Kayaks date back to about 4,000 years ago where the Inuits in the Artic regions of Canada, Alaska and Greenland made this mode of transportation to hunt on inland islands. The first kayaks were made of sealskins that were stitched over whalebone frames with air filled seal bladders in the front and rear to give them buoyancy.
Fortunately, today kayaks are ready made out of Kevlar, wood, fiberglass or molded plastic and are used as a recreational item for lakes, whitewater rafting and float trips as well as for use on the seas.
Types of Kayaks
Each different type of kayak is made with a specific shape in mind as well as different materials. A sea kayak or touring kayak has an elongated body to cover more distance. Whitewater kayaks are shorter in length and made of plastic to sustain high impacts when bouncing off rocks with little damage.
Kayaks usually hold from one to three people. The best kayaks for beginners are the sit on top style because they are easier to get in and out of, very stable and work well for paddling and fishing on lakes and waterways. This type of kayak is either plastic or fiberglass for a lightweight material that is easy to handle but it is also low maintenance and very durable. The sit on top style has much wider beams so they are more stable when you get on or off without tipping over. Since this style is wider than others are, you will need longer paddles to reach the water effectively.
There is a huge array of kayak paddles to choose from in all shapes and sizes. Kayak paddles are two bladed with one on each end to propel you through the water. When choosing a paddle you have to take several things in mind. Your height, the size, and formation of the kayak and your stroke preferences all play into the decision making process. Kayaks that are either wider or taller require longer paddles. If you happen to be on the short side, you may want a shorter paddle to keep you from overexerting yourself as a beginner. Wider paddle blades move you much quicker through the water, but they also can wear you out quickly if you are a beginner and maybe a bit out of shape. It does take muscle to paddle a kayak and that is what makes this sport a great workout. Narrow blades are easier to use and have less resistance in the water, but you will have to make more strokes than if you had a wider blade.
Getting in and Out of a Kayak
This is the very first thing you need to learn about the sport and it can be tricky at first because it seems awkward. If you are getting into a kayak with a cockpit from a dock, hold on to the dock’s edge while you put your feet in the cockpit. Keep holding onto the dock as you lower your body to a sitting position. To exit the kayak, lean against the dock and pull your knees out to rest them against the cockpit sides then slide onto the dock in a sitting position.
The sit on top models of kayaks are much easier to get in and out of. The easiest method is by using a beach to launch it. Pull the kayak into about knee-deep water. Place a hand on each side of the seat for balance and sit on the seat. The last step is to put your extending legs in it.
You can land any type of kayak on a beach. Again, the sit on top style is more stable in landing. Paddle toward the beach until the water is about knee high. Swing both legs out of the kayak on one side and stand up. Then you simply grasp the front handle and pull the kayak onto the beach out of the water.
Paddling and Turning Techniques
Sit in your kayak and hold your paddle with both hands. Your hand goes on top of the paddle with your thumb underneath the paddle. When you paddle, turn your torso right when the right blade is in the water and left when the left blade is in the water. This helps to relieve your back, arms, and shoulders from being strained.
Paddle forward with deep and even strokes alternating from one side to the other. Place the paddle blade parallel to your foot to start paddling and make a stroke, then lift it out of the water when your hand reaches your hip.
The basic turning technique is quite easy. Place your paddle in the water on one side of the kayak with the widest part of the blade facing forward and backward. The paddle acts as a rudder and your kayak will turn to the same side that your paddle is on.
Always wear a life vest if you are kayaking, even if you are a great swimmer. If you lose the rhythm of yourself, the paddle and the kayak, you may capsize when you become off balance in the water. Kayaking does include a physical workout of your torso and arms and you will likely be tired after a float trip. The life vest will help you stay buoyant if you are too tired to swim well.
Choose sites that have very calm waters to start kayaking. You should also kayak when the weather is nice and sunny with no threat of high winds or rain in the forecast when you are a beginner. It’s hard enough to get the hang of keeping your balance with even strokes on both sides without encountered high winds to push you around.
Dress appropriately for the water temperature and not the ambient air temperature. Tipping over means you will contend with the water temperature, which can be quite frigid in the Ozarks. Wear layers of quick drying clothing and either heavy strap on sandals or water shoes. You probably want to apply sunscreen and wear sunglasses as well for protection from the sun as it glances off the water.
Start out slow when learning to kayak and of the most importance is having fun on a float trip.