Beginner Kayaking Tips for Your Next Whitewater Adventure

Girl kayaking

Kayaking is a fun and exciting water sport that provides an affordable and great way to spend quality time with family and friends as you explore nature. The beginner kayaking tips in this guide will go over paddling efficiency, safety, how to scout and explore nature from a new point of view, and what tools you need for your next whitewater adventure.

Aside from a good whitewater kayak, you’ll need to paddle that’s correctly sized, plenty of safety gear, and protective clothing that will keep you safe from injury and the elements.

Those new to kayaking will find this guide invaluable as it includes many tips provided by the pros that are perfect for those new to kayaking life.

A Beginner-Friendly Watersport

The first time you try kayaking you’ll be sure to fall in love with it. While there are many different types of watersports to choose from, kayaking is by far the most versatile and beginner friendly. It also provides a number of advantages that makes it unique from other types of watersports, such as:

  • If you’re looking for an outdoor exercise routine, one that’s low impact but provides a high-energy workout this type of watersport is a great option and one that will not place pressure on tissues and joints. Kayaking regularly can strengthen your chest, shoulder, back, arms, and core muscles, while boosting your cardiovascular fitness.
  • You can also kayak in pretty much any type of water and explore diverse environments from the seat of your kayak.
  • These boats can easily be launched from any shore or dock and will give you access to beautiful destinations that are not accessible by larger vessels.
  • This type of watersport also provides an exciting and fun way to spend time with family and loved ones. Paddling down a calm river or in whitewater conditions can be an adventure for the whole family, and one that’s affordable, even for the family on a tight budget.

Must-Have Gear for Kayaking

Guy in kayak

Aside from the kayak itself, there’s other gear and certain supplies you’ll need before you head out on your first kayaking adventure.

  • Finding the right paddle will be just as important as finding the right type of kayak. When you choose a paddle, you need to ensure that it’s the right length for you. You can do this by looking at the specs provided by manufacturers. In general, if you have a torso height of over 20 inches, you’ll need a paddle that’s 200 centimeters or higher. For torso heights that are under 28 inches, you’ll use a paddle that’s under 200 centimeters in length.
  • A durable life jacket will also be important and is considered a critical piece of equipment that kayakers should always have on hand. The life jacket should fit snug, without being too loose or tight.
  • Depending on water conditions you also need to dress appropriately. However, kayakers will not only dress based on water conditions but the air temperature as well. To learn more, click here to read my article on What to wear kayaking.

Entering and Exiting the Kayak

Before you take your kayak out on the water, you’ll first need to know how to enter and exit it. Fortunately, with practice getting in and out of a kayak can be simple. There are a few different ways you can enter a kayak, from deep water, docks,  or from the shore. Each of these options both has its advantages and disadvantages.

Entering from Shore

Entering your kayak from the shore is very simple, especially for people who are just learning how to use a kayak. Whether it’s a riverfront, seashore, or lakeside, the best way to start is to place a kayak as close to the shoreline as you can get. Next, you’ll sit in a kayak, using your arms to push yourself into the water until you’re floating. You can move the kayak in shallow water first and climb in there if you’re worried about scratching the hull on the ground. To do, simply straddle the kayak over the seat, sit down quickly and place your feet in last.

Entering from a Dock

dock kayak

Entering from a dock can be a convenient way to enter your kayak, however, it takes a little more finesse to pull it off. To do, try the following steps:

The kayak will be lowered from the dock onto the surface of the water, ensuring that it’s kept parallel to the dock. Next, the paddle should be placed so that it’s within easy reaching distance of the seat.

You can also prevent a kayak from shifting positions by either placing either end of the paddle on the dock and the kayak. Keep in mind, the higher you are, the more challenging it will be to enter the kayak.

Lower your feet into the kayak first if you’re still sitting on the edge of the dock. Next, you’ll position your body toward the front of the kayak quickly, lowering yourself into the seat.

You can purchase a kayak launch docking system to make this process easier. These devices are designed to make getting in a kayak and launching it faster and more stable.

Entering Your Kayak from Deep Water

There will be times when you need to get into your kayak from deep water. By far, this is the most difficult way to enter your kayak, but it can be done with a little patience. To do you’ll need to make sure that the kayak is stable between movements.

To begin, you’ll put one hand on the side of the kayak that’s closest to you, placing your hand on the opposite side, allowing your arm to be fully extended across the seat opening. Next, you’ll pull yourself into the vessel so that your navel is over the seat and your legs will be about halfway inside the kayak. Scoot around in order to get your bottom stably placed on the seat. At this point, your legs should just be dangling in the water. Ensure that the kayak is stable and then pull your feet in and place them in front of you.

