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Ultimate 101 Beginners Guide to Kayaking Basics

Kayaking is a thrilling activity. Because of its shape and skill ceiling, it’s different and more fun than conventional boating. The very same factors can make kayaking difficult for beginners due to the steep learning curve.

Knowing how to kayak entails a variety of skills, such as choosing the right kayak, understanding different pedal types and strokes, and having the necessary equipment; there are just many things to consider before embarking on this fun activity.

So here’s a beginner’s guide to kayaking. So here is a guide on kayaking 101 for beginners. Keep reading to learn all there is to learn about kayaking basics!

kayaking 101 for beginners

Different Types Of Kayaks

There are a few variations of kayaks. They have different shapes and sizes with variable difficulty levels.

Here are some common types of kayaks:

Sit-on-top Kayaks

As they do not have an enclosed seat, getting in and out of Sit-on-top kayaks is a breeze. This type of kayak is pretty well-known, especially among beginners.

They’re wider, more stable, and an excellent choice for first-time paddlers because of their added width and stability.

Touring Kayaks

Touring kayaks have an extended hull and a narrow cockpit. The size and shape of these kayaks make them ideal for long-distance kayaking.

Recreational Kayaks

Recreational kayaks have more room in the cockpit than regular kayaks. Due to the recreational kayaks being smaller and more maneuverable, they are perfect for more laid-back outings.

Whitewater Kayaks

Whitewater kayaks have four different types; play boats, creek boats, river runners, and longboats.

Kayaking in whitewater kayaks is more complex, depending on the type.

Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks are, well, inflatable. They are portable and more convenient. In terms of size and shape, inflatable kayaks are more or less the same as sit-on-top kayaks.

Whitewater kayaks also have an inflatable variant.

What Do You Need For Kayaking?

Kayaking gears can be divided into three categories. Essential gears are those that you will need. Clothing is weather and area-specific.

There are always some extra items that can make your kayaking experience smoother. Let’s have a look at what you need for kayaking:

Essential Gears


Firstly you will need a kayak. Rather than straight-up buying a kayak, there are better options for beginners. You can borrow a kayak from any friend to learn the basics.

If none of your friends have kayaks, you can rent one to learn kayaking at minimum cost.

PFD or Lifejacket

A personal flotation device or PFD, commonly known as a lifejacket, is must-have equipment for kayaking. In some areas, it is mandatory by the law to wear a life jacket during kayaking.

The life jacket has to be approved by the coast guard or respective authorities.

Bilge Pump

The bilge pump is also known as the bailer. It is necessary in case you need to pump out water quickly out of your kayak.


A good paddle is vitally necessary equipment for any kayaker. Without it, you can’t drive and guide your kayak. There are different kayak paddle types and sizes, which I will discuss later.

Before getting a kayak paddle, knowing the size of your body and the kayak is crucial.

Clothing For Kayaking

Choosing the right apparel for kayaking bears more importance than you can think of. It is primarily because of the tight space inside the kayak that accommodates the driver.

The wet surroundings are also an issue that determines the type of clothing. Take the following for kayaking in warm weather:

  • Swimwear or shorts
  • Lightweight fleece jacket or vest
  • Short- or long-sleeve rashguard top
  • Neoprene footwear
  • Sun-shielding hat
  • Spray jacket and pants

Extra Items

What extra items you can bring depends on the room inside your kayak. Following are the most common extra items that are sure to come in handy:

  • Drinking water
  • Sunglass
  • First-aid kit
  • Snacks or lunch
  • Headlamp
  • Dry bags
  • Sunscreen lotion
  • Signaling whistle
  • Watch

Entering And Exiting The Kayak

Kayaking for beginners can be tricky due to its peculiar shape and arrangement. Three different maneuvers are entering a kayak from the shore, from the dock, and when in deep water.

Here is how to enter a kayak:


Getting into your kayak from the beach might be a lot less of a hassle if you’re starting. Moving the kayak as close to the water is an excellent place to start.

You can use your arms to propel yourself into the water by doing so.

