Did you just invest in a kayak for some fun out on the water? Paddling around the lake or river is a great way to explore the grandeur of nature at its finest. Taking your kayak out onto the ocean for some fun in the swell or a bit of fishing is a relaxing pastime, and plenty of fun.
Kayaking is a skill, and it takes some practice to adjust to the movement of the boat and the paddling involved with navigating the waters. Learning to kayak isn’t rocket science, but there are a few tips we can give you to fast-track your learning curve and get you out on the water in your new kayak.
- Adjusting the Kayak Before Launch
- Tips for Launching Your Kayak
- Getting Back into Your Kayak in Deep Water
- How to Dismount the Kayak
- How to Hold Your Kayak Paddle
- Learning to Kayak – The Basic Strokes
- Kayaking Safety Tips
Adjusting the Kayak Before Launch
Before you head out onto the water, you need to set up your kayak for the trip. Take your boat onto the grass to avoid damaging the hull, and start the setup process.
Some boats come with adjustable seats, so set it up to your liking. Your buttocks should fit into the seat, providing support for your lower back.
Adjust the length of the footpegs so that you have a slight bend at the knees in the seated position.
Place your feet in the footwells and check that the footpegs and rudder controls are in working order.
Tips for Launching Your Kayak
Let’s start with learning to launch the kayak. Launching is the first skill you need to master, and there are various methods to it, depending on where you’re launching the boat.
Let’s unpack everything you need to know about launching the kayak from the shore and the dock.
Launching Your Kayak from Shore
Launching from the shoreline is the easiest way to get out onto the water. Beginners should start with launching from the shore and master it before attempting the dock launch.
We recommend learning the shore launch in calm waters like the lake or dam. Starting with an ocean launch introduces many variables to the process, and you’ll find you struggle to hold your balance while the waves are crashing around you.
Move the kayak as close to the shoreline as possible. Move the boat’s bow as far into the water as possible, with the stern giving you just enough traction on the shore to provide stability when getting into the boat.
If you’re launching on rocky shorelines, wade into waist-deep water before getting into the kayak to prevent damage to the hull. Follow these steps for getting into the boat.
- Line up the kayak parallel to the shoreline.
- Stabilize the boat and yourself by placing the paddle behind the seat at a 90-degree angle.
- Leave half the paddle on the shore and the other half on the kayak to add stability.
- Sit on the side of your paddle on the shore, placing your feet in the boat.
- Slide along your paddle and into your kayak while gripping the paddle.
- Slide onto the seat and keep your center of gravity low as you complete the transition.
- After stabilizing yourself, push off from the shore using the paddle.
Launching Your Kayak from the Dock
After you master the shore launch, it’s time to try it from the dock. It’s a little more challenging to pull it off because there is no shoreline to stabilize the boat’s hull.
Follow these steps for a successful dock launch.
- Lower your boat into the water, parallel to the dock.
- Place your paddle within reaching distance from the kayak.
- Sit on the edge of the dock and place your feet on the seat.
- Place your hand on the opposite side of the kayak to the dock.
- Keep the other hand on the pier as you lower yourself into the boat and shift your feet into the footwells.
- Keep one hand on the dock at all times to stabilize the kayak.
- After you feel comfortable, grad the paddle from the dock and use it to push off.
Getting Back into Your Kayak in Deep Water
If you’re out on the ocean or on a river where there is current, you’re eventually going to fall out of the kayak. If the water is deep and you can’t touch the bottom, you’re going to need to learn how to get back into the boat in these circumstances.
Entering the kayak from the water is challenging, and you need some level of upper body strength to drag yourself out of the water and back onto the kayak.
The key to a successful mount in deep water involves stabilizing your body and the boat as much as possible; take it slow. Going fast will upset the boat’s balance and leave you back in the water.
Follow this process for getting back into the kayak.
- Place your right hand on the side of the kayak closest to you. (Use this technique when entering from the right, reverse it for entering from the left).
- Place the left hand on the other side of the boat, extending it over the seat.
- Pull your body onto the kayak, keeping your center of gravity low while you focus on maintaining your balance.
- After your body is on the seat, drag your legs over each side to provide balance, and haul yourself up into the seated position.
- Pull your legs back onto the boat and into the footwells.
- If the water is calm, you can leave the paddle floating in the water beside the boat while you complete the mount.
- Hold the paddle using your right hand (or the side closest to the boat) if the current is strong.
How to Dismount the Kayak
Follow the launching procedure in reverse at the shore or the dock to dismount the kayak. If you’re dismounting in deep water, throw your legs over one side of the boat and slide into the water.
How to Hold Your Kayak Paddle
Kayak paddles come with blades on either side. Manufacturers design paddles in various materials, from plastic to carbon fiber, and there are paddles for performance kayaking, cruising, or fishing. Choose the right paddle for your application.