Paddling Techniques

Once you’ve mastered entering and exiting your kayak, the next step is learning how to paddle. The first step is ensuring you picked the proper paddle with the right length. Just like any type of water sport the proper techniques can keep you safe while helping to prevent injury. There is a right and a wrong way to paddle.

Before you enter the water, a beginner should first learn how to handle the paddle. Placing your hand slightly farther than shoulder-width apart is the proper way to hold a paddle. One common mistake many beginners make is holding the paddle incorrectly. The concave side of the blade should always be facing the kayaker. The weight of the paddle should be sliced vertically into the water, as the kayaker keeps a relaxed grip on the shaft with their knuckles pointed up. By using this form the kayaker will place more power into the paddle without using up their energy.

Close up

To prevent paddling fatigue early on in your journey, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Instead of getting the strength to paddle from your arms, it should come from your core. The core muscles are significantly stronger, so the kayaker will have less of a chance of pulling or straining a muscle and will have more endurance.
  • It’s also important to sit correctly in the seat. If you’re in a recreational kayak, then the seat should be adjustable. Be sure to avoid slouching in your seat and use the correct posture. Doing so will minimize your chances of shoulder and back injuries.
  • Grasp the paddle at its center. Each of your elbows should be kept at a 90- degree angle, with both of your hands placed at an equal distance.
  • One hand will rotate the paddle as the other holds it firmly. The kayaker’s hand that is closest to the water will be the hand used to propel it through the water, as the other hand that’s the farthest away will rotate it.

In order to get the hang of paddling techniques, you’ll need to know what type of blades are on your paddle.

Paddle Blades

  • Matched blades are significantly easier to use since each of the blades are placed parallel to each other.
  • Feathered blades are placed at an angle to each other. The design reduces the wind resistance on the blade. However, these blades are usually highly adjustable and can be matched if you’re a beginner and need a paddle that user-friendly.
  • Most paddles feature concave blades. The shape of the blades will help the paddler moved smoothly through the water, allowing them to travel at a higher speed.
  • An asymmetrical blade is a paddle that features one side of a blade that’s shorter than the other. The shape of the blades helps to keep the paddle tracking straight instead of spinning as it moves through the water.
  • The symmetrical paddle will feature blades that are the same length on both sides.

While you can use any type of paddle to get the job done, learning about the different blade types and shapes can allow you to choose a paddle that’s specifically designed for your type of kayaking, where you prefer to paddle on the surface of a lake or whitewater conditions.

Planning Your First Trip

When you’re planning your first trip, I suggest following these tips:

  • Bodies of water without a lot of people or heavy boat traffic are a plus since it will limit the number of waves and obstacles in the water that you’ll have to deal with.
  • Your first few trips should be short. Make sure you choose a day that has ideal conditions and doesn’t have a forecast of high winds or rain. This will help to keep any environmental challenges as predictable as possible.
  • Never underestimate the length of time you can safely kayak before you become exhausted. Like other types of workouts, you’ll want to avoid overdoing your first trip in your kayak, since it can be difficult to paddle back to shore once you’re fatigued. Try to limit your first trip on the water to one hour or less.
  • Make sure that you launch the kayak from a place that’s visible to others on land. If you’re kayaking alone, then your vessel should be in plain view in the event you need help or require assistance.

The Right and Wrong Weather Conditions

Back view

  • Calm water, dry warm weather, and the proper safety precautions can make for the perfect conditions. However, you’ll still need to pay attention to the weather forecast and look for signs of fast-changing weather. While it can be fun to take a spur-of-the-moment trip out on the water, you’re also placing yourself at risk of getting caught in inclement weather or in tough water conditions that are above your skill level. Because of this, it’s important that you do a little planning before a trip.
  • It’s also a good idea to scout the area, learn about the different waterways, and get a map of the location so you can have an exact idea of the mileage of each route.
  • You should also research any potential hazards such as currents that are stronger than they look, and large rocks beneath the surface.
  • Use the buddy system and always have a plan in place in the event of an emergency.
  • Wear the proper safety gear such as a wet suit or a life jacket.
  • Right before you push off double-check the weather forecast.
  • Make sure that you plan a trip at a location where the conditions work with your skill level.

