Do you take lessons?

I was at a demo and talked to a few folks about buying kayaks. I had a problem with on yak always pulling to the left. Another guy said he did too. I suggested that after I take a few lessons my addling skills would improve. Almost to the man, I was told that “we don’t need no stinkin’ lessons!” Just get in and paddle!

Am I just anal retentive? Classes and lessons have always been part of the fun of learning a new hobby or sport. My question is: How many of you have taken lessons in technique or paddling?

No stinkin’ lessons…

As long as you have a good PFD , VHF radio and the patience to bob around a few days while the Coast Guard looks for you.

Why do you need lessons?

Value of Lessons
Just my take of course but…

You can avoid lessons, the risk of that being that for most people it means that you’ll not learn some things that could matter depending on your paddling environments and goals. There are a few individuals here and there who can go out on their own and easily learn all kinds of advanced skills without coaching, most of us can’t do that.

Things that lessons usually give the paddler sooner than they’ll get on their own:

A forward stroke technique that will leave your hands, shoulders and back in decent condition after a long paddle.

Useable, practiced ways to re-enter the boat in the case of a capsize.

Techniques to avoid the above (braces, basic edging techniques etc.)

Knowledge of how to turn and manuver the boat to avoid rocks, handle unexpected boat wakes, high winds etc.

A safe environment to practice dumping out of the boat (and confirm that the stuff you bought actually works when you need it).

Ways to enter and exit the boat from land in less than ideal conditions.

If all you are going to do is take a Swifty out from a sand beach in a local pond, stay near shore, paddle in warm temps and you are OK with an occassional swim, I suppose no lessons are required. It would be hard to hurt yourself in those conditions. If you plan of trying to paddle in a faster group, in challenging conditions etc, I strongly advise lessons. Personally, most of the “I don’t need no stinkin’ lessons” types I’ve encountered are not people I’d prefer to be with out on big water.

Now Now

– Last Updated: Jun-26-05 3:25 PM EST –

Brother Grayhawk. I'm sure the vast, vast majority of self taught folks have never required help from the Coast Guard. And I'm certain a few students and an occasional instructor have.

I'm self-taught. Mainly 'cause I live 3 hours inland. I wouldn't mind some professional instruction, especially if I could just get some pointers / critiqueing while I got to enjoy paddling my boat. My free time is a little too precious to spend a lot of it watching an instructor deal with a complete klutz.

I DID pay for rolling instruction winter before last. It was every other Wednesday night just about all winter in a big heated pool.

Me beginning lessons wer in
mild 1-2 foot swell in the ocean. then I did hours of practice on flatwater ten I paddled woods hole iwht a guide and divid H. I think I went over abotu three times in woods hole that day. But basically there are folks like Charles river canoe and kayak and MIKCO who will teach you intensely wih you are on the water in a 1 student to 4 instructor group.

Now that’s


I too was self taught for the first year and a half and thought I was a good kayaker.

My first formal lessons was taking the ACA-IDW. I didn’t want to be an instructor but I thought if I knew what I had to know to become an instructor I just might learn something. At the completion of this three day workshop looking back at what I didn’t know scared the living hell out of me.

True you can paddle around the pond forever just fine, but if you venture out and something goes wrong, it is much better to know how to save yourself or the others with you…

Taking a few lessons will make you more confident and you will enjoy the sport much more… GH

I am answering your last question…
I never took lessons, but I bought a book on “how to”.

I have been kayaking about twelve years and I have never stopped learning.

I personally think that the fun of learning is by learning on your own.

I have learned a lot from this forum, from various outfitters, from my fellow racing friends, and from constant paddling experience.

Who knows if I had taken lessons I might have learned a lot more in a shorter time, but if I had to start again I would do it the same way since it has been so much fun.



JackL and I…
We are road bicycle people turned kayaker. In road biking, you usually start biking with local talent, subscribe to a magazine or two, and develop your skills out on the road. Far as I know there isn’t any road bike clinic/class anywhere near where I live.

The problem I have found with sea kayaking is that the sport/activity isn’t nearly as popular as road biking. When you go to the local waters to work on your speed or endurance or other skills, there aren’t any other kayakers around to learn from.

Yeah, I wouldn’t mind some education under the right circumstances… but Jeez, how far do I have to drive, how much money do I have to fork over, and how much time do I have to spend?

No formal lessons, but…
…I have learned this or that from friends, from reading books, and from watching technique videos (mostly for learing various rolling techniques).

While I’m always happy to learn from experienced boaters, I just don’t encounter them very often. Probably the most “formal” instruction I ever had was one half hour rolling lesson from a friend when he was here for a visit (just a few months after I started paddling). I was able to roll after that (eight years ago), and ever since then, I’ve developed several other rolls by reading, watching videos, and lots of practice (never in a pool, always in saltwater).

As for other techniques, like strokes and bracing, I’d have to say that aside from learing a few very basic principles from friends and books when I first began paddling, I’ve learned as I went along. I live on a lightly populated stretch of coast, and though there are a few “rec boat paddlers” here, who only paddle on the local small lakes and calm rivers, I’m the only local paddler who spends most of my paddling time on the bays, open coastline, and in the surf. I’ve also learned a great deal about weather, tides and currents, reading the water, and navigation by both reading books and simply paddling…a lot!

