Sea Kayaking Basics for Beginners

Have fun and be safe (2)

Today’s guest post is by Rhonda Schwab an avid kayaker and ACA Certified Instructor Level 4, Open Water and Surf. She also has 4 Star Sea Certification and is a BCU Coach Level 2. Rhonda will teach 3 classes at the Port Angeles Kayak and Film Festival, Kayak Rolling, How to Repair Your Kayak, and Introduction to Sea Kayaking. In her post, Rhonda shares some of the highlights from her Intro class.

You want to get out on the water and play and enjoy kayaking. It looks like fun and everyone seems to be doing it.  But you have some questions . . .

Should I go alone? How safe is it?  Where do I start? Who do I call?  What do I need?

I have been Kayaking since 1996, starting with a class that had a great support group.  I fell in love with the sport and have been teaching ever since.  I enjoy helping others get a good start either one-on-one in private lessons or through local Clubs like the Washington Kayak Club and the Mountaineers.

Here I will share information that beginners need to get started. But it’s always a good idea to take a class with a certified coach who can teach the skills you will need to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience on the water.

What kind of kayak is right for you?

Kayaks are defined by their hull or body style. The demo beach at the Port Angeles Kayak & Film Festival offers the opportunity to try out several types of kayaks and to talk to vendors about the kayak that is best for you.

Here are few things to consider:slide-05

Where will you use your kayak? Calm or moving water?
How often will you use it?
Who will paddle with you?

Learn how to choose paddle
Purchasing a paddle can be intimidating. There are dozens of paddles on the market — expensive paddles, cheap paddles, carbon paddles, wooden paddles, long paddles, short paddles, wide paddles, narrow paddles – how to choose? No worries – help is available. The most important thing to remember is that a paddle should feel comfortable and natural in your hands.

Paddle Blades
Two Kinds:

Unfeathered Blade: The blades are in the same alignment.

Feathered Blade: The blades are turned at angles to each other.Buy a good paddle (2)

Feathered blades allows more efficient movement because the blade that is not in the water is cutting through the air (reducing resistance). Some paddlers like this – some find the additional wrist twisting of a feathered blade bothersome and prefer the unfeathered blade.

Getting in and out of your kayak
Getting in and out of a kayak can be awkward and challenging but here’s how to do it with ease.

The key is keeping your weight low and centered.

Start at the water’s edge. Place your paddle shaft behind the cockpit opening, across the deck.  Holding the paddle shaft in place, gently lean on one side to let that paddle blade rest on the ground – this will keep the kayak from wobbling.

Using the paddle shaft to steady you, quickly enter the center of the cockpit; crouch then sit. Use your paddle to shove off the beach.

To get out of the kayak just reverse the above steps.  It takes practice but you will get it down with a few tries.

Basic Paddling strokes to move forward, backwards, and to turn

My first time in a kayak, I felt pretty unstable. The paddle well was so frustrating to me – it wouldn’t work right.  Just getting the boat to go straight was tricky!

Start with a basic forward stroke. Begin in calm water. Once in, pick out an object and try to paddle toward it. You’ll find yourself meandering, going in circles to start.  It will help to keep your strokes short and close to the kayak — the further out the blade is, the more you’ll turn.

Basic Forward Stroke:

  • Sit  up straight.
  • Put the blade in the water near where your feet are.
  • Keep a relaxed grip.
  • Stroke deep.
  • Make sure your strokes or even on both sides. This will help you stay straight.

Reverse Stroke:  Paddling straight backwards with reverse strokes is worth practicing. Do the same as for the forward stroke except this time put your blade in the water behind your hip, push down gently and bring the blade towards your knees.  Go slow to start.

Turning Stroke: Turn your kayak by simply paddling on one side – opposite the direction in which you want to turn. Start from the front of the boat and with a sweeping motion, bring the blade to the back of the boat just like in the forward stroke. Don’t reach too far out and watch your blade — it can pull you over.

Prepare for the Unexpected

Form good habits from the start – always take the time to prepare before going out on the water.Find a buddy or group to paddle with

  • Find out the current weather and forecasted changes
  • Have a Float Plan
  • Take drinking water
  • Remember the First Aid Kit

Self Rescue and Assisted Rescue
Sometimes the unexpected happens. Taking a kayak safety course is strongly advised so that you can be prepared to rescue yourself or another kayaker in an emergency.

If your kayak capsizes:

  • Don’t panic
  • Stay with your kayak
  • Find your paddle – hold on to it
  • Float on your back so you can push off any objects with your feet

Focus on getting back into your kayak – how do you do that?

Self-Rescue: The first thing you will need to do is to upright the kayak. Next, you must re-enter the swamped cockpit using your paddle float to stabilize the kayak. (In an assisted rescue a second kayak acts as a stabilizer.) Next, kick to propel yourself onto the deck and into the swamped cockpit. Secure the paddle, and grab the hand pump to get the water out of the kayak. Once the water is out, it the boat can be paddled to shore.

I can’t stress safety enough. Good habits and practiced procedures will help you to save precious minutes in an emergency.

Kayaking is one of the fastest growing sports. It offers so many things, outdoor enjoyment, healthy exercise, an enjoyable time with friends, solitude, fishing, challenge, adventure or just a way to escape to a more peaceful place.

If you’re like I was, you are excited and nervous about kayaking, but you want to get started. And now you have the perfect opportunity to do so! Come to the Port Angeles Kayak & Film Festival, where you can take classes, talk to expert paddlers, find out what kind of kayak is best for you, and discover the fun and adventure that awaits right here in your own backyard!