Is Kayaking Hard? (Tips for Beginners) 

Is kayaking hard?

Not as hard as some people make it out to be. For most, kayaking is easy and relaxing. 

It depends on the body of water, though, as well as your paddling techniques and the quality of your gear.

Are you in the Adirondacks on a pristine hidden pond? That’s pretty easy. 

Are you trying to tackle class IV rapids? That’s dangerous and hard, even for experienced paddlers. 

“Is kayaking hard?” ranks number-one on our list of most common questions we get from beginners. Let’s dive into it and figure out just how hard kayaking really is, as well as the best ways to approach this incredible pastime. 

What is Kayaking?

Kayaking is a fun, healthy, inspiring, and rejuvenating watersport where you propel yourself through the water using a paddle.

A kayak is a narrow watercraft that is traditionally designed for one or two people. They come in different sizes and are made from different materials based on their intended use. 

Types of Kayaking

Recreational Kayaking

My favorite style. Beautiful boating on calm water (think: ponds, lakes, and slow-moving rivers). Perfect for beginners!

This type offers you the chance to explore nature at your own pace, making it an excellent introduction to the sport.

Whitewater Kayaking

For all the adrenaline junkies out there. Whitewater kayaking involves navigating through fast-flowing rapids. It requires more experience and skill due to the dynamic nature of the water.

The most challenging kayaking type in my opinion. Not for beginners!

Ocean Kayaking and Sea Kayaking

These are great and provide a sense of adventure and freedom, but ocean kayaking requires an awareness of tides, currents, and weather conditions, and it’s more dangerous than recreational kayaking, so it’s not ideal for beginners. Same thing for sea kayaking. 

River Kayaking

This type of kayaking focuses on navigating rivers with varying levels of difficulty. River kayakers must be proficient at advanced paddling techniques and prepared to encounter obstacles and fast-moving water.

Touring Kayaking

Touring kayaks are used for exploration and multi-day trips. They offer ample storage space for camping gear and supplies.

Benefits of Kayaking

There are too many to list here, but we’ll try to include some of the most important examples! 

This is one of our favorite topics at Wave Gurus–we recently published an article exploring new findings related to the health benefits of kayaking and another article about how many calories kayaking burns

Physical Exercise

This is the rare sport that engages many muscle groups but is good for people of all ages. I find it to be an enjoyable and effective way to get fit.

Connection with Nature

Gliding through serene waters allows you to connect with nature, observe wildlife, and immerse yourself in breathtaking landscapes. There’s nothing quite like it. 

Stress Relief and Relaxation

I’m a drummer and the rhythmic nature of paddling is a huge part of my enjoyment–this can be extremely meditative and provide natural stress relief. 

Is Kayaking Hard for Beginners? 

Everyone was a beginner at one point!

My instructor was my father. He taught me and my twin brother how to kayak and birdwatch when I was twelve. 

The idea of maneuvering a kayak using just a paddle may seem daunting at first, but believe me, kayaking is an activity that caters to all skill levels. For beginners, recreational paddling on calm ponds (when the weather is just right) is an ideal choice because it allows you to practice and build your confidence on still water. 


Misconception 1: You Have to Be Strong

While some physical exertion is certainly involved, kayaking relies more on proper technique and body positioning rather than sheer strength.

Misconception 2: It’s Expensive

Kayaking can be extremely affordable. You can find cheap used kayaks and inexpensive accessories just about anywhere.

Misconception 3: Kayaking is Dangerous

It can be dangerous if you’re reckless and don’t follow standard safety protocols. But if you do it properly it’s a relatively safe activity. 

Misconception 4: You Need to Know How to Swim to Kayak

You don’t need to be an expert swimmer; a life jacket provides buoyancy and keeps you afloat in the water, making it possible for non-swimmers to enjoy kayaking with confidence.

Misconception 5: Kayaking is Boring

Nope. It’s the opposite of boring; it’s awe-inspiring and often thrilling. 

Kayak Safety

This is the part you need to pay the most attention to, because safety is always our number-one priority. 

