Kayaking: A Quick Start Guide for Beginners

Learn How to Kayak

Kayaking is an outdoor exploration sport that is both versatile and fun. It is one of the famous and iconic water sports. It is also a great way to spend time with your friends and family. If you’re someone who is up for adventure and loves the thrill of an adrenaline rush or wish to glide across open waters on a sunny afternoon, kayaking is your go-to activity.

If you’re new to kayaking or want to learn more about the sport before physically getting into it, we got you covered. This article will talk about all the tips and tricks you need to know before going on a kayaking adventure.

Why Should You Go Kayaking?

How to Kayak

The unique pleasures that kayaking brings you are unmatched by other water sports. The versatility of kayaking is what draws people towards it. It doesn’t matter if you seek thrill and adventure or want a day of gliding in smooth open waters- kayaking can take care of it all. Here are some more reasons why kayaking is a fantastic outdoor activity:


For those who are into fitness and exercise, kayaking is a great way to drain out some sweat from your body. Kayaking involves using the leg, chest, arms, shoulders, and back muscles, so it is almost like a full-body workout. It doesn’t have to be a high-intensity burn; you can easily make this into a low-impact energy workout that targets all your body parts.


Kayaking is a versatile sport that is adaptable to almost any kind of environment. Be it lakes, rivers, or oceans, you can take your kayak and kayaking equipment wherever you want. The best part is that almost all the kayaks you can find in the market are portable, so you can easily carry them with you wherever you go.


Kayaking is a great family and friends’ outdoor activity. You can gather a group of friends or take your family for an outing or a picnic to nearby water bodies and go kayaking. It can be as exciting and fast-paced or relaxing and chill as you want it to be.

What Are the Different Types of Kayaks?

Having a brief knowledge about the different types of kayaks available in the market is a great way to start your kayaking guide. In this way, you will know what type of kayak is best suited for whatever type of activity you’re into.

1. Touring kayaks

These kayaks have smaller cockpits. They are also typically narrow and long, so they are best suited for long trips on lakes.

2. Sit-on-top kayaks

This is one of the most popular kayaks. It is constructed for recreational purposes. The lack of an enclosed seat in this type of kayaks is the reason why it is easy to enter and exit the kayak, making it great for beginners.

3. Whitewater kayaks

This type of kayaks is made for more experienced people. It comes in four subtypes: creek boats, playboats, long boats, and river runners. It is more challenging to control and is not meant for a leisure ride.

4. Recreational kayaks

These types of kayaks have a more spacious cockpit and are shorter, making them ideal for a laid-back kayaking experience.

5. Child-sized kayaks

As the name suggests, child-sized kayaks are meant for children and hence are smaller in size than regular kayaks.

6. Inflatable kayaks

These are portable kayaks that are easy to operate. They are typically meant for an easy and calm kayaking experience, but you can also find inflatable whitewater kayaks in the market.

7. Tandem kayaks

As the name suggests, this type of kayaks fit two people. Great for the family or friends trips.

How to Start Kayaking?

Kayaking for Beginners

A beginner should consider a few trials before buying a kayak of your own. Here are some of how you can start your kayaking experience:


Some companies allow you to rent kayaks for a specific duration of time, for example, a day or a few hours. It is a low-cost method of getting into the water before making a purchase.


If you already have friends or family members who own a kayak, you can borrow one to see how suitable the activity is for you.


Touring companies have the option of kayaking in their adventure tours. You can sign up for one and see how well you can kayak.


One of the safest ways to start kayaking is by signing up for a kayaking class and learning all the basics from experts.

What Will You Need to Start Kayaking?

Gear and clothing

  • Bilge pump
  • Coastguard-approved personal flotation device (Lifejacket)
  • Sprayskirt
  • Non-cotton swimwear
  • Spare paddle
  • Neoprene footwear
  • Jacket, raincoat, sunhat (depends on the weather)

Essential items

  • First aid kit
  • Snacks
  • Dry bag
  • Watch
  • Map/compass
  • Headlamp
  • Signaling device (example: whistle)
  • Water
  • Self-rescue devices
  • Knife for emergencies

How to Use a Kayak

Getting in and out of the kayak

The first thing you need to learn is getting in and out of the kayak. Depending on the situation, you may have to get in and out of the kayak in different ways, such as:

Getting into the kayak from the dock

  • Lower the kayak onto the water
  • Keep your paddles in place
  • Ensure that the kayak is placed at the lowest point at the pier to make it easier for you to climb onto the kayak
  • Enter the kayak feet first and quickly set your body towards the front, and sit down

Getting into the kayak from deep water

  • place both your hands on either side of the kayak
  • make sure your arms are over the kayak seat
  • pull your body up onto the kayak in such a way that your body is right on top of the kayak seat
  • twist your body in the direction where your butt can get onto the chair quickly.
  • your feet may still be in the water, but most of your upper body will be on top of the kayak
  • after the kayak is steady, slowly pull in your feet from the water onto the seat.

Getting into the kayak from the shore

  • Keep the kayak close to the shoreline
  • Climb onto the seat
  • Using your arms, push yourself into the water
  • After your kayak starts to float on the water, use your paddles

Adjusting the seat

After getting your body into the kayak, the next thing to do is to make sure you are comfortable for the ride.

To adjust your body to the kayak, you can follow these steps:

  • Ensure your butt is snug against the seatback. Some kayaks allow you to adjust the seatback angle so you can customize it however you feel comfortable.
  • Place your feet in front of you, lay them on the footpegs, and adjust them to your liking.
  • It would be best if you had a slight bend on your knees.
  • Your legs should be touching the sides of the cockpit to help you control the side-to-side motion of the kayak.

Using the paddles

After you’ve launched yourself into the water with your kayak, you should start using your paddles to stay afloat and maneuver the kayak where you want.

Here’s how you can begin paddling:

  • Hold the paddle with both your hands.
  • Your head and the center of the paddle shaft should be a straight line.
  • Bend your arms at a 90-degree angle
  • Make sure that your paddle blades are the same. The longer edge of the paddle should be on the top and not touching the water.
  • The scooped side of the paddle should face you.
  • Your knuckles should be on top of the paddle shaft and not under
  • You don’t have to have a firm grip on the paddles. You can loosen your grip by making an “o” shape with your index finger and thumb while the other fingers slightly touch the shaft.

What Are the Different Types of Paddles?

All these paddle types serve the same purpose- kayaking in the water. However, using a specific type of paddle may give you an advantage over the kind of water body you are kayaking on.

1. Feathered paddles

These paddle blades are adjustable and usually start at an angle. This is made to reduce the wind resistance when paddling.

2. Asymmetrical paddles

For this paddle type, one side of the paddle blade is shorter than the other side. This is to keep the paddle’s track from spinning.

3. Matched paddles

These paddle blades are parallel to each other and are typically used by beginners because they are easier to control and learn from.

4. Concave paddles

Almost all the paddle blades tend to have a slight bend or are concave in nature. This is to ensure an easy movement of padding in the water.

5. Symmetrical paddles

Symmetrical blades have the same length on both sides of the paddle shaft.

What Are the Different Paddle Strokes?

Kayaking 101

1. Forward stroke

This is the most common paddle stroke which moves your kayak forward. You basically follow three phases to complete this paddle stroke- catch, power, release phase.

To catch, submerge one blade into the water next to your toes. For the power phase, pull the submerged blade back to your hip while rotating your torso. This will propel the kayak forward. Finally, pull the paddle blade out of the water for the release phase and dip the other side of the blade into the water. Move your body forward while making this stroke.

2. Sweep stroke

This stoke is used to turn your kayak. You can use this to bend forward or backward. For this step, you follow the same steps as a forward stroke but alter the path of the blade to carve a wider arc than a forward stroke. If you make a sweep stroke on the right side of your kayak, it will turn left and vice versa.

3. Reverse stroke

This move is to stop the kayak from moving or to “brake” the kayak. If your kayak is already in a still position, using the reverse stroke will move your kayak backward. This move follows the exact opposite movement of the forward stroke.

Submerge the bland near your hip and push with your lower hand. Next, bring the blade out of the water while rotating your body into a sitting position.

4. Draw stroke

You use this stroke to move your kayak sideways. To do this, first, immerse the blade in the direction you want to go and rotate your torso along with it. Your paddle should be far out from the kayak, and both arms should be over the water. Finally, you can pull your kayak towards the paddle blade.

What Are the Safety Precautions When Kayaking?

  1. Bring someone with you who knows has a little kayaking experience, especially if it is your first time without an instructor or a guide.
  2. If you haven’t been adequately trained in self-rescue, then make sure that you don’t venture out too far into open waters.
  3. Do thorough research on the types of tides and currents that may occur in the water body you are kayaking in.
  4. Check the weather conditions and dress accordingly. Bring a rain jacket with you if the weather looks gloomy, or wear a wetsuit if your water temperature falls below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Check your life jacket and make sure that it does not restrict your breathing. Don’t remove your lifejacket when you are already in the water.
  6. Never forget to take your signaling device/whistle when going out into the water. It is a universal distress signal in case you get into trouble when at sea.
  7. Do not go out into the water if the weather forecast is terrible. Always check the weather conditions before you go kayaking.

Tips for Kayaking Beginners

  1. Pick a water body that is calm and reasonably small.
  2. Go out on a sunny or a good weather forecast day without much wind.
  3. Choose a water body with a shore that is slopped to make it easier for you to launch your kayak.
  4. It would be best if you plan your first few trips so that it is short and easy to navigate.
  5. Make sure you have good, experienced paddling partners for your first few trips.
  6. Know your limits, and don’t go overboard when it comes to kayaking in bigger water bodies.

Where to Go Kayaking in the US?

See our top 15 best places to kayak and canoe in the U.S. here.

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