How to Kayak step by step guide for Beginners

How to Kayak | A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners – 2023

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If you are here, then you are already aware of what kayaking is. But for a brief overview, kayaking, a water sport embraced for leisure and adventure, involves propelling a small boat using a double-bladed paddle. It offers diverse experiences, from serene lake gliding to thrilling whitewater challenges. Kayaks vary in design, catering to beginners and experts, making it an accessible and exhilarating activity for all.

If you are new to kayaking and don’t know how to kayak or are in search of some kayaking tips, then believe us, you are at the perfect place. As a pro kayaker, I will share my experience, tips, tricks, and everything else you may need to enjoy the perfect adventurous kayak trip by yourself or your partner. So, to get into the depths of the kayaking world, let’s start with the basic question: Is kayaking hard?

1. Is kayaking as hard as it sounds?

I won’t lie to you, but kayaking might be intimidating at first, but it can become more doable with practice. However, it takes time to get the hang of fundamental paddling techniques and balance. A pro tip is that building confidence on calm seas is essential before venturing into more challenging circumstances. The physical component can be taxing, particularly for beginners, as it uses a variety of muscle groups.

Is kayaking as hard as it sounds
Is kayaking as hard as it sounds?

However, it does get more fun as you get stronger and more used to the moves. Proceed cautiously when learning new things; don’t hurry it. The first difficulty is worth it when you experience the thrill of gliding across the water, seeing nature from a different angle, and feeling accomplished when you navigate more difficult conditions. Once you get the hang of it, kayaking is a satisfying combination of adventure, fitness, and calm.

2. Types of kayaking

Types of kayaking
Types of kayaking

Now that your one major concern is satisfied, the second question that might come to mind is: What are the types of kayaking? Well, this is a comprehensive topic that needs to be addressed in a detailed manner. It is particularly important to better understand the kayaking basics. So, in this section, I will cover all the kayaking types that I know so far:

1. Recreational kayaking

This kind is best suited for kayak beginners and occasional users. It entails leisurely paddling on placid bodies of water such as lakes, leisurely flowing rivers, and coastal regions. Recreational kayaks are comfortable and stable and have a roomier cockpit for simpler entrance and departure. They put reliability and usability ahead of speed.

2. Sea kayaking

This activity entails paddling in open waterways, including bays, oceans, and coastal regions. These kayaks are built for longer trips; they include effective tracking features that enable them to navigate through rougher waters and cover greater distances. In addition to features for safety and navigation, they frequently offer greater room for storing equipment and food.

3. Whitewater kayaking

This type of paddling is done on swiftly flowing rivers that have rapids and choppy water. Whitewater kayaks are built for agility, maneuverability, and tackling the difficulties presented by changing water conditions. They are usually more robust against the impact of rocks and choppy waves, smaller, and more responsive.

4. Touring kayaking

Touring kayaking

Long excursions on lakes and leisurely-moving rivers are the ideal conditions for touring kayaks. Compared to recreational kayaks, they are longer and slimmer, which increases their efficiency while traveling longer distances and provides plenty of room for storing supplies and equipment for camping.

5. Fishing kayaks

Anglers utilize fishing kayaks that have attachments for rod holders, storage for tackle, and stability for lining casts. They are available in a variety of styles, such as sit-on-top kayaks, which offer improved mobility and accessibility to fishing locations.

6. Surf kayaking

Surf kayaking
Surf kayaking

Riding ocean waves in a kayak is the sport of surf kayaking. Through the use of specially constructed kayaks with rocker bottoms and unique wave-handling capabilities, surfers are able to maneuver and surf waves in a manner similar to traditional surfing.

7. Playboating

The activity of playboating involves stunts and maneuvers in river features such as holes and standing waves. These kayaks are easier to spin, flip, and execute than other airborne maneuvers since they are shorter and more nimble.

8. Slalom kayaking 

It is a competitive sport in which competitors must navigate a course of gates situated inside whitewater rapids. The emphasis is on speed and accuracy, and specific kayaks designed for fast turns and swift motion in choppy waters are employed.

9. Creek bloating

Narrow streams and waterfalls have steep, tricky whitewater that may be navigated with a creek boat. These kayaks are built to withstand drops and strong currents, with an emphasis on safety and longevity.

10. Inflatable kayaking

Inflatable kayaking
Inflatable kayaking

Inflatable kayaks are a versatile and efficient means of transportation and storage. Their suitability for a range of water conditions, such as placid lakes and mild rivers, makes them a more accessible choice for kayak enthusiasts.

