How important are lessons for beginners?

This is my fifth season kayaking and I’ve had zero lessons…

Maybe I should stop kayaking until I’ve been properly instructed…

Must sell all 'yaks and equipment in my possession as well, perhaps I made incorrect purchases because I was self taught…


It is an individual thing, with proper planning, knowledge of limits and forethought there is no reason you can’t teach yourself. IF that is your strength.

Some learn by doing. Some learn by watching. Some learn by book. Some by video. Some by live instruction.

I agree with slowcoach, the fact that you are asking indicates that you probably need lessons. No shame there, just a recognition of your learning style and personality type.

I have read some books and watched some videos, I’ve just gone out and done stuff on my own. But that is my stubborn personality type. I KNOW there is a lot of stuff I could do better in terms of kayaking if I had lessons. I’m just into the learn as you go method.

Wishing you many happy paddling adventures,


Long Term Lessons !
I feel everyone who is not already an expert will benefit from lessons by a good instructor.

That said, as a beginner, I think one would get the best benefit from a series of lessons that are spaced out a few weeks or months apart.

  • This should be first. Basic safety and rescues. These do not need to be learned thru an in-person lesson, as long as you know what to do and can practice in a safe environment - plenty of resources to learn how to do it. Doing it in a club or a group is usually enough to get one started. Learning advanced stuff in rough environment may require a qualified instructor I suppose both for safety as well as for feedback.

  • Most strokes can be practiced again without instructor. But having one will shorten the learning time significanlty. That said, if you take a series of beginner to advanced lessons in a very short period of time it will likely be of little benefit - practice time for the new skills is just as important as discovering these new skills for a first time. Some local schools have programs that are spaced-out thru two years, not jsut for one’s convenience, but to give plenty of practice time b/w lessons. Their best packages come with “unlimited” practice clinics and IMO for a good reason.

    But like the other poster, I am one to prefer self study. But I plan on taking selected instruction in the near future to shorten my learning curve on a few things that would otherwise take me longer to learn on my own than I want to …

it depends on the individual
how much experience do you have on the water?

you should understand the basic self rescue, wet exit.

a wet exit is exiting a capsized kayak so that your head isn’t under water. always remember to be aware of your pull cord on the skirt… you will be upside down a lot faster than you think and need to grab that or you could drown.

I picked up a lot of basic technique on the internet.

If you are aren’t familiar with the coastal area then you should get a guide for the same reason you wouldn’t just head out down a big river without knowing if there is a waterfall up ahead.

Likewise, I may know the east coast like the back of my hand, but out west I would need someone to show me the ropes.

Kayaking will be much more of a challenge in rougher water.

take a lesson!
We paddled for a few years and finally decided to take a class so we could primarily learn to properly do wet exits and re-enters as we struggled with them on our own. But the first part of the class was going over forward strokes, stopping and turning which we felt we already knew. Boy were we wrong! We had been doing so many things wrong and working harder at going straight then we needed to. So I would say lessons with the right instructor was the best investment we ever made in our paddling lives. We ended up going back again a few months later for a private class and came away with even more skills and fit/comfort tips. My husbands feet and butt were going numb and the instructor cured that and I kept getting blisters on my hands and he fixed that! The expense of the first class was I think $90 and the private cost us $130 each and we’ve never regretted a penny of it. I’m a smallish gal but hubby is a big guy and before the lesson I could never keep up unless I paddled so hard I got tired fast. With better technique, now it’s the other way around! Ha! He has to keep up with me!

We never stop learning in kayaking…

– Last Updated: Jul-12-08 11:30 PM EST –

Kayaking is a serious activity , Flat water carries its own dangers, I have on many occasions came across beginner kayakers on the Great Lakes who where in trouble due to lake of knowledge and respect for lakes or where about to put themselves in danger. During My years of guiding kayaking and expeditions, I have been confronted with many fit people with Hypothermia , the fittest have less body fat and tend to leave shore with an ego to go with it (no direction intended) and less wet weather wear.. The beginner should practice exit and getting back in the boat until its second nature, always carry correct equipment and know its use, know water conditions and weather reports.In a nut shell go and get instruction from a BCU Cert 4 star /coach 2 or above paddler, almost all deaths are because of lack of preparation, knowledge and an Ego bigger than the respect of mother nature..

Why would you make a comment on kayaking if you’ve never done it? You canoe boys need to leave the kayaking to the Big boys and go play with your fishing rods and golf clubs and camp fires…

April in Charleston SC for the
East Coast Canoe and Kayak Festival, April 17-19, 2009, should be another fun learning event that we try to make every year. Lots of fair priced classes for yaks, some for noes, camping on site, fun socials and lots of boats to demo. If you want to camp there, sign up for the basic festival in Jan09 and book your campsite then as camping fills quick. Site is Our group from Washington NC grows each year. Rick

I paddled a canoe for ten years
prior to paddling a kayak—a canoe is easier to paddle.

either BCU or ACA
or some other appropriatly certified instructor(American Red Cross?) Limiting yourself to BCU certified coaches might mean you have to travel a long way for the lessons—Not many BCU certified level 2 star 4 around.

is sponsored by the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Department. (CCPRD) They also offer classes all year long for very reasonable rates. You can sign up even if you aren’t from South Carolina. Yesterday I saw them out on the river with a new group.

The rates are much more reasonable than other instructors.

Lemme put it this way. I had few useful
lessons back in the 70s, and learned out of books or by imitation. But when my adult “kids” talk about getting more seriously into whitewater, I immediately offer to finance some instruction at NOC or a similar venue.

took a lesson…
I took a lesson and discovered that I couldn’t get back into my boat without assistance. What an eyeopener.

I’m all about lessons now. Lessons good.

Kayaking Incredibly Safe Sport.
If you want to take lessons go for it. But if you start out slow and read a little kayaking can be fun. There is something to be said for the sense of adventure and discovery in learning from your mistakes. Not much discovery or adventure in having an expert tell you everything and show you how to do everything. Obviously there is some risk involved in discovery and adventure. But most of us remember adventures and discoveries much longer than we remember being told the right way to do everything. Few people are stupid enough to take on class four whitewater without instructions but most flatwater adventures are doable without instruction. I am afraid that if we get too many instructors that they will lobby for laws requiring instruction as a way to make sure that they control the sport. Nothing like a bunch of laws and regulations to destroy a persons sense of competance and freedom.

I have been paddling for about 10 years
and never stop taking lessons. To me, there’s nothing more pleasing than fine tuning a skill or learning something new. Especially when it comes to rescue (self and other paddlers). Some paddlers get into trouble because they don’t know what they don’t know. Check the instructor’s credentials - best to be ACA or BCU-certified IMHO. My first “instructor” (who turned out not to be certified in anything but ripping off newbies) didn’t even teach me how to sit in the boat properly or hold the paddle correctly. I am one of those people who cannot learn a sport from reading a book. I need the live demonstration and feedback from a skilled instructor. Good luck and have fun. Kayaking is an addictive sport! Steve F

it never hurts
to never stop learning. you will learn so much from the people who post here also. You have come to a good place. You will be amazed at what you will read here. People who concider themselves advanced in the sport still learning lessons from time to time. Very interesting.

I learned A LOT on my own in 5 years
but I learned more in 5 days of formal instruction than I had in the previous 5 years. Actually, I didn’t learn more, I learned more relevant stuff and better technique. Then I spent quite some time retraining and un-learning my first 5 years of bad technique.

One argument against taking lessons in the money involved. I spent a lot of money on trips during the first 5 years. If I had spent a fraction of that on lessons early on I would have got my ‘monies worth’ from the early trips.

What the HEck Can you Learn???
I have only been paddling 35 years so I am still a newby as I have had no formal lessons. So my wife and I get into our kayaks and head out on the lake. What are we to learn??? Keep the hatch side up??? Paddle to go forward ??? Take a snack and some water and wear a wetsuit if the water is really cold??? Exactly what can an instructor teach me about paddling??? Good technique evolves naturally!!! Very quickly you will learn how to paddle most efficently. When the muscles start getting tired the muscles know how to move to go with the least effort. The best way to learn flatwater paddling is to flatwater paddle. The best way to learn how to handle a mean chop is to go padling in a mean chop. Preferablly near shore with warm water and a buddy nearby. If you want to learn how to paddle then go paddling!!! For what it’s woth my wife has been paddling for 7 years in her Alto seakayak in ocean and lake and flatwater river without any instruction. She has never turned over or had an unpleasant experience.

White water is a different story but even in whitewater most of what you learn comes naturally. If you are in rapids and have to “”“think”"" about how to eddy out while you are trying to eddy out you are in trouble. Again starting out slow and playing in easy rapids is the best way to improve your skills. Having an experienced buddy to paddle with is fantastic. Joining a group is even better.

Instruction speeds-up learning and …

– Last Updated: Jul-14-08 11:13 AM EST –

... can be a life saver! Lessons in-person may do that faster than DVD or books but I consider all these "instruction". A good book or DVD is the next best thing to a live instructor and if one reads or watches, then they are no longer "self learning" - they are being taught.

Rejecting instruction reminds me of a recent NPR broadcast of a guy who was totally convinced that Einstein and Neuton were both wrong and that he had it right (a self-tought electrician for many years). The paper he wrote when reviewed had just one fundamental flaw - his units were all mixed-up. To calrify, this is the equivalent of measuring distance with weight units and using the result to calculate temperature -;) And he was convinced he was right all the time, while even a first year physics student would see his error and reject the rest of it because it is based on a fundamentally flawed basic technique... Had he taken formal instruction, he would have saved himeslf years of "research" to "prove" something that is so plain obviously wrong. Mixing the units in physics or math is the same as having the wrong base paddling stroke: nothing else works properly after that, yet it appears good to the performer, while an experienced observer will take all but a moment to figure out and correct the mistake...

Same with paddling. The wrong basic technique works just fine for most people in most situations and they do not realise they may be missing a lot. Some may even think they are better than whomever points that out to them at the time they are told about it (speaking from my personal experience as a beginner paddler and of being on the "I know it all side" of things, which I try to avoid since).

You absolutely can learn on your own though. It may take you another 35 years to discover what someone will tell you in 1 hour -;) But if that's what you're after - I got no objections. Some folks are really gifted and these 1-in-a-million individuals do not really need instruction. You one of them and lucky to find that other one in your wife who also needs not help? Most folks are more ordinary though -;)

For WW and to a degree for sea, learning to read the water is not something that comes naturally. In fact it can be a life/death experience. Just check the Slovenian (?) deaths post recently - a miniscule calm water obstruction killed a dozen or so unsuspected novice paddlers - none of them would have died had they had a single experienced person with them and listened to their advice. If you have to learn thru first-hand experience and no prior knowledge and no safeguards of an experienced rescuer how a large hole sucks you under, I think you may not survive your first self-lesson!

That said, I have begun do padle WW without formal instruction, but I have learned from several very good books and videos how to read the water and what's under it, how the different currents affect me and my boat. I now look out for these things on my own in water that can hardly be called "WW" but that has all the elements on a smaller scale where I can get out of it on my own or with the help of my buddies if I do not want to swim too much. I can tell where the stones are without hitting most of them, I can avoid getting pinned, I can move up a series of eddies, I can pick standing waves in rapids to surf where if I capsize I won't have to suffer a painful head-bang or a long or dangerous swim etc. If I had to learn all this on my own (I consider the books and videos "formal instruction") I would have ended-up with a lot more bruises than I currently got. The one time I rejected the good advice of experienced paddlers I suffered thru pains and bruises for almost a month and it could have been much worse and I did not even realize it at the time, so I say "no thank you" to this form of self-teaching from then on.

Same with sea kayaking. I've been teaching myself and know what to expect, practicing safety drill in all the conditions I go to - including self-resues in 5 foot breaking waves or in fast moving river waters since I do paddle these and I want to know what will happen to me should the unplanned swim happen. But I find it so eye-opening to see a good paddler and to share thoughts and to receive some feedback - saves me weeks of futile effort during which I may as well injure myself doing the wrong thing for a long time... Truth be told, usually qualified instruction more often reaffirms what I've been working towards myself (which feels just as good as when they tell me I'm totally off) but most importantly there are times that I find out things that I would not have found at all or I may have found the very hard way...

Lessons really help
Even one beginning class would help you to avoid developing bad paddling habits and to get the most power out of your paddling. An experienced teacher can help you by demonstrating and giving feedback.

Regarding rescues, I would say a class is essential. You may never need rescuing but someone else may and I don’t think you can learn this type of thing without actually practicing.

swimming article…
“Your son’s in my car and he’s ok.”

I got kinda choked up there for a minute when I got to that part.

@orig poster: Take some self rescue lessons at least…

  1. wear pfd

  2. don’t abandon kayak

  3. spare paddle

  4. appropriate clothing

  5. eat well, take food and water

  6. communications and float plan