When you launch the boat, and you’re ready to start paddling, start with taking a shoulder-width grip. Your hands are in the right position when you have a slight bend in the elbows if you lift the paddle above your head.
Make sure the paddle blades are in line; if you notice that the blades are not aligned, then you have a “feathered” paddle, and you’ll need to twist the blade back into the correct position.
A feathered blade is ideal for cutting through the wind, but it’s only suitable for experienced kayakers. As a beginner, it’s better to have the blades in an aligned position.
Look at the paddle blades and ensure the leading (longer) edge lies on top to give you efficient movement through the water.
Face the scooped side of the blades toward you.
Your hand placement should have your knuckles in line with the top of the blades.
Touch your index finger and thumb in an “O” and place your fingers alongside them with a relaxed grip.
Avoid a tight grip on the paddle as it will tire your hands fast.
- Sturdy two pieces anodized aluminum shaft and Polypropylene blade for maximum resistance
- Try our POSEIDON KAYAK PADDLE if you want a longer paddle
- Drip rings help keep hands dry. Available in 3 Colors, Black, Green, Orange
- 0 or 65˚angle adjustment – Get more control and stability
- This paddle is ideal for recreational paddlers between 4'8" and 5'11" and kayaks between 23"-28" wide
Learning to Kayak – The Basic Strokes
Now that you’re in the water with the correct paddling position, it’s time to start your adventure out onto the water. Learning the proper paddling technique for your kayak is essential for moving through the water efficiently, reducing the effort required to propel the boat forward.
There are three strokes you need to master with your kayak. Let’s unpack them in detail.
The Forward Stroke
The forward stroke is the first one to master, and it’s the most commonly used out of the three techniques we’re discussing here. There are three phases to the forward stroke.
The catch phase – Tighten your core and wind your torso while driving the paddle blade into the water as close to the side of the boat as possible. Don’t drive the paddle too far out, or you’ll lose efficiency in your stroke and unbalance the kayak.
The power phase – Rotate your body as you drive through the stroke, moving the blade behind you. Keep your eyes on the blade as you complete the stroke. The majority of the power in the stroke should come from the top hand.
The release phase – As your hand moves past your hip, rotate the paddle so that it slices back out of the water to reduce drag.
Top Tip for Your Technique – As you complete the stroke, imagine that you’re checking the time on a wristwatch.
The Reverse Stroke
The reverse stroke will help you reduce speed on the water, and it’s useful when you’re trying to slow down in waves or against the river current.
Immerse the paddle blade next to your hip and push with the lower hand rather than the top when completing the stroke. Slice the paddle blade out of the water when it comes alongside your feet.
The Sweep Stroke
The sweeping stroke helps you change the direction of the kayak. The sweep is similar to the forward stroke, but you’ll alter your blade path, carving a wider arc on the side of the boat instead of keeping it close to you. Sweeping to the right side turns the kayak left and vice versa.
Using Skegs and Rudders on Your Kayak
The Skeg – This fixed direction fin extends down from the hull. It assists with the tracking of the boat in windy conditions.
The Rudder – Some kayaks, especially sea-faring models, come with a rudder that connects to the footpegs, allowing you to steer the kayak with your feet. Pushing the rudder control on the left turns the boat right, and vice versa.
Tips for First-Time Kayakers
Taking your kayak to the lake or river for the first time is an exciting experience, and it’s easy to lose yourself in the thrill of the moment. Remember to follow the launch procedure, and don’t forget to adjust your boat before launch.
We recommend choosing a flat body of water like a lake or dam for your first kayaking experience. Avoid areas where there is powerboat activity, and the wakes from the boats can upset your balance, causing you to capsize.
Look for a sandy shoreline for your launch, and avoid rocky areas. Choose a day for your kayaking adventure where the wind is low. If there is a breeze on the water, start with paddling away from the headwind, keeping it to your back. Paddling into the wind will wear you out fast.
For your first trip, plan on being out on the water for no more than two hours.
Kayaking Safety Tips
Being out on the water presents a unique set of hazards and challenges for the beginner kayaker. Ensuring that you have the correct safety gear for the trip will give you a safe experience on the water and when returning to shore.
We always recommend going out with someone else. If you go for a solo spin, make sure someone knows where you plan on going and when to expect you back.
Make sure that you buy a Personal Flotation Device (PFD), also known as a life vest. If you fall out of the boat and get swept away, the PFD could end up saving your life.
Before you launch, speak to people around the area and ask them about any hazards you should expect out on the water. Enquire about the currents and water conditions, and ensure you heed the advice.
Before you head out for the day, check the weather conditions. The last thing you want is to end up paddling in windy or rough water.
Wear a wetsuit if the water temperature is under 60F. A 2mm spring suit (short arms and legs) is usually adequate for most conditions.
Carry an emergency whistle with you. If you get into trouble, use three blasts to signal for help.
Always adhere to the old rule – When in doubt, don’t go out.