How important are lessons for beginners?

I’ve been paddling about 2 whole months now, entirely on local lakes about twice a week so far. I don’t have any intention of doing any serious whitewater for now, but plan to paddle some flatwater rivers and coastal waters. My kayak is a Necky Manitou 13, and I’ve got a decent PFD that I wear when paddling.

So far, I haven’t had any instruction about rolling, wet exits or other safety issues. However, I am a good swimmer and in excellent shape. How important is it for me to take some lessons on basic safety issues and techniques? Or can I pick up the basic skills by reading some books and watching videos?

It is ultra inportant
that you do a wet exit, and a rescue, preferably in a lesson. Lessons are important too if you want to more fully enjoy the sport. You might be able to learn from a DVD.

Don’t worry about a roll - you won’t need it for what you are doing, and there is a lot more you need to learn first - strokes and braces. Kayaking is much more fun when you are in control of your boat, and that usually means lessons.

The reason I mention the wet exit and rescue is that those are safety items. You don’t want to find out that you can’t wet exit or get back into your boat in an emergency. Don’t think that you can’t go over because the conditions are easy - and don’t ask me how I know that.

In the places and conditions you paddle in, would capsizing be a problem or put you at increased risk? Can you rescue yourself, or another paddler?

Its always a better investment
to spend a little money on top notch instruction. Its more time efficient. When was the last time a video gave you feedback about what you are doing? Its all about the video!

Pay a little now or pay a lot later. Its hard to unlearn bad habits. Far better for you to learn an effective forward stroke now rather than try to ditch arm paddling later.

Safety is Very Important
Yes, learning the basics is very important. Otherwise, if you can get trouble on the water how how will you know how to save yourself? Ditto if you paddling with someone and they get in trouble!

Yes, you can learn out of a book (Kayaking - Whitewater and Touring Basic by Steve Krauzer is a good one with plenty of illustrations). You can learn from DVDs (this site has plenty to select from). You can learn from local, EXPERIENCED paddlers (see you paddle Falls Lake - check out for group paddles and instructional sessions).

Good luck and remember, Any day on the water is a great day.


Worth more than you could imagine
if you get a good instructor

Paddlin’ on


lessons are like caviar
I get as much as I can

You have answered your own question
If you are concerned enough to find and post on this web site you already know that you need lessons.

Make sure you find an upto date instructor, most but not all are certified by the ACA or BCU. Try and find out how they keep in touch with current best practice (symposiums, training courses, work with a wide variety of other coaches etc.), there are plenty of well qualified but fossilized coaches out there who have been living in their own bubble not learning for too long. This is a very dynamic sport i.e. we are discovering and refining constantly. Sharing ideas is essential for individuals and the sport to grow. Isnt that called open sourcing in computer speak? I’m told it works.

As well as the obvious safety, rescue and incident management aspects get some good instruction on environmental analisis (i.e. incident avoidance, aka river savey, aka seamanship) and basic technique especially forward propulsion. Learn it right early and it will pay of big time in the long run, injury avoidance and greater efficiency are appropriate for everyone from novice to olympic competitor but if you dont start early you will be fighting bad habits for ever.

FYI coastal waters have then potential to be as dangerous and challenging as white water.

You can easily pick up the basics by

if you are going to be out from shore a distance more than you would be comfortable swimming back in, then it is a must to learn and practice wet exit and self rescue.

A book will show you how, or someone that knows it will gladly show you.



Another advocate for lessons here.
Simply for rescues, the lessons are important.

Now, I will say- “proper” paddling w/ torsoe rotation and all, having personal/critical feedback helps a lot.

Join a club

– Last Updated: Jul-10-08 7:39 AM EST –

Find a paddling club in your area. You will learn 100 times as much from others than you can by yourself. Learn to self rescue yourself - get back in your boat etc. Many libraries have videos and books but nothing beats having others to practice with and share knowledge. You'll never learn to rescue someone without someone to rescue. Wether you want to take lessons or not is up to you and usually boils down to money. But learning is different and you can hook up with others who are more than willing to share knowledge and practice together.

It's good you are in shape and a good swimmer but never underestimate the powerful negative effects of cold water. Ironically, the big fat couch potato will do better in cold water than the thin, lean athlete.

Local Club
Hey Tarwheel…

Ditto all the advice above and there’s a local rescue and skills practice coming up next Wednesday at Farrington Point on Jordan Lake.

