Is Kayaking Difficult For Beginners? (Ultimate Guide & INFOGRAPHICS)

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I love kayaking, which is a bit of a giveaway with this site.

But I, like everyone, had to start somewhere, and before I got into kayaking, I was concerned it would be too difficult for me as a beginner to pick up. I needn’t have been.

Nowadays, few other water sports give me more pleasure than being in the middle of calm waters alone in my kayaks with my thoughts or battling strong currents and winds on the sea, riding the waves (and focused more on hoping I don’t capsize)

It’s why I’m such an advocate of kayaking. 

I’m constantly trying to convince others to take It up.

But back to the question at hand.

Is Kayaking Difficult For Beginners?

Not really. 

Kayaking is fairly intuitive and incredibly easy to pick up, even if it is your first time.  

Yes, it can get MUCH more advanced and tricky when dealing with moving waters, whitewater, or sea kayaking, but for beginners just starting, it can be easy, simple, and an incredibly fun recreational activity.

In general, kayaking is not difficult for beginners, but you should learn a few basics before getting on the water.

The first thing you need to do is find the right kayak for you.

Various recreational kayaks are available these days, BUT choosing one that is right for your skill level and experience is important.

If you are a beginner, choosing a kayak that is easy to maneuver and control might be a good idea.

My first kayak was an inflatable, well more of a hybrid as it has a rigid hull.  But an inflatable nonetheless, and i still use it to this day!

I wrote about inflatable kayaks and my own experience with the advance elements inflatable.

Have a read and let me know what you think.

Picking A Kayak As a Beginner

If you are learning, the best beginner kayak would be one that’s stable with good traceability.

Beginner kayakers don’t need to spend a lot nor go for a top-of-the-range kayak, but the right kayak does make all the difference in how quickly you pick up this water sport.

Small boats, surf kayaks, and whitewater kayaks are designed for sharp turns and can be sensitive to steer, while sea kayaks are meant for long distances in a straight line.

Of course, you can also paddle tandem kayaks with more experienced paddlers and start your education with a paddling pal.

Picking A Kayak As a Beginner by

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Top Tip: It’s why id suggest you book an adventure trip or at least an hour or two on a kayak at a local watersports center, beach, or when on holiday/vacation.

For trip and guide suggestions, check out My Resources Page

This will give you an option to trial the sport BUT, most importantly, allow time with an experienced and qualified instructor or tour guide to go over the basics and answer any burning questions or concerns you may have.

Dont be shy either (there are any silly questions for beginners!).

No amount of watching videos or reading my blog posts will replace practical experience.

I got started by going to my local watersports center and doing an introductory session for 1 hour – it was FREE.


I then went for a 5-day course and fell in love with it.


The next most important thing is always to remember to wear a Buoyancy aid, sometimes referred to as a personal flotation device (PFD).

Dont confuse a buoyancy aid or PFD with a life jacket or life vest, as lifejackets are different and serve different purposes.

Here is a really good video from the RYA (Royal Yachting Agency) that covers PFD,s Life Jackets’ and Buoyancy aids

A Buoyancy Aid / Personal Floatation Device PFD is an essential piece of equipment regardless of skill level.

Conditions can change in an instant, especially on moving water (rivers, sea, etc.), and you must always practice safety first.

ALWAYS respect the water, always.

I own a few PFDs for various conditions, and when I’m mostly paddling sheltered waters such as lochs, lakes, and rivers (which you’re likely to, as a beginner), my go-to at the moment is this Baltic dinghy pro.

I also carry a lightweight spare in my bag (this orange Itiwit). Both are still 50N in buoyancy, but I must stress this is only really suitable for flat/calmer sheltered waters.

Lifejacket PFD choices Baltic Vs Itwit

In case you didn’t catch it in the video above, the buoyancy of a lifejacket is measured in the Newton unit, and my Baltic PFD has a 50N (newton units) buoyancy capability.

Most adults need just an extra seven to 12 pounds of flotation as a minimum buoyancy needed to keep the paddler’s airways above the water’s surface.

