Kayaking is a sport that offers a broad range of experiences and fitness possibilities. You can kayak on your own or in a group, you can vary the intensity of your workout every time you head out, you can explore various types of water systems for different challenges, and you can experience exotic locales one-on-one. Kayaking is a sport that can be practiced at many different levels, from recreational to professionally.
The types of adventures you will experience on water will vary with every trip you take. You might prefer, or have more access to, river or small lake kayaking. Kayaking on a river can be very relaxing and a great way to explore the lay of the land. You can also organize kayaking and camping adventures in which you travel along rivers and lakes, or day hikes in which you kayak into the wilderness, hike into the bush and then kayak back. Taken to its more extreme limits, kayaking in white water rivers can be a huge adrenaline rush for more experienced paddlers.
Sea or ocean kayaking, while it uses many of the same basic skills, requires the paddler to understand the personality of the water, the changes in weather and other safety precautions. When you are first exploring the idea of kayaking, it is good to take a few organized trips out.
These will be done in recreational kayaks that are almost impossible to tip over and will usually come with some minimal instruction as to basic strokes and safety concerns. As you get more experience, remember that when you are going to new locales, every body of water brings with it a new personality and it is safer to venture out first as a part of a group with one or two who have experience with the local weather and waves.
When you are starting out, it is a great idea to take a course teaching the foundation skills you need to get out onto the water. In a day-long course, you should be able to learn dry entry into the water (from a dock, rock, or even the side of a pool if the instruction is taking place indoors in the winter months). You will also learn the basic strokes: the power stroke forward and back, forward and reverse sweep strokes for turning the boat, emergency stopping techniques, and effective bracing.
Aside from paddling skills, you will also need to learn rescue skills, notably how to rescue yourself from a roll that capsizes your boat and dumps you in the water. You will probably learn the Eskimo roll, which is one of the more common techniques to roll yourself up from capsized to an upright position in the water. Other techniques include sweep rolls, brace rolls and hand rolls.
If you exit the boat when it capsizes, you will also need to learn how to do a wet entry in which you get yourself back into the kayak in the water, without the benefit of a dock, rock, or anything stable to launch off of.
Types of Kayaks
As important as building skills is finding the proper equipment to suit your skills and your needs on the water. There are a vast variety of kayaks, which range from the very basic beginner’s model to a kayak that is specialized for skill and specific conditions. You will want to gauge your desires in four primary categories when figuring out what kind of canoe you wish to get: weight, speed, maneuverability, stability.
At the very basic end, there is the recreational kayak. This is the kayak that you can rent at any touristy type place. It requires very little instruction because it is almost infallibly stable, and therefore virtually impossible to tip. If you are the kind of paddler who will kayak only once or twice a year when they are on some exotic holiday, there is no need to purchase this kind of recreational kayak, as they will be for rent in any tourist trap worth its salt. If you purchase a kayak like this, however, it will inhibit your ability to grow and progress within the sport, simply because its only virtue is its stability: it is not highly maneuverable, nor is it fast.
The kayak design that you want to look at depends on what kind of water you will be spending your time on. If you will be kayaking mostly in open water (sea or ocean), you may want to look at touring kayaks, which tend to be longer and narrower. These kayaks offer less paddling resistance and are good for straight out trips. If you are more apt to be kayaking in smaller tributaries like rivers or marshes, you may want a shorter kayak that is easier to maneuver in smaller spaces. Within these types, you will find a range of stability, so seeking out the expertise of the more experienced is important.
The weight consideration of the kayak is one of transportability more so than performance. Kayaks are made primarily from three types of materials: plastic (the heaviest), fiberglass, or fabric (the lightest and most transportable if you want to travel with your kayak).
Kayaking is an excellent summer activity for getting in shape. Its benefits include cardiovascular endurance, strength building, toning, weight loss, flexibility and, as with all physical activity, stress reduction. Kayaking is a full body workout that builds strength in your upper body (neck, back chest, arms), activates your leg and hip muscles and works your joints for flexibility. Because the paddling and rolling consist of twisting movements, kayaking builds your core muscles (abs and lower back muscles), which are important for daily activities and promoting good balance.
If you are concerned about building your fitness level up to its potential in kayaking (or getting it to a place where you feel comfortable going out on longer trips), it is important to do some cross-training to avoid injury. Because the body is involved in so many twisting contortions while kayaking, it is important to strengthen and limber up all muscles, even those you don’t think you will use. Also, building up your aerobic stamina is an important step in being able to take long trips without worrying about fatigue.
Kayaking is a sport that can be enjoyed in a group or as a solitary way to unwind and get in shape. It allows you to get to know all different types of water and weather challenges, and can be enjoyed for its own sake or as the part of a camping, hiking or fishing week away. Once you have the skills, where they take you is up to you.