Begining and First Kayak

I am looking to get into kayaking, never been in a canoe or kayak. I live in Southern Nevada and really only plan to kayak on lakes and perhaps slow moving streams.

My budget is very tight, I don’t want to go over $400.

I’ve looked into local lessons and they are generally $80-$140, which seems rather expensive to me.

I also did a little browsing on my local craigslist and found a some very cheap kayaks: a BIC sit on top(no actual model given) for $250 and a Perception Overflow for $200.

From what little research I have done I believe that a touring kayak will probably be what I will eventually get. But for starting out I would think something cheap would be best.

My question is, should I pay for the lesson, and then decide on a kayak. Or should I just pay a little more and buy a cheap used kayak and try to teach myself. I have a swimming pool which I believe is large enough to paddle around in. Secondly, if I should get a cheap kayak of craigslist, will the above work to learn the basics and get a feel for the sport?

P.S. I’m 5-11 and 180lbs.

Lessons - test paddle first
Ideally, you should take lessons first and any opportunity to test paddle a variety of boats. That way, you will have a better idea of what you really want, rather than wasting money on something you might quickly outgrow. Taking lessons will not only help you determine what kind of boat you want and have you paddling more efficiently – if will also provide some important safety knowledge. There are some things that are better learned in a class rather than trial and error.

Store demos
With spring just around the corner, most kayak shops have spring demo days or weekends. Find a kayak shop and inquire about that. The factory reps are there and will assist you and you can try lots of boats and make comparisons. You will learn a lot. No need for lessons at this point.

One boat you showed is a WW boat, you do realize that ??

If you heart is into white water then TAKE LESSONS. Most important thing in all cases is wear your PFD.

You don’t need to take lessons
I am a big fan of instruction, but kayaking is pretty intuitive and you certainly don’t need lessons to get out on the water.

If your budget is only a few hundred dollars, remember that you are going to need to reserve some cash for a decent paddle and a PFD as well as some means of transporting the boat. If you keep an eye on craigslist it is not uncommon to find a package deal on a boat, paddle, PFD and sometimes a spray skirt being sold by someone who bought the equipment and never really got into the sport.

Given your budget and intentions a used recreational kayak will probably suit you best. Some folks love sit-on-top kayaks. I don’t, but you live in a warm climate and some folks have trouble getting in and out of a sit-in kayak.

The Perception Overflow is a whitewater kayak. It would get you out on the water, but it is designed to be paddled with a spray skirt. It can be paddled without and it would get you out on the water but it wouldn’t suit your needs as well as a rec boat so I would probably pass on it.


– Last Updated: Mar-09-12 9:00 AM EST –

Agree with above. Best to try some demos at a paddling shop. Might be a drive to find one if none is nearby but it would be worth the trip to see and learn about different types. Not sure if there is a rental place you can drive to, that's another great way to test it all out.

Agree it's pretty intuitive to paddle unless you are thinking of WW. Lessons really come in for people wanting to develop better skills.

That one perception boat is WW kayak and doesn't match your description of lakes and slow moving rivers unless you were thinking of doing faster moving streams.

Some kind of used recreation kayak might be good place to start.


– Last Updated: Mar-09-12 9:09 AM EST –

Splashing is intuitive.
Efficient stroke mechanics are taught.

Anyone can float and splash - they'll move around a bit;
get bored and go home; tired and sore; eventually quit.

The difference between paddling 2 miles and being spent
versus paddling 10 miles and feeling wonderful is
most definitely technique, not massive muscles.

Unless your pool is olympic size distance,
you won't learn a thing about paddling well.
All you'll find out is that it floats.

Take a beginner class, learn, evolve forward.

I disagree – get some instruction

– Last Updated: Mar-09-12 9:17 AM EST –

I strongly disagree about kayaking being "intuitive". I paddled for several years before getting lessons and was amazed at what I learned from the instruction and how greatly it changed my enjoyment of kayaking. Have you checked to see if your local community college offers inexpensive kayaking lessons? They have them in my area. You should also go on a guided kayak day tour with a local outfitter -- I'm sure there are several that go out on Lake Mead. A good outfitter will include a basic lesson in paddling and launching techniques as well as information on how to handle a capsize.

It seems foolish to me for you to spend any money buying a piece of sporting equipment you have NEVER tried. You may in fact find that a canoe suits you more than a kayak or even that you don't like paddling at all. Honestly, you don't know enough about the sport or your own aptitude for it to buy a boat yet. I'm familiar with the waters in your area and neither of those kayaks you are looking at are suitable. Investing in a couple of guided outings will be an invaluable step in the process and make you more comfortable and informed.

You could also see if there is a paddling club or group in your area you could join for some outings. Check in your closest city. There is a very active kayaking group on Meetup in my city and many members have extra boats and gear they loan to newcomer interested in the sport. (I would have checked that for you but I'm at work and my workstation has filters that block "social networking" sites like Meetup.)