99% of my paddling is solo, and I paddle a great deal, year 'round; in all sorts of interesting conditions. Even my friends who have been paddling for 20+ years won’t paddle in some of the conditions I feel very comfortable in. This, I believe, has everything to do with how much time I’ve spent on the water. Considering the fact that most people with “regular jobs” are lucky to get in a few hours on weekends, and some don’t even paddle much at all during the winters, my total hours spent on the water (mostly ocean) in eight years probably does easily exceed the number of hours many people will accumulate over 30+ years of weekend and/or seasonal, fair weather paddling.

Even with all the paddling I’ve done over the past eight years, there’s always more to learn; even if I keep paddling until I’m 85 years old. I learn something every time I’m on the water. Perhaps someday I will take some ACA or BCU courses, but I must say that I’m very happy with the way I’ve learned up to this point; with paddling, paddling, and more paddling! :slight_smile:


I like lessons
Lessons helped me get better and safer more quickly. There is nothing wrong with learning from friends or other paddlers around but focused learning can be a good thing.

I started with three evenings of pool class from a WW paddler. That’s what I could find locally at the time. I drove to Seattle for a 1/2 day bracing and rescue class. That was good but I have since learned improved techniques. My most recent class was 5 days with Body, Boat, Blade. Learned a whole lot. I’m signed up for a beginning coastal paddling class next month. It’s great to find good teachers but it doesn’t hurt to mix it up a bit to get different opinions or just different styles.

I figure it’s kind of like piano or dressage – I don’t know of anyone being too good to benefit from more coaching. Besides lessons get me out paddling in different places and conditions. Plus they are fun.

Local Paddle Groups - Option
Some of our local group have been meeting for a once a week practice session since mid-April, with the more skilled helping the less skilled. There are a couple of people who are coaches, and other individuals who are highly skilled in some specific aspect of paddling like braces, various draw strokes, sculling, rescues, Greenland techniques etc.

While not as dense in terms of material and practice as a formal training class, these sessions have provided an extremely valuable environment for paddlers to gain basic skills as well as finesse more advanced ones. If that kind of thing is happening around you, it’d be well worth checking out.

can involve lessons, or not… I think lessons with competent instructors whose teaching style matches the learning style is probably the best way to go.

Having said that, I took only one lesson in “surfing” with a long boat well after a year of paddling on my own. I took a weekend intro to white water paddling with NHAMC volunteers in near the end of my second year of paddling.

Most of my learning is from books and videos and practicing consciously and increasingly in the conditions I want to deal with.


I never took lessons
But I now know that I could have learned a lot quicker if I had. In some cases it took me years to find out what could be learned in a few weekends. Like rolling or a good forward stroke for that matter.

My main reason for not getting involved with formal instruction was lack of money. I guess I was thinking that the time needed and the few hundred dollars spent on lessons was money and time I would have rather spent on gas going paddling in places I had never seen before.

I still need to take lessons. I still put it off because I am a tight wad.

Learned the hard way…
1. Never hit the brakes in a turn

2. Never try to catch the pack when you get dropped. Wait for the next pack

3. stay toward the outside of the pack. This leaves some escape route when a group goes down.

4. Never try to break away. Leave that to the super jocks.

5. Never draft a guy with a cold

6. If you have someone drafting you that you don’t like, make believe you have a cold

7. The older you get, the more you wheel suck, (I wheel suck a lot now)

Oh I forgot, this is paddling not cycling.



lessons shorten the learning curve
What I like about lessons is that you can pick up tips and tricks that would have possibly taken you years to aquire paddling on your own. I think a big part of the effectiveness of lessons is the ratio of classes you take vs. the hours you paddle. If you are taking classes non stop constantly and never really practice the skills you learned, you won’t really have significant improvement. However if you take the instruction to heart and practice it until you “own it”, then there is immense value in these classes.

Personally, I have taken an intro kayaking class, an intermediate whitewater class, a playboating class, and am signed up to attend the Michigan Qajaq Training Camp (Greenland kayaking practice). I also have had the chance to paddle often with some excellent kayakers (sea and whitewater) and am constantly picking their brains and working on copying their technique.

With that said, for each hour of instruction I have received, I have put in dozens of hours of personal practice on my own and continue to do so. I also now help out with intro kayaking classes and rolling classes and definitely see the value of instilling a good solid basis to develop your skills from.

my reality check happened after joining a kayaking club and going on group paddles,the holes in my rescue skills were impressive.

After a mini-fuster cluck between a cliff and rocks that were shielding us from the waves.

“hey Lee, you get that person in their boat and I’ll get this one”…“Lee? what happened?”

Me: “uh,he didn’t ask for help”.

Although I could roll and brace adequately I really hadn’t done any assisted rescue practice in four years besides the beginning lessons. I really didn’t have any confidence about grabbing another kayak and getting the other person back in.

I think it depends on how
"into it" you want to get.

Me i’d say I’m really into paddling, so I’ve had a few lessons, really good ones too.

Can’t hurt can it?

How You Learn Is Not Important
But the fact that you do learn is paramount. Everybody learns differant things at differant rates using differant tools. There are a great number of capable paddlers that learned through instruction. Others have learned through reading instructional texts. I am sure that there are paddlers who have watched others and learned through emulating what they saw.

Personally, I have taken a few lessons, I have read a few books, Ive watched a few videos, and Ive watched more experienced paddlers who I was paddling with.

However you learn, my opinion is that you learn the basic safety measures, basic rules of the road, and practice the basics until you know them. Knowing how to perform the basic safety techniques may save your life or that of someone near you in distress. Learning better strokes and techniques will make your time on the water more pleasant.

happy paddling


No …
I just want to look good out on the water though. Skill , who needs it!