Are Kayaks Easy to Use? (Five Common Kayaking Myths Debunked)

Kayaking: a word that instantly conjures images of serene lakes, flowing rivers, and exhilarating maneuvers. For many, this pastime is a chance to connect with nature and to paddle away from the chaos of daily life. 

But what is it that makes kayaking so enticing?

I remember my first kayaking adventure like it was yesterday. The mix of excitement and apprehension, the unknowns, the allure of the water. For beginners, the journey starts with a simple question: “Are kayaks easy to use?”

It’s an important question, especially when you see seasoned paddlers effortlessly glide over water, maneuvering their kayaks with a finesse that seems almost second nature. But, as with any skill, kayaking requires patience, practice, and, most importantly, proper guidance.

Now, if you’re new to this world, you might be wondering, “Is kayaking hard?”

“Is it hard to learn to kayak?”

The truth is, kayaking can be as challenging or relaxing as you want it to be.

Sure, there are technical aspects, like figuring out how to hold the paddle or understanding the dynamics of different types of kayaks. But, with a bit of guidance and a dash of determination, even a novice can paddle with confidence.

But here’s the thing: kayaking isn’t just about the kayak. It’s an experience. It’s a journey. 

And as you delve deeper into the realm of kayaking, you’ll find there’s so much to discover. From the differences between a recreational kayak and a sea kayak to the art of mastering the forward stroke or the sweep stroke, the world of kayaking is vast and varied.

How difficult is kayaking? Read ahead to find out! 

Types of Kayaks and Gear (Beginner Guide)

One of the first obstacles you’ll face relates to gear, specifically: What do I need? 

For those exploring the world of kayaking for the first time, the sheer variety of boats and gear can be overwhelming. It’s akin to entering a gourmet kitchen without knowing the difference between a sauté pan and a skillet.

As a seasoned paddler and reviewer, I’ve been faced with the myriad of choices time and time again, and it always leaves me wondering which kayak and which accessories will make my journey enjoyable and safe.

Let’s embark on this journey. By the end of it, we’ll understand what goes into kayaking and if it’s too difficult for beginners.

are kayaks easy to use?

Kayak Types and Their Unique Features

Kayaking isn’t a one-size-fits-all sport. There are many types of kayaks, each with their own speciality.

Sit-on-top and sit-inside recreational kayaks are just like they sound–you either sit on top or you sit inside a cockpit–and both are perfect for beginners. Sea, touring, and whitewater kayaks all provide unique experiences that are more appropriate for advanced paddlers. 

What Is a Good Kayak for Beginners? 

I hear this question all the time: “What is the safest kayak for beginners?” 

The best kayak is the safest kayak for you, which depends on your size and intended use. For novices, sit-on-top kayaks and sit-inside recreational kayaks are typically recommended. They offer stability, ease of entry, and are less intimidating than some of their counterparts.

We’d recommend any recreational kayak from a major manufacturer (Old Town, Perception, Wilderness Systems, Pelican, Ocean Kayak, Lifetime, etc.) that is suited for your body type. Consult this sizing chart to find the right length and make sure you pick a boat with the proper weight capacity

Yellow Ocean Kayak Prowler 13 on grass near fence

(For more information on entering kayaks, see our article How to Get In a Kayak (And How To Get Out of One, Too!”)

Gearing Up: The Essentials

You need a boat, you need a paddle, and you need a PFD (life jacket). 

Life jackets or Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) are non-negotiable. They provide buoyancy, ensuring you stay afloat in case of unexpected situations. It’s not just about having a PFD but making sure it fits well and is suitable for the type of kayaking you’re doing.

It helps if you dress properly and bring along a wet bag, a water bottle, and kayaking gloves. 

This might go beyond the scope of a beginner’s article, but it’s always a plus to bring a wetsuit or dry suit and extra clothes; strive to always stay dry, and always bring waterproof gear. No cotton! 

A dry suit will keep you warm and dry, which is very helpful, especially in colder conditions. And especially if you flip the kayak! (Don’t worry–this is rare!) And if you’re curious about how wetsuits and dry suits are different, see our article “Wetsuit Vs Drysuit (Which Is Better?).”

Kayaking Basics: Paddling Techniques (How To Hold the Paddle) 

Kayaking isn’t difficult to begin with, but it gets a lot easier when you’ve mastered the basics. Yes, it’s fun to go fast and explore hard-to-reach areas, but keep in mind, it’s technical know-how that separates a novice from a seasoned kayaker. Let me guide you through the essentials so you can hit the water with confidence and safety.