Since you’re new to kayaking, there are certain weather conditions that you’ll want to avoid, such as:

  • Unstable weather conditions, since you want to avoid getting stuck in a dangerous storm.
  • Polluted water since you can accidentally fall in the water and expose yourself to harmful bacteria.
  • Waterways that are busy and full of a lot of boat traffic.
  • Avoid kayaking in foggy conditions since it can reduce your visibility significantly.

Kayaking When Bad Weather Strikes

The weather can change in an instant depending on where you’re kayaking. While you may have planned a trip on a nice day, you should still have a plan concerning what you’ll do if bad weather strikes while you’re out in your kayak. Most kayakers don’t know how difficult it can be to paddle in a rainstorm until they become stuck in one, however, there are some techniques you can use that can help you to avoid trouble and allow you to make it back to shore safely.

High Winds

When you’re in a kayak expect some wind. A light breeze and huge gusts of wind are perfectly normal, and you can easily compensate for them. In order to conserve energy in windy conditions, you must paddle with the wind, not into it. You may also need to add an extra stroke or use a rudder, and paddle harder to your downwind side in order to make adequate corrections.

Should you lose control, try not to fight it. Trying to regain control abruptly of the kayak can cause you to overcorrect it, making the situation even worse. The best plan is to maintain as much control as possible, moving with a kayak and adjusting accordingly, should it start to suddenly spin.

Righting Yourself

There’s also the chance that your kayak may rollover, which can place you underwater. Wearing a life jacket and staying centered in the kayak can help to prevent this scenario from happening. Should you tip over without wearing a life jacket, make sure you immediately grab the kayak and remain calm.

Should the kayak tip over in calm waters, then you should be able to easily right the kayak back over by grabbing both sides, then climbing back in. If you’re not able to set the kayak back over, then grab ahold of it, as you swim back to shallow waters. Should the kayak tip over in a current, hold onto it using one arm and continue to face upward in order to ensure you can breathe. Your body should remain horizontal to the water’s surface as your backstroke to shallower water.

Flipping a Kayak

Unfortunately, flipping a kayak can be more difficult than most beginners think. Many models are designed to be incredibly stable. There might be some occasions where you’ll want to flip your kayak on purpose, as hard as it is to believe. Many experienced paddlers recommend learning how to flip a kayak since this will help boost your confidence in the water, especially if you prefer paddling in challenging water conditions. Flipping a kayak can be best done with the help of an experienced kayaker. You’ll typically be taught a couple of different methods. Both are slightly different and both types of rolls will end with the same result if done correctly, which is you sitting safely in your vessel.

Paddling in New Environments

Now that you’ve learned some basic tips on how to kayak, it’s time to learn some important skills and techniques that you will utilize in different bodies of water. For each type of environment, you choose to paddle in there will be some variables that can impact the way you paddle. As an example, paddling in a flowing river can increase the speed of the kayak naturally, while paddling in a calm lake will require the kayaker to exert more energy in order to pick up speed.

Whatever type of body of water you choose to kayak in, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a route planned ahead of time. If you’re paddling around a pond or lake, always be aware of the shoreline areas and which areas you can access in the event of an emergency. If you’re kayaking down a stream or river, be sure to choose a route that has a reputation as being beginner friendly. I recommend avoiding areas that can become more challenging should you accidentally paddle too far out.

Don’t be afraid to try new ways to enjoy your kayak, such as kayak angling or creeking. Both types of kayaking can require different skills and gear, but each type will also allow you to get more use out of your new vessel.

To learn more about creeking, click here to read my article on Creeking Stroke Tips and Techniques for Whitewater Kayaking.

Be Aware of Wildlife

Keep in mind that you may encounter many different forms of wildlife both in saltwater and freshwater excursions. Bays, inlet’s, and oceans can contain jellyfish or sharks. Lakes, streams, and rivers can contain alligators and snakes. They can also be frequented by potentially dangerous wildlife on the shore, depending on where you’re at. Before you head out into the water, make sure you research the different species of animals that you can encounter on your trip and learn how to safely share the water.

Final Thoughts

These beginner kayaking tips can help you take on challenging waters, calm rivers, and flat lakes, just like the pros. This guide includes many important safety tips and proper paddling techniques, in addition to what type of gear to use based on the water conditions, the weather, and your skill level. Of course, nothing can compare to enrolling in a kayaking course that’s led by a trained instructor. However, you can also practice with a friend or family member that has experience with kayaking, someone who can show you the ropes, and how to practice many of the safety techniques such as flipping and riding a kayak, and how to handle inclement weather. If you decide to kayak alone, make sure that you do so in an area that’s visible to people on shore in order to remain safe as you practice these techniques and take on a new watersport adventure.