Beginner Questions


I am planning to try kayaking next summer. Does the following plan make sense?

  1. I can swim, but will practice over the winter, and if my schedule permits, will try to do an adult learn to swim class ti improve my swimming ability.
  2. Late winter/early spring: Local in-pool lesson
  3. Try to find an outdoor lesson locally.
  4. Go out with a kayak meetup group, using rental kayaks.

I am interested in going on small lakes and calm rivers, not whitewater or sea kayaking (at least to begin). I will start researching both regular and folding/inflatable kayaks if I find I enjoys kayaking, but probably not until late summer or autumn of next year.

Welcome, janetliz. Sounds like a fine plan. Might want to go window shopping for kayaking PFDs as you’ll need one for the pool session and, of course, any time you’re in a boat on the water. In the interim, here’s a link to a site which contains lots of good information on the sport.

I hope you find your first paddling experiences as enriching as I did. BTW, where are you located?

I like your steps #1 through #3, but when I got to #4 I was a bit concerned.

Prior to starting my own group, I belonged to other Meetup groups that did kayaking, hiking and camping. What I found with the other groups was that the leaders rarely had much experience and/or expertise, and the safety practices of the groups were horrible. Early on with these groups I was under the impression that I could stay safe by learning from the leaders and other experienced members. Instead, I look back now and am very thankful that I made it through some of the very risky situations I naively took part in.

I still struggle to find safety conscious paddlers that I can do multi-day trips with, though I have found a few here and there. If there is a “real” paddling club in your area (one with insurance and a decent list of rules) that could be a better place to get started.

Some of my top priorities for teaching to new paddlers I’ve introduced to the sport are:

  • Boat balance, bracing, upper/lower body separation (less important in a wide recreational boat)
  • Wet exits, self and assisted re-entries
  • Efficient forward stroke, draw stroke(s), and steering without using a “braking” stroke.
  • Appreciation and respect for the limitations of your boat, equipment, and body

At one time I belonged to a real paddling club. One that paid dues and was run out of a local kayak shop. We paid dues and safety standards had to be met. Everyone knew each other and the trip leaders were very experienced.

Over the years the club migrated to a Meet Up Group and the people showing up were down right scary to the point that no one wanted to lead a trip not knowing the level of experience the strangers had.

Best to join an old school club where there is experienced paddlers who are willing to help.

Some Meetups may be fine. Ours is led by a Maine Guide… There is a safety briefing… You never know what sort of Meetup leadership there will be but it could be OK

I belong to 2 Meetups, one on local lakes and streams, the other nearly 100% ocean trips. One (local lakes and streams) is randomly organized/disorganized and you get what you get. The other actually has training for its trip leaders and firm safety requirements. If the Meetup has web site documentation, you may be able to discern its level of safety organization.

Two thumbs up for local paddling clubs. I belong to a local outdoor club. This club has been around for 75 years and it well established in the community, not just for the outdoor activities, but also for local land use issues & stewardship projects. The club has a website, has trip leader training, and well established governing rules. The club does stuff year around…back country skiing, snow shoeing, biking, hiking, car camping, rock climbing, and both whitewater & flat water boating. Our boating division is very active. This year we ran two car camp beginner trips & two over nighter beginner trips for whitewater rafting. You are required to attend a beginner trip in order to sign up for more advanced whitewater trips. We also do a beginner flat water canoe/kayak class .

I have never tried a Meet-up group, so I can’t speak to them. I suppose finding someone else to paddle with is a step in the right direction if Meet-ups are your only choice. Hopefully you’ll find a decent paddle partner & learn some valuable stuff along the way. The OP seems to have a fantastic plan for learning, and a good grasp of where to start. Not like many of the posts I see where the person is buying a rec kayak with the plan to head to class II-III water right away.

My experience is that if you want to go paddling, you’d better either find a very reliable buddy, or just go on your own. I learned more by going by myself than I think I ever would have learned from others that I paddled with.

You can learn a lot from watching videos on YouTube now days, but there’s nothing like going out and just trying all sorts of techniques. If you’re lucky, you might meet a nice experienced person who will give you free lessons and offer to accompany you at times.

I have given a lot of newbies lessons, but it takes time for the lessons to kick in and seldom does it work out where you get to paddle with them more than a couple times. I’ve also learned that you have to be fairly careful who you offer advice to and how you go about it. Some folks just don’t want to be told that their paddle is upside down, or that they are paddling all wrong, etc., etc.

Maybe the worst thing you can do is go paddling with someone, or a group that is way more advanced than you are and who takes you into conditions you aren’t ready for. It might take months, or even years before you develop a confidence in yourself and your boat, to where you are comfortable in whatever the water and weather might throw at you. Even then, you have to know your limits and call it a day.