The biggest local club in your/our area is:

There’s also a regular Tuesday night paddle on Falls as well as a Wednesday night paddle on Jordan. It’s sometimes pretty amazing how much one can learn simply by paddling with others, and there are a few pretty experienced paddlers in the local mix down here.

Hope you’ll join us, especially next Wednesday, and feel free to send me a note if you’ve any questions.



triangle paddlers
Thanks for the info on the Triangle paddlers group. I signed up!

paddling a kayak is easy and simple
but it’s what you don’t know that can kill you. If you plan on doing any thing more than puttering around a local lake in warm water where you can swim to shore, you should take a basic paddling course focusing on paddle strokes, wet exits, self rescues with a float, and assisted rescues with a partner.

If you plan on going on multi day trips on the ocean I would suggest a course in navigation.

And finally I would suggest a rolling course—although there are lots of experienced paddlers who never bother to learn to roll, there are more that do. For WW and surfing it is an absolute necessity(unless you like to swim and be banged against rocks). For general touring and sea kayaking not as crucial but still can be useful. And besides it is fun and gives you a feeling of really accomplishing something. And it really impresses the ladies and small children–well at least small children.

at some point you’re taking lessons
even if you never pay for them, whether it’s trial and error or paddling with more skilled paddlers in more challanging conditions.

Judgement is more important.

Actually doing what you’re doing is making sense, folks who come to lessons with absolutely no experience don’t get as much out of them. When you come to instruction with a basic comfort level you’re in a good position to get the core principles and techniques.

ditto clubs
I took lessons after paddling for half year without any. I really wasn’t safe for what I was doing paddling in the open bay and ocean. Taking classes helped with fundamentals but it was club paddles that I really started learning because that was where I got to use what I was learning in classes. Paddling solo I stayed within my comfort zone in a stable boat,practicing rescues solo was outside my comfort level so I didn’t do it much.

Once I started paddling with other folks and other people with less paddling skills started dumping it it became obvious I had no comfort rescuing others.

It became obvious that I would have to be better at rescuing others if I didn’t want to become a victim also. It helped develop situational awareness and stay out of situations where “follow the leader” (when there’s no leader) leads to a chain of fubar ‘accidents’.

It’s a piece of cake
to paddle a kayak, or at least it looks that way. I suspect the reality is quite different, particularly if you’re not blessed with reliably calm flatwater.

If you ever try a canoe, that’s a very different story. When a beginner tries a canoe, especially solo, the experience can be totally frustrating. Skills are required, and they must be reinforced with lots of practice. (A good solo canoe stroke is like a good golf stroke – and you can spend literally years working on it and still not have it just right.) A good handbook can help, but even the best book is no substitute for competent, on the water instruction

either or…but forget that u can swim
You will find as you get into kayaking that it is a very subjective activity. Some multi-year kayakers love to make a challenging sport out of it. Some multi-year kayakers will advise you amazingly conservatively. Neither is wrong. You can find that you will get very different advice from different folks on many subjects and both parties will be quite passionate about it. That said, finding people to paddle with that want to do the things that you want to do is the best possibility. Again, it’s entirely subjective, meaning it applies to “how you want to paddle”. Folks will have decidedly different versions of how you should progress, and it can leave you feeling incapable and outclassed or on the other end, quite bored, depending upon where you fall in the spectrum.

One thing I will point out that you can get from a book or video or class or whatever…swimming is a last resort. You’ve probably already considered this, but just in case… Imagine some situations where you end up in the drink. You abandon your kayak to swim agains wind and waves thinking that you can make it to shore. You realize you can’t and you’re without your greatest asset - your kayak. In the surf, inside your kayak is the safest place to be. In whitewater, in your kayak is the safest place to be. If all is calm, you’re still going to stay with your kayak. Actually having good swimming ability in your mind as part of your plan could lead to a very bad decision at some point. Not to say strong swimming ability couldn’t save your life in some situation, just saying it should probably never be part of your rescue plan in a kayak. Granted, in calm lakes on nice days it isn’t going to matter. But if it ever does, it’s good to have given the situation some thought before landing yourself in the middle of it.

Books and videos are cheap and paddling buddies and practice are free, if money is a consideration. Practice far outweighs books, videos, and classes…but how do you know what to practice? Have fun.

Posted on the home page
Think this fella could have used some lessons??

New member–first post!


Thanks for the great article
Talk about an appropriate article to illustrate the swimming point I was trying to make. It’s a local NC article to boot. A point is always so much better made by a real life, local illustration.