On The Water

By Chandra Orr

February 6, 2009 5 min read


Grab a paddle and get ready for adventure

Chandra Orr

Creators News Service

Kayaking isn't as hard as it looks. In fact, it's one of the best ways for beginners to get on the water.

We're not talking raging whitewater and rolling rapids. Forget the high-adrenaline adventures until you've practiced your paddling in calmer waters -- think still water lakes and slow-moving streams.

"Paddling is an incredibly versatile activity, for any age, at any fitness level and with any interest," said Sue Rechner, chief executive of Confluence Watersports in Easley, S.C., which oversees multiple kayak manufacturers, including Wilderness Systems, Perception, Dagger and Wave Sport.

It takes a while to get the feel for the paddle, but with a little practice, kayaking makes for great family adventures -- and for first-timers it can be the least intimidating of the extreme water sports.

"Kayaking can be a peaceful, relaxing activity or an adrenaline-filled, exciting one. The whole family can participate, but it's just as easy for one person to take a boat out and paddle," Rechner said. "You have complete control over the pace and intensity."

It's a great way to experience nature -- up close and personal.

"The water offers an infinite variety of sights and sounds for all ages and abilities," said Pat Welle, founder of Columbia Kayak Adventures, an outfitter in Richland, Wash. "As a sea kayaker I paddle in everything from calm, still water to ocean swell and current -- and I enjoy it all. I paddle year-round and am constantly amazed by the beauty of a sunset on the water or the sight of a deer on an island in the desert."

Ready to hit the whitewater? First things first. As with any sport, finding the right equipment is essential, and no one knows the sport better than your local kayak and canoe outfitter. They can help determine the proper size and structure of kayak to best suit your needs.

"Just like anything, there is a learning curve -- but unlike some other sports, paddling is fun from the very first moment you get in a boat, but finding the right boat will increase your enjoyment immensely," Rechner said.

"Take into account three things before getting started: What type of paddler are you, what type of water will you be paddling and what gear is appropriate for both? Most of us need a little help answering these questions and local specialty retailers are invaluable to getting you set up properly," Rechner said.

For your first few times on the water, opt for a kayak that sits lower in the water. With a low center of gravity, the boat will be more stable and you'll have an easier time controlling the kayak and maneuvering turns. Kayaks that sit lower in the water are also less sensitive to wind and rough waters.

"The flat-water kayak is the easiest for the average person to get in with no experience and make it go somewhere," Welle said. "I use touring sea kayaks in my classes and tours. These are generally very stable, have the person sitting fairly close in the water and don't require great physical ability to paddle in mild conditions. A touring kayak can be made to go relatively straight for short distances with minimal effort."

Inflatable kayaks are also a popular choice for beginners, but keep in mind that, much like a canoe, those sit higher in the water and may prove more challenging.

The best way to find the right equipment for your needs is to get behind the wheel, so to speak. Visit your local kayaking outfitter. Many offer lessons, guided tours and free demos.

"We recommend everyone takes a lesson before engaging in any type of water sport," Rechner said. "At the very minimum, it's crucially important to understand the unique safety requirements of spending time on the water."

Beginning kayak lessons, like those offered by Columbia Kayak Adventure, offer a quick introduction to the sport. Students learn basic boat-handling skills, the elements of paddling, proper launch and landing techniques and valuable water safety skills. Beginner classes generally last just a few hours, and prices start at around $60.

"Starting the sport with instruction makes the learning curve significantly better, but if you just want to get out, go with an outfitter who provides interesting tours and all the equipment," Welle said.

Instructional tours range from half-day excursions to weeklong getaways. For one price, outfitters supply all the necessary equipment, provide transportation to the boat launch site and provide quick lessons to get you on the water fast -- longer tours even include meals and lodging. Along the way, you'll learn proper paddling techniques, practice turning and maneuvering the boat and gain some valuable water safety advice.

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