The Most Important Guide For Kayak Paddling

Most of us dreamed about this: our kayak gliding across a river, enjoying the scenery and silence. The most important part that’s missing? The kayak and everything about it. Let’s say you’ve done your share of trial and you’ve already bought one for yourself. Do you know what to do next?

Scroll down for the answers that we know for sure that you’re looking for. After all, we’ve all been here at some point.

What kind of gear and clothing do you need?

As there are so many types of kayaks out there, it’s going to be easier for us to take the example for a classic kayak: just one cockpit and a hatch/two for stowing your gear. Let’s say that it’s a rather warm weather too. Here’s what you’re going to need:

  • The right clothing

    • Short/long sleeve rash guard top
    • Swimwear/shorts
    • Sun-shielding hat
    • Neoprene footwear
    • Spray jacket, rain jacket, pants (it’s best that it’s weather resistant)
    • Lightweight fleece jacket/vest
    • Wetsuit if it’s going to be colder than 60F
  • Kayaking gear

    • Paddle
    • Bilge pump
    • Coastguard-approved PFD (Personal Floating Device)
    • Spray skirt
  • Personal items

    • First-aid kit
    • Plenty of water
    • Sunscreen, lip balm and sunglasses
    • Snacks
    • Plenty of water
    • Signaling whistle
    • Headlamp
    • Dry bags
    • watch

Do you know how to adjust your kayak?

If your kayak is well adjusted, the easier for you it’s going to be to paddle and the more stability you’re going to have for your kayak. You should adjust your kayak while sitting on dry land, keeping your eye on the main points of contact:

  • snug your butt tight against the seatback. Even if you’re a big guy, you should be able to adjust the angle of your seat in order to get the most comfortable feel. Sitting upright is going to provide more power and better balance.
  • Make sure that the balls of your feet sit on the foot pegs and that you have a smooth bend in your knees. You may adjust the foot pegs by tilting them or sliding them along a track, presetting the stopping points.
  • Your bent knees have to be in firm contact with every side of the cockpit. This is going to help you control the side-to-side motion a lot better. You want to feel snug, but not jammed-in.

Time to launch the kayak!

Gradually sloping shoreline is the most common way to launch your kayak. Remember that you need not to drag the hull, especially on sandy, rocky or cement surfaces. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Get some help for carrying your kayak to the put-in point, even if it’s a lightweight kayak (most are lightweight, but some manage to impress with their weight). Set it first in shallow water, perpendicular to the shoreline. It’s best that the stern is closer to the shore, whereas the bow is facing away from the shore
  • Place a paddle blade under the deck line, right in front of the cockpit. Straddle the cockpit while standing over your kayak
  • Sit down on the seat, lifting your legs and sliding them into the cockpit
  • Place your feet nice and easy onto the foot pegs
  • Use the paddle for moving the kayak past incoming waves. If you’re using a spray skirt, don’t forget to attach it.

When you’re done with your trip, you need to do all the step backwards.

Holding the kayak paddle the best way

Another thing that makes the difference when paddling is the way you’re holding the kayak paddle. The first step to take is to grasp it with both hands and center the shaft on top of your head. Your elbows should bend at 90 degrees. Continue with lowering the paddle and orienting it as follows:

  • The paddle blades should be in line with each other as any offsetting is going to “feather” your paddle. Should you do that, it’s important to stop and simply adjust the blades once again in line. There should be a push-button/twist setting right in the center of the shaft. Even if feathered blades are going to cut through the wind a lot better, they’re not the best choice for the entry-level kayaker.
  • The longer edge of each blade has to be on the top so that you move smoothly and efficiently the blade through the water.
  • The scooped sides of the paddle blades have to face you.
  • The large knuckles on the shaft have to be in line with the top of the blades.
  • Your thumb and index finger should make an “O”, whereas your fingers should sit nicely on the shaft. You don’t need to grip the paddle- it’s only going to get you more tired a lot faster.

What are the basic kayak strokes?

Here’s a quick look at the most common strokes in kayak paddling:

  • The forward stroke- you’re going to use it most of the time, so it’s best that you master it:
    • The catch phase- you should turn your torso, while immersing the blade entirely on one side of your boat, right next to your feet
    • The power phase- rotate your torso whereas the blade is moving behind you. Your torso is going to follow the in-water blade. Push against the shaft using your upper hand.
    • The release phase- the moment your hand gets behind your hip you need to “slice” the blade out of the water.

You only need to immerse the out-of-water blade for repeating the move, as your torso is going to be ready for it. You may want to “check the time” on an imaginary watch for keeping the shaft at a comfortable angle.

  • The reverse stroke- this move helps you move the backward when the kayak is stopped. It’s the opposite of the forward stroke. You just immerse the blade next to the hip, pushing with your lower hand and slicing the blade out of the water the moment it gets close to your feet.
  • The sweep stroke- this is a turning stroke you use. As you’re doing the forward strokes on the same side of the boat over and over again, the kayak is going to turn the other way after some time. this type of stroke is just going to take it to the next level. You use the same sweep as in the forward stroke, but you’re going to make sure that the blade makes a wider arc on the side of the kayak. Sweep strokes on the right side are going to turn the kayak on the left, whereas the left ones are going to turn the boat to the right.

What’s the best way to use rudders and skegs?

The variety of kayaks may be overwhelming, especially for a beginner, and one of the things that makes it more complicated is the rudder/skegs of the kayaks.

  • Skegs- the skeg is a fixed-direction fin. You use it for tracking (so that you maintain the kayak straight traveling), especially on a windy day.
  • Rudders- you find it at the back of the boat. You can use the foot pedals for controlling it.

It’s quite common for entry-level kayakers not to use the rudders and skegs right, forgetting to pull them up in shallow water (which is going to damage the kayak). It’s best not to use them until you learn how to do it right. When you’re not using the rudder, you’re going to get better at paddling.

How to kayak safely

Wearing the right clothing or carrying the proper gear when paddling isn’t going to be enough for staying on the safe side. Here are some other tips to follow for staying safe:

  • Get a paddling buddy, especially if there is no guide along. You don’t want to be alone if something goes wrong
  • Learn about the distance limit- it’s best that you don’t paddle away from the shore if you haven’t had your rescue training just yet.
  • It’s safer to dress for a capsize at a minimum. Therefore, it’s best that you put on a wetsuit if the water is 60F or even lower than that.
  • Learn about the trail, the places to avoid, the tides, the currents and even the weather forecasts. Being informed is going to count so much while out there on the river.
  • You should only attach a spray skirt if you know how to take it out for a wet exit in case of emergency.
  • Your PFD must to fit tightly, without making it difficult for you to breathe. If the weather gets to hot and you want to remover a layer, it’s best that you paddle to the shore first. Never ever remove your PFD while on the water.
  • Always have the whistle with you. You may never know when you need to use it.

Even if you’re a great swimmer, it’s always better that you also take a rescue class that covers tides, navigation, currents and surf too.

Last tips to check

If you’re thinking about a non-guided outing, it wouldn’t hurt to scroll down for some last tips. Some salt water for your paddling is a good option in the beginning.

Either way, you can never be too sure, especially when on water:

  • Look for a smoothly tilting sandy beach for launching. You shouldn’t head to the rocky, mucky or steep shorelines right from the beginning
  • Select a small and calm body of water with less traffic
  • Choose a sunny, windless day so that you lower the risk for incidents
  • Start with an outing and not a whole expedition. You shouldn’t go out for more than 2 hours in the beginning
  • If it’s breezy, you should be paddling into the wind as it’s less tiring.