Mississauga, ON - just west of Toronto.
The lessons I have looked at, as well as the rentals, state that a PFD is provided. However, I will try to get one of my own, to try to get a comfortable and consistent fit.

I was hoping that doing the lessons first would help to mitigate some of the safety concerns of a meetup group. They did some hiking and snowshoeing meet ups last year, which may give me a chance to meet some of the members. I would also try to google the location of their meet ups to try to find out the likely conditions. The group I found is a kayaking group, rather than a general outdoor group (although there are some of those as well).

I will look into local paddling clubs, although the closest one I have found seems to be more focused on canoeing.

The local canoe club does have beginner lessons, but only on weekday evenings, when I am at work. I didn’t see any info on actual outings, but most of their Facebook posts are about race results.

There is a great paddling club centered in Kingston, Ontario, though some members may live closer to Toronto, I think: the Cataraqui Canoe and Kayak Club. They have a very active membership and do cross country skiing trips in the winter when it is too cold to safely paddle. Very nice folks – I live in SW Pennsylvania but have a friend who is a long-time club member and I have visited and paddled with them on the Rideau Canal. They have members of all ages and were very welcoming. Some very good instructors too. Here is their website and newsletter.

@janetliz said:
I am interested in going on small lakes and calm rivers, not whitewater or sea kayaking (at least to begin). I will start researching both regular and folding/inflatable kayaks if I find I enjoys kayaking, but probably not until late summer or autumn of next year.

I should have paid more attention to the section of your original message I’ve quoted above, so here goes…

If you’re interested only in recreational kayaking and boats to match, the most important lesson to learn is that your boat only belongs in protected flat water close enough to shore that you can swim there. Doing re-entries and rescues with a boat that doesn’t have sealed compartments or added flotation fore and aft isn’t very fun. Bracing and paddle strokes also don’t mean as much because you’re limited by the width of the boat and excessive stability (ie: like a floating pancake).

That said, there’s nothing wrong with being a recreational kayaker - as long as you can exercise judgement to know when and where to paddle the boat you have. You are very unlikely to learn that from a Meetup group.

I forgot to mention that the Cataraquie Canoe and Kayak Club has rental kayaks and a boathouse. They would be a very good resource for someone looking to get into the sport.

Kingston is about a 3 hour drive for me, across Toronto. I think the majority of my kayaking will be north of Toronto - Barrie, Muskoka, etc.

I do expect that there will be a lot of research to be done before purchasing a kayak. After I go out a few times, I should have a better idea of what I want to do with the kayak, then look for an appropriate kayak. I haven’t yet started that research.

Yes janetliz, get your swimming skills down…then get very comfortable with wet exits. Indoor pools inject chaotic chop at once and the more comfortable you are with flipping over and exiting easily the more relaxed/loose in the hips you’ll become.

Pool lesson has been booked for late April.

Next question - is there any way of finding out the water temperature for a given location before leaving home? Picking a lake at random, I have tried googling “Pine Lake” “water temperature” Ontario, and didn’t find anything. From the reading I have done so far, it looks like I should wait until water temperature is at least 75F before going out, as I don’t plan to purchase a wetsuit/dry suit right away. I don’t want to drive an hour to try kayaking, just to find out that the water is too cold when I arrive - particularly if there is another location nearby where the water would be warm enough.

Look for an ACA or other sanctioning body kayak instructor for your lessons. You might also look at the Meet Up group to see if they have any ACA or like rules, ratings, etc.

I’m in four Meet Ups. I’m active in two. They are both clubs that use Meet Up as a scheduling program. One club has been at its current location for almost 100 years. We have some boats in the boat house that too are 100 years old. I don’t know about your area, Meet Up groups, or weather. But here is a couple of items from the other side. Quriser and I schedule a lot of paddles. They are rated by skill level, conditions and distance. At the meetings we hear they want more “beginner level I” paddles. I schedule them … and none of the complainers show up. I schedule a level 3 paddle for speed and distance and the level 1 and 2 complainers show up and complain about the speed and distance. I’m not saying level 1 and 2 paddlers are complainers. I am saying that when there is a paddle for your level show up. I’m saying that work to just a little higher than your current capabilities. I’m saying show interest, progression and show up then the more experienced will help you along.

Not sure how inland lake water temperature reporting is handled in Canada, but here in Northern Michigan there’s no way to get such information unless an inland lake monitoring program is in effect and its manager chooses to share the data with the public. The other option is to carry a thermometer on a long cord and check it yourself - but that would mean you’d have to drive to your destination first, which you want to avoid.

If you plan to paddle a large inland lake you might check with marinas on that lake as they should have such information. Also, fishing websites sometimes report water temps on inland lakes, sometimes estimated and sometimes actual on a given day.

Your April pool session instructors might have some suggestions for the best practice lakes.