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You purchased your first kayak, now what?

Congratulations, you have advanced from the notion and desire to own a kayak, to ownership. Time to take that beauty out for a paddle on any stretch of water, right? Besides, you have seen numerous pictures and videos of folks jumping into the sport of kayaking without incident, what could go wrong? Well, this is not necessary the plan of action….

As a child when we learned how to ride a bicycle, we had active support. An adult usually shared the knowledge by talking us through the experience. They physically guided us, ensuring we kept our balance with training wheels. When we were a bit more stable and ready to advance, training wheels where removed. Less and less, we had the physical support from the adult, eventually riding by ourselves. Sure, from time to time we fell down, perhaps shed a tear but got back up on the bicycle until we learned. As a young teen, driver’s education was a stepping stone for us before we eventually were able to drive alone.

As an adult when we learn new physically active skills, we all learn by different means. We take in new knowledge either by logical thinking, watching, feeling body movement, or just doing it. Some of these methods are single actions, others are combination of methods. Kayaking, much like riding that bike for the first time, is no different.

Kayaking does have certain associated risks as one takes up the sport. A major risk is the water – as this is an oxygen deprived environment. Although there is no wrong way to learn how to kayak –there are methods in which one could take to lessen the risk factors with kayaking.

As an instructor, I enjoy bringing first timers out on the water with me. I watch them progress through the stages of learning a new task, and they leave the training session with a sense of achievement and confidence. Learning kayaking with an instructor present is by far the safest and effective means. We offer learning techniques suited for the individual, and include the ability for the individuals to obtain an obtainable goal.

As mentioned before, going out and learning for yourself is doable, but there are some drawbacks to this method. One may have watched a video on a certain paddle technique, and may wish to attempt to master this. What is lacking in this situation is having a person with knowledge guiding you through the proper steps, and answering your questions. One may be learning some techniques or habits which might be improper, inefficient, or even cause injury.

Should first time buyers decide to take matters on their own, may I offer some advice. By all means, paddle safely – wear a properly fitting life-vest at all times.  If you can, find a paddle partner or a friend who would be willing to stand in the water with you. Find a very quiet pond, or small lake in which to get a feel for your kayak. Ideally, you and your kayak should work harmoniously together. As you sit inside your kayak – understand how it balances while in the water, what makes it tippy, how far can you lean over before falling in, and what happens when you do fall in. Do all of this comfortably near the very edge of the body of water. After falling in, observe how the kayak filled up with water, and find your best water removal method. This would be a great time to practice how to get back into the kayak, while it is on the water. The more times you practice falling in the water, the more comfortable this becomes – and the more comfortable you will be, should this occur in deeper water.

A key aspect when learning is not to exceed your kayak’s design and your physical abilities. Paddle in waters which are recommended for your kayak. If your kayak is made for quiet, non-moving waters, don’t tempt fate by bringing it in a white-water environment. If you wish to paddle in more challenging dynamic waters, it is recommended to go with an instructor/outfitter/guide who can provide you proper gear, and on water guidance – and can react to situations. In this type of professional environment, the associated risk is greatly reduced.

Should you find the desire to make another future kayak purchase – your new found perspective and experience will aid in your choice. Perhaps along with your second purchase, you will have a different approach on how you learn, had you taken the ‘self-taught’ approach. One never stops learning new skills, abilities, and waterways to enjoy during their kayaking adventure – including yours truly.



For the Paddler Within…