To have a really enjoyable time on the water with your kayak, you need to know a few things. It might take some practice to accomplish these skills, and maybe a little arm and core muscle strength, but you can do it! Just keep in mind all the fun that lies ahead. You and your kayak on the open water enjoying peace and tranquility with freedom to go wherever the water takes you. If you have done any canoeing, you are well on your way to becoming a great kayaker. If not, don’t worry, we have a few tips for you.
Getting into your kayak without getting wet is your first challenge. Have you got your life jacket on and is it secure? That is very important. Keep your paddle close by so you can reach it once you are in the boat. If there is a cockpit skirt covering the hole, fold the skirt up and pack it away.
Probably the most important tip to remember at this point is to keep your body weight over the centre of the hole, otherwise the kayak will tip over. Whether you’re on a dock or the shoreline, place your hands on the rim of the cockpit and your feet in the centre of the hole.
Pushing down with your arms, slide your feet into the cockpit and sit on the seat. When you are getting out, do the same movements but in reverse. If there is no dock near by, find a shallow location and straddle the kayak over the cockpit. You could lie the paddle along side the cockpit on the deck while you are gripping the cockpit rim on the sides. Put your feet into the cock pit in the centre one foot at a time, and then slide your legs forward as you lower your bum to the seat. The water should be deep enough so the kayak doesn’t scrape on the bottom.
Here’s a brief video demonstrating how to get in and out of a kayak. Remember, things could get wet here!
Keeping your balance in a kayak
Most kayaks are fairly narrow like canoes therefore balance is important. You can purchase a beginner’s kayak. They have wider bottoms and are difficult to tip.
Balance comes from your core muscles. These muscles are not your surface muscles, but the muscles found deep inside your body close to your skeleton. Any time you are in an unstable body position, you are activating your core muscles, so kayaking is a great way to improve your balance.
Spread your legs straight out in the hull of the boat and push them up against the sides. Sit tall and keep your pelvis (hips) forward. If you lose your balance and the kayak begins to rock ’n roll, slap your paddle on the water. That will regain balance temporarily. Keep you eyes focused ahead.
Paddling made easy
You have to hold your paddle correctly to be good at paddling.
It’s all about your posture. Sit up straight, relax your shoulders and keep them down and back. That will open up your chest to allow for more oxygen. The power you will needed to move the kayak will come from your arms and shoulders. Stability comes from your torso and legs. With your feet on the footpads, and legs bent slight, balance will happen. When your legs are together, your torso can rotate easily and your paddling will be more efficient.
As you place the blade of the paddle in the water, pull the water back with the blade moving past your body.
When you place the blade in the water up by your feet and close to the waterline, imagine your are pulling yourself up to and past the paddle. Your upper arm will have a slight bend and your wrists will come closer to your eyes. The blade will enter the water with a spearing movement and in a vertical position. Keep your lower arm straight and upper arm slightly bent and relaxed. The foot on the stroke side will push hard against the footpeg.
Strong core muscles in your torso and mastering that paddle movement in the water will give you the best stroke. You should notice that after you stroke, your elbow will lead the way and your wrists will naturally follow.
Focus on what you are doing and keep the paddling from right to left as continuous as possible.
To summarize …
…relax, hips forward, engage your core muscles, and focus on your form.
The Science of the paddle
The kayak paddle is about as long as you are. It has a blade on both ends. The blade has a power face and a back face. The power face is slightly cupped and asymmetrical, meaning that the edges aren’t the same length. Check to make sure you aren’t holding it upside-down. Hold the paddle so that your arms make a 90 degree angle. You can change your grip distance every so often to work a variety of muscles. Wide grip is for power and control and a narrow grip is used for long distances, like when you are just cruising along and enjoying the scenery.
A touring paddle has feathered blades which point in different directions, like an airplane propeller. It will help with air resistance. If you are renting a paddle, get one that is feathered right for what “handed” you are. If you are right hand dominant, the right hand grip does not move and it controls the angle of the blade and produces the direction and power. Keep your grip relaxed. Think about sending your energy into the paddle. So your left hand holds the paddle loosely so that your right hand can do the twisting, bracing, angling, and rolling.
If you have mastered all that paddling stuff, you will be having a blast. Check this video out every once in a while for a paddling review.
Let’s suppose you want to paddle up to the side of a friend’s kayak to have a chat. You will want to know how to scull. It is quite easy. Hold your paddle with a normal forward grip. Turn your body to the side and put your paddle into the water straight up and down. Your upper arm will be up high with a 90 degree angle at the elbow. The paddle will feel funny in the water and will move easily. Draw the vertical paddle to the kayak or away. This will take a little strength.
Not much will happen until you turn the blade. If the power face is in the direction of the sweep, the kayak will move toward the paddle. Hold the top arm still and move the bottom arm quickly in tiny figure 8 movements. This might take a little practice but you will master it soon and sculling will come in handy for sure.
With paddling backwards, we aren’t going to worry too much about your style. Most of the time you need to move backwards just a little so to don’t crash into the dock or a crowd of seniors gathered and listening attentively to their instructor. Maybe you will be approaching Niagara Falls and decide not to kayak over at the last moment. Anyway, remember these few important points and you will be fine.
- Keep the kayak straight. If you have a rudder, push both pedals. If your kayak is heavy, lean forward.
- Reach into the water with your blade and give the water a push forward. Repeat on the other side.
Check this out. A video is worth a thousand words.
Be Safe and Have fun
- Paddle with others.
- Beware of the weather reports.
- Stay close to the shore.
- Know your environment i.e. Where are the rocks?
- Watch out for cruise ships. They might not see you.
- Wear a life jacket and a head light.
- Have food and water with you.
- Know your kayaking skills well. What is a “wet exit?” (Look that up.)
- Have a water proof mobile phone with you.
- Keep extra dry clothes in a waterproof bag that floats.
- Stay away from Niagara Falls.