I know I had it easy when I got started kayaking. The boats were fiberglass and home made. There was one model so the choice option was done for you upfront. The gear was pretty abysmal and it always leaked but that didn’t deter us in the least from having fun; kayaking is that addictive.
The first kayaks were used by the native Inuit and Aleut people of Alaska and date back over 4000 years so you have to figure something has worked out right since kayaks are still in use and enjoyed by so many people.
Not to say that my decision to start kayaking was taken lightly. The boats looked awkward, tippy and clumsy, and the fear of getting trapped when upside down kept me on the shore for a long time.
There are a lot of misconceptions swirling around kayaking that keep people on the shore. I’ll list a few that were prominent with me when I first started and let you know what my experience has been with some of them.
I don’t know how to swim or I am afraid of the water
While the ability to swim will certainly make getting into kayaking easier, it is not necessarily a prerequisite. The gear you wear when you kayak will keep you afloat and as you learn to trust your ability in the boat, you will gain quite a bit of confidence on the water and start to feel more comfortable. In some ways learning to kayak is the perfect complement to getting over a fear of water or not knowing how to swim since your PFD and kayaking tools allow you to be more in control with what is happening to you in the water.
It is a difficult sport to learn
Yes and no. While it can be incredibly frustrating if you don’t start with the right instruction, the latest kayaks, especially the river runners and creekers, are stable, comfortable, and responsive and you can quickly gain confidence and a skill set that makes you happy you jumped in the boat.
A buddy will probably be your first stop for instruction on your kayak journey. Maybe you will join a club and try to absorb all of the free tips from the members. Pool sessions are a great place to meet others. Before you travel too far down this rabbit hole, let me suggest getting some proper basic instruction from a certified instructor. The money and time you spend for a few lessons will accelerate your learning curve and bypass a lot of pitfalls self taught kayakers encounter. If I had one thing to do over back when I started out it would be to get a proper start with good instruction—and to learn a proper roll. Check out the stick figure diagram that was state of the art when I learned to roll and consider yourself lucky!
Your instruction and lessons will be a stepping stone to good judgement which is essential to help keep the frustration at an acceptable level. I am always amazed at how forgiving whitewater actually is but without a solid skill set, you will always be fearful on the water which leads to the vicious circle of being unsure or timid on the water.
I am afraid to tip over
Believe it or not, tipping over is part of the fun in kayaking but only if you learn to trust your roll. Again, a good roll teacher is key. There are a lot of good instructors but it is rare to find a truly great roll instructor. If you learn this one skill correctly the first time and early in your kayaking career you will go far. Ask around and observe teachers on the river who are teaching students to roll. Everyone learns differently so try different learning methods to see which one will click. You-tube visuals, written books or blog explanations, hands on one to one kinesthetic help, verbal descriptions, video feedback—one or a combination of all will help you get a roll that is “bomber” which is the gold standard in kayaking. For those who fear entrapment, the first thing you learn with instruction is how simple it is to exit a kayak when you flip and that memory tucked away in your brain will quickly help you overcome the fear of being upside down in the water.
Kayaking is dangerous
The simple and flippant answer is “life is dangerous”. The further you travel on your kayaking path, the more you learn about acceptable risks and what you are comfortable with within your comfort zone. Some people choose to be comfortable on slow moving water while others find joy on the hardest rivers and there is everything in between. Where you feel comfortable is an individual and personal thing and it doesn’t make you any less of a kayaker if you never get beyond the flat water. A lot of kayakers boat on a circular path going from easy rivers, progressing to the harder stuff, and then reverting back to the easier. I have gone back and forth multiple times and love whatever river I paddle. Age, life circumstances, injury, sobering experiences, and the like are all factors in kayaking but once you figure out your comfort zone at any given point in your life it will give you a reference point to deal with danger and fear and you can always circle back to the river level you feel comfortable with before moving on again.
The boats are tippy or unstable
Today’s kayaks are some of the most user friendly designs ever made. Not only do they have good initial stability, the secondary stability (what kicks in when you are well on your way to flipping over) is incredible. At times it almost seems like you are one of those wobbly toys that are impossible to keep down. Coupled with the ability to stay upright, if you do find yourself upside down, the sides of the boat are such so that your roll feels effortless and smooth. You can gain a lot of self confidence with the newer boats and your progress will accelerate once you get comfortable with how stable the boat is.
Kayaking is an Expensive Sport
Yes, most brand new boats can set you back a lot of money . If you are someone with unlimited resources and want to take the easy way out, buy new—you will make a lot of people happy, including yourself.
There are many work-arounds to buying new or nearly new equipment, however, that will save you a lot of money. Do you have a friend who kayaks with a spare boat? Know of a local kayak group from social media? Live near a School or University that has a kayak club? How about your local kayak shop that has demos, used boats, and free or low cost trial programs as well as lessons?
Local shops usually have several options for purchasing used boats and for many reasons, this is the best bet in terms of service and after purchase help. My local shop, CCK in California even has a program that will buy back a used boat and credit that money towards a new purchase. That is a great way to keep getting new gear and not taking a huge hit every time you buy. I am a big proponent of supporting local businesses as you won’t find the personal service both before and after you buy and get the knowledge base of the employees if you buy online.
All of the above options apply to all of the gear associated with paddling that you will need as well. Paddles, dry tops, skirts, helmets, etc. The one item I will absolutely never buy used is a PFD because you have no way of knowing by looking at it how old it is and where it has been. I am fairly adamant about this because I have seen how rapidly a PFD can deteriorate and lose flotation. That said, there are always sales happening so you are not locked into buying even them at retail.
Another brand new purchasing option for those starting out or for someone buying a new boat that you are excited to own is to take advantage of the new financing options from JacksonAdventures-read more about this new service on the website. https://www.jacksonadventures.com/financing/
Kayaking is an incredibly rewarding sport that anyone can learn to enjoy but you will never know that unless you take the first step and give it a try. It has brought me a lifetime of joy, given me wonderful friends, and taken me all over the world to play on beautiful new rivers.
What are you waiting for!