My 50N PFD will keep me afloat by a good margin but lacks a collar to support my head and therefore does not guarantee to turn an unconscious paddler to a supine position or offer as much protection in the open sea.


Once you have chosen the right kayak and got your PFD, it is important to learn how to use your watercraft properly.

This includes learning to safely get in and out of the kayak, hold the paddle, and propel yourself through the water.

In addition, it is important to know some basic skills for kayaking, such as how to avoid capsizing and what to do if you find yourself in a dangerous situation.

This may sound daunting, but it honestly isn’t.

If you’re planning a kayaking trip with a guide or trialing at a watersports center, or maybe at the beach, then just ASK for a BASIC safety briefing and some tips on how to enter the craft and the water, as well as avoid capsizing and what to do in an emergency.

No amount of reading or watching videos will make up for practical experience – and as a beginner, it comes very quickly, so fret not.

Now back to the equipment you’ll need.

Kayak Paddles For Beginners

Next, you’ll need to pick your kayak paddle.

Man, the kayak paddle is almost as important as the kayak itself!

While any kayak paddle can get you moving, there are many reasons to take the time to choose something that will be perfect for you.

The three most important factors are the length of the paddle, the size of the paddle blade, and the feathering.

Some high-quality paddles come with adjustable length and feathering, but most rental paddles are a standard length and angle.

The length makes all the difference in whether the blade is fully in the water or whether you are hitting the side of your kayak. As a general rule, taller people need longer paddles!

The size of the paddle blade affects the propulsion offered by each stroke. The bigger the blade, the more propulsion your kayak will have, but bigger blades also take more effort.

Then, you’ll have to learn some basic paddling techniques for efficiency and speed. The basic forward stroke is the most important stroke that propels you and the kayak forward.

Tips for the forward stroke:

  • Watch the blade as it hits the water, ensuring the maximum “catch”.
  • Then, use your torso and not just your shoulders and arms.
  • Don’t forget the top hand! Push forward as you pull the bottom hand through the stroke.
  • Use your lower body. As you pull through the stroke, if you apply pressure on the opposite leg, you’ll get more torso rotation.

Again practical experience and getting in the Kayak will be much more rewarding and helpful than just reading these tips.

Kayaking can be a full-body workout and a great way to stay fit. Use your whole body!

Selecting The Right Paddle Infographic - by Chris Watson

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How Long Does It Take To Learn Kayaking Properly?

Most people can just jump in a kayak, and off they go.

However, while they are technically kayaking, the sport is way safer with more knowledge, practice, and learning some basic safety and techniques.

Also, it can take weeks and thousands of strokes before the sweep stroke becomes much more optimal.

Kayaking can be a fun and rewarding experience, but I get that it can also be daunting for beginners.

Here are a few tips to help you start your kayaking journey.

First, it’s important to understand the basics of kayaking.

Kayaks are small boats that are propelled by using a double-bladed paddle. Paddles can be designed for calm waters, whitewater, and ocean kayaking.

You need to learn the differences and choose one appropriate for the body of water you will be paddling.

Next, you’ll need to learn the basic strokes that are used in kayaking.

Paddling Techniques and Strokes

There are four main strokes:

  1. forward stroke
  2. backward stroke
  3. stroke side
  4. sweep stroke.

These strokes are used to navigate your kayak in the appropriate direction.

Picking A Paddle

The first thing is to pick out a paddle of a proper length. Too long, and you’ll be working too hard, and too short, and you might be hitting the side of the kayak or having half the blade out of the water and wasting energy.

The part of the paddle you hold is called the shaft. Place your hands about shoulder-width apart on the shaft.

The side of the blade that is concave is called the power face and should always be facing you.

Slice the paddle blade vertically into the water, keeping a relaxed grip on the shift with your knuckles pointed upward.

To paddle forward, don’t just use your arms and shoulders! Use your entire body.