Understand first…

– Last Updated: Mar-09-12 10:09 AM EST –

spend money after. For people with deep pockets, it is inefficient but not much of an issue to go out and buy any old thing then get what really works for them later. But you don't indicate you have deep pockets, nor do you indicate enough of an understanding about the basic kayaks and their purposes to avoid a costly mistake.

You don't need to get enough in the way of lessons to be any kind of kayaking master to get started, but you should take advantage of spring to get some basics and spend time visiting demo days talking to vendors so you can make a better first choice.

Look for a good paddle if anyone has them used - a lightweight paddle with a lot of scratches will still be more pleasant than a new heavy one.

Re the Overflow - if it is old-school WW boat with a full name of Corsica Overflow, they are a bit high at $200. That boat could be as much as 20 years old, it is at least 15 years. These are neat boats to have around, we have one, but I wouldn't choose it as an only boat even to start. If nothing else, they are relatively unfriendly to a self-rescue in anything nasty unless you can roll because they lack rigging to help with tired hands and arms. Don't underestimate how even small lakes can suddenly get very interesting on a hit summer day with storms coming through.

People vary in learning style and …

– Last Updated: Mar-09-12 11:31 AM EST –

... actual comprehension of what they accomplish with their paddle. Some people learn to paddle quite well on their own, and some people develop bad habits and stick with them. Still, ANYONE can at least get into a rec kayak and make it go the direction they want it to, and as often as not are plenty happy in the process.

For someone on such a limited budget, I'd stick with Pete's advice. Plenty of people can learn to paddle well enough in a fairly short time to spend most of the day in a boat and go 15 miles or so, and have plenty of fun. If this person can't, it'll become apparent soon enough, but clearly there's no money available for lessons right now so I say, "take a chance" and go for it. Some people toss around the term "kayak snob" here and it's easy to see why. I've met plenty of people on the water who I swear are having way more fun in their boats, never having had a lesson, than could ever be had by people who get their undies in a bunch about perfect technique and the ability to paddle 40 miles in a day.

The world is full of examples of this sort of thing. How many people play golf, go bowling, exercise at the gym, go dancing, swim, ride a bike, or take photographs without ever investing in formal training? You can pay for lessons for all of those things and become much better for the effort, and the "snobs" in each field would probably say to you that no other option is possible.

In fact, I wonder how many of the people who say "don't start kayaking without taking lessons first" would ever have gotten into the sport if they had been restricted in the same way? I'd be willing to bet that most of them tried paddling and liked it, and at some later date they made the decision to take steps to improve their technique.

You could . . .
just get the boat.

For the most part I agree with guideboat guy, but the salient factor with you seems to be the lack of cha-ching.

For that reason only I’d suggest you go out for a day paddle with a guide (someone above suggested this) or if you can’t afford that rent a boat and try paddling and see how your rental boat feels.

Based on the type of paddling you’ve outlined buying the WW boat would be a waste of $.

And as someone else said if funds are tight, how are you transporting your new boat.

Here’s a nevada rental site:

Here’s a kayak guide service in Nevada (on Lake Mead):

That may be the direction you want to take.

You can ask an expert all the questions you want and they aren’t going to take you out without some (necessary) safety instruction.

All that being said I never took a lesson until my girlfriend started paddling - I’ve also done a lot of unintended swimming.

Well Said

– Last Updated: Mar-09-12 1:30 PM EST –

Well said!

Another cheap source of basic paddling advice to get going is a beginning paddling DVD ($20 at REI or other camping store) or even online videos on Youtube etc.

“snob”? Give me a break…
Regarding the “kayak snob” accusation:

“How many people play golf, go bowling, exercise at the gym, go dancing, swim, ride a bike, or take photographs without ever investing in formal training?”

I’ll argue that kayaking differs from those activities and even that the premise that people plunge into them as total novices is false. Most people would not buy a custom bowling ball, a set of golf clubs, a bike or even a camera without having tried that sort of equipment out at least once. Any gym I have ever belonged to (and there have been several) required a health clearance and a one-on-one orientation to the facility with a staff member before I was permitted to use it. Niether dancing nor swimming require any costly equipment purchases. And with the exception of swimming, none of those other activities has the potential to place a novice in dangerous, even possibly fatal, circumstances that might also put rescue personnel at risk. At the very least, he/she risks buyer’s remorse.

The OP says they have NEVER been in a kayak or canoe. As a former outdoor instructor, guide and seller of wilderness sports gear, I stand by my recommendation that the OP at least try paddling with an outfitter or experienced buddy before plunging into this.

