Essential Kayaking Tips for Beginners

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Kayaking can be an intimidating sport, especially if you’ve never done it before. Where do you start, how do you stay afloat, do you really need a life jacket? There are tons of questions that will inevitably run through a beginner’s mind before they start kayaking. But it’s really not that stressful.

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There are plenty of guides you can study and manuals you can learn from, but there are really just a few easy things you need to know before you start kayaking. Here are some essential kayaking tips for you beginner paddlers out there to make the sport a little easier!

Choose The Right Kayak

One of the most essential tips I can give you is this: choose the right kayak. That might seem like a daunting task at first…how do know what the right kayak is supposed to be? While there are lots of recommendations for beginner kayaks, the exact kayak you get isn’t that important. What really matters are these three things:


Kayaks come in all different shapes and sizes and unfortunately, they are not one size fits all. Some kayaks are short and lightweight, others are broad and heavy. If you’re 6’3” you’re not going to want an inflatable kayak designed for kids. If you’re kayaking with another person, you’ll obviously want to purchase the perfect tandem kayak. Before anything, make sure you try your kayak out to see if it’s the right size for you. Do you fit comfortably inside? Is there room for your legs to have a slight bend when you’re sitting down? Checking that the size is right for your body type will help insure you have a comfortable kayak.


If you’re a beginner, you’re probably going to want a more stable boat that’s less likely to tip over. When buying a kayak, look for boats that have wide, flat hulls (the bottom of the boat). These tend to be more stable and easier to balance while paddling. The more narrow the boat, the easier it will be to tip. Similarly, the shorter a boat is, the more it will turn. If you want to make lots of small turns, short kayaks are great. But for going in a straight line (which you’ll probably want to do, as a beginner!) choose a kayak that is long and wide. These boats will be stable and easier to control.


Decide where you will primarily be paddling in your new boat. Flat water? Rivers? The open ocean? Different boats are designed for different water conditions, so be sure to pick one that’s suitable. To start with, you probably won’t be looking for a whitewater boat or a serious touring kayak. Recreational kayaks, sit-on-tops, and inflatable kayaks are all perfect for easy paddling on lakes or calm rivers, but won’t do well in rough conditions. Make sure the boat you have will be suitable for the conditions you’re paddling in.

Make Sure Your Gear Fits You

In addition to the right kayak, you’ll also need the right gear. Most importantly is having a good life vest. A personal flotation device is critical while you’re on the water. If you capsize it can truly be life-saving. It’s important to have one that fits comfortably, isn’t so loose it will ride up or fall off but isn’t too tight that it feels restrictive. The same goes for any other paddling clothing you’re wearing. It shouldn’t limit your movements by being too tight, but also shouldn’t be baggy or ill-fitting. Making sure your gear is the right size will help you thrive as a paddler.

Sit Up Straight and Paddle Strong

Kayakers often fall prey to a sort of lounging style of paddling. Their boats are comfortable, the water is calm, so they lean all the way back in their seats and paddle in a relaxed position. And while this leisurely style might sound appealing, it’s actually a pretty poor paddling method. When you lean back in your seat, it limits your range of motion and the strength with which you can paddle. It gives you less control and actually makes it harder to paddle efficiently. When you sit up straight you can put a lot more power into each paddle stroke, which will help you move more efficiently and save energy while you’re paddling.

Stay Away from Rough Waters

A trap that many beginner paddlers fall into is thinking that they’re experienced enough to paddle in any conditions. They’ve paddled on a river before, so they’re fine to paddle on a rough river right after a big rainstorm. Unfortunately, this is a major safety hazard. Many beginner paddlers have lost their kayaks, paddles, and even their lives by disregarding safety precautions.

Never attempt to paddle in rough water, strong currents, or near dams as a beginner. Keep in mind that rain can change the conditions of a river, so even if you’ve paddled safely on a river before, that doesn’t mean it will always be safe. After heavy rainfall, water levels can rise, currents can strengthen, and debris can clog rivers that might have been safe before. It’s best to stay in calm, flat, waters until your skills get stronger.

Always Be Prepared

When setting out on a paddling trip, you’re going to want to double check everything. On every trip, no matter how long, you’ll want to bring your life jacket. In addition to that, there are lots of helpful items you can pack to make your paddling trip better.

  • Sunscreen
  • Water bottles
  • Snacks
  • A Hat
  • Sunglasses

It’s always a good idea to carry extra layers with you if conditions look like they might get chilly, as well as a change of clothes for when you get off the water. It’s definitely better to be over-prepared than underprepared, so get packing!

With this short list of tips, you’ll be well on your way to becoming an amazing paddler. From choosing the right gear to paddling in the right conditions, I’m confident you’ll be set to take on the world of kayaking. Have you been paddling? What else would you recommend for first-time kayakers? Leave a comment and let us know!

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