Use your core to twist your torso while leaning forward and place the paddle into the water close to your feet. Then pull towards your seat with the blade and remove it from the water.

If you want to paddle backward, push the water from slightly behind you, and do the opposite.

We covered those earlier in the post, but here is a great Paddle Tv.

This video shows three essential paddle strokes, which are all very easy and fairly intuitive for beginners.

Practice Makes Perfect

To improve your skills, it’s important to practice regularly. Put the strokes in, get wet, and have fun!

You can find a variety of kayaking tutorials online, take kayaking lessons, or join a local kayaking club.

I sound like a broken record BUT practical experience trump everything. Go seek it out, find a club or watersports center.

You’ll be able to meet other kayakers, learn from their experiences, and make new friends!

Finally, always wear a personal flotation device (PFD) when kayaking. Even if you are a skilled kayaker, things can always go wrong.

A life vest will help keep you safe in an emergency.

Some Inspiration & Encouragement

Here is HOW EASY it can be for beginners to get started and comfortable in a kayak.

These two photos are of my wife from the same day; she had no prior experience and only had me as an instructor (or distraction)!

kayaking for beginners progression sessions morning vs afternoon

More Encouragement

And here is one of my 7-year-old daughter trying it out for the first time, too – also on Loch Lomond.

Child kayaking for beginners lessons on loch lomond

For those worried or concerned about jumping straight in, you can always start your journey in shallow waters too.

Shallow water that’s just enough for buoyancy and paddle can be a very simple way to get used to your craft without overcommitting yourself in challenging waters or conditions.

What to Know Before kayaking for the first time?

Before hitting the water, you’ll need to know a few things to make your first experience more enjoyable and keep you safe.

Firstly, you’ll know the type of kayak you will paddle.  If you don’t know, revisit my infographic above to help you make your choice.

Then, you should know basic paddle strokes such as the forward and backstroke.

Finally, some basic safety techniques will help you stay safe.

Different Types of Kayaks

All kayaks have different shapes and different features.

Choosing the right kind of boat is the key to learning.

A good choice for beginners will be stable and track straight sea kayaks; alternatively, you could aim for an inflatable kayak.

As I’ve said throughout my site, if you go the inflatable kayak route, then I’d highly recommend one that is hard-wearing and durable, like my Advanced Elements noted above.

This has drop-stitched fabric, which is a high-tech material in the boating world.  It also has a rigid hull and skeg – making it feel much more secure and maneuverable than most other inflatables).

But ultimately, it will come down to whether you are paddling flat water in a calm lake, whitewater kayaking, or sea kayaking will make a significant difference in the choice of the kayak.

Let’s have a look at the options available.

Different Kayak types for beginners

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Sit-on-top Kayaks

The most common recreational kayak and always rentable, many people love to use sit-on-tops because it doesn’t have an enclosed seat that requires a spray skirt.

Wide, stable, and often made of durable plastic, they have self-bailing drains all over the kayak to keep the water level down.

Sea & Touring Kayaks

Touring kayaks are meant to be paddled over long distances and are frequently used in sea expeditions. They are long with small cockpits and require a spray skirt.

Whitewater Kayaks

Whitewater kayaking is a challenging and more adventurous experience than a leisurely paddle around a lake. Whitewater isn’t for newbies.

You’ll need additional training, and it can get potentially dangerous quickly. The four types of whitewater kayaks are playboats, river runners, creek boats, and longboats, and each type has advantages depending on where you plan to use them.

Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks can be sit-on-tops or cockpits. They are a beginner’s favorite because they are a multitude of advantages.

They are light, easily stored and transported, durable, and many of the high-end kayaks perform just as well as their hard-shelled counterparts.

In addition, many inflatables have storage space inside kayaks to store knick-knacks and food, allowing for a longer day out.

Child-sized Kayaks

Child-sized kayaks are available in smaller sizes for children and adolescent kayakers.

How to Get In and Out of a Kayak

Before learning how to paddle a kayak, you must first learn how to get in and out of a kayak.

