Is Kayaking Hard? Step By Step Beginner Guide

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So? Is Kayaking Hard to do?

Kayaking might seem puzzling if you don’t know its ins and outs, but it’s not hard once you’ve started figuring things out.

I’m sure you’ve imagined paddling on the water for the first time. You might be afraid that the boat might flip over while onboarding. Or that your kayak might capsize while in the middle of the deep waters. But does that mean we leave kayaking to the experts?

It certainly does not. If you are new in the field, you can make kayaking your fun activity by familiarizing yourself with the different kayaking aspects.

With decades of experience in the kayaking world, we can tell you all you need to know about kayaking, how to get into this fantastic sport, and how to take your experience to the next level.

In our guide, you will learn:

What are your Kayaking Goals and Expectations?

‘Is kayaking hard for beginners?’ is a question that many have about this hobby. Honestly, the degree of difficulty in kayaking depends on the type of kayaking you choose to do. Below are the different types of kayaking and their level of difficulty.

Recreational Kayaking/Calm Water Paddle

As the name suggests, recreational kayaking refers to paddling for fun. It is commonly practiced on calm lakes and rivers and works best for all ages and experience levels. The kayaks that are fit for recreational kayaking should have a broad base (between 9 and 12 feet long) for better stability.

Recreational kayaking offers you the safest way to learn the kayaking basics if you are a beginner. Perhaps you are asking, “Why practice in calm waters? If so, then this video about white water kayaking will help you see why calm-water kayaking is always the safest way to learn kayaking basics. These guys paddling also are pros and have been doing the sport for years. Who knows maybe you can join them in a few!

White Water Kayaking

As the name suggests, white water kayaking involves paddling over rivers with white water and rapids. Like sea kayakers, kayakers in this field need to be experienced enough to safely paddle through the currents and waterfalls.

That includes white water safe practices like making quick turns, pulling the boat to a halt, and performing self-rescue techniques like Eskimo rolls and the scramble for rescue. In a nutshell, white water kayaking involves complex moves that may be hard for any beginner to learn.

Taking a closer look at this YouTube video will give you a clear understanding of what whitewater kayaking entails.

Sea Kayaking

Sea kayaking is a type of kayaking done over large water bodies like seas and great lakes. Typically, sea kayaking requires speed as it involves paddling for many hours or even days before you accomplish your kayaking mission.

Sea kayaking is not for beginners as this activity needs kayaks with V-shaped hulls for speed and secondary stability. 

Despite their speed, the V-shaped kayaks have very little primary stability. This makes them ill-suited for a beginner as they may find it hard to get onboard without flipping.

It also requires a lot of skill to paddle safely. Large water bodies are characterized by tidal currents, strong waves, and rapids. 

When you paddle over them, the chances are, you may end up capsizing from any of the above culprits. And, it will take your good experience in self-rescue techniques to get out of the danger.

Kayak Fishing

Kayak fishing closely takes after recreational kayaking. However, in this case, you will need to multitask or swap between paddling and casting regularly. You should also keep in mind that the weather may turn against you while fishing. 

Multitasking might prove difficult to you the first time you go paddling.

Preparing For Your First Kayak Paddle

Below are the steps you can take as you make your way into becoming a kayaking expert.

Step 1: Take Kayaking Lessons to See if Kayaking Is Your Thing

If kayaking has always been your dream, the first step is to enroll in kayaking lessons

Going for kayaking lessons will acquaint you with the following:

  • The best paddling techniques for different types of kayaking
  • The self-rescue technique if things go wrong in the water
  • The best safety equipment for kayaking
  • The best way to get into and out of a kayak  
  • The Best body workouts to enhance your endurance and performance on the water

Training for kayaking will also connect you to a community of fellow kayakers. Joining your network will help you meet with more experienced individuals who are more experienced than you to act as your mentors.

Also, the field training will help you ascertain whether kayaking is your thing. For instance, you will learn if:

  • You are comfortable with boarding the kayak and moving in the water 
  • You can perform the basic self-rescue techniques
  • You can recall and follow all the training rules, like paddling correctly, stopping the kayak, etc.

Step 2: If Kayaking Is for You, Consider an Inflatable Kayak

Inflatable kayaks are lightweight vessels made using flexible plastic tubes. Some are made of different types of materials like PVC (polyvinyl chloride), Nitrylon, Hypalon, Neoprene or Polyethylene.

Advanced Elements paddling

They are inflated with pressurized gas before the kayaking exercise to allow them to float on water, hence the name ‘inflatable kayaks.’

Using these inflatable boats in your kayaking operations will give you access to the following benefits:

A Variety of Available Options

Inflatable kayaks come in different types to meet your specific kayaking goals. The different inflatable kayak designs you may find in the market include:

  • Inflatable recreation kayaks
  • Inflatable white water kayaks
  • Inflatable touring kayaks
  • Inflatable fishing kayaks
  • Inflatable SUP/ hybrid kayaks


One of the most significant advantages of inflatable kayaks over the other kayak types is that they are foldable and lightweight

These features allow you to carry the vessels to any destination without getting tired. They can thus be beneficial if you go to areas where you cannot rent a kayak or renting is pricey.

