For Kayak Beginners

Welcome! If you are reading this then you are probably new to the sport of kayaking or are thinking about getting started in it. We are extremely excited that so many people are discovering kayaking as a source of adventure, fun and exercise - we've enjoyed it for years and love bringing people into the sport.

What is a kayak?

By definition, a kayak is a decked boat which is paddled from a seated position using a two-bladed paddle. Contrast this with a canoe, which is a non-decked boat paddled from a kneeling position with a single-bladed paddle. If you have perused our site then you know that this definition leaves a lot of room for our designers to work in. You can have everything from a classic-style kayak like the Tempestto a surfing sit-on-top like the Tarpon!

Are kayaks easy to tip over?

Well, if you have seen "The Poseidon Adventure" then you know you can roll any boat over. Kayaks have an much undeserved reputation for being tippy, however. People look at a wide canoe and a narrow kayak and assume that the canoe is much more stable. The difference is in the center of gravity in both boats. A canoe has to be wider because the paddler is up higher in the boat. We can make kayaks narrower (which increases performance) because you are sitting very low in the boat. In a kayak you also have the advantage of your paddle. Just like a tightrope walker you have a pole held across your body that increases your balance. So in practice, kayaks aren't any more tippy than canoes or any other small boats.

If you are still concerned with tipping over, try a recreational kayak. They are designed with super-stable wide hulls.

What do I need to get started in kayaking?

Beyond the boat itself, you'll need a double-bladed kayak paddle, a PFD (personal flotation device, colloquially called a life jacket), and a way to transport the kayak. All our kayaks are car-toppable, and most will travel nicely on even smaller cars with nothing more than some foam blocks, rope, and a bit of ingenuity. Harmony sells a nice foam-block kayak carrier kit that works great. However, if your first kayak is a high-end composite boat you will want to buy a nice rack with kayak saddles to protect it during transport.

A PFD is an absolute must. With new PFD's being stylish and comfortable, as well as providing a perfect place to put your keys while on the water there is simply no excuse not to wear one at all times.

If you have a traditional closed cockpit kayak then you may want to pick up a spray skirt too. (In a closed-cockpit kayak most of your legs fit up under the forward deck.) Our recreational boats are designed to be paddled without a spray skirt, or with a specially sized skirt. The skirt will help keep the sun off, the water out, and keep you warmer in the fall and winter. It also allows you to roll your kayak, but we won't be doing that our first time out!

Okay, I'm in the kayak. Now what?

Just start paddling! A few basic strokes are all you need to have a great time in a kayak. Here's how to do them:

Forward Stroke

Sit upright, or lean slightly forward. Plant the right paddle blade, with your right arm fully extended. The blade should enter the water around your right foot. Keep your left elbow bent, and your left hand at about chin level.

Rotate your torso to the right, and begin to extend your left hand, while drawing the right blade toward the direction of your torso movement. The blade should travel parallel to the boat, and stop at your hip.

Quickly raise the right blade, rotate the paddle shaft to orient the left blade perpendicular to the water (feathered paddles only), and plant the left blade.


Repeat the stroke.

Reverse Stroke

There are times when you need to move your kayak backwards. To execute a proper reverse stroke, plant the right blade at your hip. Bend your right elbow, and keep your left arm almost fully extended. Your left hand should be at or slightly to the right of the deck centerline.

Thrust your right hand forward, rotating your torso to the left. Straighten your right arm as your left elbow bends. The paddle blade should travel parallel to the direction of travel. End the stroke as the blade reaches your feet.

Raise the right blade, feather the shaft, and plant the left blade at your hip. Continue the stroke on your left side.

Okay, I'm, moving back and forth. How do I turn this thing?

The bow sweep is the most effective turning stroke. It not only turns your kayak, but stabilizes it, too. To turn to the left, reach forward and plant the paddle by your right foot. Your right arm should be fully extended, and your left elbow bent.

Sweeping the blade in an arc away from the bow, turn your torso toward the right. Extend your left arm across the right gunwale as you bend your right elbow. The stroke should end at your hip.

When done properly, your boat will turn quickly, while maintaining its speed. For even better results, lean the boat toward the sweeping paddle. This shortens the waterline length of the boat and reduces turning resistance.

Okay, what happens if I start to turn over?

An effective brace can save you from an unwanted capsize. The simplest way to correct your balance is to continue ahead with a strong forward stroke. This will tend to stabilize your boat. If this fails, and you begin to fall over, use a high or low brace.

Both strokes allow you to catch yourself before you capsize. To low brace, present the back of the blade toward the water. As you continue to lean, push the blade into the water. After you steady the boat, roll the paddle face back and remove it from the water.

A high brace relies on the power face of the blade to right the boat. This type of brace provides the most power, but requires some care when using. To high brace, push the power face of the blade into the water. Raise your knee sharply to right the boat. Be careful: this brace can hurt your shoulder if done improperly. Always keep your hands in front of and below your shoulders to minimize the chance of injury.

I didn't read the last section about bracing and now I'm upside down. What now?

Now you get to practice self-rescue techniques. First step - don't panic! It is easier to get out of a kayak upside down than right-side up.

The wet exit is the most basic form of self rescue. When you're upside down and can't right yourself, knowing how to safely exit your kayak is essential. If you find yourself upside down, stay calm and do the following:

Grasp the sprayskirt grab loop with one hand (hang onto that paddle with the other!) and pull it forward and up. This should release the skirt from the coaming.



Put your hands on the deck of the boat, next to the coaming (still have your paddle?), and push yourself out of the boat. Lean forward as you exit the boat. When you surface, try to stay in contact with your kayak unless you are in surf. If this happens, do not get between your boat and the shore. Failure to do this can lead to serious injury.

I've successfully wet-exited my kayak. Do I need to start swimming?

Not if you have the proper gear. The paddle float rescue allows you to quickly reenter a swamped boat. Practice this technique before using it in real conditions.

Inflate the paddle float (you always carry one, right?). Place it over one paddle blade and secure. Clamp the paddle shaft between your hand and the back of the cockpit rim. You can also place the free blade under the shockcord located aft of the cockpit.



Climb across the aft deck and swing your legs into the cockpit opening. It may help to place a leg across the paddle shaft. As you slide your legs into the cockpit opening, rotate your body so you'll end this maneuver facing forward. Be sure to lean toward the paddle float.




Once you are comfortably in your kayak, use the paddle / float combination to stabilize your boat. Use your bilge pump (you always carry one, right again?) to empty your kayak.