A couple things

– Last Updated: Mar-09-12 2:11 PM EST –

First, I wish more people would learn how the indent feature works, and what it means when used properly. If that were the case, you'd know that I was not replying to you in any way, shape or form. For what it's worth, I have no argument against meeting with an outfitter to ask questions and try out boats (if I had, I would have responded to YOU instead of that other guy), if in fact that's a viable option (I don't know the situation in this case, but I've noticed that people here often forget that this option isn't practical for everyone). What I was responding to was the implication that no one can learn to paddle well enough to get started without first taking lessons. I didn't think "kayak snob" was so far off-the-mark, because Pete was correct that it's perfectly possible to get started with paddling in easy situations without lessons. MOST people do exactly that, and in MOST situations it works fine. I'm not for throwing obstacles in front of every newbie, when simply in the name of safety it would make far more sense to take a quarter of the drivers off the road and re-educate them. I figure if someone wants to get started but has very little money to spend, I'd rather see them get started with the money they have available right now than give advice that basically precludes buying a boat this year.

I do get that…
And you’ll notice I stressed getting out in a borrowed or rented boat over insisting on lessons.

I just saw too much novice remorse when I sold outdoor gear and taught classes – people dropping hundreds of dollars on gear for a “cool looking” sport they never tried (sometimes one their buddy or (in)significant other talked them into) only to discover within an hour (or even minutes) of actual use of it that the sport was completely not for them, OR the gear was poorly suited. If the OP had even been in a paddlecraft ONCE I would not have been urging them to hold on boat shopping at this point.

And I’ve been involved in scraping up the carcasses of folks who got in over their heads with new toys they didn’t know how (or where) to use. Sure, thousands of “ignorance is bliss” noobs throw Wally World plastic bathtubs in the creeks and lakes every year and survive. But we lost 4 within spittin’ distance of me last year who weren’t so lucky. Sure, “more room on the river for the rest of us”. But my conscience dictates I stick with my snobbish opinions.

Of course, I could have recommended buying a kayak from REI. They would refund his money for the boat and gear if he tried it and didn’t like it.

Geeze, I hope we haven’t scared off the new guy with our grousing: Please, jakk55, don’t run away – our bark is worse than our bite and you’ll probably love kayaking now matter how you stumble into it!

Best internet advice
If you watch “one” video on the web, to learn;

watch this one over and over again.

Kayaking involves FEET just as much as much as arms.

This may the best thing anyone every taught me,

alternate butt checks, use legs, and torso/twist.

Best of luck to ya’

my $0.02
Almost have a flame war going here. Interesting comments above.

My thoughts - most people can get in to a kayak and make it move decently well without lessons. Making it go forward and turn is relatively intuitive. You likely won’t be as efficient as if you took lessons, but it will work.

Concerns I have about the non-lesson route is safety related. Getting back into an overturned kayak is not as intuitive. And new paddlers don’t usually consider the impact of water temperature when dressing. These can be life and death issues.

If you do choose the learn on your own route, I would research into these to try to figure out what you need to know so you don’t become a statistic. And I would flip your boat shortly after buying it at a safe place (like near a beach) and try to get back in. Some people can do it without lessons, but most can’t.

Here is some info related to Lake Mead’s water temperature: Above 70 you should be fine. 60-70 is question zone. Below 60 and thermal protection is smart to wear. Looks like between November and April you need to be worried about water temps.

Peter-Ca. Well said. Tecnique instructions might be the least important to know as opposed to re-entry and water conditions.

Pretty much anyone can learn to move the boat on the water. It’s the dealing with a sudden surprise that is a problem.


– Last Updated: Apr-08-12 6:15 PM EST –

Thanks for all the replies and advice.
I did end up taking a lesson, a lot was repeat from what I had learned from research on the web. However I did find it very useful as the instructors helped critique my paddling, and I was much more comfortable attempting a wet exit and self-rescue with instructors around to make sure I didn't drown.
Overall, I loved it.
Now onto finding a cheap kayak on craigslist. Any brands to really look for, and which ones to stay away from?

Go for a sit on top …

– Last Updated: Apr-08-12 7:28 PM EST –

In Nevada if you are going to be paddling in the desert you most likely are going to be wanting a sit on top. You will literally cook in the summer time in a SINK witha spray skirt. Look for Ocean Kayak, Cobra and Wilderness System boats , there are other decent brands but hard to go wrong with these three. Personally if I was going to paddle Lake Mead and the Colorado River below the dams I would go for a Cobra Revision - hard to find used though. Keep your eye on Craigslist and you should be able to score a boat/paddle and PFD to get started. Don't lowball the people selling the boats, and you will probably get some good advice and help.

I would also suggest coming out to San Diego and taking a lesson at Aqua-Adventures and paddling on Mission Bay and San Diego Bay and Lajolla Cove in the summer when the waves are small. The lower Colorado is also a great place to paddle if you can avoid the powerboats check into Topcock Gorge and paddles south of there.

I did try a sit on top kayak
I tried a sit on top kayak and I didn’t like the way it felt while paddling. I’m definitely more interested in a sit-in kayak.