The kayak’s basic design is thousands of years old, and yet we still use it today. There’s a good reason for that: kayaks are swift, nimble and tough. There’s almost no waterway you can’t pass in a kayak. They can easily navigate areas too shallow or rocky for powered watercraft, and a skilled paddler can use them on the open ocean.
You shouldn’t jump directly into your boat and go looking for the nearest set of rapids, though. There are things you need to know about kayaking in varied environments.
Here are some tips about how to manage different types of water in your kayak.
Get The Basics Down First
Even though kayaks are extremely versatile watercraft, you should work up to whatever style of kayaking you want to specialize in by doing some mellow paddling. A local estuary or bay is a great place to start, and you can almost certainly find a shop nearby that will happily rent you a kayak for the afternoon.
Pay attention to the type of kayak you try, as there are different shapes and designs intended for use in various settings. You might discover you prefer oceans to rivers, for example.
Safety is critical when kayaking, as with any sport. Be sure you have the proper safety equipment, like a life jacket, and that you understand how to safely enter and exit the kayak. As you become more comfortable, learn how to roll your kayak in an emergency. It sounds like an intimidating manoeuvre, but most paddlers have little difficulty learning it, aside from getting cold.
Never paddle alone, always take a buddy and carry a bilge pump in case you develop a leak in your boat. Check out this sea kayaking guide for more advice.
Exploring New Environments
After you’ve had time to become familiar with the basics of kayaking, you can get out and explore some new places. Be sure to have a plan and tell people where you’re going, in addition to bringing a companion to go kayaking with.
Understand what types of plants and wildlife inhabit the area, in case you encounter potential danger. For example, some bay waters may contain sharks or jellyfish. If you do plan to kayak in the open ocean, start out on smaller swells, and be sure to use a sit-on-top-style kayak.
Rivers can offer new and exciting routes to try, and can even be part of a camping expedition in which you use kayaks to move down the river. However, rivers can present hazards of their own. Before venturing into a river, make sure you understand how to recognise and navigate an eddy line and a hydraulic, two potentially dangerous hazards that could tip your kayak if you’re unprepared.
Moreover, understand how to navigate through a dam, which can be deadly if you paddle off, and how to swim out of the swirling zone beneath a weir or breakwater.
Whitewater is perhaps the most technical of all kayaking settings and is sought-after for the challenge it offers. Before you attempt to navigate whitewater, make sure you’re athletically fit enough to do the work of manoeuvering the boat. It’s a good idea to try some easy rapids first, before tackling the more technical sections of rivers professional kayakers are known for.
Whitewater rapids require you to learn an entirely new set of techniques to be nimble. Since river kayaks are typically sit-in-style boats where you can use your torso to control the hull, you can make many fine adjustments to slip through the various obstacles rapids present.
Before you attempt any of this, however, do some research on how to swim safely through rapids. If you get thrown from your boat, understanding how to get out without your kayak could save your life.
Don’t Be Afraid, Be Prepared
Kayaking is great fun, and there is a huge community waiting to help you learn how to get the most out of each of these unique settings. Take things at your pace, remember to practice safety first and never push yourself too far outside your comfort zone, and you’ll have a rewarding hobby you can practice for many, many years.
Dylan Bartlett writes about outdoor recreation, fitness and more on his site, Just a Regular Guide. Follow him on Twitter @theregularguide to get frequent updates on his work.