The Importance of Properly Fitted Personal Flotation Devices (Life Jackets)

Wearing a properly fitted personal flotation device (PFD), also known as a life jacket, is absolutely essential. Do this every time you hit the water.

The PFD will keep you afloat in case of an accidental capsize and provide extra buoyancy when needed.

Make sure to choose a PFD designed specifically for kayaking, as it offers greater freedom for paddling. 

Choosing the Right Shoes for Kayaking

Not too long ago I wore the wrong shoes and stepped on broken glass in the water (this was up in the Adirondacks)–make sure you get something that’s rugged, because sharp rocks can seriously injure your feet. 

Think: dependable water shoes with thick soles and good traction.

Common Kayak Safety/Rescue Gear

You should carry these with you when you go out: 

  • A whistle
  • A paddle float (for self-rescue in the water)
  • A bilge pump (for removing water from your kayak)
  • A rope (for helping other paddlers in need)

Understanding Weather Conditions and Their Impact on Kayak Safety

A lot of people learn about this the hard way: weather conditions can change quickly, and your calm paddle turns into a dangerous situation in no time.

Weather will make or break your kayaking experience. Before you head out, be sure to check the weather forecast. 

Strong winds and rough waters make paddling challenging and dangerous. Always avoid kayaking in adverse weather conditions. 

Kayaking Alone vs. Group Kayaking

Pros and Cons of Solo Kayaking

Solo kayaking can be a beautiful and peaceful experience. It allows you to set your own pace as you immerse yourself in the serenity of nature.

As a beginner, though, being alone might be a bit intimidating, and in case of an emergency, there won’t be anyone available to lend a helping hand. If you’re going to go this route, make sure you’re well-prepared and file a float plan with someone you trust

Benefits of Kayaking with Others

Group kayaking is really fun and creates memories that will last a lifetime. This might be my favorite part of kayaking, when something unexpected happens in the presence of a friend and a new story is formed. 

I can’t tell you how many bonding moments I had with my dad and how many memories I cherish of our time on the water.

And paddling in a group provides an added layer of safety, especially for beginners. If you can go out with another person, especially at first, you should. 

How to Go Kayaking (Boat Transportation)

For most beginners, transportation (especially if it involves long carries or portaging) ends up being the most difficult part of any trip. But anyone can master the art of kayak transportation. All it takes is a little research and a lot of practice. 

Common Methods

Roof Racks

Roof racks are a popular and secure option for transporting kayaks. They can be pretty affordable, too.

(For a review of one of our favorite racks, the Malone Downloader, click here!)

Kayak Trailers

Kayak trailers are great if you have multiple kayaks or if you prefer not to load them on the roof of your vehicle. Trailers are easy to load and unload. 

Truck Bed Extenders

If you have a pickup truck, an extender can be a convenient solution for carrying longer kayaks that might not fit inside the bed.

Straps and Tie-Downs

No matter which transportation method you choose, high-quality straps and tie-downs are essential. We recommend blue NRS straps, but that’s just because we’ve been using the same straps for years and they still work perfectly!

Check out our article “How to Transport a Kayak” for some expert tips and tricks. The skill of using straps to secure your kayak is easy to learn. 

Getting Into the Kayak

Many beginners have anxiety about getting into a kayak. They’re convinced they’ll flip the boat and drench their clothes, and the truth is, this happens sometimes, but so long as the water isn’t too cold it’s okay! 

Here’s what it takes to get in your kayak properly and launch yourself downstream. 

Dock Launch

There are several ways to accomplish this–here’s how I normally do it: 

  • Put paddle on the dock and your boat in the water. 
  • Sit on the dock. Swing your legs into the cockpit. 
  • Hold onto the dock and your boat while lowering your body into the cockpit. 
  • Place your feet in the foot braces and grab your paddle. 

Beach Launch

  • Position your kayak perpendicular to the shoreline with one end on solid ground; put your paddle under the deck line. 
  • Straddle the cockpit, grab the cockpit rim, and step into the kayak. 
  • Sit and adjust your feet. 
  • Use your paddle to push off from the sand. 

