Learn How To Kayak


The rapid growth of kayaking has taken the world by storm, and it does not look like it will be slowing down any time soon. Reports and surveys from various organizations have shown consistent double-digit growth numbers over the past couple of years, with increased kayak sales and sport participation going hand-in-hand.

And it’s certainly no surprise! Kayaking is a fantastic activity that combines a full-body workout with the opportunity to bask in the glory of nature and the great outdoors. It’s not a very expensive hobby, either – a couple of hundred dollars’ worth of gear will nab you pretty much everything you need to get started. Us at White Water Coach are avid kayakers and have loved kayaking for many years and with our experience and expertise, we would like to show ways to learn how to kayak.

That said; a trendy and accessible hobby with such a low barrier to entry often comes with a lot of newbie baggage, such as people not knowing basic safety or wearing proper gear. There is a lot to unpack here, and it is more than just your clothes and life vest.

In this article, I am going to give you a crash course on how to kayak, teaching you the basics of everything from how to choose a kayak in the first place, what to wear, and how to get into a kayak and not look like a fish on land.

Why Should You Go Kayaking?

Once you hit the waters kayaking, we are certain you will enjoy it. Some of us at White Water Coach were cautious about kayaking at first, but when they finally got in a kayak they loved it. Kayaking offers many ways to improve your health and lifestyle but here are just a few.

Kayaking is an excellent workout

If you want to change up your usual workout routine in the gym then kayaking can be a good change of pace. It’s a high-energy workout and is good for your joints and tissues. You can improve your cardiovascular parts of the body, like your core, arm, back, shoulder, and chest muscles.

Any body of water offers a kayaking opportunity

This hobby uses portable equipment that can be transported by a vehicle so you are not limited by the location you choose. All you need is a body of water because kayaks can be launched on a shore, dock, or riverside. So you have plenty of beautiful environments that you can choose to explore such as a river, lake, or ocean.

Kayak Clothing And Gear

Kayak Clothing And Personal Flotation Device (PFD)

Do you know what to wear when kayaking? A lot of people think that all you need to have is your Personal Flotation Device (PFD), or life jacket, and a little bit of swimwear, and you are good to go. Here is a guide on PFD requirements.

That is not all you need to pack, though. For starters, you have to make sure that your PFD is the right fit for you! To test, wear the clothes you would normally wear while paddling, then put the PFD on. Tighten all the straps, beginning from the waist, and ending with the shoulders. Try moving around – it should be a tight fit, but it shouldn’t chafe around your arms when you move. It would also be helpful for your PFD to have a whistle attached so that you can call for help in case of emergencies.

Aside from your PFD, you will also want to work on your clothes. Wear swimwear that does not bind and is not made of cotton, a rashguard to protect against sun exposure, and kayaking footwear to avoid abrading your feet against sharp rocks in shallow water. You may also want to add a hat to shield against the sun.

Warm water is nice and comfortable for any kayaker, but when the weather gets cold, safety becomes paramount. You could very quickly get hypothermia without even noticing it, running out of gas before you can get back to shore. Always wear a wetsuit or drysuit of some kind when the water is especially cold.

If you are going out on a multi-day excursion, for instance, a kayak camping trip, then you need to be sure you check the weather before departing so you can be sure you have the proper gear o protect you from the elements.

Kayak Paddles

One of the most important aspects of gearing up to kayak is selecting the right size paddle. The wider your boat is, the longer paddles you will need. Another factor would be what your height is because the taller the paddler then the longer the paddles have to be. Once you have the length of your paddle figured out then it is time to decide which material of a paddle you are needing. Paddles come in plastic, nylon, fiberglass, and carbon-fiber materials so you need to know how hard you are going to work the paddles. The better the material means greater fatigue reduction. For more detailed information, check out our guide, How to Choose a Kayak Paddle.

Kayak Bilge Pump

If you use a sit-in kayak, pack a bilge pump to get water out of your hull in case too much water splashes in, and consider using a spray skirt to avoid the water collecting in the first place. If you’re carrying any camera gear or phone with you, keep waterproof bags so that they don’t get ruined. Even if you have a self-bailing kayak that has holes to let out water, it is not a bad idea to have a bilge pump on board. There are models that are small and lightweight so they will not take up much space.

How to Choose A Kayak

There is a wide variety of kayak options out there, but I will just focus on a big choice that many beginners face: Sit-on-top kayaks or sit-inside kayaks.

