Can You Kayak Without Experience? (Beginner Tips and Tricks)

So, you’re wondering, “Can you kayak without experience?” The short answer is yes. But like any activity, preparation is key.

As someone who’s spent countless hours on the water, I can say this definitively: kayaking is fun, easy, and good for you. It’s not just about paddling; it’s about connecting with nature, challenging yourself, and discovering new horizons. 

But before diving in, it’s essential to be well-prepared.

How to Prepare for Kayaking

Kayaking requires a blend of technique, strength, and understanding of the water. Each outing is unique, and no matter how much experience you have, there’s always something new to learn.

Gear Selection

Having the right gear is absolutely essential. A life jacket, for instance, isn’t a recommendation, it’s a necessity.

Gear choices aren’t just about safety, they’re about enhancing the experience. Always make sure your kayak is equipped with proper gear before you start.

Choosing the Right Kayak (The Different Types of Kayaks)

Here’s a brief overview of the most common types suitable for beginners:

  • Recreational Kayaks: Stable, easy to maneuver, and perfect for calm waters like ponds and slow-moving rivers.
  • Fishing Kayaks: These can also be used for leisurely paddles and bird watching. They’re wider and more stable.
  • Touring Kayaks: These are designed for longer journeys on open waters. They require a bit more skill to navigate.
  • Tandem Kayaks: Also known as double kayaks, these are operated by two paddlers. They’re a good choice if you prefer company or need assistance paddling.

A single kayak is tailored for solo adventurers, while double kayaks cater to those wanting shared experiences.

A note on seating options: most beginners prefer sit-in recreational kayaks because they are the most comfortable and the easiest to maneuver, but I’ve met many people who think sit-on-tops are more comfortable.

Generally, we recommend a sit-in kayak for a beginner’s first time on the water. 

The quality of seating varies wildly between manufacturers. Comfort is subjective, which is why it’s a good idea to try to test a few models on the water before purchasing (you can rent them cheaply in many areas!). 

Making the Decision When pondering which kayak may best fit your needs, consider your intended use, how often you intend to use it, and any physical requirements you might have. 

(If you’re curious about the benefits of a sit-on-top kayak, check out our review of the Old Town Sportsman 106.) 

How to Get Started Kayaking

Okay, so you’ve got your kayak and your safety gear. What comes next?

Pick a Waterway and a Date

Calm flatwater is ideal for beginners. A calm pond. That or a slow-moving river. 

Nothing too large.

Avoid ponds and lakes that allow motorboats if it’s your first time going out. 

Check the Weather

Reschedule if you see heavy winds or rain in the forecast. 

Consider Taking Lessons

Lessons always result in a much stronger and more confident paddler. And believe it or not, they’re often quite affordable! 

Make sure your instructor covers basic safety techniques like life jacket usage, reading currents and tides, how to flip, and how to reenter your kayak after capsizing. 

In particular, knowing how to get back into your kayak after a flip can be massively helpful and is actually really easy to pull off once you’ve practiced it a few times. 

If you’re not able to take kayaking lessons, it might be a good idea to test your boat before embarking on a longer outing; this way you can practice basic techniques and get a feel for your boat. And make sure you study kayak safety techniques before hitting the water. 

File a Float Plan

This just means to let someone know where you’ll be (by giving them a document detailing your intended location and route). 

Transport Your Kayak To the Water 

There are several ways to do this–most common are racks, but people also use trailers and truck beds. We published an article about how to transport a kayak, which covers every transportation method in great detail. 

(See also: “How Many Kayaks Fit in A Truck Bed? (Spoiler: More Than You Think!)“) 

Get Into Your Kayak

Entering a kayak might seem straightforward, but there’s an art to it. The easiest entry point for beginners is on a beach.

Start by placing the kayak perpendicular to the water with the bow facing the waves. Position the cockpit at the water’s edge so the kayak is partially stabilized by the water.

Sit down with your back to the cockpit and your legs extended forward. In one motion, slide yourself into the seat while pulling your legs in. 

As you push off into the water, keep your movements steady to maintain stability.

How to Kayak for the First Time

Knowing how to hold the paddle correctly is essential.

How to Hold a Kayak Paddle

  1. Know Your Paddle: Familiarize yourself with the shaft (what you’ll hold) and the blades (that push water).
  2. Blade Orientation: The curved side of the blade should face you.
  3. Grip: Hands should be a bit wider than shoulders. Pro Tip: Hold the paddle above your head and aim for 90-degree elbow angles.
  4. Knuckle Alignment: Your knuckles should align with the blade’s edge.
  5. Relaxed Hold: Don’t grip too hard! You’ll get painful blisters that are totally avoidable. If you’re paddling correctly (by using your entire body), you won’t need to grip hard.
  6. Understand Feathering: Some paddles rotate (or feather) to reduce wind resistance; adjust your wrist accordingly.

How to Paddle

When you insert the paddle blade into the water, try to angle the blade correctly (this is based on environmental conditions and what you’re trying to accomplish). 

Angling Your Kayak Paddle Blade

  1. Understand the Catch: Start each stroke by submerging the blade so that the curved side cups the water.
  2. Vertical Power: For powerful strokes, aim for a vertical paddle angle; the top hand should be at eye level.
  3. Angle for Steering: A slight outward angle helps steer and turn; the wider the angle, the sharper the turn.
  4. Subtle for Cruising: For relaxed paddling, a less aggressive angle conserves energy.
  5. Exiting: Finish your stroke by lifting the blade out near your hip, maintaining its slight angle.
  6. Feel the Glide: Notice how the kayak responds and adjust future angles for desired speed and control.

