Kayaking as a new hobby - need advice

-- Last Updated: Aug-08-06 11:08 AM EST --

After a recent whitewater rafting trip to the Upper Yough in PA my husband and I decided we would like to venture into kayaking as a new hobby. Unfortunatly, we have no idea where to begin since we know very little about the sport (only what we learned on our wwr trip). We would like to start by kayaking in lakes, flatwater and slow rivers. Eventually, once we are more skilled try whitewater kayaking. Can anyone help with some newbie advice on boats, gear, classes, etc. Any information we can get would be extremely appreciated. Thanks!!

start with a class

– Last Updated: Aug-08-06 1:52 PM EST –

Don't run out and buy gear yet. Take a class -- you'll be safer and more comfortable on the water, and be better prepared to make buying decisions. It's much easier to relax if you're not worried about what to do if you capsize.

Check the GuideLines section of this site for more advice.

The first piece of gear you should buy is a comfortable PFD. Don't be afraid to sit on the floor and make paddling motions to check for binding, and be aware that there are models cut differently for men and women.

Most beginners are worried about stability when they look at boats, and buy whatever feels the most stable on flat water. This can be a mistake if the boat ends up being too wide to paddle comfortably, or too slow for your intended use. Most paddlers find that their boats miraculously become more stable after a little time on the water.

Don't forget to consider weight, transportation, and storage when you look at boats.

A decent paddle makes a huge difference in paddling comfort. You don't have to spend a lot, but some of the cheapo ones feel like a piece of rebar with cutting boards stuck on the ends.

Couples often get matching boats, which often puts the woman in a boat that's too wide or deep for her. Women tend to be smaller and lighter, with shorter arms and lower centers of gravity, so they are often comfortable in boats the men think are too tippy. A narrower boat will be easier to paddle.

Michigan doesn't have a lot of whitewater, but the Great Lakes can offer up all sorts of fun waves and surf.

You'll hear a lot about rolling. It's not a "trick" or something "fancy" -- it's a basic skill for whitewater and open-water paddlers, and a great way to cool off and play on flatwater. It's the easiest way to recover from a capsize. Winter pool classes are a fun way to work on it. In the meantime, learning to brace will deal with most of the conditions you're likely to encounter on quiet water.

If you plan to advance your skills, look for a boat with a cockpit opening that'll take a standard skirt. Ideally the cockpit should fit snugly enough so that you can easily edge the boat, but you'll probably have to add some foam to customize the fit.

In boat design, everything is a tradeoff. In general, narrower is faster but less stable. Deeper means more capacity and legroom but you're more affected by wind and you have to hold your hands higher. To a point, longer is potentially faster, but is also heavier, harder to store and transport, and somtimes harder to turn. A straighter keel line makes it easier to go straight but harder to turn. Less weight usually means more money. And so on...

Be open minded and check out
canoes also. Then we won’t have to answer questions about low back pain.

Whatever you buy, make it at least 14’ long for flatwater or you will be buying again in a year. Most do.

angstrom, Thanks for the great starting info. I found a class I plan to sign up for on this site. I also appreciate the information regarding the men vs. women shopping tips. I plan to read-up on the GuideLines section as well. All great info, which I appreciate greatly!!

My suggustion it to keep it simple
I’ve spent lots of time and money buying from shops and manufactores only to find an off-the-rack kayak from the chain sports store to be the best for me.

Michigan is
a kayaker’s Mecca! Consider going to the Great Lakes Sea Kayaking Symposium at Grand Marais next July. (Ladies of the Lake Sea Kayak Symposium is next week - St Ignace - if you want to demo a lot of great boats, come on Sat. or Sun -Aug. 19th-20th. Check with Downwind Sports for more details.) There’s also the Western Michigan symposium, which is usually on Memorial Day weekend. Inland Sea and Door County (I think WI.)are two other symposiums that are fairly close to you. Symposiums are a way to get great instruction,see amazing presentations about kayaking,demo a wide variety of boats, learn a lot, and meet wonderful people in the kayaking community.

Why so slow?
There are lessons available all over Michigan. And there are groups that will take you on rivers and teach you how to paddle them. For example, the group that I am a part of, Lansing Area Instructors, has pool sessions in community education and beginning river classes. The group in Ann Arbor has the same. If you want to learn whitewater there is no reason not to start out in a whitewater boat and learn it right away.

white water vs. flat water
While the basic strokes for both white water and flat water kayakin are transferable, the focus and emphasis for each kind of kayaking are quite different.

Some might argue one should learn to walk before learning to run. But I found flat water boats and white water boats are designed to perform and be handled so differently that it may be easier to just start with whatever you really want to do right from the start. So, if you think you enjoy white water kayaking, it’s probably best to start by taking white water classes and buying white water boats.

It’s easier to learn the basic in white water and then go out to paddle flat water than it is to tool around on flat water and hope you’ll be somehow ready for white water…

Take classes from whitewater people because they know their sh*t-it keeps them alive on the river. Learn to brace,roll and basics about paddling in current. start with crossover boats and go from there. the worst thing that will happen is you’ll gain skill you may not ever need if youre going to end up a flatwater paddler.