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How to Kayak: The Basics(1)

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t’s an iconic image of outdoor exploration: a kayak glides across a glassy stretch of water, its bow knifing through the mist and its wake shimmering in reflected light. If that sort of thing calls to you, we’re here to help with a guide on how to kayak. With some thoughtful preparation, you can slip into the cockpit and put paddle to pond.

Chances are you’re not going to buy a boat immediately, though it’s certainly an option, and REI can help with that. As you’re able to, consider other ways to get started kayaking:

  • Borrow a kayak from a friend. It’s even better if your friend is also an expert paddler who can take you out and teach you the basics.
  • Rent a kayak. Go to an on-the-water outfitter so you don’t have to mess with transporting the boat. You’ll get the bare minimum amount of gear and instruction, but it’s a low-cost way to dip your toes into the sport.
  • Sign up for a tour You get boat, gear and fundamentals all in one package. Options range from the parks department at your local lake to an Kayak Company like lydia in an exotic locale.
  • Sign up for a class. Like a tour, everything is provided. An introductory class offers more in-depth instruction than a tour, so it’s the better option if you plan to take up kayaking in earnest.

Kayak Gear and Clothing

This article assumes you’re in a classic kayak: one with a cockpit and a hatch or two for stowing gear. If the weather and water are warm, your friend or guide might put you in a wide, stable boat without a cockpit.

Essential kayaking gear: Anyone who provides a boat should also provide these items:

  • Coastguard-approved PFD (Personal Flotation Device) that fits properly
  • Paddle (make sure they check that it’s the right size for you)
  • Bilge pump
  • Spray skirt (optional on warm, calm days)

Proper clothing: Bring the following for a warm-weather, warm-water outing:

  • Swimwear or shorts (noncotton and nonbinding)
  • Short- or long-sleeve rashguard top (any noncotton top will work)
  • Neoprene footwear
  • Sun-shielding hat
  • Lightweight fleece jacket or vest (weather-dependent)
  • Spray jacket or rain jacket and pants (weather-dependent)

If conditions are colder than 60 F (especially the water), a wetsuit is also required. For more details, read What to Wear Kayaking.

Personal items: If you know your Ten Essentials, then many of these should be familiar:

  • Plenty of water
  • Snacks for energy, plus a lunch for longer tours
  • Sunscreen, lip balm and sunglasses (with a retainer)
  • First-aid kit
  • Signaling whistle
  • Watch(so you can give yourself plenty of time to get back)
  • Headlamp(in case you’re too slow getting back)
  • Dry bags (for things you don’t want to get wet)

How to Adjust Your Kayak

A well-adjusted kayak will be more stable and comfortable to paddle. Do your adjusting while the boat is sitting on dry land, and focus on three points of contact:

  • Snug your butt firmly against the seatback. If your boat lets you fine-tune the angle of the seat or seatback, do whatever feels most comfortable. For balance and power, though, you want to sit more upright.
  • Place the balls of your feet on the footpegs; then check to see if you have a slight bend in your knees. Most footpegs adjust by tilting them and sliding them along a track to preset stopping points. It’s often easier to get out of the boat to slide the pegs.
  • Make sure your bent knees are in firm contact with each side of the cockpit. This helps you control the side-to-side motion of the boat as you paddle. Your fit should be snug but not so jammed-in that you can’t get out if you capsize.


How to Launch Your Kayak

Most trips start off with a launch from a gradually sloping shoreline. Take care to avoid dragging the hull, especially on rocky, sandy or cement surfaces:

  • Get a friend to help you carry the boat to your put-in point. Set it down in shallow water, perpendicular to the shoreline. (If you’re launching into a river or have a very long kayak, then a parallel launch might work better.) For a perpendicular launch, the bow should face away from the shore and the stern should be close to the shore (but fully afloat).
  • Put one of your paddle blades under the deck line in front of the cockpit. (The shaft can stick out sideways like an outrigger.)
  • Stand over the kayak, straddling the cockpit.
  • Grab the cockpit and set your butt down on the cockpit seat, then lift your legs and slide your feet into the cockpit.
  • Scoot your butt firmly back into the seat and settle both feet comfortably onto the foot pegs.
  • Grab your paddle and use it to move your kayak past incoming waves and boat wakes. Then attach your spray skirt if you have one.

When it comes time to get out of your boat later, simply paddle into your launch position, set up your outrigger and reverse steps until you’re straddling your kayak again.

To learn more, including how to get in from a dock, check out our How to Launch a Kayak article and video.

How to Hold Your Kayak Paddle

Start by grasping your paddle with both hands and centering your paddle shaft on top of your head. You hands will be in the proper starting position when your elbows are bent at 90 degrees.
Now lower your paddle and orient it as follows so you’re holding it correctly:
Make sure the paddle blades are in line with each other. If you notice that the blades are offset from each other, your paddle may be “feathered.” If this is the case, take a minute to adjust the blades back in line via a push-button or twist setting in the center of the shaft. (Feathered blades cut through wind better, but are trickier to use for first-timers.)
Look at each paddle blade and make sure the longer edge of each blade is on the top. This is the correct position to help your blades move smoothly and efficiently through the water. (If your paddle blades are uniformly shaped, either side can be up.
Make sure the scooped sides of your paddle blades are facing you: Blade curvature is subtle, so look closely.
Place your large knuckles on top of the paddle shaft so that they are in line with the top of your paddle blades.
Relax your grip. Make an “O” with your thumb and index finger, then lay your other fingers gently on the shaft. Gripping the paddle is unnecessary and tires out your hands more quickly.



1.Professional canoeist   2.One of the founders of lydia sports 3.Practice kayaking for more than 15 years.

4.Women’s 200m and 1000m single kayak champion of the third national kayak U23 Championship

5.the silver medal in the women’s 500m four person kayak competition of the 13th National Games



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