Boating Basics 101

The steps to getting that first day on the water

Most online tutorials discuss basic strokes and concepts; however, they assume you have been on the water at least a few times before. This video is for people who have never been paddling before, but want to try. Here are some of the very basic things to know in order to put on the water safely and know a little about what to do for your very first day in the boat.

What to Wear

The first thing to know is what to wear. Rash guards and neoprene shorts make a great first layer. They protect from the sun’s rays and offer some warmth. It is always important to dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature, to keep from hypothermia.Though not always necessary, a splash jacket is also nice to have for those windy days. Last, a pair of closed-toed, water shoes is important to keep your toes protected and offer breathability for your feet.

Boat and Gear

For most first timers, there are two options: a sit-on-top and a decked sea or touring kayak. A sit-on-top offers great stability and is easy to climb back on should you take a dive. Sea kayaks or touring kayaks have an easier time punching through ocean breaks and maneuvers well.

The decked kayak also requires a sprayskirt that fits the cockpit and your waist. Look on the rim of the sprayskirt that fits over the kayak for the size, which should match the dimension requirements of the kayak. For most purposes, a large works. If using a closed-deck kayak, make sure you know how to properly wet exit before paddling anywhere (drowning would most likely ruin your day).

Next and most important, always have a PFD, or life jacket, whenever you take to the water. Too many variables exist when paddling Nature’s waterways to trust in manpower alone. Make sure the PFD fits snug; if the arm straps can reach your ears, it is too loose and cannot keep your head above water.

Basic Technique

Let’s learn the technique so we can hit the water. First, when sitting in a kayak, make sure your feet touch the foot pegs, bending your knee at a comfortable angle and allowing you to sit up straight. Adjust the back rest and foot pegs until you achieve this position.

To hold the paddle, make sure the curve of the blade faces away from you. Most paddles will have the logo, and you want to be able to read it when holding it. Your arms should be spaced properly to maximize stroke power and minimize shoulder or arm strains. To ensure proper spacing, bring the paddle above your head and then lower to barely touching your head. Your arms should form right angles.

Now we will go over different strokes. First is the forward stroke. Place your paddle where your feet are, leaning forward and engaging your core. Pull through the water, the entire blade submerged, to your hips. That is the forward stroke. If you pull past your hips, you will perform what is called a sweep stroke, which pushes the nose of your boat more in the opposite direction and initiates a turn. To stop, quit paddling and to stop quickly, you can back paddle.

You will notice as you paddle around that the boat feels like it wants to tip a little. Boats have edges, and like snowboards or surfboards, these edges turn the boat when engaged. To turn, say left, take a last paddle stroke on your left side and lean down on your right side, engaging that right edge.

Well, that’s the 101 of kayaking. You’ve learned what you need to wear, what the appropriate gear is, and the basic strokes to paddle around the water. Now go out and give it a try. See you on the water!

Going for a paddle! Photo: Aaron Schmidt

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