We have an article called “How to Get in a Kayak” that covers this topic in greater detail. It might also be helpful to check out our post “How to Build a Kayak Launch”.

Learning How to Paddle

Mastering the art of paddling is a lifelong process and one every kayaker must take seriously. 

Choosing the right paddle helps, as does studying and memorizing proper paddling techniques. 

The importance of choosing the right paddle

A shorter paddle is suitable for wider kayaks, while longer paddles are better for narrower ones. Opt for blades with a shape that complements your paddling style and choose a material that strikes a balance between durability and weight. 

Proper Paddling Technique (How to Paddle a Kayak)

Hold the paddle with both hands, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Use your torso and core muscles rather than just your arms.

Engage your upper body, rotate your torso, and plant the blade fully in the water. Push with one hand while pulling with the other. 

Research and practice different paddle strokes–there are a million YouTube videos at your disposal!

Kayaking Lessons

Lessons are a fantastic way to build confidence and learn how to kayak. With the right instructor you’ll be kayaking in no time!

Benefits of Professional Instruction

I’ve had the great fortune of knowing several talented kayak instructors in my life, and believe me, they are worth every dollar they charge. The good ones will tailor their lessons to your skill level and help you progress at a comfortable pace.

Learning from an expert guarantees that you develop the correct techniques from the start, which prevents bad habits from becoming the norm (a serious handicap). 

Even experienced paddlers can benefit from advanced kayaking lessons, where they’re able to refine their skills, explore more challenging waters, and learn specialized techniques.

Choosing the Right Kayak

This is so important, yet I’ve noticed that many people end up buying the wrong kayak for their purposes. Here are some important factors to consider when making your selection:

Skill Level and Experience

Always choose a kayak that matches your skill level. Look for kayaks made specifically for newcomers, as they provide greater stability and are easier to maneuver.

Type of Kayaking Preferred

Determine the type of kayaking you want to pursue. Different types of kayaks are designed for specific water conditions.

Paddler’s Size and Weight

Make sure the kayak has enough capacity to accommodate you (and a partner, if it’s a tandom) and your gear. 

Kayak Stability and Maneuverability

Beginners should prioritize stability over speed. Look for kayaks with a wider hull and a flat bottom.

Sit-inside vs. Sit-on-top Kayaks

Soon enough, you’ll be confronted with the following question: Should I get a sit-in or a sit-on-top kayak?

Sit-inside kayaks are the boats most people think about when they think about kayaking, where the paddler sits inside the hull with their legs covered. These kayaks offer better protection from the elements and the enclosed cockpit provides a sense of security. They’re great kayaks for beginners.

Sit-on-top kayaks feature an open design, with the paddler sitting on top of the kayak. This design offers easy entry and exit, making them great for anyone who may be uncomfortable with the confined feeling of a sit-inside kayak.

Most fishing kayaks, such as the Old Town Sportsman 106, are sit-on-top kayaks. 

Inflatable vs. Hardshell Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks are a great are very popular right now because of their affordability and how easy it is to transport them–you don’t have to keep your kayak in permanent storage because this type of kayak deflates. They are made from durable materials that typically withstand abuse, and when deflated, they can be folded and carried in a backpack.

Hardshell kayaks are made of rigid materials like plastic or fiberglass. They’re super durable and they perform well. If you’re committed to kayaking and have space to store a kayak, a hardshell kayak may be a great long-term investment. 

Recreational Kayak vs Sea Kayak vs Touring Kayak vs Fishing Kayak

There are so many to choose from! If you’re new to kayaking we recommend starting with a recreational kayak. 

Kayak Rental vs. Purchasing a Kayak

I have seven kayaks and I still rent one from time to time. Kayak rental is great–it’s affordable, you can try out new models, and a lot of the time the rental places are right on the water!

Benefits of Renting for Beginners

We always recommend that beginners rent a kayak because:

  • It’s cost-effective.
  • No storage hassles.
  • You can try different types and learn what kind of kayak you might want to buy in the future. 