11. Tandem kayaking

Designed for two paddlers, tandem kayaks promote cooperation and shared experiences. They provide stability and ease of paddling for two people and are available in a variety of designs appropriate for diverse conditions.

3. Types of kayaks

1. Sit-on-top vs. Sit-in-kayak

Because of their open cockpits, sit-on-top kayaks provide a more stable ride and simpler access and exit. For novices, warm climates, and recreational use, they are perfect. Because they are self-bailing, these kayaks are appropriate for choppy conditions.

Sit-on-top vs. Sit-in-kayak
Sit-on-top vs. Sit-in-kayak

The enclosed cockpit of sit-in kayaks offers superior weather protection and increased maneuverability. They provide a more effective paddling experience and, in colder weather, keep the paddler warmer and drier. For touring, sea kayaking, and other sports demanding more deft handling, these kayaks are preferred. 

2. Single kayak vs. double kayak

tandem vs single kayak
Tandem vs single kayak

Kayaks that are made for one person are referred to as single kayaks or solo kayaks. They provide paddlers with greater freedom and flexibility, enabling them to go across rivers at their own speed. Since single kayaks are often lighter and simpler to transport, more people can go on solo expeditions with them. They are adaptable and may be used for a variety of kayaking sports, from leisurely canoeing to more strenuous pursuits like sea or whitewater kayaking.

Two paddlers can fit in a double kayak, often known as a tandem kayak. They are ideal for friends, partners, and parents of small children since they foster collaboration and shared experiences. Because of their broader form, double kayaks are frequently more stable and make navigating in windy or choppy situations simpler. Although they are a great way to spend time with friends on the water, they may require more cooperation amongst paddlers to maneuver and stay on course. Tandem kayaks offer a shared water journey, making them ideal for family vacations and leisurely adventures.

4. What to wear while kayaking?

What to wear while kayaking?
What to wear while kayaking?

One thing I learned from my experience is that whenever you are going kayaking, your attire matters a lot. It’s important to dress appropriately for comfort, safety, and protection on the water. Here is a general outfit guide that I came up with to help you have a smooth start and a comfortable kayaking experience.

Read complete article: What to Wear for Kayaking

Dress appropriately

  • Clothes that dry quickly, such as synthetic materials (avoid cotton), draw moisture away from the body. Neoprene, nylon, and polyester are a few examples.
  • In warm weather, wear airy, moisture-wicking shirts and shorts or quick-dry trousers.
  • For insulation in colder climates, think about layering a neoprene top or a wetsuit.
  • Steer clear of bulky or cotton items, as they retain moisture and might cause discomfort and coldness.


  • To protect your feet, use water shoes, neoprene booties, or strap-equipped sandals. If you want to protect your feet when launching or landing, stay off the ground.

Device for personal flotation (PFD)

  • Always wear a Coast Guard-approved PFD (life jacket) that fits properly.

Protection from the sun

  • Wear a sun hat, strap-on sunglasses, and sunscreen to shield your skin from the sun.

Extra equipment

  • You may wish to pack waterproof clothing in case of rain or splashing water, depending on the weather and water conditions.

Keep in mind that weather might vary, so it’s crucial to dress for both the air and the water temperature. For a secure and pleasurable kayaking experience, always be outfitted appropriately. Especially if you are a beginner kayaker, you need to put extra care into your attire to have a smooth and comfortable kayaking experience.

5. Kayaking equipment needed

Kayaking equipment needed
Kayaking equipment needed

In this section, I will cover the things with which I started my kayaking journey. If you are getting into the kayaking world, then you may already have an idea of the things needed. Nonetheless, here I am with a list of essentials for kayaking, so you can be sure of what you need to have before starting kayaking. Essential kayaking gear guarantees comfort, safety, and a fun day of kayaking for beginners. Below is a summary of the required equipment:

1. Kayak

The best kayak for beginners would be a sit-on-top or recreational model that is sturdy and simple to maneuver.

2. Paddle

A paddle that is the right size, often with a shaft length that permits comfortable hand placement and a blade design suited for the purpose for which you wish to use it,

3. Device for personal flotation (PFD)

A Coast Guard-approved PFD that fits properly to guarantee safety Wear it comfortably at all times when out on the water.

4. For whitewater kayaking, a helmet

A strong helmet made for water sports is essential when whitewater kayaking to protect you from any collisions.

5. For sit-in kayaks, the spray skirt

A spray skirt helps keep water out of the cockpit of a sit-in kayak, particularly in choppy or stormy conditions.

