How To Get Into Kayaking
As well as offering an opportunity to see nature from another perspective, kayaking is a fun way to stay fit and enjoy summer on the water.
Like a number of outdoor activities, it might look a little intimidating and equipment-heavy at first but it's much easier to master than may you think. Additionally, kayaking is an accessible water sport, regardless of the size of your car or whether you're doing it solo.
Here are some pointers to help you launch your kayak...
When it comes to buying a kayak and kayaking equipment, it pays to do a bit of research before loosening the purse-strings. As with just about anything for the outdoors, understanding what's going to suit you or your family members will ensure you don't over-spend or short-change yourself on potential fun.
Ask yourself some simple questions:
- Who will be using the kayak?
Will it be just adults using the kayak? Or both adults and kids? Are these kayakers pure beginners? Or people with some paddling experience? Are they fit? Or people who aren't usually active in their everyday lives?
- How often will it be used?
Do you intend on getting year-round use from your kayak? Or will it be used predominantly in the warmer months?
- Where will you be using your kayak?
Will you be taking it to the beach? Or heading to a lake or a river?
- How will you transport it?
Will you need to buy roof racks for the car? Or a trolley to get it from one place to another?
Having an idea of your responses to these questions will ultimately make your kayaking choice easier and ensure you're purchasing the right product for your needs at the price that fits your budget.
Types of Kayaks
Kayaks come in two basic designs: sit-on-top and sit-in kayaks. Here's how they differ:
Sit-on-top kayaks are perfect for beginners and kids. They are also increasing in popularity among anglers, with many fishing specific models now available.
With sit-on models, the rider literally sits on top of the boat, allowing water to splash on to the deck (note: look for kayaks with adequate drainage points in the hull).
Essentially, these kayaks are wider than sit-in variants, which means they offer greater stability and are much easier to jump in and out of. They're particularly suited to warmer, calmer waters - an ideal way to give recreational kayaking a go without outlaying a heap of cash.
Sit-in kayaks have a capsule or 'cockpit' where your legs go inside the hull of the boat to keep you dry below the waist. This makes them ideal for year-round use, especially with the addition of a spray skirt or spray deck to keep you drier and warmer in colder conditions.
Narrower and capable of faster speeds in open waters, sit-in kayak models have a more precise centre of gravity in their design for more manoeuvrable, making them the better choice for sea kayaking or traversing rapids in fast-flowing rivers. They are also much more comfortable for long-distance paddling trips due to adjustable seats and adjustable foot pegs.
Additionally, the enclosed hull allows you to store fishing, camping gear or day packs when you want to get somewhere that the car, 4WD or a boat is unable to reach.
Landing on the Perfect Paddle
The right paddle makes kayaking an easier, enjoyable and safer experience, determined by your strength, paddling style and the length of your trip. Beginners or casual users should limit themselves to around two-hour blocks of kayaking while building up their paddling endurance and strength so not to cause injury.
Paddling correctly involves using your arm, back, leg and stomach muscles. A lighter paddle will help your arms from tiring too quickly, especially on longer trips. Plastic and aluminium paddles are low in price but tend to be heavier and will drain your energy faster. Comparatively, carbon-fibre paddles are lighter and will provide better value for money over the long-term.
The best kind of paddle for a beginner is a symmetrical blade with straight sides. Feathered paddles (i.e. paddle blades that face in opposite directions) are a bit pricier, so starting with something basic while you're getting into the swing of things is recommended.
Adjustable paddles that can be lengthened or shortened and rotated to suit different conditions - or split in half to make carrying and transporting them easier - are a great option while you're getting the hang of paddling but can involve a little additional maintenance over time.
Getting your Kayak to and from the water
Transporting your kayak is one of the biggest physical and mental obstacles to overcome when it comes to kayaking. Most of us just want to get on the water!
If you're starting out on your flirtation with kayaking, you might like to try something from the range of inflatable sit-on-top models. Inflating your kayak is easily done thanks to hand pumps and/or a motorised pump that plugs in to your car's 12V adaptor. When your paddling is finished, these kayaks deflate to pack away neatly in your boot.
While fibreglass, carbon-fibre, aluminium and plastic kayaks are on the larger side, there's a selection of roof racks and trolleys for getting your kayak to the beach, river or waterway without breaking the bank (or your back). Choose from roof racks that can be used on a variety of makes and models of cars - from compact and mid-sized right through to SUVs and 4WDs. Racks can be fitted permanently or temporarily, so there's a range to suit everyone's needs and budget.
Carts and trolleys also take the fuss out of getting your kayak from your car or campsite to the water's edge. Built specifically for tackling uphill, rough or uneven surfaces, collapsible carts and trolleys are constructed from lightweight, durable and sturdy materials that stow away without taking up excess room or requiring ongoing maintenance. All you have to worry about is enjoying your time on the water.
Those Little Extras
Kayaking is one of the sports and activities where you can spend a lot of money on accessories, only to find out that - when everything's said and done - they don't suit your needs. So, when starting out, we suggest you keep things simple.
The State or Territory you live in will determine the laws governing personal floatation devices (life jackets) so be sure to do your research before hitting the water.
Regardless of where you are, we recommend investing in a quality life jacket or personal floatation device (PFD), ensure you have adequate sun protection in the form of a hat, rash vest ('rashy') and plenty of sunscreen at hand. A paddle leash is also good peace of mind while learning how to kayak so your paddle doesn't get lost when you fall off, or out, of your kayak.
Whether it's for recreation, touring, fishing or - for the accomplished kayaking enthusiast -racing, you should be able to find a range of kayaks and kayaking accessories available to suit all ages, abilities and budgets.