Basic Strokes

Learning to paddle with both hands offers a powerful, balanced movement that, if mastered, will provide access to many unique sights and experiences. 

Key Kayak Strokes

  1. Forward Stroke: Your bread and butter! Rotate your torso and use your whole body, pulling water from toes to hips.
  2. Reverse Stroke: The forward stroke in reverse. Useful for slowing down or moving backward.
  3. Sweep Stroke: For turning your kayak. Forward sweeps are done wide and away from the kayak, while reverse sweeps go from the tail towards the nose.
  4. Draw Stroke: To move sideways, reach out and pull water towards your kayak.
  5. Bracing: A quick slap on the water’s surface with a flat blade for stability (used in rough conditions).

Exit Strategies

When it’s time to leave the water, exiting properly is key to avoid getting wet. As you gain experience, this process becomes more intuitive. Here are some tips on how to do this properly…

How to Exit a Kayak 

  1. Approach Calmly: Glide towards your exit point with control. Make it so that your kayak is perpendicular to the shoreline or dock.
  2. Stabilize: Before you attempt to exit, plant your paddle behind you, with one blade on the water’s surface, acting as an outrigger.
  3. Shift Your Weight: Lean slightly towards the paddle for stability so your weight is balanced and centered.
  4. Leg Movement: Swing one leg out and plant your foot securely on the ground or dock.
  5. Use Your Arms: Push off from the kayak’s cockpit edges, using your planted foot for leverage, and swing your other leg out.
  6. Stand Up Smoothly: Rise from a low squat to standing, using your paddle for additional balance if needed.
  7. Secure Your Kayak: Once out, pull your kayak onto dry land and secure it (ideally tying it to something) to prevent it from drifting.

How to Kayak on a Lake

Lakes, especially larger lakes, can pose problems for new kayakers when the water is choppy. This is why we recommend a calm pond for beginners.

Kayaks are ideal for lakes too, though, if you know some basic techniques and you’re comfortable with rough water in the event of heavy winds. 

Positioning Your Kayak

To kayak properly on a lake, make sure you keep positioning in mind. Being aware of the side of your kayak and its orientation will prevent a lot of mishaps. 

Try to stick close to the shore in case the waves pick up. Don’t ever go to the center of the lake if you’re a beginner! 

Take It Slow and Plan Your Route

One of the biggest rookie mistakes in boating is going too far and not having the stamina to make it back to your vehicle. This is why we recommend planning a route beforehand and never deviating from your plan. 

Go slow and enjoy the scenery. There’s no need to rush!

Solo vs. Group Kayaking

There’s a unique tranquility in kayaking alone. However, double kayaks often introduce a different dynamic, emphasizing teamwork and shared experiences.

While solo kayaking provides a peaceful solitude, tandem kayaking can be extremely fun and often results in a memorable afternoon of bonding. Consider renting one! You won’t be disappointed. 

Exploring Further: Beyond the Basics

Once you’ve gotten used to you boat and mastered the basic techniques, you might want to expand your paddling vocabulary–here’s how!

Try Different Types of Water

Every kayaking journey, be it on a tranquil lake or a challenging river, brings new experiences and lessons.

Join a Community

If you’ve ever felt the desire to kayak with others, you’re not alone. Many individuals want to kayak in groups; joining a community allows you to learn from kayak guides who can teach you advanced techniques. A really good idea!

Experiment With Different Boats

The adrenaline-pumping thrill whitewater kayaking contrasts beautifully with the peaceful serenity of sea kayaking. Each form offers a distinct experience, catering to different preferences and adventure levels.


No matter how much experience one holds, the thrill of kayaking is unparalleled. Every time you paddle a kayak it’s an adventure waiting to unfold, whether you’re flatwater kayaking or whitewater kayaking.

If you’re new to kayaking, the evolution from beginner kayaker to seasoned paddler is filled with countless adventures and memories.

Don’t forget your life jacket! 


Can you kayak without experience?

Sure. Start with calm water and short kayaking trips. You may also find it useful to study kayak guides to teach you the basics of how to paddle a kayak.

What are some essential kayaking tips for a first-time kayaker?

Wear a life jacket, learn how to paddle efficiently, and always have a plan for if you capsize. Safety should be your number-one priority. Also, sit-on-top kayaks are great for beginners because they’re stable and easy to get in and out of.

How do I transport a kayak if I don’t own a vehicle?

Many people use a kayak cart or trolley that allows for easy movement. They attach to the bottom of your kayak and help you roll it from your location to the water.

For my first kayaking excursion, should I kayak alone?

It is not advisable to kayak alone, especially as a beginner. Always have a companion who can assist you in case of any trouble. 

How can I learn the correct paddle strokes?

You’ll need to know these strokes for an enjoyable kayaking experience, and you can learn them from online video tutorials, books, or ideally, from a kayaking instructor.

What equipment do I need for my first kayaking trip?

The essential kayaking gear for your first kayaking trip includes a kayak, paddle, life jacket, whistle, rope, and dry bag for your belongings. It’s also good to have sunscreen, snacks, and water.

What part of the paddle should I immerse when I paddle into the water?

The part of the kayak paddle that should be immersed in the water is the blade. Make sure the entire blade is below the water for the most efficient movement.

How can I avoid flipping a kayak?

You can avoid flipping a kayak by maintaining proper balance, not leaning too far in any direction, and by using correct paddling technique. It’s important not to panic if you feel unstable; often, the kayak will correct itself with the movement of the water.

Do I need to take a course in kayaking for beginners?

While it’s not mandatory to take a course, it’s highly recommended to take one before you go kayaking for the first time. 

Image Credits

Photo 1 by Brody Childs
Photo 2 by Sarah Sheedy
Photo 3 by Gantavya Bhatt

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