A Beginners Guide to Kayaking

If you want to learn how to kayak, one of the first and most important lessons is to select the right boat. If you have limited maneuverability, then a sit-on top kayak may not be the best choice. Sit-on tops are narrow, slow and can only accommodate a single person easily.

Sit-on tops are usually much longer than regular kayaking boats, sometimes up to 8 feet long. Their narrow beam is great for long distance paddling but can make them heavy and difficult to move. The problem is that they can’t support very well their single person, and in some models, the paddle can even damage the hull. Still, sit on top kayaks are usually much slower than their sit inside counterparts and so this is often a better option for amateurs and novices.

Kayak Cockpit Style

Once you’ve decided on the type of kayak, its time to decide on what kind of cockpit you would like. There are basically two types of cockpit, the top and bottom line cockpit. A very popular option is the ‘V-shaped’ cockpit, where the bow wave is on top of the cockpit, giving excellent visibility and comfort for all paddle operators. On the other hand, the more traditional style is the one with the flat back end and V-shaped cockpit. These are ideal for people who want to sit higher and/or move their hands around a bit.

What is your Kayak for?

Next you need to think about how you will be using your kayak. Will it be a day kayaking adventure, or a multi-day river or stream crossing leisurely? In either case, there are many options for the type of cockpit that will best suit your needs. Above all, always choose a reputable retailer to get back-up service from if you have any problems along the way.

Some kayakers prefer a flat profile, swept back design. These are called ‘self-reinforced’ or ‘diverting’ kayaks and are ideal for people who want to make short excursions into deeper waters (they are good for whitewater kayaking as well). The swept back style of a self-reinforced or diverting kayak prevents fore and aft movement during a fast change of direction (self-reinforcing). Further, they can fit into narrow places, such as narrow run nooks or river mouths. Paddlers who like to kayak in waves also find sweep profiles perfect for getting themselves out of trouble.

A self-shell kayak has a single reinforced paddle protruding from the hull just above the waterline. The paddle can be turned in almost any direction, allowing the kayaker greater maneuverability. Self-stroking enables the kayaker to control the direction of the water, but requires more skill than flipping.

Kayak Paddle Types

A kayaker who prefers to move forward instead of turning needs a paddle shaft with a reverse sweep or inward loop. Reverse sweep paddles are most suited to people who can efficiently reverse while moving forward. In simple terms, a reverse sweep stroke puts the paddle shaft through the middle of the water column while pushing it outward, which then goes through the water again. Alternatively, an inward looping paddle shaft pushes the paddle through the water backwards, but it is supported by the tail of the paddle, which provides support while the paddle moves in a forward direction.

It is imperative to have the appropriate size of the cockpit to accommodate your body and to be comfortable in the cockpit. Consider the position of your head, chest and paddle when deciding what size of cockpit will best suit you. Consider the position of the portholes and lighting fixtures and make sure that they are accessible and suitable for both yourself and your kayak. Finally, think carefully about the stability of your kayak and select a flip board that will help you balance while in motion.