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An Introduction to Kayaking - Getting Started

Gordon Pusnik
28 February 2019

If you are reading this and anything like I was when I first thought about buying a kayak, you may not really know where to begin. So, I thought that talking about how I got started and some of my experiences along the way may be of help.

First a bit about where I live and paddle, which is in Northwest Ontario, Canada. It is a sparsely populated wilderness area, where the landscape is primarily forests of black spruce and jack pine, with granite rock outcroppings typical of the Canadian Shield. Here there are many rivers and lakes from small in size up to massive Lake Superior. Access to some waters is difficult and may require using a float plane, bush roads or trails with all terrain vehicles (ATV’s) or portaging to get to.

My first experience in paddling a kayak was a short one, but one I will never forget. I was on a fishing trip with friends staying at a cabin in Northwest Ontario. It was a hot summer day and the fish weren’t biting, so we were back at the dock enjoying the cool water and some refreshments. There was a small red plastic kayak there, which looked interesting and something I had never tried before. My experience on the water until then was mainly in powerboats and a bit of canoeing. I thought I’d give it a try and took a life jacket from my boat tied to the dock and put it on. I jumped into the kayak and set out to paddle to an island half kilometre or so away. All was going well until I got out of the sheltered bay and into the open water, where all of a sudden, I could feel the wind and found myself in some good-sized waves. The kayak started to rock back and forth but I decided to keep going to the island. As you may have already guessed, I didn’t make it, the kayak capsized, and I was in the water. It quickly filled up and then I found myself hanging on to a submerged kayak. I tried to pull it up to empty the water out but couldn’t. My friends back at dock watching and laughing, jumped in a boat to come out and get me and the kayak back to the dock. My thoughts of hanging out on the island in the summer sun ended there, at least it was a good day for a swim.

 

Years later I wanted to try kayaking again and this time buy one. I did some research online by reading reviews and watching videos. I saw that there were a number of different kinds of kayaks with some significant differences, which made it difficult for me to decide what to buy. There are various folding kayaks, inflatable kayaks, and the more traditional hard-shelled kayaks. While there are good options to choose from, what caught my attention most were the inflatable ones. The main reasons were that I wanted a kayak that was stable for fishing and wildlife photography, yet easily transportable. Some are very well suited for these activities and able to pack into a fairly small bag which makes it easy to store and transport in the trunk or backseat of a car or truck, or the back of an ATV. Another factor in my decision was that some inflatable kayaks can be used either solo or tandem by simply reconfiguring the layout of the seats and changing the top deck. I bought an Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Convertible which has all of these features. I also bought the backbone for it for greater rigidity and performance. It handles and tracks very well, and as seen below, if you are sitting in the front, paddling may not even be required, although certainly encouraged!

You may now be wondering, as I did then, if inflatable kayaks are safe, thinking that sinking to the depths could be just a sharp stick or stone away. While this may be the case with some inflatable kayaks, others like mine are very safe and durable, and include features such as separate air chambers and a tough multi-layered outer skin to protect against any punctures. After many years of paddling and dragging my inflatable kayak on and off shore and unintentionally running over submerged hazards such as rocks and wood, it still has only a few scratches to show for it, nothing has ever penetrated the outermost layer. Being inflatable also means that it floats, so in the unlikely event of a capsize it’s not going to fill with water and sink. This type of kayak can make a good choice, especially if storing and transporting your kayak is a concern.

In my case however, as my confidence and interest in kayaking grew, I wanted to start paddling in more challenging conditions and in bigger waters like Lake Superior and go on multi day camping trips by kayak. So, I decided to get a second kayak more suited for this type of paddling.
 
When I started to look at the traditional hard-shelled kayaks I saw that there were different kinds, such as recreational and touring/sea kayaks. Recreational kayaks are typically shorter and wider, which makes them move slower due to increased water resistance from their greater width, but due to this feature they initially feel more stable, which can be appealing to a beginner. However, they are not as well suited for rough water, and when out in a recreational kayak in these conditions they all of a sudden don’t feel so stable anymore. They also typically do not have bulkheads and watertight compartments at both ends of the kayak, which means in the event of capsize they fill up with water, making emptying and re-entering difficult or impossible (like what happened in my experience with the red kayak). In my opinion, these types of kayaks are best suited for calm waters where you’ll be staying close to shore.
 
Touring kayaks have a sleeker design. They are longer and narrower, which makes them able to travel faster due to less water resistance and track better, wanting to stay moving in a straight line. The narrower width makes them initially feel less stable and a bit more ‘tippy’ than a recreational kayak for someone not used to them. However, this feeling is not something to worry about, they are very stable, and don’t actually tip over all that easily, doing so normally takes a conscious effort. After a very short time in the seat of a touring kayak I no longer noticed this feeling. Touring kayaks are better able to handle rough water and are safer in the event of capsize since they have bulkheads and watertight compartments at both ends and can float. Only the cockpit fills, which you can easily empty and re-enter from the water. Touring kayaks also have a lot of storage space in those compartments, which makes them well suited for longer trips, where you can bring all of the gear and food needed to camp for an extended period of time.
 
For these reasons, I bought a Delta 17 performance touring kayak from Delta Kayaks. I have had this kayak out on rivers and all sizes of lakes up to Lake Superior, which it handled everything I’ve encountered with ease.

I enjoy paddling both my kayaks and use each one where better suited to their strengths. Hopefully by hearing some of my experiences with kayaks it will help you in deciding what kind you would like to get. Of course, there is more you will need when getting started than just a kayak. You’ll need a paddle and additional gear. I always wear a personal flotation device (PFD) and also have other items close at hand such as a spare paddle, paddle float, bilge pump, throw rope and whistle. You will also need to consider what you should wear depending on the water temperature where you’ll be paddling, for example, regular clothes or wet vs. dry suit. I recommend doing what I did and seek out instruction from a certified kayaking instructor, where you can learn the different paddle strokes and manoeuvres, as well as learn how to do a self rescue and re-enter your kayak in the event of a capsize or even learn to roll your kayak.

 

I hope this short introduction to kayaking was helpful and I’ll just end with a photo that shows what kayaking is all about to me. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being able to paddle to just about anywhere you want and have everything you need with you. If you feel like it, you can stop on an island and have it all to yourself, unpack some gear, make a cup and enjoy the quiet and a sunset.

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Boat in the water with people sitting aboard
Hunter with a bow in tall grass at dusk
Man on yellow ATV riding through dirt tracks
Person on snowmobile riding through snowy trail
Person paddling in white water rapids
Three individuals backpacking across a yellow, grassy plain
Boat in the water with people sitting aboard
Hunter with a bow in tall grass at dusk
Man on yellow ATV riding through dirt tracks
Person on snowmobile riding through snowy trail
Person paddling in white water rapids
Three individuals backpacking across a yellow, grassy plain

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LET'S WORK TOGETHER

 

Go boldly, tell your story. Campfire is building a collective of ambassadors who share a passion for the wild. If you’re an influencer, publisher or sport expert drop us a line. Let’s hook up and inspire others.

CAMPFIRE STORIES

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to get the latest stories from around the fire.