How to Paddle a Kayak 

Here’s how to hold the paddle correctly: make sure your grip is firm yet flexible, allowing you to maneuver the paddle blade with precision. Don’t grip too tight, especially if you’re gloveless, as this will cause painful blisters.

Place your hands so that they’re shoulder-width apart. 

The most important thing to remember is this: Use your core! The idea is to place the paddle in the water and use your torso to propel the boat. If you only use your arms, you’ll get worn down quickly! 

Here are some basic paddling techniques:

  • Forward Stroke: The most common stroke and, arguably, the most important. It propels the kayak forward. Engage your torso, rotate it, and push the paddle blade into the water, pulling it back smoothly.
  • Sweep Stroke: Ideal for turning your kayak. A wider, sweeping motion, this stroke is all about control.
  • Brace: This technique helps prevent capsizing. It’s a quick, slapping motion on the water surface, providing instant stability.

So, Is Kayaking Hard?

Many beginners approach me with a sense of trepidation, often asking, “Is it hard to learn to kayak?”

The truth is, like any skill, there are hard and easy aspects to kayaking.

Yes, there’s a learning curve. But with determination, practice, and the right guidance, kayaking transforms from a daunting challenge to a rewarding experience.

Every seasoned kayaker was once a beginner, grappling with the same questions and uncertainties.

Answer: It isn’t hard, especially if you learn the proper techniques and follow good advice. 

Misconceptions about Kayaking: Does Fitness Level Matter?

Like any physical activity, kayaking interacts uniquely with our fitness levels. As someone who’s been on both ends of the fitness spectrum during my kayaking journey, I’ve gleaned insights that might help answer the age-old question: How fit do you need to be to kayak?

The Power of the Upper Body

The strength of your arms, shoulders, and torso dictates how effectively you maneuver and stabilize the kayak.

However, while upper body strength enhances your kayaking experience, it isn’t an absolute requirement. Over time, as you paddle more, your muscles will naturally develop the strength they need.

And I’ve gone out with plenty of people who are out of shape and have no upper body strength at all–the requirements are low and there is no fitness barrier; you just have to pull a kayak through water, which most anyone can do. 

The problems come when people push themselves too hard and don’t pay attention to weather conditions. 

Understanding Your Limits

A few months back I overestimated my stamina and ended up stranded in the middle of the Upper Saranac, completely exhausted. It was a humbling experience and a stark reminder that while kayaking is a joy, it demands respect.

Even seasoned paddlers push themselves too hard sometimes! 

Start small and gradually build your endurance while developing an understanding of what your body can handle.

Myths, Misconceptions, and Getting Started

Kayaking, my favorite pastime, is unfortunately shrouded in misconceptions. I’ve paddled for decades, and I’m here to debunk some of the most prevalent myths and share the reality of this incredible water sport.

Myth 1: You’ll Always Get Wet 

One common misconception about kayaking is that you’ll always end up soaked. While there’s some truth that water splashes and spills are part of the experience, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll get wet every time you paddle.

With the right gear (think: dry suit; dry bag) staying dry is entirely possible. 

Myth 2: Kayaking Is an Extreme Sport, and It’s Dangerous

Often, when people think of kayaking, they envision intense waves and extreme sports enthusiasts battling turbulent waters. But kayaking is also a great activity for relaxation, reflection, and connecting with nature.

Paddling through calm waters can be an incredibly therapeutic experience, and on top of that, it’s incredibly safe so long as you’re wearing a PFD. 

Myth 3: Lessons Are Useless and Too Expensive 

For those who want to learn how to paddle, taking lessons is invaluable and doesn’t have to break the bank. Not only do they teach you the basic skills, but they also instill confidence.

Myth 4: Canoes Are Better

Totally subjective; I personally prefer kayaks because of the speed and agility they provide as well as the comfort of sit-in cockpits. 

Myth 5: The Hull and Side of Your Kayak Get Covered in Polluted Mud That’s Impossible to Clean Off

It’s always a good idea to check the pollution levels of your intended body of water online; sometime you’re trying to boat in dirty water and you don’t even know it. So long as you stick to clean ponds your kayak won’t get coated in muck and oil. 

Advanced Tips and Making the Most of Your Kayaking Trip

Paddling isn’t just about technique; it’s also about adapting. Different weather conditions pose unique challenges.

