Our top tips for successful paddling
Maybe the best thing about kayaking is that it’s nearly silent, and how that silence allows you to feel like a participant in the natural landscape you’re paddling through, rather than merely an observer. Or maybe the best thing is how simple it is, and how, with just a little practice, you can travel almost effortlessly across the water. Then again, maybe it’s that kayaking is the perfect way to explore the outdoors with family and friends; it’s accessible to all ages and skill levels, and it’s sure to deliver stories and memories that will linger for years to come.
To help you make memories of your own, we’ve compiled a list of proven tips, tricks, and techniques that will deliver miles of paddling smiles. Read on, and prepare for launch.
First-time paddlers often find the array of boat choices overwhelming, but truthfully, it’s not as confusing as it might first appear. The answer to which kayak is best for you boils down to a handful of questions, all of which are easily answered by even the most committed landlubber. For the lowdown on how to pick the kayak that’s most likely to, um, float your boat, visit our kayak buying guide.
For many people, launching a kayak is the most awkward part of the kayaking process. But with just a bit of practice, you’ll be launching (and landing) like a pro. For this article, we’ll focus on shoreline launches, since they’re most common, and we won’t cover sit-on-top kayaks, since they’re so simple to launch
Set your boat in the water, with the bow (front) pointed toward open water, and the stern (rear) just far enough off the shore to be fully afloat. This is a good time to do a mental checklist of your gear; do you have everything you need, and is it safely stowed in the cargo hold? It’s also the time to double check your personal flotation device (PFD) to be sure it’s properly adjusted and comfortable.
Stick your paddle under one of the deck lines to hold it steady while you enter your kayak. Now, straddle the kayak directly over the cockpit. Reach down and grab the rim of the cockpit on both sides, and slowly lower yourself into the seat. This is not likely to be the most graceful moment of your life, but don’t worry: It’s the same for everyone.
Once you’re seated, lift your legs and tuck them into the cockpit. Settle in, make any necessary adjustments, attach your spray skirt, and start paddling.
Landing is essentially a reverse of this process. One key tip is to not allow the bow of your boat to make contact with the shore; stop just shy of shoreline contact.
A kayak paddle is an amazing piece of equipment; with proper technique, there’s no more efficient way to propel yourself across water. Heck, even improper technique will get you where you need to go; it might just take a while.
To begin, check to be sure that your paddle blades are parallel to one another (more advanced paddlers sometimes choose to “feather” their blades to decrease wind resistance out of the water, but this isn’t the best option for newbies); if they’re not, look for the push button at the center of the shaft, depress it, and rotate the shaft until the blades are parallel.
To determine where to hold the shaft, stick your arms out to the side and bend your elbows forward at a 90-degree angle. With some possible minor adjustments for comfort, your hands are now where they should be for strong, efficient paddling.
For a basic forward stroke, dip the paddle blade into the water near your toes; as you pull back on the paddle, remember to sit up straight, with your back pressed firmly into the seat, while activating your shoulders and torso to distribute the workload. Also remember that the concave “power face” of the blade is facing rearwards for maximum efficiency. To turn, use an “initiation stroke” by pointing your body in the direction you want to turn, and making short, powerful strokes on the opposite side of the boat.
If the idea of flipping over in a kayak makes you a little anxious, we get it. You’re not alone, we promise. Fortunately, it’s very easy to make a “wet exit” from an overturned boat.
Ensure that the rip cord at the front of your skirt is exposed and in easy reach. You can even practice the motion of tucking forward, grabbing the rip cord, and pulling your skirt free, which is what will allow you to effortlessly slide out of your kayak like a slippery fish.
If (ok, when) you flip in the water, try to hang onto your paddle with one hand, but if that doesn’t happen, don’t worry: Your paddle will float to the surface and patiently wait for you to come up and grab it.
Keep your weight forward. This ensures that the top of your thighs don’t contact the top of the boat, which will make your exit a bit tougher. Instead, lean forward, yank the skirt off, and do a sort of forward roll out of the cockpit and to the surface. The entire process is even simpler than it sounds and is likely to take only a few seconds.
Unless you live on the shore of a lake or river (and if so, can we move in?), you’ll need to transport your kayak. If you don’t have a pickup truck, this means hoisting your boat onto the roof rack of your car, which sounds far more daunting than it actually is, especially if you read the following tips.
Lay the kayak on the ground, parallel to your car. Tip your kayak on its side, cockpit facing out, the upper edge of the boat resting against your shins.
Bending at the knees, place one hand at the front of the cockpit’s top edge, and the other toward the rear.
Slide the kayak up your legs until the bottom edge is resting on the tops of your legs. Your knees should still be bent.
In one smooth motion, straighten your legs and lift the kayak onto your rack. If you start to struggle, let it drop! Your boat is tougher than you think; it’ll be fine (your toes will recover, too!).
If you’re unable to lift your boat onto the rack, try this trick: Find a piece of carpet remnant big enough to cover your hood and windshield. Place the boat directly in front of your car, and set one end onto the carpet. Walk to the other end of the kayak, lift it off the ground, and push the boat across the hood, up the windshield, and onto the rack.