Beginner's Guide to Kayaking

By Danielle Buenrostro

Kayaking is a great way to get on the water and explore the ocean, harbor, lake, river or other waterways with little skill, effort or equipment required. You also don’t need a boat ramp, motor or any certifications to enjoy being on the water in a kayak.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, kayaking grew in participation last year by 14% on white water, 10% touring on the ocean and 7% general recreation. The most popular is kayak fishing with 28% more participants.

person paddling a kayak


Exploring new bodies of water like narrow rivers, sloughs or intercoastal waterways is possible in a kayak thanks to its relatively narrow and nimble shape compared to motorboats or sailboats. This is especially a benefit if you’re trying to get up close to marine life like sea otters in a slough or bass fishing in a river. Fish that like to hide in hard-to-reach spots like the mangroves of Florida are accessible with the help of an agile kayak.

Although kayaking doesn’t require muscular strength or athleticism, paddling does involve aerobic activity. Depending on how long your paddle session goes, kayaking can be a workout, which can improve your cardiovascular health. Not to mention the boost in mental health because you’re surrounded by tranquil waters and fresh air.

Skills Needed

On a basic level, kayakers should be comfortable being on the water and confident in their abilities to navigate unknown waters safely. In the chance that the kayak flips, it’s also a good skill to keep your composure and safely reenter the vessel. Keep in mind that reentering a sit-inside requires a little more agility and effort than getting back on a siton- top.

There is some skill involved in launching a kayak from a shoreline. It’s important to be able to:

pulling a kayak into the water

Step 1. Pull your kayak to deep enough water so it floats

steadying the kayak before entering

Step 2. Hold it steady while you enter

person paddling out past the surf

Step 3. Paddle past the surf.

Once you’re in the water, paddling with an efficient stroke and a relaxed grip will prevent fatigue and extend your paddling session. Good paddle form involves pulling the blade face through the water on one side while pushing the paddle through the air on the other side while maintaining a strong core. Rotate your core as you paddle so your arms aren’t doing all the work. The push-pull stroke requires less effort and provides less propulsion when the blade enters the water at a low angle and more effort and more propulsion when the blade is more vertical in the water. If you have an adjustable shaft and you’re in windy conditions, feather the blade 30-60 degrees and this will allow your top blade to cut through the wind and reduce resistance.


Just a few basic pieces of equipment are needed to get started on a kayak adventure. After you've purchased your kayak, you'll need to find the right paddle. Read our article on Selecting the Right Kayak Paddle. Next, focus on cold weather clothing like bomber gear if you’re paddling in cold-water conditions to prevent hypothermia in case you end up in the water. Focus on sun protective clothing if you’re paddling in warm weather. Whenever you are outside on the water, it’s always wise to apply sunscreen with at least 30 SPF for protection from the sun’s harmful rays, even on a cloudy day. Read our article Understanding Sun Protection.

Preparation is key to a successful kayaking session. Use this checklist to make sure you have everything you need to enjoy the adventure.

Basic Gear Needed:

  1. Kayak
  2. Paddle
  3. Life vest
  4. Sun protective clothing and sunglasses, if applicable
  5. Cold-weather clothing, if applicable


Kayaking can be a solo or group activity but for beginners, we recommend you go with a buddy. Make sure to check your equipment for any tears, holes or defects before hitting the water. Planning for a safe kayak trip is the best way to ensure you have an enjoyable experience. If you’re going solo, it’s always wise to let someone know your location and timeframe for being on the water.

2 people paddling kayaks

It's wise to always paddle with a buddy.

Always wear a personal flotation device and make sure it isn’t damaged. It’s a good rule of thumb to get a weather/surf report before hitting the water and keeping an eye out for weather changes. If a storm creeps up, seek shelter immediately. If you’re on the ocean, it’s a good idea to monitor the currents and rip tides. Each state and region has different rules when it comes to interacting with wildlife. Some may be protected so make sure you know the guidelines for how close you can get to creatures. Lastly, be aware of your surroundings and avoid objects that could snag or flip your kayak. With a few simple precautions, your kayaking voyage will be one to remember!