Getting StartedBy RiverAngels, RiverAngels.com
November 12, 2006
Throughout my travels, I have met many people who are interested in trying the sport of kayaking. I am delighted to help others get started in a sport that I love so much. As with any new sport, there are many questions about kayaking that you want answered before jumping into a boat. I'd like to address some of these concerns so that you'll be more relaxed and confident when first learning to paddle.
First and foremost, it is imperative to begin kayaking with a lesson from a reputable school. Learning from a certified instructor makes kayaking safer, easier, and more fun. To find the best school go down to the river and ask the boaters who they would recommend. They may have learned from a particular kayak school in your area or paddled with the local instructors.
Check online for more information about schools. Once you have found a school, research it to find out the history of the instructors; how long they have kayaked, instructed, and if they are ACA certified. Class size is also important. In my experience, having one teacher per four students in a beginner course gives each student individual attention. Finding the right school is important. You want to have fun when you are first learning.
Will I be able to get out of my boat when I flip over?
Yes! Don't worry, you are not alone in this fear. Many new paddlers worry about being trapped underwater inside their kayak. The instructor will go through the steps on how to exit your boat. This is known as a wet exit. Remember gravity takes over and helps pull you out of your boat. Your lifejacket also works on bringing you to the surface. If you are still nervous, flip over in your boat without the sprayskirt on. After your first capsize, you will be more at ease and realize that there was nothing to it.
Will there be a kayak that fits me?
Whether you're a 300-pound linebacker or a 90-pound child there will be a boat for you. There are boats for various sizes and shapes. They can even accommodate someone who is 6'7" or a small kid. You want your boat to be an extension of your body and your paddle part of your arms. Whenever you move, your boat should too. The outfitting in the boats has advanced as well. Now you can find adjustable fitting systems that make the boats feel comfortable. The instructors at the school will know what kayak is best for you. They will outfit your boat so that it fits you properly.
What equipment do I need to get into kayaking?
When you take you first lesson the school will provide you with the essentials: boat, paddle, lifejacket, and helmet. Here are some other things that you always want to bring with you when you kayak:
Shoes: From beginners to pros, shoes are a must. Whether you are swimming or walking with your kayak, it is important to protect your feet. You never know what is on the bottom of the river. Wearing shoes could save you from tearing your feet on glass. Also you may have to get somewhere fast on the rocks in order to throw someone a safety line. You don't want to hesitate with your footing because you don't have the proper shoes. Find a pair of sandals or shoes that will not fall off in the water. Flip-flops are not appropriate kayaking attire.
Water: It is important to bring water with you when you kayak. Inside the kayaks, there are water bottle holders. Make sure to drink water while kayaking. Kayaking can be a strenuous sport and take a lot of energy.
SunBlock: This goes without saying. You are more vulnerable to the sun on the water. Wear waterproof sunblock and bring sunblock with you while you kayak. Some lifejackets have pockets to carry sunblock with you.
Float Bags: When you start kayaking, you are going to swim. Float bags are bags that are filled with air that are placed in the back of your kayak to help keep the boat afloat. This makes it more manageable for you and other paddlers to bring your boat to shore when you swim.
Nose Plugs: Beginners and pros alike wear nose plugs to prevent sinus infections from unclean water. Also nose plugs prevent the rather uncomfortable experience of water coming up into your nose when you flip over. Smiley's Nose Plugs are my personal favorite.
Throw Rope: A throw rope is a rescue device that is used to pull someone out of the water. It is an essential piece of safety equipment that everyone should own. This is a piece of equipment that you won't need on your first day of class but will be something that you will learn to use and bring with you at all times
Do I need to be super strong to paddle?
Kayaking is not a strength sport. Good technique and skill are more important. Listen and learn the basic skills and your learning curve will be greater. Remember that the water is your friend. Use the water currents to compensate for strength. With the right skills, you can go anywhere with your kayak.
You may also be concerned that you will not be able to carry your kayak. The instructor will show you various ways to carry your kayak so that it does feel as heavy. One method is the double-carry where you and another person share the weight of the two kayaks. Find what works for you and soon you'll be bringing your own kayak to the river.
Time to get in the water! Having fun is the most important thing. It doesn't matter if you are kayaking on a lake or paddling over big waterfalls, whether you are a beginner or a pro, it is all in the fun. I hope by answering some of your questions you will be more comfortable and relaxed starting a sport that I love so much.