Kayaking 101: Getting In and Setting Out

A quick primer on how to avoid tipping and master the forward stroke

My first major kayak fail occurred during a summer trip in Northern Wisconsin. I figured I didn’t need any sort of instruction before heading out on Big Round Lake—I grew up paddling a canoe, so I strapped on a life vest and shoved off. I was paddling along enjoying the serene surroundings when, suddenly, out of nowhere, a big speedboat flashed by, tipping my kayak right over. I wasn’t in any danger of drowning, but I had no idea how to right my kayak or pull myself back inside, let alone remove water from the boat. Cue the boat rescue.

While more experienced paddlers regularly navigate river rapids and ocean waves successfully, inexperienced ones should stick to flat water like lakes, ponds, and protected ocean bays. A smooth kayaking experience takes some practice, so here are a few tips for entering your boat and getting going:

From the Dock

If you’re launching from a dock, start by positioning the kayak parallel to the dock. Place one end of your paddle on the boat and the other on the dock to keep the kayak from shifting. Sit down on the ledge of the dock and put your feet in the kayak. Turn your body towards the bow (front) while holding on to the dock, then quickly lower yourself into the kayak seat. The key is to get your backside into the seat as quickly as possible. To get out, simply reverse these steps.

From the Shore

Launching from a sandy lakeside is a little easier. Simply hop into the boat as it rests at the edge of the water and push yourself out with your hands. If you don’t want to scrape the bottom of your boat along the sand, walk it out into a few inches of water, straddle the cockpit, drop your butt down in the seat, and pull your legs inside.

Paddle Practice

By first mastering the forward stroke, you can build a strong foundation for learning all other paddling strokes. The key to a good forward stroke is to use your torso in addition to your arms—rotating your body with each paddle stroke will help you paddle longer and with less fatigue. To better understand the concept of using torso rotation to your advantage, practice this rotation drill: Holding the paddle, fully extend your arms and lock your elbows. Without ever bending your elbows, begin paddling. The only thing your arms can now do is raise or lower the paddle blades in the water, which forces you to rotate your torso back and forth, using your core muscles to propel you forward.

The Kit

Some accessories to ensure you have a fun day out on the water? Regardless of your swimming ability, know the importance of wearing a PFD—we like the Astral V-Eight PFD ($120). The waterproof Hummingbird Travel Pack ($48) means you can safely bring along your phone, camera, some snacks, and other essentials without fear of ruin. Highly functional yet comfortable for long days on the water, the NRS Beda Board Shorts ($59.95) will withstand the most serious of adventures. Emanate those endless summer vibes while wearing the retro Sunski Originals ($48). 

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