So, you’ve stood on that bridge over the river, wistfully watching as those outdoor enthusiasts paddled by in their brightly colored kayaks. You may have lingered at a dock, watching families unload their kayaks into the bay, or watched from the riverbank as a group of college kids raced each other , their sleek kayaks easily cutting through the water. You have that yearning in the pit of your soul. You really want to try it, taste it for yourself, but something’s holding you back. You tell yourself you’re not strong enough- not like those college kids. You tell yourself you’ll just end up flipping over into the water, but that burning desire to try kayaking gnaws at your insides.
Kayaking for Beginners
Kayaking is the most eco-friendly way to explore. You aren’t using gas or a motor. You are floating above the surface, so not damaging the river bed or lake bottom, And you are able to venture to places inaccessible by land without intrusion to the environment. You’ll be surprised at the schools of fish that will swim beneath your kayak- accepting you as part of their environment. And the thing about kayaking is that it’s easy and fun, and why it’s a growing popular outdoor recreational activity. Once you know the essentials like basic kayak safety, what to bring and how to paddle- from there it’s common sense and on the adventures you go!
Before you run out and start buying a kayak and the gear, it’s a good idea to know what you are getting into. Take a beginner’s kayak class and have all of your questions answered by an expert. Or join a guided kayak tour. Being with a group is a good way to ease into this water sport. On those tours, make sure you inquire about the fitness level required for your expedition first though. A downriver paddle is great for a newbie, but add a level of difficulty or two and you may just throw in the -er-paddle!
And don’t be afraid to take your teens! Introducing your kids to this outdoor recreational sport can be surprisingly beneficial to them as well.
10 reasons you should be taking your kids kayaking
With the recent death of a kayaker in Mosquito Lagoon, there has been a surge in discussions about kayaking safety. Even the most experienced members of the paddling world admit to making foolish choices. For beginners, a kayak safety course is always a good idea. Not only will you learn the basics, like how to sit properly in a kayak, but also how not to capsize and what to do if you do flip over or find yourself in an emergency situation.
Kayak Safety Class in North Central Florida
Ryan Toler, instructor, naturalist, lead guide & owner of Discovery Kayak Tours offers Kayak 101 classes and Kayak Demonstrations in The Villages North Central Florida. He holds the classes on a lake, so there’s no fighting river currents while you are learning. Not only can you learn the paddling skills, but also essential safety. And safety on the water is vital.
How to Avoid Tipping Your Kayak
A recent Adventures of Mom poll showed that the biggest concern stopping wanna-be kayakers from kayaking was they were worried about tipping their boat. Here are some tips to avoid capsizing your kayak:
Center yourself in your kayak. This is one of the most important things that Ryan tells his newbie kayakers. You shouldn’t be leaning to either side. Keep your weight in the middle of your boat.
If you are kayaking tandem, make sure you and your paddle-buddy are centered. Lean over too far to gaze at that bass swimming under you and you may find yourself swimming with it!
Avoid horseplay. Yes, those paddles tend to invoke a Dr. Seuss paddle-battle-in-a puddle-longing, but curb your enthusiasm until you’re on dry land- then you can act out those wannabee-warrior desires more- er-safely- seriously, just don’t. Don’t grab other kayakers on the water, even if it’s your sister and she just insulted you- your sudden movement may cause them to lurch back and tip over.
Bend forward when going under water obstacles. If there’s a tree hanging across the water or a low bridge and you can’t go around it, duck forward in your boat to go under it. If you lean to the side, you will flip into the water. If you’re really flexible, you can lean back and do the limbo under it- but always keep your body centered in the kayak.
Don’t stand up. Seriously, that goes without saying. If you have the urge to stand- go rent a paddle board- that’s what those things are for anyway!
Take care getting in and out of your kayak. This is the time when people flip the most. Ideally, you want to be in your boat in shallow water or on a ramp or kayak launch and then just push yourself off (or get someone to push you) into the water. Climbing into your boat from a dock is tricky- proceed with caution and again, find your center of balance- same goes with getting out when your boat is still floating in the water.
There are many kinds of kayaks. Some are built for touring- meaning easy going rivers or small lakes. Others are built to cut through the sea, and still others are for white-water rafting. You need to know what kind of elements you will be facing when purchasing a kayak. With touring kayaks, there are sit-ons, which are easier to get in and out of if you are thinking about swimming or exploring. And there are also sit-in ones, which are more difficult to get in and out of, but if you are thinking about paddling in the colder months, they will keep you warmer, and through those dark swamp areas, they also may make you feel safer from the critter elements 😉
Before you purchase any kayak, sit in it first! What looks good on the shelf or that on-line photo, may make you feel cramped and claustrophobic. There are many outfitters on the rivers and lakes- go and rent a kayak and try it out. Spending that $20 on a rental just to see if you like that brand is worth it. Some kayaks are built for speed, while others are for stability. What are you looking for in your kayak?
All kayaks have foot rests in them. The sit-on ones are static- you just put your feet in the notches that feel the most comfortable to you, but the others you can move them either back or forward, depending where they feel the best. Your knees should be slightly bent so that you have better stability when paddling.
- Double-Sided Paddle
To make your journey, you’ll require a double-sided paddle. Unlike a canoe oar, a kayak paddle has a plastic paddle on both ends. If you stand up beside your paddle, and stretch your arm up, the top of your paddle should be at the top of your finger tip. Paddle sizing is one of the items covered in beginners kayaking class, or you can ask at an outfitter’s store for recommendations.
