"How" to Kayak: Part I

Kayaking for the first time can be intimidating, and even for people used to shorter and wider "recreational" kayaks, seeing a long and narrow touring sea kayak can heighten nervousness about accidentally going swimming with the fishes. Tipping in any kayak, or capsizing, can be a scary experience for individuals, but understanding a little bit about "how" to kayak can help prepare you for having a fun — and dry — paddling experience.

Let's review the "RULES" of kayaking:

1. Don't freak out.

2. Don't freak out.

3. Have fun!

Rule #1 refers to the fact that the more relaxed someone is once seated in a kayak, the less likely they are to capsize. If their entire body is frozen like a marble statue, the weight of their torso and head are going to behave like a pendulum and rock the boat from side-to-side as the boat moves with the water. Instead, imagine Elvis shaking his hips in Jailhouse Rock or believe that your "Hips Don't Lie" (Shakira). Flexible hips allow the lower body to move with whatever the boat is experiencing (like a wave) and independently of the upper body. I jokingly tell people that "loose hips don't sink ships" since loose hips are letting the upper body remain centered and perpendicular to the water's surface (if it were flat) while the lower body shimmies with the boat. Although the kayak may still feel wobbly, loose hips and a relaxed body will cease the big pendulum motion — and the likelihood of flipping the boat. Another bit of advice is to not intentionally lean your torso and head way out over the side of a kayak. The average human head weighs about 11 pounds, and sticking that bowling ball out over the side can indeed cause a boat to start tipping (the unique design of any specific kayak will determine how easily it "rolls" past it's tipping point). So keep your head centered over your torso and hips, and, in your best Elvis voice, acknowledge your great performance by saying "thank you very much!"

Rule #2 refers to there being lots of new things to get used to when kayaking and it can be tough to stay calm and paddle on. Since us humans often experience anxiety in new situations or even when facing adverse conditions, start by taking a deep breath and then relaxing your muscles (see Rule #1). If the water happens to be choppy or wavy, also see Rule #1. If there is a breeze blowing, or the water is "bumpy", you may additionally find yourself reacting to the environmental conditions by "white-knuckle" gripping the paddle and even tensing your entire body as if preventing yourself from falling off a skyscraper in a Marvel movie scene (AKA acting like a marble statue). Loosen your clenched fists because you'll exhaust your fingers and forearms over time, and relax the rest of your body too (see Rule #1). With an open and loose "hold" of the paddle shaft, paired with a consistent paddle stroke, the kayak will move forward (and the chances of capsizing will be low with that relaxed body and loose hips). And, just like putting one foot in front of the other to start a journey, eventually you'll be miles into the trip. Further distract your nerves by engaging in conversation or observing what amazing things and people are around you. And believe in yourself because you are doing it (see Rule #3)!

Rule #3: HAVE FUN
Kayaking is a great whole body activity that forces you off your phone and to be present in the now. Therefore, have fun playing outdoors! 

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  • Elizabeth T.
  • 19 Jun 2024
  • 11:27 am

Love this. As someone who has freaked out (more than once), it is helpful to be reminded to avoid the white-knuckled grip on a paddle.

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