Make sure the kayak is in shallow water before you go in to avoid damaging your hull. Here is how to enter your kayak from ashore: 

  1. Line the kayak parallel to the shore.
  2. Place your paddle at a 90-degree angle behind the seat to stabilize yourself. Ideally, you want to have half of your paddle on the sand and the other half resting across the boat.
  3. Place your feet in the boat by sitting on the part of the paddle on the shore.
  4. As you slide along the paddle and onto the kayak, hang onto the paddle under and next to you. The paddle and the boat will support this movement.
  5. Enter the seat as slowly and calmly as possible. Maintain balance and stay focused.
  6. You can now push off the shore with your hands, and paddle laid horizontally across your lap. You can also use paddles to push yourself from the beach into the water.


While docks offer a convenient place to launch your kayak, getting in and out of your kayak requires a little bit of skill. Try these steps:

  1. Keep the kayak parallel to the dock as you lower it into the water.
  2. Keep the paddle within your reach from the seat to quickly grab it. You may also keep your kayak from moving by placing both ends of the paddle on the dock and the kayak.
  3. You’ll want to sit as near the kayak as possible on the dock because it will be more challenging to enter the kayak if you are higher.
  4. Put your feet first in the kayak. Position yourself at the kayak’s front and lower yourself into the seat as swiftly as possible.


The most difficult part is getting into the kayak from deep water due to no stable area for you to push with your feet.

It is also the most important thing to learn because when you somehow get thrown off of the kayak into the water, getting back on is the only way to get back to shore.

Here is how you can do it: 

  1. Once you’ve got your hands on the kayak, extend your arm across the kayak’s seat opening.
  2. Pull your belly over the seat of your kayak and climb into it while your lower limbs stay partially submerged.
  3. Now twist your body so that your bottom is on top of the seat. Even if your legs are still dangling in the water, most of your body should be in the kayak by this point.
  4. Pull your feet in and place them in front of you to ensure the kayak is stable.

Now let’s talk about exiting the kayak. Getting out of a kayak is relatively more manageable if you know how to enter it. Take the kayak into as much shallow water as possible.

Take your legs out first while still sitting, then stand up. When on a dock, make sure your body faces the port when you pull your body out of the kayak.

How To Launch Your Kayak Into The Water?

It’s common for tours to begin at a gentle incline of the coast. When sailing on rocky, sandy, or cement bottoms, take extra care not to drag the hull.

Carry the boat to your put-in point. Place it at a 90-degree angle to the shoreline in a shallow area.

The bow should face away, and the stern should face the shore for a perpendicular launch.

A parallel launch may be preferable in some cases, such as when entering a river or when paddling a very long kayak.

Once you put yourself comfortably in the kayak, you can use the paddle’s blades to move your kayak against the boat wake and waves.

Kayak Paddle Types

There are different types of kayak paddles depending on the blade. Here are some common kayak paddle blade types:

Matched Blade

Matched blade paddles are also known as unfeathered paddles. The blades of this type of paddle are parallel to each other.

The top edges of the blades on both sides are at the same angle when you hold the paddle shaft in your hand, facing the sky.

Matched blade paddles are easier to learn for beginners.

Feathered Blade

Feathered blade paddles can reduce wind resistance on the edges of the water. You can adjust the blade angles of the paddle in relation to each other for better balance.

Most feathered blade paddles offer around 15 degrees adjustments, but some allow almost unlimited adjustment.

Feathered blade paddles are also great for left-hand and right-hand control. 

Symmetrical Blade

Symmetrical kayak paddles have two blades of equal size and shape. This gives the paddle an oval shape.

Asymmetrical Blade

When it comes to asymmetrical paddle blades, one of the blades is slightly shorter and narrower than the other.

This helps keep the paddles track straight, and the surface area remains more uniform as the paddle travels through the water.

Concave Blade

Concave blades are curved rather than straight. The concave shape allows you to move more water at a time, thus traveling faster.

How To Hold A Kayak Paddle?

Holding the paddles properly can be difficult for first-timers. Hold the paddle shaft with your hands and hold it above your head.