Sit-on-top kayaks are great for starting out. These feature an enclosed hull, and kayakers get to spread their legs out in the open. They are beginner-friendly, not at all claustrophobic or confining, and have holes that can allow water to drain through with little effort.

Sit-inside kayaks, on the other hand, have riders step into the enclosed hull. They are a little harder to get into but are far warmer and more comfortable in cooler environments. They are easier to control as well, though they may need a spray skirt and bilge pump in case water gets in.

You also need to decide where you’re going to use your kayak. For example, are you going to use it in a small lake or river, rapids, or out in the ocean? Our favorite location is out on the ocean. If that interests you then be sure to check out our guide on the best ocean kayaks.

Look at your use cases, check out these attributes and pros and cons of each type of kayak, and decide based on your needs. For more detailed information, check out our guide How to Choose a Kayak.

How to Get Into And Launch A Kayak

The process of boarding and launching your kayak depends on whether you are going to start on land or in water.

If you are starting on land, find a smooth and level area to start off with and get in, then push in. It’s fairly straightforward, but of course, requires unique land conditions like a dock.

If you are starting on water, then you should board in the shallows. Ensure that your cockpit is at a height that you can stand in, then lay out the kayak parallel to the shoreline. Use your paddle laid out perpendicularly to the kayak to balance and support yourself on the shore – do not put too much weight on it – squat next to the kayak, and slip into the boat while boosting yourself up.

You can reverse this process to get out of your kayak in similar waters.

How to Paddle A Kayak


The most important part of learning how to kayak is paddling. Paddling requires a lot of practice, but the basics are easy enough to get a hang of. Start with a proper hold on the paddles – hold it with both hands and center the shaft above your head. If your elbows are at right angles, then you are at the proper position. Ensure that each blade has its longer edges up top. Make sure that your knuckles are aligned along the top edges of your paddles. Here are a few details about the paddling strokes all paddlers will use.

Forward Stroke

The most basic stroke that you will use is the forward stroke.

  • Turn your torso and dip one blade completely on any side of the boat
  • Twist your torso as you bring your paddle blade behind you, and push the shaft with your raised hand
  • When your hand is right behind your waist, push the blade out of the water
  • Repeat with the other side

Reverse Stroke

This is basically the exact opposite of the forward stroke.

  • Turn your torso and dip one blade completely on any side of the boat
  • Twist your torso forward as you bring your paddle blade in front of you, and pull the shaft with your raised hand
  • When your hand is right in front of your waist, pull the blade out of the water
  • Repeat with the other side

Sweep (Turning) Stroke

When you need to turn, this is the stroke you will perform.

  • Extend your arms forward and place your blade in the water near your feet. Be sure to start this stroke on the opposite side that you want to turn
  • Pull the blade in a wide arc/semi-circle toward the back of your kayak. You will need to pull hard with this stroke to get more power into your body’s rotation which will give you a greater turn radius
  • When the blade reaches the hull behind you, finish the stroke by pulling the blade out of the water

Draw Stroke

When you are wanting to move sideways in your kayak, then you will perform the draw stroke.

  • Turn your paddle blade so it is horizontal
  • Reach your arms out so the tip of your paddle’s blade touches the water about two feet away, directly on the side of your kayak (Your paddle shaft should be angled steeply)
  • With your lower hand, pull the blade straight toward you, keeping the tip of the blade immersed in the water during while you are performing the stroke
  • Right before the blade hits the side of your kayak, stop the stroke

How to Store A Kayak

So you just had a killer time out with your friends; taming the rapids with your brand new kayak. You get home only to realize you have no idea how to safely store this thing. There is a couple of key things to keep in mind when storing your kayak to protect it from wear and tear:

  • You should never leave your kayak outside exposed to the elements, the heat can deform the plastic, ruining the hydrodynamic design.
  • You should never lay your kayak on a hard surface for extended periods, as this can cause the kayak to sag under its own pressure.
  • You should never store your kayak with the cockpit uncovered. This is especially important if you have a sit-inside kayak, these little caverns can become a cozy home for spiders and other small insects. Not the kind of surprise you want while you are out on the water.


Kayaking is growing for a reason, and it is definitely something I can encourage everyone to get into. Just remember to keep all the safety tips in mind, and practice the basics as much as you can, and you’ll be ready to venture into this awesome water activity without a hitch. For more information on kayaking, be sure to check out more kayaking how-to guides.

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