Kayaking is as easy or as hard as you want it to be.
Some people prefer mellow recreational sit on top kayaking in calm bodies of water. Some people prefer a touring sit inside that can require a little more skill.
The most advanced and potentially difficult kayaking is racing and kayak surfing.
Kayaking surfing requires a mastery of kayak maneuvering.
Racing requires an incredible amount of athleticism and skill.
Both can be well worth it for athletes seeking a challenge.
There is also the human factor.
If you practice good kayaking habits, you won't have a problem progressing in experience.
However, when the kayak is not maintained well, or you develop bad paddling habits, you will make kayaking a lot harder than it needs to be.
After we break down the various levels of kayaking and potential human errors, you can decide which style is right for you and minimize obstacles you might create for yourself.
Recreational kayaking is potentially the most user-friendly style of paddling. Most people use a sit on top kayak for leisurely trips because they have incredible balance and are hard to tip over. You can also stow cameras, phones, and food right on your lap or at your feet. Sit on tops are a great way to bring children along for a paddle as well since it is unlikely that a child moving around will tip the kayak.
Great balance and easy to paddle. Leisure trips on polyethylene kayaks allow you to focus more on sightseeing and paddle practice, and less on potentially tipping over or ramming into rocks. This type of paddling is done in calmer waters. In the event a paddler does get stuck or tips over, there is plenty of time to upright the boat or get unstuck, since you don't really have to worry about incoming swell or eddies in calm bodies of water.
You won’t go that fast if speed is what you are looking for. Leisure touring is not a great way to develop advanced paddling endurance or maneuvering skills. Sit on tops are also bulky and hard to store.
Some paddlers decide they want to step up their kayaking experience a bit. Sit inside kayaks, and more advanced environments like oceans and white water rivers are good for progressing to the next level.
You can find some of our favorite sit-in kayaks when you check out our Fin Bin page!
If you want to increase speed and trip length, sit inside kayaks are a perfect next step. You can tour for miles and miles a day if you want to. The slender shape and hydrodynamic design make cutting through the water much more efficient.
Paddling in slightly more advanced conditions allows you to see more and do more. White water kayaking is an exciting thrill and being out on the ocean can be incredibly exhilarating. My favorite ocean kayak activity is touring through sea caves. Because there can be swells in sea caves and a lot of current in the ocean, I mastered basic kayak skills before I attempted open ocean paddling.
Sit inside kayaks are built for maneuverability and speed, not stability. They tip over a lot easier and are incredibly challenging to upright. You'll need extra gear like a bilge pump and a paddle float to roll your kayak back over. Besides the extra equipment, there is a difficult technique that goes into right-siding a sit inside.
Paddling in open oceans and white water rivers can increase your fun, but also your chances for accidents and kayak damage. More advanced conditions can mean less predictable scenarios, so be prepared for things like unexpected swell, hidden rocks under whitewash, and a higher chance of tipping over.
Kayak racing and kayak surfing are not for the faint of heart. Becoming enough of an expert paddler to race requires a lot of time and determination. If you choose to surf the waves with a kayak, be prepared to be constantly rolling over in the ocean. Should you choose such challenging forms of kayaking, the adrenaline payoff is worth it.
Surf kayaks are really cool. They are shorter and have a lot of rocker at the bow so you can surf waves. They also are self-righting, so even though you will get continuously tossed around and tipped over, you will roll back upright quite easily. Once you get the hang of how to steer the kayak in the face of the wave, it can be the ride of your lifetime.
Racing kayaks are incredibly hydrodynamic and fast. Racers often spent countless hours a week perfecting their paddle stroke and working out to stay in shape. Racing requires a pretty serious level of dedication and commitment. But if you love to compete and love to kayak, this sport might be for you.
Kayak surfing requires a high level of ocean intelligence and experience. You must be a very good swimmer and be extremely comfortable in the ocean and waves. Not only do you need to be highly skilled in kayak maneuvering, but you must also be skilled at reading waves and working with them to get the ride you want. This requires years of practice.
Because racing kayaks are the most slender, they tip over the easiest. And they are not easy to get back into. Imagine trying to get back on top of a rolling log in the water. It’s nearly impossible. If you do want to get into racing, it’s a good idea to master the art of kayak re-entry.
The Human Error
Kayaking can be challenging on its own, but sometimes we make it harder than it needs to be. Developing an inefficient paddling technique can hinder your ability to progress in skill. Not keeping up with kayak maintenance and repairs can affect the performance of your craft.
To avoid these obstacles, do everything you can to learn about technique and upkeep of gear. Take lessons, especially if you branch into another style of kayaking. This will ensure you learn proper and effective paddling techniques. Learn about how to clean, maintain and repair your kayak properly, and you will have a smooth ride for years to come.
It’s Up to You…
Kayaking can be as easy or as difficult as you’d like it to be. No one style of kayaking is right for everyone and kayaking is fun and rewarding no matter what your paddling skills look like. If you respect your gear and respect the sport, you can enjoy kayaking at any level you want.