Then slowly lower the paddle and follow the steps below to make sure you are holding it properly:

  1. Firstly, make sure that both paddle blades are in line. If they are not, the blades are in a feathered position which I discussed above. Find the button to adjust the blade’s orientation or do it manually. A feathered blade is easy to paddle but difficult for beginners.
  2. There are two edges to each blade. Make sure that the longer edge of each blade is on top. It will help you to move the paddles smoothly through the water. However, if your paddle blades are uniform, blade position won’t be an issue.
  3. Both blades of the paddle are slightly curved. The curvature is so subtle that it can be challenging to figure out the concave or convex side. Make sure you are facing the concave side of the blade.
  4. Make an ‘o’ shape with your thumb and index finger, then gently put other fingers on the shaft. Place the large knuckles on the paddle shaft.

Different Paddle Strokes For Kayaking 

There are some basic paddle strokes for moving the kayak in different directions. As a beginner in kayaking, you must know them. Let’s take a look:

Forward Stroke

The forward stroke is the stroke to move your kayak forward. Submerge one blade of the paddle next to your toes. Then pull the blade back towards your hip. At the same time, move your body forward and rotate.

Once the blade moves past your waist, take the blade out of the water. Repeat the same procedure with the opposite blade.

Reverse Stroke

Reverse stroke is for stopping the kayak. It can also move the kayak backward from a stop. Also, reverse stroke is easy if you can do the forward stroke. It’s the opposite of the forward stroke.

Put the blade in the water next to your waist, push the blade through the water forward up to the level of your toes then repeat the stroke.

Sweep Stroke

Sweep stroke is for turning the kayak. This stroke is similar to the forward stroke; the stroke radius is slightly bigger.

Repeat the forward stroke at a more significant arc until the kayak turns.

Draw Stroke

Draw stroke is for moving the kayak sideways. Put the blade on the side where you want to move the kayak. Rotate your body towards that side and pull the blade towards you.

The kayak still slowly starts moving in that direction.

Tips For Beginner Kayakers

Kayaking can seem a bit complex for a beginner. Following some tips can make your journey as a beginner a lot more exciting and enjoyable.

Here are some great tips for beginner kayakers:

Join A Club

Joining a kayaking club is the best way to learn kayaking for beginners.

By joining a club, you can become a part of a larger community where you can find like-minded people, make friendships, learn new things, and more!

Choose The Right Kayak

If you choose the right kayak, the hassles you are likely to face as a beginner shall be reduced by half. Recreational kayaks are best for beginners.

Also, getting a kayak from a renowned brand is always recommended for better after-sales service.

Get A Good Paddle

Many people do not know this, but a decent paddle can help you learn quicker and master the tips for effortless kayaking.

Get the paddle of the correct size and right blade angle according to your body size and paddling style.

Take A Spare Set Of Clothes

When kayaking, you will inevitably get wet. If you have a set of dry clothes, it will make your kayaking a lot more comfortable.

If you are planning to stay overnight, spare clothes is a must.

Navigate The Weather Properly

Kayaking in the wrong weather can be extremely dangerous. You should avoid kayaking in low-light conditions.

However, if you choose to do so, display a 360-degree white light so that others surrounding you can see you easily so also wear bright-colored clothes.

Carry a whistle and use reflective stickers on the paddle and sides of the kayak.

Know The Weather

Warm, dry weather and calm water make for an excellent kayaking experience. Weather can change fast, so you have to know the signs of whether to stay safe and sound.

Getting caught in bad weather can be deadly for beginner kayakers; follow the tips below to make your journey enjoyable:

  • Plan your trip where weather conditions aren’t extreme and match your skills.
  • Check the weather forecast beforehand.
  • Always wear safety gear like a life jacket.
  • Know the water thoroughly to avoid potential hazards like a submerged rock.

Avoid kayaking during the following conditions:

  • Foggy weather is terrible for kayaking because it limits hearing.
  • Busy waterways with lots of boat traffic aren’t suitable for kayaking.
  • Polluted water is very harmful to your health.
  • Unstable water conditions. As a beginner, it’s challenging to deal with such situations.


Kayaking can be exhilarating, but at the same time, it can be dangerous if you don’t know the know-how of kayaking.

I believe that this kayaking 101 for beginners’ guide can help you learn the basics and ensure a safe kayaking excursion with your friends and families.