6. Safety apparel

A simple first aid package for small injuries or accidents, together with a whistle for signaling in an emergency,

7. Clothes

As previously described, wear appropriate attire based on the weather, such as water shoes and quick-drying clothing.

8. The sponge and bilge pump

In the event of capsizing or water entry, a bilge pump helps drain the kayak of larger volumes of water, while a sponge assists with lesser quantities.

9. Waterproof case or dry bag

These maintain the dryness and water resistance of personal goods like phones and necessities.

10. Tools for navigation (optional)

For navigation, use a map, compass, or GPS, particularly for longer excursions in uncharted seas.

11. Cart made of kayaks for transportation

A kayak trolley or cart will make moving from your automobile to the water’s edge simple.

12. Float plan

Tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to return as a safety measure in case something unforeseen happens.

Before purchasing kayaking equipment when first starting, think about renting or borrowing equipment. You can purchase further specialized equipment as your abilities and preferences become apparent. However, you need to make sure of one thing: prioritizing safety at all times and understanding how to operate equipment correctly. It is essential for having fun when kayaking.

6. Kayaking techniques for beginners

Kayaking techniques for beginners
Kayaking techniques for beginners

How to kayak for beginners is a common query that people generally make when they are entering the kayaking world. But, most of the time, they just can’t get the right answer to their query. To answer their query in this section, I will share some techniques that helped me when I was starting. Of course, with time, when you get the hang of the game, you don’t need many of these techniques. But believe me when I say this as a professional kayaker, these techniques are still helpful. So, without any further pep talk, let’s see what these techniques are:

1. Paddling techniques

  • Forward stroke: Keep the paddle near the boat, fully submerge the blade, and draw it back while using your body to rotate for force.
  • Reverse stroke: Used to go backward, this stroke is comparable to the forward stroke and is useful for pausing or adjusting.

2. Holding onto the paddle

  • As you hold the paddle loosely, make sure the blades are oriented correctly (slightly outward) to produce efficient strokes.

3. Positioning and posture

  • Maintain proper posture when sitting, slanting your head slightly to one side, and place your feet comfortably on footrests or bracing points for support.

4. Rotating and swinging

  • Sweep stroke: To turn the kayak, start in the bow and move the blade in a broad arc towards the stern. It’s a wide, sweeping motion with variable directions.
  • Draw stroke: Pull the kayak sideways with this stroke by extending the paddle and drawing it in the direction of the side of the vessel.

5. Bracing methods

  • Low brace: If you feel wobbly, use the paddle blade to stabilize yourself in the water next to the kayak to avoid tipping over.
  • High brace: To recover balance if you are leaning to one side, place the paddle’s blade on the water’s surface and utilize it as support.

6. Takeoff and landing

  • Step by step towards the edge of the water and get into the kayak while keeping your balance and stability. Approach cautiously, using a gently controlled landing technique.

7. Self-rescue capsize recovery

  • Discover the fundamentals of recovering from capsizes, such as the “wet exit” and aided rescues while kayaking with others, and how to get out and back in the kayak in the event of a flip.

8. Analyzing water

  • Recognize the currents, risks, and conditions of the water. Steer clear of places beyond your ability level, obstructions, and strong currents at all times.

I suggest that you use these methods in protected and serene waterways. To gain more expertise and direction, think about enrolling in kayaking courses taught by qualified teachers or joining organizations. Your kayaking experience will be improved as these abilities become more automatic with time and practice. However, the main priorities should always be safety and appropriate technique.

7. Some handling tips for kayak

As a beginner, tackling the kayak could seem like a daunting task, and to be honest, it sure is. However, with the right approach, you can get the hang of it. By handling, I mean the way a kayak should be transported because, believe me, even after years, it is still a tiring task for me. However, it is possible to accomplish it effectively and securely with the correct tools and strategy. Here is what I do:

Choose the correct car

  • Make sure your car has crossbars or a roof rack. If not, think about using cradles or foam blocks made for roof transportation or attaching a kayak rack.

Setting up the kayak

  • With the hull pointing up, position the kayak parallel to the car. Place it center on the rack or crossbars.
  • Ensure that it is in the right place and won’t move while being transported.

Keeping the kayak safe

  • To fasten the kayak to the roof rack, use ratchets or cam straps.
  • Tighten the straps by looping them around the kayak and through the crossbars. Make sure the straps are comfortably tight but not too tight.

