Here you’ll find out our 5 top tips to get you on to the water. The UK has an abundance of places to paddle and many groups, clubs and centres where you can join in. Always paddle with other people. You’ll rely on each other; if you’re in the water it will be another paddler who will help you back into your boat.
1. Where to go?
You always need to think carefully about where you paddle, if the conditions are too much you can get into trouble and if they are too mild you may get bored as you improve.
As a beginner you need to be progressive with the places you go, you should always start in conditions that are:
- Calm/flat water
- No wind
- Lots of access to the side/you should always be able to get out
- Good water quality
Ideal places to learn to paddle are lakes, canals, gentle rivers and reservoirs, all known as sheltered water. On calm days the sea can be inviting, We would recommend using harbours, bays and estuaries and keeping an eye on the weather. As your experience and knowledge grow you can progress towards more advanced conditions, these will include:
- Waves & rougher water
- Obstacles in your path
- Exposed banks or coast
- The moving water may mean you have to finish in a different place from where you started
The skills you learn right from the start are the same ones you’ll need throughout your paddling. You’ll need to develop these skills in calm conditions first and practice what happens as the conditions get more serious.
2. What Kayak?
Once you start looking at the range of kayaks you’ll be amazed at your choices and the difference in designs. Starting in a stable boat, that is easy to steer will give you the confidence to carry on and grasp basic skills. Here are a few basics in boat design to get you started:
- Longer = Faster
- Wider = Stability (the extra width will mean the boat is slowed down)
- Shorter = Manoeuvrability
The Perception Carolina is a great boat for the beginner. Designed for gentle trips it’s comfortable, stable, will be easy to paddle and you can take a snack and a cup of tea with you. This boat may, however, be a bit limiting when you want to do and learn more.
The kayak above is designed for Olympic slalom competitions, it will go quickly and turn very fast. For this they will have to sacrifice all stability. A highly specialist boat like this would give you a lot to learn.
We can’t have everything in our boat design so beware of the boat that is described as an ‘all-rounder’. Each design feature will be a compromise against another. Try lots out before you buy, this will give you a sense of what you’re keen to do; therefore helping to decide the style you like.
3. What equipment will I need?
The equipment you choose is important for your safety as well as your comfort and enjoyment. Below is the bare minimum for kayaking on sheltered water within easy reach of the shore or bank.
Buoyancy Aid (PFD)
These come in many shapes and sizes and most will be suitable in many craft. An average adult would need a 50N buoyancy aid. (50N being the amount of buoyancy the device will provide). Make sure it fits well and rinse it in fresh water after using it in the sea. Yak make a good range of buoyancy aids.
There are six considerations in buying a paddle: Durability, weight, blade size, shaft and grip size, feel, and efficiency. Think carefully about what discipline you will be doing as well as your size and physical ability when choosing a paddle. It’s well worth trying a few before buying.
This is a windproof top designed to minimise the amount of water that reaches your skin and helps to keep you toasty warm on your kayak adventures. If you’re going to end up in the water wear a wetsuit to stay warm and comfortable.
If you head out further it’s a good idea to carry a bit of extra kit just in case. Spare clothing, first aid kits, tow lines and a mobile phone in a dry bag are essential, as your trips become more adventurous you should also carry VHF, flares, shelters, repair kits and throw lines. You must have the knowledge to be able to use this equipment otherwise it’s just weight in the boat.
4. What if?
The weather turns bad – Taking plenty of warm clothing when kayaking can be important as the weather can be unpredictable. Make sure that you and fellow paddlers are at a suitable ability for the planned trip and get some coaching before trying something too adventurous. Check the forecast before going kayaking, Windfinder and the Met Office are good sites for up to date information.
Someone falls out – Practice your rescues in a very sheltered environment so if there’s a capsize you can get back in or help to rescue someone else. Being sure of a variety of rescue techniques in a range of boats will give you lots of confidence. Clubs often run pool sessions to practice getting in and out of the boat in the warm.
Always tell friends and family where you are going and a time that you’ll be off the water.
The best way to improve your paddling skills is to get some coaching. It’s one thing to learn a sport informally through the help of friends but it is a completely different thing to learn the proper technique that will advance your skills to the next level.
If you are just starting out, take a beginner’s course to practice the fundamentals that will stay with you throughout your paddling. If you are an intermediate take a more advanced course to experience new environments. With each lesson you take, your level of ability will increase in leaps and bounds.
Check out your local club to meet people of all abilities and try out lots of boats and equipment.