beginner question--kayaking vs rowing

I want to know if rowing technique can be converted to kayaking?

I am interested in rowing for fitness and kayaking mainly for recreation. I am going to begin classes for rowing next month and was wondering if I need to take a kayaking class as well, or will a simple introductory course to kayaking serve me well for recreational purposes if I only plan to kayak initially in calm waters? Or are they so completely different that I will need to take a course on both?

Any and all advice is wonderful.


Course for both
About the form too, but for kayaking more about basic safety and self-rescue - you’ll find there is a world of diff between kayaking and rowing (assuming you mean sculls) in how this is approached. And the paddle strokes are quite different.

yes, thank you
Yes, I meant sculling. I was afraid that was what the answer would be. I am really more interested in kayaking than sculling/rowing. I had some introduction to rowing in college but it was really brief and I enjoyed it although I think I will enjoy kayaking better. I am attracted to rowing for fitness primarily so maybe I should just switch to a kayaking class (the school teaches both) since kayaking does offer good physical benefits as well and I plan on traveling and kayaking a lot in the future.

Why not kayaking for fitness?
I would suggest giving this a try as you may be supprised at the level of workout that can be achieved. Done correctly your forward paddle stroke is a core body work out from the feet on up. I would suggest you find a good paddlesport coach that can teach you all aspects of core paddleing techniques.


I’d skip the rowing classes
If you row a skull in college then you have enough technique and knowledge to row a skull now. Rowing can be learned in a day and then you spend the rest of your life refining those skills.

For me kayaking is completely different. The skill set require for competency is much much higher. I’ve never seen anyone learn to roll their kayak on their first day, but that is just one of the begining skills you’ll need. You’ll also need other more basic self rescue skills and it takes a lot more classes to learn all this stuff. I’d definately spend the time on the kayaking skills.

Think about it this way. Can you flip over in your skull? It’s really hard to unless you let go of the oars, which you should never do. In a kayak even experts capsize.

If you have the right boat for the water you are using, kayaking in that water takes a lot more skill.

the glee of gliding on water
That-the love of gliding on water- is the most the two disciplines have in common.

I think I have a unique perspective. In the late 80’s, early 90’s, I coached quite a few people to national medals in sculling. I haven’t touched an oar since the world masters games were in the US in '97, where I competed in rowing and flatwater sprint kayaking!

I have two friends, once hardcore rowers, who followed me down the kayak path (they primarily use surf skis, I use anything I can move through water with a paddle).

We all think the kayaking helped our rowing more than the other way around. Admitedly, this is comparing race kayakas to sculls, but nothing in rowing really taught us as much about balance in a boat, and comfort in rough water, when compared to learning a kayak.

They are different enough that it is easy to recommend seperate classes for each discipline, but I have even more opinion on that.

Despite what I have seen opined, my own observation plus the dominant thought in rowing is that rowing team boats in college (4’s and 8’s) does not prepare one for rowing a single scull. The transition is quite difficult for most. Take a lesson.

And on kayaking, well, rowing has very few dimensions to it. Kayaking has many. You do not know what you do not know- if you take a series of lessons, you may be opened up to a world you may not have even considered, or even know about. Bird watching? check. Surf kayaking? check. Expeditioning (not necessarily a hard core thing, BTW)? check. Race kayaks, for competition or for fitness(single sculls will never feel tippy again if you can handle a flatwater sprint kayak). Some fold just have a blast rolling in a pond! Whitewater kayaking, and of course just poking about the local lake getting a tan.

Get exposed to good technique, safety skills, and opportunity, and the kayak will let you play in a very big world.

In a scull,you can go fast backwards (it may be the only competitive sport where you cross the finish line with your butt first!).


Wish I had a sculling coach.
Not that it would have raised me above the level of mediocrity, but it was hard figuring out on my own what I was doing wrong.

Once, Al Rosenburg watched me leaving the Vesper dock, and when he saw me later, told me more about what I needed to do than I had figured out in two years. But that was 1965. He was busy with the eight.

I would like to give skulling a try…
…for maybe an hour. I wonder if my local club has a freebee day? Their membership fee is $500/yr.

Rowing to Latitude
by Jill Fredston talks a bit about the differences in technique and perception. She (a rower) hooked up with and eventually married Ken Fink (kayaker) and did expeditions together. The kayak vs. scull discussion is a minor part of the book. The rest is a good adventure and human interest read.

both would be fun
Rowers are faster and I wish I could be part oa team beacuse you keep each other motivated. One problem with kayak for fitness is what if you feel like going slow? A workout partner is great in both sports

learning on one’s own
"figuring out what I was doing wrong"

Nicely put.

There are those out there who have the gift of self coaching, an innate sense of comparing their actions to a model, and working out a new plan.

I have been fortunate to be one of those. But as a trained instructor, nothing pains me more than to hear those with that gift give advice to others base on their personal experience. Too many times have I heard, “you don’t need a lesson, save all that money. I taught myself, and so can you”.

Wow, the expections we have of others based on only our own perspective. That is, perhaps, the true training of a good coach/teacher- not to judge others only on our personal experience, but the knowledge we get from many teachers. “If I have seen at all, it is because I have stood upon the shoulders of giants”. Sir Isaac Newton.

Interesting, g2d…my first training as a coach in rowing was in 1985, from Al Rosenberg!


not always faster
Check out times for some of the Sound Rowers races. On a day with flat conditions, the rowers are nearly always faster. But on rough days, the surf skiers are faster.

When I used to race surf skis, during a race I would sometimes draft a rower. I got a draft, and I could see the course better than the rower. A nearly good symbiotic relationship, except that a rower does not maintain as even a speed as a kayaker (body moving back and forth accellerates and then decelerates the boat).

Great fitness from both; and what many do not know is that a kayak set up for racing also lets you use your legs (in short distances in a sprint kayak, my legs are nearly as tired as my arms!)


Had occasion to ride in the launch with
several different coaches, all of whom had at least some success at the international level. The two that stood out for me were Al Rosenburg and Harry Parker. Both had the ability to see things that the other coaches weren’t seeing, and to devise ways of modifying those subtleties in the direction of success.

Get a surf ski … and go for it.