trapped inside a regular kayak – if you capsize, you will just fall in the water. However, the downside is you will get a little bit wet when you paddle as water will drip off the paddle onto you.
Kayak paddles are different from canoe paddles. Kayak paddle has a blade on both ends. Most kayak paddles are between 210cm and 260cm long.
Kayaking beginners should note that the taller the person, the longer the paddle they need. Most beginners will learn using a plastic paddle. If you are heading off on a long kayaking adventure, you should probably take a spare paddle in case one breaks or gets lost.
One tip we would give all kayaking beginners is always wear a buoyancy aid. 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.
Kayaking beginners and advanced paddlers generally always wear helmets. They protect your head from getting bashed by your own paddle (and others!) as well as from your boat if you capsize. Sea kayakers don’t always wear helmets, but otherwise pretty much all kayakers will wear a helmet while on the water.
When you go kayaking, you need to wear wet shoes. These are often made from neoprene with grippy rubber soles for walking on slippery surfaces. Flip flops won’t do because they aren’t supportive or grippy. Trainers will work if you don’t have a pair of wet shoes, but they will get heavy and soggy very quickly.
Wet shoes aren’t expensive, you can usually buy a pair from a kayaking shop or Amazon UK for £5 to £7. We would definitely recommend buying a pair before your first kayaking lesson.
Choosing which clothing to wear when you go kayaking totally depends on the weather. If it is a hot sunny day, you might be able to get away with shorts and t-shirt if you are paddling on flat water.
Most kayakers always wear a dry top or kayaking cagoule. You will get wet, even if it’s just a little splash from the water surface. Remember even if the air feels warm, the water might be very cold. If there is any chance you might fall in, then dress for the water temperature.
If it is a cold day, it’s a very good idea to wear a wetsuit or possibly a dry suit. Dry suits are completely watertight suits which you can wear normal warm clothes underneath. They are quite expensive to buy, so kayaking beginners will tend to wear wetsuits instead. It might also be a good idea to wear kayaking gloves.
A spray deck isn’t a piece of essential kayaking kit for beginners, but as you progress as a paddler you won’t want to go kayaking without one. It is a waterproof skirt that you wear on your body, so when you sit inside your kayak cockpit, the spray deck wraps around the cockpit opening and stops water from getting inside your boat.
Spray decks are made from different materials. Nylon spray decks are generally used for sea kayaking as they roomy and easily ventilated for long journeys. Neoprene spray decks are favoured for whitewater and surf kayaking as they keep water out when rolling and can withstand the force of breaking waves.
When wearing a spray deck, make sure the grab loop isn’t tucked inside the boat. It should be visible on the outside, so you can pull it and pop your deck if you capsize.
A rope bag is a bag with rope loosely tucked inside. If you need to rescue a fellow kayaker, you can hold one end of the rope and throw the bag out to the kayaker in trouble. Rope bags are very handy pieces of essential kayaking kit, especially if you are paddling without an instructor or organised group. It’s not a piece of equipment a beginner would need, but your instructor will definitely have one of these on him/her.
Carrying a knife might seem like an odd idea, but it’s an essential piece of kayaking safety equipment. We aren’t suggesting taking your regular kitchen knife with you. Kayaking knives come in plastic sheaths to keep them from accidentally stabbing you or someone else.
Usually they are worn on the outside of your buoyancy aid in a place that’s easy to reach in case of emergency. If you are with an instructor, they will have a kayaking knife on them, so you don’t need to worry about buying your own.
Whether you are sailing or kayaking, dry bags are a great way to keep your kit dry – it could be a spare set of clothes or your mobile phone. Dry bags are totally watertight, so will keep your precious contents dry even if you capsize. Most small lightweight dry bags come with a roll top and a clip.
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