One of the most common fears of first-time kayakers is that they’re afraid they’ll capsize or get stuck inside of the kayak. What most don’t realize is that the vast majority of modern kayaks are very stable and much harder to capsize than most canoes. Still, it is a very real fear for some beginners to the sport and worth addressing. In any case, even experienced paddlers should make a habit of wearing a life vest and always paddle with a friend.
First, to alleviate the fear of becoming trapped inside of a kayak, beginner’s might want to consider taken that maiden voyage on a sit-on-top kayak. Not only are these vessels considered to be more stable, but they eliminate the chance of a paddler becoming trapped inside. Most sit-on-tops, or SOTs as they’re often called, have drain (scupper) holes for draining water out of the craft while relying on air-filled chambers to keep the vessel afloat. The downside to a sit-on-top kayak is that they can be a bit harder to steer because they are usually built wider in order to provide better stability, however, this shouldn’t deter beginners.
Sit-inside kayaks, or SIKs, are the kayaks that most beginners are apprehensive about, fearing they’ll be trapped inside the cockpit during a roll-over. While this can happen, there are ways to address the issue. If a capsize seems inevitable, the main objective is to remain as calm as possible and don’t panic. Place both hands on the sides of the cockpit, relax the legs, and push away from the cockpit allowing gravity to aid in the exit.
Cold-water kayakers will often use a spray skirt to help protect them from the elements. In the event of a capsize while using a spray skirt, lean forward, grasp the release cord and pull straight toward the front of the kayak. This will release the skirt and allow for exit. There are other methods of addressing a capsize in a sit-inside kayak such as the Eskimo roll, but it is an advanced technique that requires a lot of practice. It is most often employed by sea kayakers who needed a more efficient method of righting a kayak without re-entering it in deep water.
In kayaking, the next most important thing to master is an efficient paddling technique. It is also a wise decision to invest in a paddle leash. This allows the paddler to let go of the paddle without worrying about it floating away. Keep a relaxed grip on the paddle, extend the arms (spaced about shoulder-width apart) in front and, keeping the elbows softly locked, dip one paddle into the water and use the torso to pull it just pass the hip, release the stroke and continue on the opposite side. With practice this technique will become second nature.
Turning will become equally intuitive with practice. Make turns by either paddling on the side opposite of where the kayak needs to turn or by learning how to side-sweep. Back-paddling is another useful skill for changing course, steering or halting progress. The best course of action for beginner kayakers is to take a few minutes getting familiar with the kayak and experimenting with a few turns before venturing forth.
Kayaking is one of those activities that can open up a whole new world for the adventurer. Embrace it, practice it and own it. It may just be the most fun one can have doing something healthy.