Easy To Store

Inflatable kayaks might be the best option if you have limited storage space in your place. This is because they occupy a minimum storage space when deflated. 

Got a closet or a locker? That’s your new inflatable kayak home!

Easy To Use

Using an inflatable kayak is effortless for several reasons.

It’s also easy to board. All you only need is to: 

  • Stand by its side,
  • Sit with your foot placed on the cockpit while the other foot immersed in water
  • Pull the other leg and start paddling

It’s that simple. Unlike sea kayaks, inflatable kayaks involve minimal flipping cases.

Finally, inflatable kayaks are very easy to control. An inflatable kayak is easy to propel and turn due to its lightweight. If you happen to capsize, you can easily re-board the kayak by flipping it upright and then re-board it using your hands to pull your body from the side.


The inflatable vessels are built stable; they are more spacious and shock absorbent. You can safely use them for fishing expeditions, rafting, and coastal exploration, as inflatable kayaks may forgive most of your paddling errors.

Step 3: Get the Right Paddling Equipment

One way of enhancing your safety when going kayaking is to carry with you the right kayaking equipment. The various kayaking gear that you must use in your kayak include:

Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs)

Also called buoyancy aids, PFDs are floating aids that prevent kayakers from drowning should they capsize or encounter an accident. They usually resemble a vest, and they are tied around the kayaker’s trunk to keep the head and the neck afloat.

According to a survey, only 11.6% of 33,996 adults aged 18 and above wore life jackets, and 12% of 1,078 adults aged 65 and above wore life jackets. 65.8% of 5,439 children aged between 0 and 17 years wore life jackets in the same year.

It’s clear to see from the above statistics shows that adults aged 18 years and above are more reluctant to wear life jackets than young children. However, failure to wear a PFD is one of the leading causes of death related to kayaking accidents.

According to USCG Recreational Boating Accident Statistics 2020 85% of kayaking deaths were caused by drowning (Page 48). 

If you are a kayaker, you should wear a life jacket whether you are an experienced swimmer or not.

A Paddle

A paddle refers to a shaft with a broad blade on either side and is used for moving and controlling the kayak. Getting a right-sized paddle will enhance your efficiency in propelling, turning, and stabilizing the boat in whatever kind of kayaking you wish to do.

If you buy kayaks anywhere from about $450 and below chances are the paddle is going to be nothing to write home about. If efficiency is what you are after you can buy one from almost any online retailer like Amazon, REI. Austin Kayak etc. 

The other factors to consider when choosing a paddle include:

Body Size

Your paddle size should complement your height and torso length. In a general sense, you need a longer paddle if you have a longer torso or you’re taller.

The Kayak Width

The wider the kayak, the longer the paddle you’ll need. You should measure the widest part of the kayak to help you determine the right-sized paddle.

Seat Height

If you prefer a kayak with a higher seat for visibility reasons, you need a longer paddle to help you deliver strong strokes.

Combining the above factors would help you find the right-sized paddle for your kayaking operations.


This is important as you don’t want to get dehydrated! has an awesome article about this.

Sun Essentials

Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, sunglasses or even a hat to protect yoursel fully from scorching Mr. Sun!

Wet Suit

This will be for when the weather is a bit more unpredictable. Wetsuit weather is usually from fall until the early Spring. If you are going Sea Kayaking You may need it year round. 

Spray Skirt

For white water and sea kayaks, spray skirts offers a great way to keep the kayak insides dry during rapids, strong currents, and waves. Ensure that the spray skirt extends from the kayak rim to your waist to make the kayak interiors entirely waterproof.


When kayaking, the last thing you want is to lose consciousness while inside the water. The helmet prevents your head from hitting stones when you roll over in rocky areas during ocean rumbles.

This is what happens when you level up!

Helmets are typically reserved for more adventurous kayakers. If you are puttering around a lake you probably don’t need one. 

First Aid Kit

Accidents are inevitable. With a First Aid Kit, a fellow kayaker will find it easy to help you out should you encounter an accident amid your voyage.

Alternatively, you can also use the contents of the kit to help out victims of kayaking accidents.

Throw Bag

A throw bag is a rescue item resembling a rope and has a bag attached with it. It is usually thrown to a kayaking accident victim to pull them out of the water. The rope can be very useful when kayaking in groups as you can throw it to a fellow kayaker or have it thrown to you.

Step 4: Learn Kayaking in Calm Water by the Shore

Now that you have the right kayaking equipment and some basic skills from theoretical classwork, the next step is to practice paddling on calm water by the shore.