You must have a US Coast Guard approved life jacket for every person in a boat. This is the law. And you should wear it. The majority of bad accidents on the water that resulted in death could have been avoided if the persons involved had worn their life jackets. Accidents happen. Don’t become a drowning statistic. And if the thought of paddling with those big bulky orange life jackets come to mind, relax, they make stylish and comfortable life vests just for paddling water sports. Some even come with handy pockets to stow those car keys! Prices range from below $20 for basic ones and up.
Another by-law essential- everyone need a whistle. You can pick up an inexpensive one almost anywhere. Tie it to your life vest to keep it near by. And remember- it was that whistle that saved ‘Rose’ in that “Titanic” movie!
Non-Essentials (but handy)
- Paddle Leash
Though a non-essential, a paddle leash is always handy. You basically tether your paddle to your kayak. Lost paddle problems solved!
Rope is important- think para cord here. Tie it to your kayak and tuck it inside. It’s handy when you want to tie up somewhere to have a swim or when you have a child who gets too tired and needs a tow.
- Waterproof Phone Case
Yes, you are going kayaking to escape the world, but it’s usually a good idea to bring your phone along in case you need assistance down that river. In fact, when you rent a kayak, a lot of the rental places require one person carry a phone with them in case of emergency. And even though your phone says it’s waterproof- that doesn’t mean it’s an underwater phone, so invest in a waterproof phone case. There are different kinds, from pouches you seal like Ziploc bags to hard plastic cases that snap shut.
They also make waterproof stuff bags to keep your items like wallets dry.
- Water Bottle
Yes, you are surrounded by water- but kayaking can get hot and sweaty and it’s important to stay hydrated. One die-hard outdoors man confessed to always taking a Life-straw on his kayak adventures, but most people just take regular water bottles. But before you grab a case of water from the store, find out the rules of the river you are visiting. There are many places now that only allow non-disposable, refillable water bottles, which they sell everywhere, from grocery stores to outfitters to sporting goods stores.
Even if you’re not bringing the kids along on your kayaking adventure, snacks are always handy. Paddle sports use energy. Keep yourself energized. If you are on a non-disposables river like Florida’s Rainbow River or Juniper Run in the Ocala National Forest, remove all wrappers from your food and stash in snap on lid containers, like Tupperware.
So, you’ve taken a basics class, know your safety essentials and have gotten all the gear. Now what?
Moving that Kayak
Load your kayak into your car and be sure to secure it tightly. It’s no fun losing your kayak while you’re driving down the road, and in fact can be deadly to those on the road behind you. You can install a roof rack for a kayak and load it on top of your car and secure it, or stick it in the back of your truck and tie it down, or if your vehicle is big enough, you can even stash it inside! Just be sure it won’t shoot forwards or back when you make a stop or turn. In other words- tie your kayak securely down!
Once you arrive, it’s easy to manage a kayak with two people carrying it- one on the front, one on the back, but they do make handy fold-up trolley carriers to wheel your kayak to the launch point if you have a distance to go. Get your kayaks to your launch point and lock that vehicle.
On the Water
Like adjusting the seats and mirrors when you get into your car, get comfortable in your kayak before pushing off. Get the foot rests to the best position, center yourself. Get any essentials, like that water bottle and waterproof camera at close hand to prevent you having to do any twisting or leaning when you are on the water. Any non-essentials you don’t need until your return like the wallet in your stuff-bag- can be stowed away before you set out.
Basic paddle strokes– forward stroke– hold your paddle with your hands at shoulder width and dip one end of the curved paddle into the water at no more than a 45 degree angle. starting at your feet and pulling it back as far as your seat – do the same on the opposite side. “Feet to seat,” as Ryan instructs, for easy memory. This motion will propel you forward. The backward stroke is the opposite of the forward stroke to slow you down or stop you. And with the C-stroke, you move your paddle like you are writing the letter-c (or-j) in the water beside you, starting by your feet and curving towards your kayak. You use this stroke to turn. Paddling on your right will shift your kayak to the left, and vice versa.
Practice the strokes. Paddle in a circle. Try some turns. Practicing stopping. Get comfortable with controlling your kayak. The more you practice, the better you’ll get- and eventually you won’t even think about it.
When paddling on the water, don’t try and cut in front of motorized boats. They don’t have brakes and trying to outrun them isn’t a smart idea. Keep to the side when there are motorized boats around and let them by. Turn your kayak facing the wake after a boat passes, instead of letting it hit you on the side, which can capsize you.
Be respectful of other paddlers, boaters, swimmers & divers. You are all out there for the same reason- to enjoy yourself.
Other Tips for Kayaking & Kayaking with Kids
Don’t over exert yourself. It’s easier to take a trip going downstream than fighting the current, but if you must- find a launch where you head upstream to begin with, then you can float back when you are tired. Kids tire out quickly. That tow rope comes in handy, and so does floating back downriver!
Steer clear of the weeds. Alligators like to hang out in the weeds. And if you see an alligator- don’t paddle towards it. For the most part, they will move away from you, but if they are guarding a nest or babies, they won’t. Steer clear of our alligators.
Watch out for those branches. If you are on a river, watch out for wasp nests in low hanging branches.
Always carry out your trash. Keep the waterways clean for everyone to enjoy.
Related Posts That May Interest You:
Family Paddling Adventures on the Chassahowitzka River
Paddling Juniper Run in the Ocala National Forest
Kayaking Florida’s Rainbow River