Entering a Kayak from A Shore

Entering a kayak from a shore is much easier, especially for beginner kayakers.

Whether it is on a lake/Loch, seashore, or riverfront, the best way is to move the kayak closer to the shoreline. Have the kayak in shallow water and go butt-first into the kayak’s seat. Then scoot your legs onto the kayak, and you’re off!

Entering a Kayak from the Dock

As always, try to get your butt in first, or you’ll be standing on the kayak, which makes you vulnerable to an unceremonious dump into the water.

Otherwise, keep your center of gravity as low are you can and mount the kayak from the dock.

Entering a Kayak from Deep Water

There’s no reason to do this on your first day, but you’ll also need to get trained on how to enter your kayak from deep water.

This is in the unfortunate event that you capsize and need to get back in.

What do I need to prepare for kayaking?

Some basic safety equipment is needed before you hit the water.

A personal flotation device is mandatory, and a first aid kit is always a good idea. Some signaling devices, such as a strobe light and a whistle, might also get you out of trouble.

Always carry a spare pump and repair kit if you use an inflatable kayak.

You’ll need a spray skirt if you use a closed deck kayak. A bilge pump is also a good idea if you don’t have a self-bailing kayak.

And, of course, your basic needs like sunscreen, a hat, a rashguard, some water, a granola bar or two, and whatever you might need during the day while you’re out paddling.

How do you prepare your body for kayaking?

Many mistakenly think that kayaking is only an upper body workout.

Nothing is further from the truth! Kayaking is an excellent cardiovascular exercise and can work the lower body and core muscles if your technique is sound.

Your fitness will naturally improve after regular kayaking, but some exercises you can do to make learning a bunch easier (and save your muscles some aches and pains!) are:

10 Agility Exercises To Warm Up For Kayaking Trip

  1. Lateral Jump
  2. Two Jumps Forward
  3. One Jump Back
  4. Squat out/hop in
  5. Single-leg Forward hop
  6. Lateral Lunge
  7. Side-step toe touch
  8. Skater with a toe tap
  9. Plank Jack
  10. Wide to narrow push-ups

Should You Kayak Alone?

KAYAK float plan and trip log book

Sure! I do it all the time, BUT I practice water and trip safety, including sharing my trip details with my wife before I set off.  This trip plan is commonly known as a float plan.

I do understand many beginner kayakers might want to paddle a tandem kayak with a more experienced paddler to pick up some tips and tricks; kayaking alone is a lot of fun.

This is a good way to start, but it encourages going getting into a solo kayak and learning this way. 

However, if paddling a single kayak, a few extra precautions might be prudent. 

Including proper planning and preparation – the float plan.

First, have a kayak float plan. 

I use a simple Kayak Log book to do this.

A float plan is a document that kayakers complete before their trip, outlining the details of their outing, including emergency contacts and procedures.

This document ensures that if something goes wrong during the kayaking trip, help can be sent as quickly as possible.

Next, always tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back.

If something happens and you’re unable to return when you planned, they’ll know where to start looking for you.

ALWAYS wear a personal flotation device, or a life jacket, even if you’re a strong swimmer.

Ensure your kayak is in good condition, and carry a repair kit. Also, carry signaling devices such as strobe lights and whistles.

Never kayak in strong currents, rough water, or rapids if you’re not an experienced kayaker. These areas can be dangerous and can easily lead to accidents.

Be aware of your surroundings. Make sure you know where you are going and what is around you. Avoid kayaking near cliffs or other treacherous areas.

Take a safety class. If you are new to kayaking, taking a safety class is a good idea to know how to handle yourself in difficult situations.

Use a kayak that is the right size for you. If your kayak is too big or too small, it will be difficult to control and could be dangerous.

Lastly, some might sound silly, but many kayakers cannot swim!

You should make water safety and learning to swim (even as an adult) a goal/priority – especially if you’re into water sports.

Now GO HAVE FUN on the water.

Chris Watson Paddling Loch Lomond

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