During the practice, make sure that you learn the following:

How to Launch and Get in

Typically, you need the following steps to launch and board an inflatable kayak:

  1. Place the kayak in water whose depth is enough to prevent the kayak from touching the ground when you get on board
  2. Stand beside the kayak while holding the paddle in your one hand
  3. Place one foot on the cockpit (the kayak base) while supporting yourself with the other foot
  4. Now, sit on the kayak with one foot on the kayak and the other one in the water
  5. Pull your other foot to the kayak and start paddling

Paddling Techniques When in Water

After getting into the kayak, hold the paddle shaft with your two hands, shoulder-length apart. Now, sitting upright and looking forward, place the paddle blades into the water at an angle and pull the water backward.

Repeat the same on the other side of the kayak. Move the paddle in alternating patterns to move the boat forward.

Note: the above paddling technique is only applicable in calm water kayaking. More paddling techniques will be required for white water or sea paddling.

Getting Back to Shore and Packing Up

When you are done kayaking:

  1. Paddle your way back to the shore where the depth of the water does not go beyond your knee
  2. While seated, place one foot into the water to support yourself to stand up
  3. Remove the kayak from the water and then dry it using an old towel
  4. Deflate the kayak and pack up

Step 5: Practice Capsizing and Recovery of Your Kayak

When going kayaking, it is good to note that the water conditions may change at times. You may end up capsizing from strong currents and waves. It is thus safe to always plan on how to recover your kayak.

inflatable kayak capsize
from Sea Eagle Youtube

In case you capsize:

  1. Do not panic
  2. Hold the kayak from the back and flip it upright
  3. Locate the paddle and put it into the kayak
  4. Swim to the side of the kayak and hold it from the side
  5. Pull yourself into the kayak and paddle to the shore

Step 6: Ways to Master Kayaking (Leveling Up)

After mastering various kayaking techniques in calm water, you can choose to upgrade your kayaking skillset to the next level. Below are different methods you can use to advance your skills.

Take More Advanced Kayak Classes

Kayaking is a broad subject. After mastering flatwater kayaking, you want to learn other kayaking techniques like how to use a kayak in white water, seawater, and kayak fishing, among others.

It would be best to practice self-rescue techniques like the eskimo roll and the scramble for self-rescue in different water bodies. The idea is to master other kayak techniques and in different water bodies.

Learn to Become an Instructor

If you have become a kayaking expert, then why not instill the skill in others? To qualify for training certification, you should at least:

  1. Pass the instructor development exam
  2. Demonstrate your effectiveness in teaching paddling
  3. Demonstrate your abilities in handling technical paddling sports
  4. Demonstrate the different rescue techniques you can use to rescue a drowning kayaker

Practice, Practice, and Perhaps Upgrade Your Kayak

Of course, the best way to level up your kayaking skills is to practice, practice, and practice some more! Make it a habit to nail your skills in every kayaking aspect.

As you grow your skills and improve, consider looking into kayaking equipment for more advanced paddlers.

Frequently Asked Kayak Misconceptions

Below are the various questions that people have asked following the various misconceptions regarding broad inflatable kayaks.

Can Kayaks Tip-Over Easily?

‘Are kayaks safe?’ is a common question among potential kayakers due to rumors surrounding the safety of inflatable kayaks. However, you don’t need to believe in such a myth since inflatable kayaks are very stable. Their broad base gives the boat a lot of stability.

The kayaks that “tip over” more easily are sea kayaks or white water spec kayaks. 

Do I Need to Be a Good Swimmer?

No, you don’t have to be a good swimmer to go kayaking. You will remain afloat if you wear a PFD and follow the safe paddling instructions. We go through this more in the article above.

Do I Need to Be Fit to Kayak?

While fitness can enhance your endurance and paddling performance, you don’t need to be fit to paddle properly. Effective padding involves the use of the trunk more than hand strength.

So Is Kayaking Hard?

So, how hard is kayaking? The difficulty of kayaking depends on the type of kayaking you choose to do and your skill level. For instance, white water kayaking is far more complex than flatwater kayaking.

As a beginner, you should acquaint yourself with the kayaking basics before you start the simplest form of kayaking. The kayaking basics may include:

  • Attending kayaking lessons
  • Choosing inflatable kayak
  • Getting the right kayaking equipment
  • Practicing in calm water at the shore

After learning essential kayak information for beginners, you may advance your kayaking skills by:

  • Taking more advanced kayak classes
  • Training to become an instructor and finally
  • Doing more practice to perfect your kayaking moves

Now you know! The next time you meet someone wondering, ‘Is kayaking easy?’ or ‘Is it hard to kayak’ or someone just reluctant to learn kayaking in general, you can share how easy it is to get involved with this incredible sport.

Photo of author
Hey, there! My name is Derek and I have been around kayaks and canoes all my life. The last 5 years I recently turned my attention to inflatable kayaks and my world has been a lot more portable since! When I'm not kayaking I like to watch motorsports, play hockey and work on this site!

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