Easy to use and fun to paddle, kayaks open up vast new watery worlds to explore. You might find yourself floating above a sea of starfish, nosing through a lily-pad oasis, or rocking and rolling among the ocean waves. Whatever your style, kayaking is a great way to get out and enjoy the water.
Ready to get out there? Here are some tips to get you started:
Before launching a full-scale outing, take the time to practice your newfound skills. Your best bet: calm, protected water with low wind and scant motorized boat traffic. Plan ahead so that capsizing doesn't become a life-threatening event. Without proper clothing, a dunking in cold-or even cool-water poses the very real and lethal threat of hypothermia.
Ready to venture farther afloat? Always plan your trip in advance, taking into consideration the skill level of everyone in your party. At the top of your checklist: the weather. Keep on top of shifting conditions, including wind speed and direction, water temperature, wave size and strength of currents and tides. Read more about trip planning here.
A properly fitted kayak makes for greater comfort and more efficient paddling. When adjusting your boat to your body, think about maintaining three points of contact at all times:
In your quest for the perfect adjustment, don't wedge yourself too tightly into the boat. The fit should be snug enough to give you control of the kayak, but loose enough that you can exit smoothly if the need arises.
A smooth kayak launch takes some practice, but gets easier the more you do it. Here's how to make the transition from shoreline to waterway:
With the kayak at water's edge (bow first and mostly afloat), stand facing the boat. Place your paddle across it, just behind the cockpit. Extend the other end of the paddle to rest on the shoreline, using it as an outrigger to steady the boat. Be sure the rounded side of the blade is on the ground and the spoon (concave) side is facing up. Otherwise, you risk snapping the blade!
With one hand on the paddle shaft and the other on the cockpit's coaming (raised edge), you're ready to slide into the cockpit. Instructors at the REI Outdoor School offer these pointers:
Once you're afloat, the basic paddling stroke and means of forward propulsion is the forward stroke. This consists of a push-pull motion as you move either end of the paddle through the water.
The key to a strong, efficient forward stroke? Torso rotation. Contrary to appearances, paddling isn't just about using your arms. The large muscles in your trunk hold much more power than your arm muscles. You'll discover much greater endurance and strength when you rotate your trunk as you paddle.
With paddle in hand, most kayakers tend naturally to pull the blade toward themselves. Equally important: pushing the blade strongly through the water. Aided by torso rotation, this pushing motion provides enormous leverage, adding power and ease to your forward stroke.
A Paddling Buddy: Paddling alone is a dangerous undertaking. Always bring a buddy.
Safety Equipment: At minimum, every paddler in your party should be outfitted with a PFD (personal flotation device), a light, rescue gear and a communication device. Learn more about safety gear here.
Proper Clothing: Dress not just for the weather, but for the water temperature. Prepare to get wet! Layering is key for comfort and safety when kayaking. Read about choosing clothing for paddling.
The Ten Essentials: Your kayak should have the Ten Essentials on board. This time-honored list of emergency and safety gear has been updated in recent years to become the Ten Essentials systems. Read our discussion of the Ten Essentials.
Outfitted with paddling know-how and the proper gear, you're all set to explore waterways both urban and wild. Happy kayaking!
By Kelly Huffman
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Last updated: Wed Aug 15 17:16:37 PDT 2012
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