Stern and bow lines

  • When transporting a kayak, use bow and stern ropes to keep it from swaying or gathering wind.
  • Attach these lines firmly to the kayak’s front and rear as well as the vehicle’s anchor points. This stops you from moving forward or backward.

Examine your setup

  • Before you hit the road, make sure all of the straps, lines, and connectors are snug and secure.
  • Verify that the kayak is stable and won’t tip over or move while being transported.

Check the configuration

  • To make sure the kayak is securely fastened in position, give it a little shake.

Drive carefully

  • Be careful when driving; stay away from fast speeds, sharp turns, and quick brakes.

Getting the kayak empty

  • Once you reach your location, go back and follow the original instructions, loosening and removing the straps and lines first.

As a kayak beginner, following these simple instructions will allow you to tackle your kayak in the right manner. Moreover, you will be able to keep your kayak secure from any kind of wear or tear.

8. The right way to enter or exit from the kayak

Yes, you read it right. One of the major challenges I faced while first time Kayaking was getting inside and getting out of the kayak. You see, kayaking is a game of balance, which you have to maintain all the time. So, if you think you can simply get in or out of the kayak like a normal boat, then you are wrong. This portion will cover the ways in which you can enter or exit the kayak safely. 

1. Entering the kayak from deep water

A “wet entry,” or getting into a kayak from deep water, might be difficult at first but is doable with little practice. Take these actions:

  • Approach the kayak from the side and maintain your stability by clinging to the cockpit rim.
  • To stabilize the kayak, keep your body low and lean your weight into it.
  • Kick your legs to keep them afloat and position them next to the kayak while holding onto it.
  • Holding onto the kayak to keep your balance, slide one leg into the cockpit and then the other.
  • Keeping your body centered and balanced, slowly lower yourself into the seat. Then, reposition your legs and feet inside the kayak.
  • If extra water has to be removed, use a bilge pump or a pumping motion, then carry on with your kayaking journey. Before trying in deeper seas, practice in shallow water.

2. Entering the kayak from the shore

When it comes to kayak entrance, entering from land is easier than entering from deep water. For a seamless ingress, adhere to the following steps:

  • Place the kayak such that the cockpit is sturdy and accessible, parallel to the beach.
  • Place your legs outside the cockpit and take a seat on the edge of the kayak seat.
  • Using your hands to steady yourself on the kayak or the shore, gradually lower yourself onto the seat while maintaining your balance.
  • Make sure your legs are comfortably positioned when you slide them into the cockpit.
  • Once inside, alter your seating arrangement and leg positioning for stability and comfort.
  • To get the kayak into the water, gently push off from the beach.

3. Entering the kayak from the dock

Similar procedures apply when entering a kayak from a dock; however, because of the dock’s possibly unstable surface, stability and balance require extra attention. Take these actions:

  • Place the kayak parallel to the dock and in a solid position.
  • Take a seat on the dock’s edge with the kayak securely positioned next to you.
  • With a tight grasp on the kayak or the dock for balance, lower yourself into the seat of the kayak.
  • Your legs should be pleasantly positioned when you slide them into the cockpit.
  • Once inside, reposition your legs and seat to improve stability.

To ensure a seamless transition into the water and prevent any abrupt jolts or imbalances, push off from the dock carefully.

Exiting the kayak

There are several places to exit a kayak, including deep water, a dock, and the shore. The generic instructions that you can follow to safe and smooth exit are

1. Dock or shore exit

  • Slide the kayak up against the dock or land.
  • With your hands supporting you, lean in the direction of the coast or dock.
  • To maintain equilibrium, lift one leg out of the cockpit and then the other.
  • Standing or sitting on the pier, take care to remain stable.
  • When you’re steady on the ground, cautiously exit the kayak.

2. Exit in deep water

  • When leaving deep water, paddle in the direction of shallow water or a good landing spot.
  • Securing the kayak, use the same procedure as getting off a dock, but remember to get onto a suitable platform or the shallow bottom.

Before attempting to get out of the kayak, be sure it is stable and close to a safe location. To get more familiarity with various exit tactics, practice in shallow, calm seas. To master the skill of entering and exiting the kayak, you can take kayak lessons for beginners. They helped me a lot when I was starting out, so I am pretty sure they will be of great help in the beginning.

9. How to sit and position yourself in a kayak?

You need to understand that different kayaks demand different sitting positions. So, I will share some insight about how you should position yourself in different kayaks.

1. Sit-in kayak

  • Getting in

Keeping your weight centered, sit on the edge of the kayak seat and descend into the cockpit.