As you venture into kayaking, you’ll find the importance of adapting your techniques to your surroundings. It’s this adaptability, combined with technical skill, that makes kayaking such a thrilling and dynamic water sport.

Exploring Various Bodies of Water

Every body of water offers a unique kayaking experience. Paddling on calm rivers and lakes provides a peaceful escape, allowing you to immerse yourself in the beauty of nature.

The sea, with its unpredictable waves and vast horizon, offers a different kind of thrill. The key is to understand the nature of each water body and prepare accordingly.

When I paddled along the coastline for the first time, the sheer expanse of the sea left me in awe. 

Don’t try this if you’re a beginner. The turbulent water and swift currents can be challenging and dangerous. Take lessons if you want to learn how to whitewater kayak. 

Making the Most of It

Every kayaking trip is an adventure, but to truly make the most of it, safety should be a top priority. Always inform someone about your kayaking route and expected return time–this is called a float plan; we wrote an entire article about how important float plans are

Equip yourself with a life jacket, a whistle, and a waterproof bag (dry bag). Also, always check weather conditions before heading out. 

I’ve learned from experience that a sudden change in weather can drastically alter your kayaking experience. Avoid going out in rain if you’re a beginner. 

Essential Pieces of Advice for Enthusiasts

To my fellow paddlers looking for water adventures, here’s my piece of advice: Respect the water. Understand its power and beauty.

Kayaking is not just about paddling; it’s about connecting with nature, internalizing its rhythm, and becoming one with it.

Equip yourself with knowledge, be it through kayaking lessons or by joining a community of kayakers. And remember, every trip, every stroke of the paddle, is a learning experience. Embrace it.

Conclusion: The Joy of Kayaking

Kayaking, for many, isn’t just a sport or a hobby; it’s a journey and a dance with nature. From the first time beginners dip their paddles into the water to the seasoned kayakers navigating challenging rapids, the allure of kayaking is universal. It offers a unique blend of peace and excitement, allowing you to connect with nature in ways few other activities can.

I’ve come to appreciate the profound beauty and power of nature. Kayaking has taught me patience, resilience, and the importance of being in the moment.

More than anything, it has instilled in me a deep respect for nature and the environment. Every stroke, every ripple, and every splash is a reminder of our symbiotic relationship with the world around us.

Kayaking for beginners can seem daunting at first, with the vast expanse of water and the myriad techniques to master. But the beauty of this sport is in its simplicity.

With just a kayak, a paddle, and a sense of adventure, you can explore the hidden wonders of nature. And as you progress, you realize that kayaking isn’t hard if you find your rhythm and move in step with the water.

Kayaking is more than just a water sport. It’s an ode to nature, an adventure, and a lifelong passion. 

Give it a shot!


Are kayaks easy to use?

 Yes, kayaks are easy to use, especially for beginners. With a little practice and some basic instruction, anyone can learn how to kayak.

How should I dress for the water? Do I need to always bring a change of clothes?

Wear quick-drying clothing and a snug-fitting PFD. You don’t need to bring a change of clothes but some people (like myself) always do. 

Do paddlers need any special skills to go kayaking?

Kayaking is a great sport for all skill levels and beginners don’t need any special skills to get started. It is recommended to take a kayaking for beginners lesson or seek some basic instruction to learn the proper paddling techniques and safety precautions.

My friend said I need a life jacket. Can I go kayaking without one? 

Nope! A PFD is necessary every time you go kayaking and canoeing. 

Can I bring my phone or camera with me while kayaking?

It’s okay so long as you take the necessary precautions. There are waterproof cases and bags available that can keep your electronics dry.

Can I use an inflatable kayak in the ocean?

You can go sea kayaking in the ocean but it would probably be best to use a sea or touring kayak for this. Be aware of tides, currents, and weather conditions when kayaking in the ocean. Don’t try this if you’re a beginner. 

What should I do if my kayak flips?

Stay calm and follow the proper procedures to get back in the kayak. This may involve performing a self-rescue technique like a paddle float rescue or a reentry and roll. Practice these techniques in a controlled environment before boating in more challenging conditions.

Image Credits

Photo 1 by Nareeta Martin
Photo 2 by Oleksandr Hrebelnyk
Photo 3 by Steven Ungermann
Photo 4 by Mark Reynolds
Photo 5 by Ali Kazal
Photo 6 by Toni Reed

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *