The increasing amount of people getting into a variety of fitness activities opened doors for some new sports to emerge. Water sports have attracted a lot of health enthusiasts because of the thrill involved combined with the enjoyment of being in the water.

Kayaking is one of these water activities that have gained popularity over the years. Known as a racing sport, kayaking uses a kayak – a small, narrow watercraft – for moving across water.

Origins of Kayaking

The word “kayak” originates from the Greenlandic word “qajac” which means a traditional boat that is typically associated with the indigenous peoples of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. It is usually made of a frame of wood or bone covered with animal skin.

Though considered as a racing sport, kayaking is more commonly a recreational activity rather than a competitive one. In fact, thousands of years ago, Eskimos of the northern Artic regions use the kayak mainly for hunting, fishing, and transportation.

The Europeans became interested with kayaking and did it for sport. Thus, kayak races were introduced in the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936. It then became a mainstream popular sport in the United States in the 1970’s. Its popularity continued to grow and there are now around 10 white water kayaking events featured in the Olympics.

Kayaking vs Canoeing

Kayaking and canoeing are similar sports and some people may mistake one for the other. However, they differ in many things.

Paddles and Seating Positions

Kayaking and canoeing are similar sports differentiated only by the paddler’s sitting position and the number of blades on the paddle. In kayaking, the paddler is seated and uses a double-bladed paddle pulling the blade through the water on alternate sides to move forward. In canoeing, the paddler kneels and uses a single-bladed paddle to move the kayak forward.

The majority of kayaks are built with the paddler sitting in the boat with their legs covered.


A canoe is like a rowboat that’s much bigger and heavier than a kayak, with a wide frame and open top. It is meant for carrying multiple passengers. On the other hand, kayaks are much smaller, sleeker boats meant for speed and recreational purposes. Kayaks are also more versatile in terms of their designs and purpose. Nevertheless, both canoes and kayaks today are stable, durable, and safe to use in water.

Ease of Use

When it comes to comfort and ease of use, paddling canoes take more effort to paddle since they are bulkier and heavier, often requiring two people. Kayak paddles, on the other hand, are designed for use by a single paddler with a blade on each end (albeit tandem kayaks are also a thing). The paddler grips both hands in the middle of the paddle, dipping each alternately into the water.

Stability and Maneuverability

Because of its bigger frame, canoes will be more stable than a kayak, but a kayak will be faster and easier to maneuver. Also, moving in a straight line is much easier in a kayak since kayak paddles are double-sided, paddlers are not required to shift body position to keep it straight. On the other hand, canoes have an advantage in stability. Its larger hull allows for greater steadiness on calm waters.

Storage Capability

If you are using a kayak or canoe for recreational purposes, you’ll probably bring things with you on the kayak or canoe. Storage quality differs in both kayaks and canoes. Flexibility goes to canoes, with its wider deck that’s capable of storing big equipment, while kayaks offer a waterproof storage space that is generally below deck.

Kayaking Gear and Equipment

To get started with kayaking and before learning how to kayak, you will need some essential gear and equipment.


The type of kayak you purchase depends on what type of paddling you want to do and your level as a paddler.

Sit-on-Top Kayak

These kayaks with sealed hulls are easier to get on and off. However, since you will be sitting on top of the kayak, no part of your body is sheltered from splashes and waves. It is best to use a sit-on-top kayak when you’re in warmer weather and you’re ready to get wet.

Sit-in Kayak

These kayaks have hollow hulls or cockpits that enclose your legs. A spray skirt attachment will stop the water from coming in, keeping your legs dry and helping you stay warm. The main challenge with sit-in kayaks is getting on and getting off the kayak. Also, water can still sometimes get inside the hull. When this happens, bailing out your kayak or draining the water requires more effort than with a sit-on-top kayak.

Whitewater Kayak

Designed for moving quickly down fast-flowing, rocky courses, whitewater kayaks usually range from 4 to 5 feet in length and designed to be sit-in kayaks. These kayaks are usually made of hard-wearing rotomolded plastics. There are two general type of whitewater kayaks: playboats which are short and have a scooped bow and blunt stern and creekboats which are longer and more voluminous.

Touring Kayak

Designed to be fast and efficient over long distances, touring kayaks are long, robust, and often designed to be sit-in kayaks. Their lengths often vary from 12 to 24 feet and have one or more internal bulkheads that are often used for storage. Touring kayaks have rudders or skegs (fitted rudders) to aid steering.

Sea Kayak

Sea kayaks are a variant of touring kayaks. They are designed to have higher rockers to help them crest into oncoming waves. Its narrow, V-shaped front profile allows it to deal with rougher waters.

Fishing Kayak

These kayaks allow you to fish while on your kayak. Fishing kayaks feature pole rests, pontoon stabilizers, a flatter hull for stability, and pedal-powered water wheels to help you keep your hands on your fishing pole while kayaking. Fishing kayaks may be sit-in or sit-on-top kayaks.

Recreational Kayak

If you’d like to enjoy your first try at kayaking, a recreational kayak is the best choice. With their wide hull and medium length, recreational kayaks are designed to be stable and easy to steer. They may be sit-in or sit-on-top kayaks, have a small area for storage, and best used on flat, calm waters.

Tandem Kayak

Designed to hold two people, tandem kayaks are great if you’d like to enjoy kayaking with a companion. They may be sit-in or sit-on-top kayaks and ideal for inexperienced kayakers.

Inflatable Kayak

Lightweight and affordable, inflatable kayaks are great for beginners and those who want more portability. These usually come with one or two paddles. Some inflatable kayaks are designed for just one person while there are some that can accommodate up to three people.


The paddle you use depends on what type of kayaking you plan to do. The store where you buy your equipment can help you decide which type of paddle to choose.


Kayak paddles often come in various sizes. The right size depends on the height of the paddler and the width of the kayak.


There are different materials used for kayak paddles. The lighter the material, the more expensive it is. Usual materials for kayak paddle blades are: plastic/nylon blades, which are the lowest-priced ones; fiberglass blades, which offer mid-range prices and offer excellent performance and durability at the same time; and carbon-fiber blades, which are very light and allows high paddling efficiency. For the shaft, the usual materials are plastic, aluminium, carbon, and fiberglass.

Blade Design

The most common kayak paddle blades have an asymmetrical dihedral shape. These are blades that are relatively narrow and shorter on one side, making them lighter and more comfortable to use. Wider blades are often used by those who need quick powerful strokes that provide quick acceleration. There are also blades that feature a J-shaped notch to retrieve snared fishing lines and hooks.

Shaft Design

When it comes to the shaft of a kayak paddle, you can choose from straight or bent, two-piece or four-piece, and standard or small diameter. Bent shafts allow a more comfortable position for your arms when paddling. The number of pieces the shafts of kayak paddles comes in depends on how short you want the pieces to be in when storing them. Small-diameter shafts are easier to grip for those with smaller hands.


Kayak paddle blades may be feathered or matched (unfeathered). Feathered blades are those that are placed at an angle to each other, while matched blades are aligned with each other. Most paddle blades may be rotated to be feathered or matched. Feathered blades have the advantage of reducing wind resistance on the blade that’s out of the water.

Personal Flotation Device

It is a must to wear a life jacket for every person in a kayak. This will ensure that you will be buoyant in the water should you be thrown off the kayak for any reason. Make sure that your personal flotation device is comfortable and will not get in the way of your paddling.


For whitewater and sea kayaking, a sprayskirt is essential for keeping the water out of the kayak. Just make sure that the skirt fits both the kayaker and the boat.


A helmet is a must if there is a chance that you might hit your head on something hard while kayaking. Hence, this is required for activities such as whitewater kayaking but not so much for kayaking in a calm lake or sea.

Drysuit, Wetsuit, Paddle Jacket

The need for a suit or a jacket depends on the kayaker’s preference and water temperature. During summer, most kayakers do without them, but during winter, a drysuit or wetsuit can make kayaking more comfortable.


There are several choices when it comes to footwear. Although may wear aqua/water shoes, you are also free to wear neoprene booties, wool socks, and dedicated paddling shoes. No matter which kind of footwear you choose, make sure it is comfortable to wear and will allow you to fit in the kayak while wearing them.


The use of gloves while kayaking is also a matter of preference. Some kayakers prefer to kayak without gloves for better feel and grip of the kayak paddles. However, wearing gloves helps keep your hands warm during cold weather and protects you from any scrapes or gashes.

Rope Bag

A rope bag or throw bag is a bag of floating rope that can be thrown in the water to rescue someone. In case of emergencies, a rescue throw bag can help you save lives.

Dry Bag

Although you may not want to bring a lot of things when kayaking, a dry bag will ensure that whatever stuff you bring will be kept dry. Dry bags often come in different materials, styles, and sizes. These bags are designed to keep all items inside, such as mobile phones, wallets, and cameras, dry even if the bag is thrown into the water.

Float Bags

You may equip your kayak with float bags. These are bags filled with air and installed at the stern or the bow of the kayak to keep the kayak afloat higher in the water when overturned.

Renting vs Buying

You do not need to shell out a lot of money to buy everything you need to go kayaking. For those who have never tried kayaking, it is best to rent the equipment where kayaking activities are offered or take kayaking lessons that include the use of kayaking equipment.

Kayaking lessons will provide you with not just the equipment to try out this activity, but also the basic skills and information you will need to do it properly and to enjoy it more thoroughly. If you know a few things about kayaking and do not want to take lessons, there are often rentals near lakes or beaches. A rental package often includes the basic things you will need such as a kayak, a double-sided paddle, and a personal flotation device.

