Kayaking is a fantastic hobby and sport. From paddling around your pond to crossing the Alaskan waters on an epic journey, kayaks can take you farther and can be so much fun. Before you get to the fun part, though, you'll need the kayak, the skills, and the carrying capacity.
What's so Great About Kayaking?
Kayaking is great. It helps increase your general health, lower your stress, gets you outside, increases your confidence, and is a great activity to do either alone or with friends and family.
Kayaking is difficult to learn and you need to be strong and athletic to do it.
Kayaking can actually be quite easy to do. If you have an instructor or someone to teach you how to enter and exit the kayak, how to effectively paddle, and how to properly control the kayak, you should be set to go. In fact, if you have too much strength, especially in your arms, you could find yourself relying on your arm muscles rather than using your entire body to paddle. Using only your arms to paddle can cause you to become tired and sore faster and is an inefficient way to move your kayak forward.
Kayaking is too tough for the average person, causing pain and discomfort.
Again, kayaking is easy if you have mastered the art of efficient paddling, using your core and not just your arms. Added to this, kayaking is easier on the body than sports like hiking and biking. If you have a bad knee, back, or shoulder, you can still kayak. If you aren't sure whether kayaking is for you, walk into a shop selling kayaks, sit in one, and test out the range of motion to see if you can move pain-free. Chances are, if you can move freely from side to side, you should fare well with a kayak.
Kayaks tip over and you'll get stuck either in the kayak or in the water.
There are many different types of kayaks, some with good stability, some with low stability. If you're concerned about tipping over, try for a wide boat style with a large cockpit. This style is generally the best for initial stability, or how the kayak feels when you get in it and paddle on flat water. These kayaks are stable enough that you should be able to even stand up on them without them tipping over. Once you get more comfortable at kayaking, you can move on to narrower models. If the kayak does tip over, as long as it's fitted properly, you should be able to remove yourself from the kayak, even underwater. Gravity will help you fall out and if you have a kayak skirt, you can loosen it to help remove yourself. To help make sure you are prepared in the event of such a situation, make sure to find an instructor to teach you how to remove yourself from a flipped kayak and how to re-enter the kayak in water.
Kayaks are difficult to steer, specifically to keep going straight.
The ability to steer straight depends on your kayak and its hull. If you are using a day touring or recreational kayak, going straight is pretty easy. If you are going to be using a longer sea kayak, it can be difficult, as there may be winds to account for. On the whole, however, keeping the kayak going in the right direction depends on your paddle strokes. With good form, you can keep the kayak going straight and have enough time and energy left over to enjoy the sights around you. Just make sure you choose a kayak that matches your skills and objectives and you should be all set.
Kayaking requires a lot of expensive equipment.
Like any other kind of outdoor sport, kayaking does require some equipment. You'll need a paddle, kayak, moisture-wicking clothes, rain gear, and a flotation device, for example. If you're concerned about whether or not you can afford these bits of equipment, try out renting or going on a guided tour, which often includes all of the necessary equipment. You can also use much of the equipment for other activities, such as using the flotation device for swimming, the rain gear for a general campout, and the moisture-wicking clothes for hiking.
Intro to Kayaking
Kayaking can be a great hobby and sport, but it can be confusing when you're first starting out. There are certain terms for kayaking that can get confusing, so we've compiled a short list of these to help you better understand the sport.
Common Kayak Terms for Beginners
Tracking: A term used to describe how straight a kayak can glide without any steering or paddling.
Stability: Refers to how easily a kayak can flip over.
Hatch: An enclosed storage space, usually covered with a waterproof lid.
Spray Skirt (or spray deck): An accessory available for a sit-in kayak that cinches around your waist to cover the cockpit from splashes and water during use. Best for cold water kayaking or fast-moving rivers.
Scupper Holes: Holes at the bottom of sit-on kayaks that allow water to pass freely through the kayak.
Deck: Top of the kayak. Often has deck lines or bungees.
Hull: Bottom of the kayak
Bow: Front of the kayak
Stern: Back of the kayak. Often has grab loops or rudders.
Rudders: Help control the kayak by swiveling side-to-side in the water.
What Kind of Kayak Should I Get?
Before you start searching for the perfect kayak, you have to ask yourself a few questions first.
Will it be a sit-in or a sit-on-top kayak?
Where are you going to be paddling? Gentle streams? Large bodies of water? Your local pond?
Will the water be warm or cold?
Are you looking for a fast kayak or are you more concerned with stability and ease of use?
How much weight are you willing to carry?
What shape and size are you looking for?
There are other questions that you could potentially ask, but these are pretty big ones. Once you've narrowed down the search, you can continue.
Sit-ins vs Sit-on-Tops
The two main styles of kayaks are sit-ins and sit-on-tops. While they are both good styles, they have many differences.
Sit-ins are essentially the standard kayak. If you search for kayaks, they are likely the first ones that will show up. You sit inside of the kayak body itself and often brace your feet on internal foot rests and your knees on the sides of the kayak. Because of both the lower center of gravity and multiple points of contact with the kayak, you tend to have better control as well as better stability. They also tend to be more efficient to paddle due to the lower center of gravity. As a result of the extra control and the variety of sizes available for these kayaks, they are easier to go faster in. This makes them best for traveling long distances and paddling in places with more rough water. They often come with cargo compartments as well, so you can store your gear on your way to your destination. Because of the enclosed design (and you can even add in a spray skirt to make it more enclosed), it's good for cold water kayaking. The enclosed design limits your exposure to water, keeping you dry, and shelters your body from the wind, keeping you warmer. All in all, sit-in kayaks are stable, fun, and easy to use both for recreational use and for traveling.
The downside to sit-in kayaks is due to the enclosed design. You don't have as much freedom to move in and out of the water to swim, the recovery process for if you were to flip your kayak is more difficult and you'll need to know how to do a wet exit for this, and you might need a bilge pump if the kayak gets fully swamped.
Sit-on-top kayaks have a design similar to a paddleboard or surfboard, with a place to sit and sometimes straps to store items. Because of how free to move they are, they are great for when you are wanting to get out and swim. They are ideal for warm weather kayaking and for kayaking on calm waters. They are very user friendly and are great for a beginner. You don't have any feeling of confinement while sitting on them and some even have options for placing a fishing pole if you are wanting to fish while out on the water. One part of their design is that they have scupper holes. This means that water is able to go through the kayak. In other words, you will most certainly get wet while you're on one of these. It also means that if you do flip it, you won't need to bail the water out of it. It is self-bailing because of the holes.
The downside to sit-on-top kayaks is that they do not protect you from the water at all. While this is okay in warm waters, this is very bad for kayaking in cold water. They are also not good for long distance trips, as they are not as efficient to paddle as sit-in kayaks and you are more likely to get tired both from the paddling and from your higher center of gravity.
Once you decide between these two, you can make your way to various models, sizes, and capabilities. Just make sure you're being safe on the water!