Kayaking Upriver: Realistic for Newbie?

I walk along the Sacramento River trail in Redding, California and have done so for over a year, losing 50 lbs so far as a result. While walking I notice people kayaking the river all the time. I like to mix up my exercise program and kayaking looks like a lot of fun.

My question is this: the river seems to flow about 4 or 5 miles per hour, and is pretty calm in this particular area. There is a boat ramp, but due to a fish ladder just a few hundred yards downstream of the ramp, a person would need to paddle upstream. How hard would this be to do?

I’d like to buy a kayak, but I don’t want to spend the type of money I’ve been seeing for new ones. Is it even possible to purchase a used Kayak for around $500 that would be sufficient for a newbie to paddle upstream a mile (or more) in the aforementioned conditions?

I’ve seen the river there. It would not
be hard for you to paddle upstream in a “recreational” kayak, but get some initial training, and then practice on a lake before you hit the river.

What About Costco Kayaks?
Would a kayak such as this one work?


Or what about those inflatables from stores such as Big 5, that run around $400 to $500 ?

4-5 mph?
I am hoping the 4-5 mph you are estimating is high. A beginner kayaker in a recreational type boat would likely be able to do 2-3 mph.

There are tricks to get around faster stretches, such as by using eddies.

I would see if there is a rental location nearbye and try renting a boat for the area first. Or talk to someone at a kayak shop that would know the specifics for that location.

Also, this is the time of the year that the shops start selling their rental fleets, so maybe you can pick up a decent used boat. Watch craigslist also.

Stay away from inflatables.
Or paddle before you buy.

An Educated Guess, and A Pointer:
I’m guessing the river is significantly slower than that. I think if you see water that is really flowing 4 or 5mph, it will probably “appear” to be too fast to paddle against. I can think of two or three occassions when some rec kayakers asked me if I thought the current was about 5 mph when it was really only half that fast. So, my guess is that you can do it. You could actually measure the current speed to be sure (with a floating stick, a tape measure and a stopwatch). You can probably paddle 3 to 4 mph in a basic rec kayak.

However, in my opinion, “paddling for fitness” is not an easy thing for most people. As a beginner using mostly arm muscles, you won’t burn enough energy to raise your heart rate more than a smidgeon before those muscles just give out. It takes lots of practice to develop really good full-body paddling technique to the point that you can raise your heart rate very much for an extended time. Of course, developing your paddling skill that way is a worthy goal - just don’t expect instant cardio benefits as you get started.

Donny, yes you can paddle
the Sacramento upstream. I have gone down to Red Bluff (about 20 plus miles) and no way is the water running 4-5mph…maybe 3 tops earlier in the Spring.Do a few miles up/down 3-4 times a week and you will get your strength in short time…that river can be paddled year around with proper gear.

Regarding your kayak for $500…completely possible and Craigslist is your friend. I just picked up a very lightly used Necky Santa Cruze 12.6’ for $200.! I suggest you post a wanted ad on Craigs and see what happens.

FYI, the Sportsmans Warehouse in Rocklin (near Roseville) has a new Old Town Loon 138 on markdown for $550. At 13’8" this would be an excellent river boat and all around kayak. Kayaks are out there…happy hunting.

Stop and think about each of these questions for a moment.

Do you hear the water calling to you?

Do you see yourself going on kayaking trips to different areas near you?

Would you like to be out on the water at least once a week?

If so, get a kayak…

However, I sensed a little reservation in your post.

Do you only want to paddle that one river?

Are you looking at kayaks as a way to break out of the monotony of your current routine?

Do you only have a limited time to spend paddling each week?

If so, maybe you might consider another hobby…

I do want you to consider kayaking though. I think it is an excellent pastime. Like your walking, it takes a commitment. I gather from your post that you are very committed to walking, great.

I learned a valuable lesson a long time ago that I would like to share with you.

Recreational sports equipment can be deceptive. I understand hesitating to spend big $ on something you haven’t tried. The tendency is to “try it out” with entry level gear.

However, to really get the benefit and enjoyment from a new sport/hobby you should purchase equipment which is more capable than you are. Give your skills and confidence room to grow into the sport and you will stick with it.

Look inside yourself. If you truly feel that you already are a kayaker at heart, then don’t hesitate. You ARE worth the expense.

Purchase and read some kayaking magazines to get yourself familiar with the sport, skills needed, extra equipment required and the different kayaks that are available.

Get a decent boat. There are deals to be had out there. Use your commitment to find a good deal on a worthy piece of equipment.

At minimum you want:

a) at least one bulkhead (two is better)

b) greater length for speed 12’ to 14’ is good to start

c) not too narrow (for stability) 24-28"

With commitment and a decent boat, questions about paddling upstream in 3-5mph current will soon fade away and you can enjoy kayaking in many different locals/conditions.

The fact that you sought out this website and became a member tells me that you ARE a kayaker already… You just need to get that first kayak to get started. Why not start out right?

Hope to see you on the water,