Also available in: French
A light breeze gently creating ripples along the surface of the water, the sun warming your face, that feeling of gliding along with the flow…kayaking is such a worthwhile nautical sport to experience, although it does require a certain mastery of some key maneuvers, as well as good practices when it comes to safety. Learn more about the intrigue of kayaking before your first time out on a brand new waterbody.
Why choose kayaking?
In addition to providing an unparalleled feeling of well-being and freedom, kayaking is a sport that allows you to maintain a straight line (or “track better” if using paddling lingo), than canoes. Instead of switching constantly from side to side, the balanced strokes of a kayaker help keep the boat moving straight and steady.
Think about what you plan to do in your new kayak (short rides, races, long expeditions, etc.) and the type of water on which you plan to navigate (lake, river, sea, closed basin, etc.). Depending on your goals, kayaking can be an innovative and sporty way to explore new horizons from a different perspective.
Kayaking: Things you need to know
Before you start shopping for a kayak, especially if you’ve never done it before, it is recommended that you borrow your friend’s kayak to try out the sport on calm and flat water first (make sure you are accompanied) and/or to sign up for a kayaking intro course.
You will be able to assess your ease in being on the water and practice your paddling strokes to move forward, backward and turn.
If you opt to take a course, you can also learn the rescue technique (i.e. how to get back into the kayak if you capsize) and the eskimo roll technique that will allow you to return and tip your kayak back upwards (which you should favour over trying to hoist yourself out of the water).
What type of kayak should you use?
Nowadays, choices for open-water kayaking are numerous and the kayak you choose depends on where you want to paddle, your budget and the type of experience you have in mind.
For a leisurely paddle on a small lake or hugging the shoreline of larger lakes, recreational kayaks are your best bet. Between 9-12 feet long and much wider than their lengthier cousins, what these types of kayaks lack in speed they make up for in stability.
If you’re worried about not being able to squeeze out of the boat, recreational kayaks are available with generous sized cockpits. That means it doesn’t take a move you learned in yoga class to get out and there’s plenty of room to ease yourself into the seat and spread out your legs. Some kayaks also have a rudder. This tool allows you to maintain the direction of the kayak and to counter the side wind. It can also be controlled with the pedals and help you turn.
If that still isn’t enough, a sit-on-top kayak may be the right fit. No cockpit, just an open hull that lets you tan and spread out. And if it happens to tip, just flip the boat right side up and keep on paddling.
Longer touring boats, on the other hand, are better suited to bigger bodies of water such as the Great Lakes or Georgian Bay. Narrower and with a few more feet under you these boats are designed to handle big swells and choppier seas. Their size also means larger weight capacity for extended trips which leads to a very important subject when it comes to kayaks…bulkheads. It can be a good idea to master recreational kayaking before you try on sea or river kayaking.
Finally, there are also fishing kayaks which often include a rod holder and rudder. Again, even if you are an experienced angler, you may want to try fishing kayaking once you have mastered the use of recreational kayaking.
5 tips to follow on your first kayaking trip
- Start on calm water. Aim to go kayaking on a small lake where motorboats are prohibited (there won’t be too many waves) and on a day that isn’t too windy or rainy.
- Make sure your kayak is stable. Most kayaks will have at least one bulkhead. It’s a piece of foam mounted inside the hull that keeps cargo hatches dry for gear storage. They also give the boat more buoyancy which makes them more stable and faster in the water. Recreational kayaks will usually have one in the stern (in sailor’s jargon that’s the rear and the bow is the front) while touring boats will have at least two – one at each end – so you can balance your cargo on overnight trips.
- Test your comfort before you go. Before planning an adventure for a few days on an island, make sure you are comfortably seated in your kayak. Keep your back straight, paddle and assess your comfort level. You might want to add a cushion for your back, adjust the length of your paddle, or choose a life jacket that doesn’t limit your movements.
- Adjust your kayak well. Place your feet on the toe clips so that your knees are slightly bent. Otherwise, move the toe clips forward or backward.
- Protect yourself from the elements. Stay away from UVA and UVB rays by wearing a hat and protective clothing, and apply a waterproof and broad-spectrum sunscreen lotion every two hours. If you paddle in the fall or late spring, don’t underestimate the water’s coldness, and dress accordingly so you won’t be prone to hypothermia if you ever capsize.
Top five kayak accessories
- PFD (personal flotation device) – A good paddling vest has lots of room to move your arms and shoulders and is cut a bit higher in the back to allow you to sit more comfortably in a kayak cockpit.
- Safety kit – Not only are you required by law to have a baling tool, tow rope, whistle and flashlight on your boat, but any one of these items could save your life. The kit must contain at least one reboarding device, one buoyant heaving line at least 15 m (49’ 3”) long, one bailer or one manual bilge pump, one sound-signalling device or appliance, such as a ballless whistle, navigation lights, a magnetic compass, and a radar reflector. Read the Government of Canada’s Safe Boating Guide before heading out. https://tc.canada.ca/sites/default/files/migrated/tp_511e.pdf
- Paddle – You’re not going anywhere without this one and the lighter the better. Heavier aluminum paddles are the least expensive but the extra weight can tire you out quicker and puts more strain on your upper body. Also note that the curve of your paddle should point towards the back of the kayak. Your hands should be positioned on the paddle at a width slightly wider than your shoulders.
- Paddle leash – So, you’ve stopped paddling to take a drink of water and behold your paddle floating away. Remember that in the event of a spill, it’s much easier to find your boat than it is to find or grab a paddle that’s drifted away.
- Dry bag – Whether you’re out for a day or a week, a soggy sandwich or wet gear can ruin an outing. Have at least one dry bag to keep your essentials dry and you worry-free.
There you go…you are ready to take the plunge!
Also available in: French