35 Kayaking Tips for Beginners

35 Kayaking Tips For Beginners

So you're thinking about getting into kayaking.

Good for you, because you just made one of the best decisions ever! Kayaking is an incredibly fun and rewarding sport.

Nature is beautiful, the workout is amazing, and the pure joy of it will leave you smiling for days.

When people ask me "how do I get into kayaking? It looks so fun!" I try to emphasize that it is quite easy to start.

Below are some tips to familiarize yourself with resources for gear, physical preparation, and etiquette towards nature and your fellow paddlers.

#1 Get physically prepared

Kayaking is more of a workout than it looks. Cardio, like walking or jogging, is good preparation for the endurance you will need for paddling. Lifting weights or push-ups is a great way to beef up your arm muscles.

#2  Dress appropriately

If you are going to go kayaking, you WILL get wet. Get some shoes and clothing that are waterproof or quick drying. And always bring a set of dry clothes to change into after paddling.

#3 Don’t forget the sun protection

I can’t stress this enough; always bring sunscreen! Or a sun hat if you prefer, because a sunburn is inevitable without sun protection. It’s also a good idea to wear clothing, like a rashguard, that has SPF protection.

#4 Waterproof cases are your friend

Again, if you are going paddling, you WILL get wet. If you are thinking about bringing any phones or food out on the water with you, it’s a good idea to invest in things like dry bags and waterproof phone cases.

#5 Wear a life jacket

Water bodies in nature are always unpredictable. Even if you are the strongest swimmer in the world, it’s important to wear a life jacket in case of an emergency.

#6 Take a lesson

A kayak instructor can show you how to paddle properly, handle your kayak and read the ocean. Trying to learn these things on your own can develop bad habits and inhibit your ability to paddle safely and have fun.

#7 Rent for the first time

Kayaking gear can be expensive. Before you make that investment, trying renting for your first time to see if you like it. A lot of times, rental gear comes as part of a package with kayaking lessons.

#8 Ready to buy? Start simple

There are varying skill levels when it comes to kayaking. Make sure you buy one that matches your skill level. If you are just starting, I recommend starting with a sit on top. They don't tip over easily, and if they do, it's easy to upright them.

You can also take a look at our top kayak main guide for some more ideas!

#9 Hold the paddle correctly

Holding the paddle the right way can make your paddling way more efficient. You want your elbows bent about 90 degrees, with your triceps almost parallel to the water. Hold the paddle with a slightly firm grip, as well.

#10 Sit up straight

Your core is your powerhouse. Sitting up straight will allow you to engage your core muscles for more powerful and efficient paddling.

#11 Slow and steady paddling

Resist the urge to paddle as hard and as fast as possible. That actually will slow you down. What you want are slower, more efficient strokes using your core and the paddle correctly.

#12 Pace yourself

Unless you are actually in a kayak race, it’s not a race. Take time to build up your kayaking muscles by pacing yourself. Enjoy the scenery and eat some snacks along the way.

#13 Stay alert

Anything can happen on the water. While you are enjoying the scenery, also be paying attention to your surroundings. Kayaking can quickly turn into a not so fun situation if your boat tips over or you get caught in an eddy.

#14 Watch out for your friends

The people you paddle with might get also caught up in watching the beautiful nature around them. Make sure your friends aren’t about to enter a dangerous situation, like hitting rocks. If they are, warn them.

Kayaking with new friends
Kayaking with friends

#15 Learn about the ocean

Tides, swell and currents are important to pay attention to while paddling. You don’t want to get stuck in swell that is too big or paddle up river against the tide. Try to learn about water patterns so you can stay safe while paddling in the ocean.

#16 Learn about rivers

Rivers have tides and currents as well, so get to know them.

#17 Check your kayak before and after a paddle

Make sure the hardware in your kayak is working, and you aren't missing any gear before you paddle out. The last thing you want is to discover a hole in your kayak or a broken paddle when you are in the middle of a lake.

#18 Stretch to avoid injury

Just like any other exercise, it’s important to warm up for kayaking with injury preventing stretches. You’ll want to warm up and stretch your legs, arms, and torso.

#19 Practice on flat water

Before you jump into white water rapids or sea caves, practice paddling in beginner-friendly areas, like calm lakes and mellow rivers.

#20 Learn water safety

Make sure you learn how to rescue yourself and others in case something happens on the water. The Red Cross has a great basic water safety course.

#21 Don’t paddle alone

In the event of an emergency situation, your chances of staying safe are much higher if you paddle with other people. Paddling alone can be dangerous.

#22 Plan your route

Prepare your route and tell other people where you are going. That way, if you do not return at the expected time, people know where to look for you.

#23 Move with the water, not against it

Kayaks are designed to move with the flow of the water. If you aren’t going the direction you want, stay calm and go with the flow until you can correct yourself. Panicking will only cause you to tip over.

#24 You're going to want a camera

There is a lot to see out on the water, and you will be having a lot of fun. Chances are you will want to document your awesome experiences.

#25 You’ll also want binoculars

My favorite thing to do while kayaking is watching the shorebirds nestled high in trees or in rocks. Bringing a pair of binoculars on your trip will allow you to observe various aspects of nature you wouldn't be able to see otherwise.

#26 Bring some food

Time flies when you are kayaking, and you're going to get hungry. Bring food in your dry bag for when you take a snack break. Choose a safe location to rest where you can focus on eating. I like to bring healthy snacks that will give me sustained energy, like raisins, nuts, and some low-calorie cheese.

#27 Always bring water

My least favorite thing to be while kayaking is dehydrated. Being dehydrated is not only uncomfortable, but it can also be dangerous. Make sure you bring a water bottle with hydrating liquids like water or coconut water. And bring enough so that you will stay hydrated for your whole trip.

#28 Invest in a first aid kit

There are some pretty nifty kayak friendly first aid kits out there. They attach easily to the kayak and are easy to get into. Kayaking is not done in a controlled environment. An injury is a very real possibility, and it is important to be prepared.

#29 Learn about the local flora and fauna

With your camera or binoculars in hand, it can be really fun to try and spot birds or flowers you may have learned about. Reading up on the ecosystem you are paddling in adds a whole other dimension to your trip and enhances your experience.

#30 Visit your local kayak shops

Local outdoor stores and kayak shops are a great source for aspiring paddlers. You can make kayaking friends, get expert tips and lots of help with gear. Plus, you will most likely see some of the employees out on the water, so it’s good to get to know them.

#31 Join kayak enthusiast groups

Shops aren’t the only place to meet other kayakers. Online groups such as MeetUp are a great source for getting together to go on water adventures. You can also find local kayaking groups on Facebook.

#32 Become a steward of nature

If you are going to spend time in nature, it is your responsibility to protect it. Think about joining marine conservation groups that work with kayakers, like San Francisco’s Save The Bay.

#33 Respect nature

Nature gives us a place to be happy and have fun, so we need to protect and respect it. Don't try to touch, pick up or take home any plants or animals you find on your paddle. If you come across animals in their habitats, keep a good distance. If animals start to think their space is being threatened, they will not return to that habitat, and it will negatively affect their way of life.

#34 Take care of your kayak

Regular cleaning, maintenance, and repair of your kayak can keep it in great shape for a long time. If you want to get the most paddles as possible, upkeep can prevent damage and keep your kayak like new.

#35 Have fun!

The most important tip for beginners is just to have fun. While it is good to be prepared and knowledgeable, at the end of the day your top priority should be to enjoy yourself. Kayaking is a great way to escape the stresses of everyday life, and regular paddling will keep you healthy and happy. So get out there and have fun!