How to Kayak: The Basics

A woman paddles in a sea kayak

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Kayaking is still one of the fastest growing of the water sports in the United States. While it's true that anyone can rent a kayak and begin to paddle, most people don't take a lesson to learn the essentials of kayaking. This how-to will tell you some of the beginning skills you'll need to understand before getting into and paddling a kayak.

Wear Your PFD Properly

This first step is not something that just gets tacked onto these how-tos. Personal Floatation Devices (PFD) have a lot of straps and buckles and can be confusing for a beginner to put on. Furthermore, putting on the PFD doesn't mean that it is adjusted properly. Knowing how to put on, adjust, and wear a PFD properly is a prerequisite for all water sports, especially for kayaking.

How to Adjust the Kayak

The first thing any kayaker should do prior to learning how to kayak is to make sure that it is setup properly for the paddler. Without having proper contact with the backrest, foot supports, and thigh braces, the kayaker won't be able to properly control the kayak

How to Get Into and Sit in the Kayak

Being able to get into a kayak while it is on land while being set up is one thing and getting into a kayak while it is on the water is another completely. Knowing the proper way to get into and sit in a kayak will save the paddler a lot of problems and keep them from getting wet right at the start

How to Hold the Kayak Paddle

Almost every new kayaker holds their kayak paddle incorrectly until told otherwise. No lesson on how to kayak is complete without learning how to hold a kayak paddle. So, look like a pro and learn how to hold your kayak paddle properly from the beginning.

The Forward Stroke

Most people don't realize that kayaks properly paddled are propelled by the torso and not the arms. That is why virtually all beginners paddle a kayak with the arms in a pedaling like motion, as in pedaling a bike. Learn to paddle by rotating the torso and get less fatigued, paddled longer, and put more power behind the blade.

How to Exit a Kayak

After a great day of kayaking, you assume the most difficult and dangerous part of the adventure is over. Think again. Getting out of a kayak can be a harrowing experience if done improperly. Learn how to, even practice how to, exit your kayak and you'll save yourself some wet endings to your blissful afternoons.


  1. Part of the fun of learning how to kayak is the process. Kayaking is a journey and not a destination so be sure to go at your own pace and to enjoy every moment of it.
  2. Learning how to kayak is best done with a friend. See if you can enlist a buddy into picking up the sport of kayaking with you.

Watch Now: How to Turn and Navigate a Kayak