10 Kayaking Basics
Want to know the 10 kayaking basics? Kayaking, once the province of Eskimo hunters and rugged explorer types, has become a hot new extreme sport. Built of sturdy materials ranging from fiberglass to esoteric layered plastics, today's kayak can absorb an incredible amount of rough handling, but they do require experience and training to use safely.
- The Boat – Choose a boat that is about 3 times as long as you are tall and 24 to 26 inches wide. The boat should be sturdy, resistant to dents and easy to get into and out of if you turn over. Kayaks come as either cockpit and spray skirt or sit-on-top models. Cockpit models are more comfortable for long trips and provide storage space for gear. Sit-on-tops make good play boats for knocking around in the rapids. Some models come with foot powered drive fins, rudders for steering and even outriggers for stability in surf.
- The Paddle – The doubled-bladed paddle is the standard method of propulsion in a kayak. They can be made of wood, fiberglass, aluminum, plastic and other combinations of materials. Depending on your paddling style the blades may be set in line with one another or turned at an angel varying from 45 to 90 degrees. This is called feathering and makes it so that when one blade is pulling through the water, the opposite blade is positioned horizontal with respect to the surface of the water to reduce wind drag.
- Life Jackets – Life jackets should always be worn due to the risk of overturning in rough water and becoming incapacitated. Paddling jackets are Coast Guard type III personal floatation devices designed to be comfortable with roomy arm holes and gear pockets
- Safety Gear – Take along safety gear such as a throw rope for rough water rescue, a long bow line attached to the kayak, a compact first-aid kit, a sharp knife for cutting jammed lines or other entanglements, plenty of water and a cell phone or radio in case you need to call for help.
- Helmets and Pads – In whitewater, helmets are essential. A sudden spill and a badly placed rock can kill a kayaker instantly. Helmets should be lightweight with good visibility. Elbow pads are important when playing in a close rock garden where you can bark your elbows against passing boulders.
- Propulsion Strokes – Take the time to learn basic kayak propulsion strokes for going forward, backward, sideways and at an angle. A playboat or kayak with no keel can slide in any direction. In surf or whitewater, it is essential to know how to drive your boat forward, backward or sideways and when picking your way through obstacles.
- Steering Strokes – Steering strokes help you turn left, right and spin about. Find an instructor or mentor to show you how to perform the full range of kayaking strokes before you set out on your own. It is often the ability to steer around a dangerous situation that saves you rather than putting on the brakes. Remember, a kayak standing still, in relation to moving water, is still moving with respect to strategically placed boulders.
- Special Strokes – Another reason to take a kayaking class is to master special techniques like braces and pry strokes. These strokes prevent you from tipping or rolling, provide a brace if you need to spin aside in a hurry and increase maneuverability.
- Eskimo Rolls – Everyone’s heard of the Eskimo roll, but few people actually master the technique. It’s relatively simple to perform but requires lots of practice with an instructor. Rolling out after a flip calls for a clear head in difficult circumstances. Practice till it's completely automatic and you can flip yourself back up almost before you're fully over. Practice getting into and out of your kayak from shore, dock and deep water until you have no trouble mounting your kayak.
- Fitness and Safety– Kayaking requires a moderate level of aerobic fitness, especially in surf or white water. A thorough understanding of boat and paddle and moving water comes with practice. Start easy in flat water and work up to more challenging waters as your skills start to become second nature.