Make sure your legs are comfortably positioned in front of you when you slide them into the cockpit.

  • Place of legs

Your legs should be comfortably resting against the bulkheads or thigh bracing within the kayak, with a small bend at the knees.

  • Reverse posture

With your back straight and the seat and backrest supporting you, sit up straight. If you can, adjust the backrest to provide more lumbar support.

  • Foot supports

To provide stability and control, brace your feet using the adjustable foot pegs or braces within the kayak.

2. Sit-on-top kayak

  • Getting in

Place your legs into the specified footwells or bracing on the top of the kayak after taking a seat on the seat.

  • Place of legs

To preserve stability and balance, place your legs in the footwells with them straight or slightly bent.

  • Reverse posture

With your backrest either removable or molded, sit up straight and maintain good posture.

  • Foot supports

To improve stability and control, use the footrests or bracing that are molded into the kayak to anchor your feet.

3. Inflatable kayak

  • Getting in

To maintain balance and the center of gravity, sit in the middle of the kayak.

  • Place of legs

Place your legs comfortably straight or slightly bent to maintain balance and stability, just as in a sit-on-top kayak.

  • Reverse posture

Use any inflatable seat or backrest that is offered for support when sitting up straight and with proper posture.

  • Foot supports

Make sure your feet are relaxed and positioned for stability, since some inflatable kayaks may not have many alternatives for foot bracing.

The keys to stability in all types of kayaks are good posture, balanced weight distribution, and strapping your feet in place. To ensure comfort and a fit for your size, adjust the sitting components as per your body proportions.

10. What to do in case of capsizing a kayak?

It’s important to maintain composure if your kayak capsizes. You should evaluate the circumstances and execute a wet escape if required to get out of the kayak. The kayak should then be flipped upright by grasping the cockpit rim and using re-entry assistance, such as a paddle float, to press down on one side of the kayak. 

Use a re-entry technique, such as a paddle-float self-rescue or an aided rescue with another kayaker, once the kayak has been righted. Resuming paddling after stabilizing your posture for a little while can help you maintain balance and control. Before kayaking in more difficult or open waters, practice these self-rescue tactics in safe settings to improve your confidence and safety abilities in managing such circumstances.

11. Kayaking in different environments

Kayaking in different environments
Kayaking in different environments

Different environments demand different ways of kayaking. So, as a beginner, I would suggest you start in a calm setting. But anyway, to give you a better idea of how kayaking is different in different environments, I have compared kayaking in three environments.

1. Kayaking on whitewater

  • Rivers flow quickly with barriers and rapids in the environment.
  • Generally, short, nimble kayaks are made to handle rough water conditions.
  • To self-rescue in choppy conditions, certain skills like precision maneuvering, eddy turns, and rolling methods are needed.

2. Kayaking on a lake

  • The surroundings consist of placid lakes or leisurely-flowing rivers.
  • Sturdy and easy-to-pad kayaks for touring or recreational use.
  • It focuses on navigation, unhurried exploration, and effective paddling strokes. Stability can be impacted by wind and wave conditions in the weather.

3. Kayaking in deep water

  • Potentially choppy oceans, coastal regions, or open waters.
  • Sea or touring kayaks with ample storage for equipment and safety features are designed for extended travel.
  • Concentrates on safety, navigation, and managing shifting sea conditions, such as waves, tides, and currents. It is essential to comprehend weather patterns and navigational aids.

A quick reminder

Put safety first by wearing a PFD, being aware of the weather and water conditions, and having the necessary safety equipment on hand. Tell someone what you’re doing and when you anticipate returning. Remain alert, stay out of uncharted seas that are beyond your ability, and practice self-rescue methods. In an emergency, be cool and unflappable, and paddle with a friend whenever you can.

Final verdict! Is kayaking hard?

With all honesty, yes, kayaking can be quite hard. However, if you follow all the kayaking tips for beginners, take the necessary lessons, and be thorough with your research, you will get the hang of it in no time. All you need is persistence and determination to master this skill. And once you master it, you will see how thrilling and soul-satisfactory this sport is.

Moreover, it’s critical to comprehend the appropriate equipment, safety precautions, and entry/exit techniques. The thrill of gliding over water, exploring new vantage points of the natural world, and the feeling of success surpass the first trials as skills are honed and obstacles overcome. If you stick with it and remember to always be cautious, kayaking becomes a rewarding combination of exercise, adventure, and peace of mind.

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