If you have tried kayaking several times and thinking of doing it more regularly, buying your own equipment is more cost-effective in the long run.

Places for Kayaking

Kayaking can be done in any body of water – from wild rivers and seas to calm lakes and pools. It is best to try kayaking in calm lakes and pools, while those who are more adventurous may enjoy kayaking in wild rivers, wavy seas, and even inside caves.

No matter where you decide to go kayaking, make sure to familiarize yourself with the area and the hazards to watch out for. Be aware of the weather conditions in the area, especially on the day you plan to go kayaking. Also, find out where the nearest first aid station is and get the number of any rescue teams in the area.

How to Kayak

Just like with any activity, there are specific skills you will need to learn how to kayak and to fully enjoy kayaking.

Getting in the Kayak

The first skill you will need to learn is how to get in and out of the kayak.

  1. Place your paddle across the kayak just in front of your seat. Make sure to position it so that you can easily reach it once you’re seated in the kayak, which is ideally where your knees or shin would be when you’re sitting.
  2. Place your hand on the back of the seat and stand perpendicularly to the kayak. Step in with the foot closet to the seat. Position your foot in a way that allows you to sit down in the kayak.
  3. Place your other hand on the paddle and use it as a handrail. Place your weight evenly on the back of the seat and the paddle and bring your other foot into the kayak.

If you are getting into the kayak from a dock, just make sure that the kayak is as close to the dock as possible. Step down into the kayak while holding onto the dock with one hand and the back of the seat with the other hand.


A kayak is a vehicle and to fully enjoy it, you will need to learn how to control it.

Holding Your Paddle

The secret to efficient, comfortable paddling is to hold your paddle correctly. Make sure that your paddle is the correct length for you. Hold your paddles with your large knuckles pointed up and the blades perpendicular to the surface of the water. If you have an asymmetrical blade, the shorter side should be at the bottom. If you have curved blades, the concave side should be facing you.

Keeping the Paddler’s Box

Place the center of your paddle’s shaft on your head and grip the shaft so that your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Bring your arms down and keep note of the “paddler’s box” – the shape formed by your arms, the shaft, and your chest. Maintain this box while paddling.

Relaxing Your Grip

To prevent fatigue in your arms, wrists, and hands, keep a relaxed grip on the paddle shaft. Make an “O” around the shaft with your index finger and thumb, then let the rest of your fingers rest lightly on the shaft.

Doing the Forward Stroke

To make your kayak move forward, the first step is to fully immerse the blade on one side of the kayak next to your feet. Rotate your torso so that your eyes can follow the blade as it moves behind you. While doing this, use your upper hand as you push against the shaft. Once your lower hand reaches behind your hip, smoothly bring the blade out of the water. Do the same motion for the other blade.

Doing the Reverse Stroke

The reverse stroke can be used for going in reverse and for braking the kayak from a forward motion. It is the exact opposite of the forward stroke. First, fully immerse the blade on one side next to your hip. Rotate your hip as you move the blade in front of you. Once the blade is near your feet, smoothly bring it out of the water.

Doing the Sweep Stroke

To make your kayak turn, you will need to do the sweep stroke. The sweep stroke is simply doing the forward stroke on one side of the kayak only. This will make your kayak slowly turn in the opposite direction.

Doing the Draw Stroke

There are times when you will need to move your kayak sideways. You can do this with the draw stroke. First, rotate your paddle so that the blade is horizontal. Reach out and let the tip one of the blades touch the water. Using your lower hand, pull the blade straight towards you while keeping the blade in the water. Repeat the stroke until you are in your desired position on the water.

When paddling, no matter what stroke you are doing, using your core to move will help avoid fatigue in your arms. Power your stroke with your strong core muscles and sit upright. Do not forget to maintain the paddler’s box as this will help make it easier to remember to use your core muscles for paddling.

Kayaking Safety Tips

Whether it is your first time to go kayaking or you are a skilled kayaker, it is importantly to always observe practices that will keep you safe while kayaking.

  • Be aware of weather conditions.
  • Wear clothing appropriate for the water temperature.
  • Do not drink and kayak.
  • Stay within the weight capacity of your kayak. This includes not just the weight of the people on the boat, but also the weight of everything you bring on the kayak.
  • Always wear your personal flotation device.
  • Inform someone where you will go kayaking and how long you expect to be gone.
  • Equip yourself with basic water safety and self-rescue skills.
  • Bring food and water if you plan to kayak for more than an hour to keep yourself hydrated and energized.
  • Stretch before and after kayaking.
  • Bring an emergency bag that has important tools such as a compass, a map, a flare, a safety whistle, and a first aid kit.