Kayaking, Canoeing & Rafting

Kayaking for Beginners | Everything You Need to Know About Kayaking

What does the word kayak mean? What equipment do you need? And where is the best place to get started?

Kayaking is one of the biggest rushes you can have on the water, letting you play in lakes, river rapids, waterfalls and even the sea. It’s also a great way to get up close to nature and check out the world around you from a brand new point of view, paddling silently through remote areas that most people will never get to visit.

With such a variety of fun on offer it’s no wonder that kayaking is so popular with thousands of fans all over the world. If you want to get stuck in to then take a gander at Mpora’s beginner guide to kayaking to learn the basics of this amazing water sport.

What’s The history Of Kayaking And What Does The Word Kayak Mean?


The history of kayaking is an interesting one – the word means “hunter’s boat” and these trusty little vessels were first invented thousands of years ago by the Inuit, who used them to catch food by sneaking up on their prey from the water’s edge.

Back in the day kayaks were made from lumps of drift wood or whale bone wrapped up in animal skins but the 1950s saw the introduction of fibre glass boats and today most kayaks are made from tough wearing polyethylene plastic.


The most common type of kayak you’re likely to see is a traditional, closed cockpit model where the paddler sits inside the boat and is sealed in using a flexible spray deck. Kayak technology design has come on quite a bit over the last few millennia and now you can also get inflatable boats, tandem kayaks so you can paddle with a buddy or two and sit on models where you perch in a little dip on top of the kayak.

What’s the Difference Between Kayaking And Canoeing?


People often use the term kayak and canoe interchangeably, after all they’re both little pointy boats that you paddle about in right? Well there are actually loads of differences between kayaking and canoeing including the design, equipment and kayaking techniques needed to paddle each boat. There’s already a great Mpora article all about the differences between kayaking and canoeing but the easiest way to tell the two apart is by taking a gander at their paddles.

Photo: Lindsay Walsh

Kayak paddles have two blades, on on each end of the paddle set at 90° to each other. Canoe paddles are shorter and have just one blade. When you win the local pub quiz with that little factoid make sure you get one in for Mpora!

What Are The Different Types Of Kayaking?

Kayaking has a variety of different styles and each one is usually practised on a different type of water, so the way you want to kayak will probably have a big influence on where you want to kayak.


Kayak Touring: Taking a chilled approach to kayaking this style is all about soaking up the natural beauty around you and just enjoying the ride. You’ll normally find yourself on lakes, rivers or canals with no real white water or tough obstacles to deal with. This is a great way to get started as a beginner or for a family trip, where the focus is more about the journey than landing tricks or conquering technical rapids.


Sea Kayaking: The clue is in the name with this one. Sea kayaking gives you the chance to poke around hidden sections of coastline while getting pally with local seals and other wildlife. Remote coasts make great spots to explore so it’s no wonder that sea kayaking in Scotland is really popular. You’ll also have the fun of waves to play on and fun coastal features like the Bitches Tide Race in Wales.

Kayak Surfing: This is sea kayaking for all the wannabe Kelly Slaters out there. Yep you can surf in a kayak and some of these guys hit pretty big waves.

White Water Kayaking: If you’re looking for a big rush then this is the style for you. Bouncing down rivers, taking on powerful rapids and even waterfall drops this is one of the biggest rushes you can get in a kayak.


Freestyle: The emphasis here is on tricks and plenty of them. Often combined with other styles like white water kayaking or kayak surfing, you’ll find freestyle kayakers able to do amazing things in their nimble boats, including full on backflips!

Photo: Jackson Kayak

Competitive: This is the formal side of things you’ll see in the Olympics. There are at least 10 forms of white water kayaking you’ll see in the Olympics including kayak sprint and slalom events. Anyone getting into this style of kayaking will usually be found training hard at their nearest white water centre.


What Equipment Do You Need To Go Kayaking?


Kayak gear is all about keeping you safe on the water so don’t cut any corners when it comes to getting your gear.

Helmet: Because rocks. And also occasionally monkeys. But mostly rocks. And anything hard that’s looking to reshape your precious noggin.

Kayak: If we have to explain why you need this then you’re reading the wrong article. Remind yourself of the basics of kayaking gear vs. canoeing gear first. Generally you want longer models with built in storage for touring or extended trips and shorter, more compact ones for freestyle or white water. There are also kayaks designed specifically for sea kayaking and racing while sit ons are more commonly used for fishing or diving from.

Photo: Flickr.Com

Paddle: Twin bladed and usually around 2 meters long, the exact size of paddle you’ll need depends on your height, paddling style and the width of your boat so make sure you get some professional advice before you pick up one of these.

Wet Suit: Obviously you’re going to get wet so if pneumonia isn’t on your list of things to do a wetsuit should be one of your first purchases. An action sports standard 4:3 style (meaning its 4mm thick on the body and 3mm thick on the arms) is a good place to start. You might need kayaking gloves too – read our full guide here.


Buoyancy Aid: Even if you can already swim you should grab one of these because unconscious and injured kayakers aren’t so great at breaststroke. Look for a low cut model that fits tightly while still giving you enough room to move your arms freely. Read more choosing the right kayaking buoyancy aid for you here.

Spray Deck: Unless you’re going for a sit on or open cockpit kayak a spray deck is essential. Also known as a spray skirt, this is this stretchy bit of material that seals you into the boat. Styles vary depending on what type of kayaking you’re doing so again make sure you get some pro advice before buying.

Read our full beginners guide to kayaking kit here and the best kayaking shops in the UK here.

Where Can You Learn Kayaking?


Getting started with kayaking is pretty easy because the sport is so widespread. There are plenty of places to go kayaking in the UK that can hook you up for your first time and will have a built in community of kayakers to hang out with and learn from. These clubs will usually offer training and run trips to top kayak spots in the UK, such as kayaking in Cornwall, and sometimes abroad, helping you hone your skills on a variety of water.

Lots of outdoor activity centres run kayak courses and you can also book kayaking taster sessions with tour operators around the UK or drop down to any national white water centre and see what training courses they’re running.

Read our top ten kayaking tips for beginners right here.

Where Can You Go Kayaking?

Lake Bala, Snowdonia National Park – Photo:

Kayaking is a versatile sport that can be enjoyed pretty much anywhere there’s water, from rivers and lakes to hidden coastlines. In the UK you might want to check out beautiful spots like the Lake District or Scottish Lochs for a spot of inland exploration or you can head to the stunning Pembrokeshire coast or the Isle of Man to check out sea caves, wildlife and towering cliffs.

If you want a more adrenaline filled trip the UK has tonnes of man made white water centres like Tees Barrage International White Water Centre in Stockton-On-Tees or Lee Valley White Water Centre in Hertfordshire where you can play around on Olympic level white water rapids almost any day of the week.

River Orchy, Scotland – Photo:

For anyone keen to keep it more natural then there are great rivers for kayaking in Scotland (like the river Orchy) or the dam fed Tryweryn river in Snowdonia National Park, Wales deserve a trip. Plenty of the UK’s top kayaking rivers are dam fed which means you get reliable water flow set in unspoiled natural surroundings, giving you the best of both worlds.

Looking abroad the possibilities are endless with trips through the USA’s Grand Canyon, the tropical paradise of Costa Rica or even the raging Zambezi river to name just a few. Kayaking opens endless doors to explore the world in a whole new way. Take a look at our list of the best places to go kayaking in the world.

Elves Chasm, Grand Canyon – Photo:

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