Benefits of Owning a Kayak

  • Customization.
  • Can use it whenever you want.
  • Always available.
  • Cheaper in the long run if you go kayaking a fair amount.

Choosing Suitable Kayaking Locations

Q: Is kayaking hard?

A: If you choose a dangerous location, absolutely.

Selecting appropriate waters can make your kayaking experience more enjoyable and far safer. Keep these points in mind when researching kayaking trip locations: 

Try Calm Ponds and Slow-Moving Rivers

These are perfect because they allow beginners to practice and get comfortable with their kayaks in relative safety. Try to find a place that doesn’t allow motorboats. 

The absence of strong currents and waves reduces the risk of accidents and makes for a peaceful and memorable paddle!

The Seasons

Each season brings different weather and different clothing requirements. 


Spring is a great time for kayaking but keep in mind that the water can still be dangerously cold. Check the water temp before you leave your residence. 

Wearing a wetsuit or drysuit can help keep you comfortable in the chilly waters. Bring layers to adjust to changing temperatures and don’t forget your personal flotation device (PFD) for safety.


Summer is the peak season for kayaking adventures. It’s easier to kayak in the summer. 

The water is warmer and you’re more at risk for dehydration. Remember to stay hydrated and it’s a good idea to wear sunscreen. A hat, sunglasses, and a light, breathable shirt are what I go with every summer. 


My favorite time of year (nothing beats have fall leaves surround you as you cruise your kayak through the water). Autumn offers breathtaking foliage and cooler temperatures–dress in layers and consider wearing a wetsuit or drysuit if the water gets too cold.

Fall may bring rain and wind, so check weather forecasts before heading out and ensure your kayak is equipped with a spray skirt to keep water out.


I’d avoid this one. If you’re curious, here’s what’s required to kayak in the winter


Kayaking is an excellent activity for beginners. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy!

How many hobbies offer a way to explore the hidden beauty of nature while improving your mental and physical health? 

Once you’ve gone kayaking a handful of times, the question will no longer be “Is kayaking hard?” You’ll be asking yourself, “Is kayaking worth it?” 

I bet you’ll think on this for a little while. And your answer will be absolutely


Is kayaking safe?

Yes, so long as you follow certain safety precautions. Always wear a properly fitted PFD and only kayak in appropriate locations. Check the weather, bring safety gear, and be on the lookout for motorboats. 

Is recreational kayaking best for beginners? 

If you’re just taking up kayaking, start on calm ponds, and we ask that you avoid dangerous weather conditions. But yes, recreational kayaking is a great choice for beginners. 

Is kayaking difficult?

Kayaking is actually different for every person, but most people who try kayaking feel like it’s only difficult in inclement weather; when the water is peaceful, kayaking is pretty easy. 

Can kayaking be difficult for beginners?

Learning how to properly paddle and the basic fundamentals of kayaking takes time and practice. But kayaking is not as hard as Most of the time kayaking is relatively straightforward and easy. 

Do rapids offer a good kayaking experience for beginners?

When it comes to kayaking for beginners, we typically recommend that newcomers stick to calm bodies of water at first. 

What are some tips for beginners to make kayaking easier?

Start with calm and flat water and use a stable kayak. Practice proper paddling techniques (PPPT), which are sometimes hard to learn. Master balancing and bracing yourself in the kayak.

Is kayaking a good recreational activity?

Yes, kayaking is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and exercise at the same time. We prefer calm lakes over raging rivers, but any type of kayaking can provide a fun and exciting recreational experience.

What should I do if I capsize? How do I get back in a kayak?

Stay calm. Try to stay with your kayak–it will provide flotation. Swim to back to shore or a stable object to help you get back into the kayak. If you are unable to get back into the kayak try to signal for help and wait for assistance.

How hard is kayaking while intoxicated?

You should never boat while intoxicated. Bad idea. 

Image Credits
Photo 1 by Brandon McDonald
Photo 3 by Rude
Photo 6 by Ali Kazal
Photo 7 by the US Forest Service
Photo 8 by Anders*
Photo 9 by dave_7
Photo 10 by Michael Jadrich Ortiz on Unsplash

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