This advice column is fairly standard and meant to give any rookie boater some helpful hints or reminders. First you’ll figure out the gear, the on-water safety, and the basic idea of getting yourself downstream. After that comes all the stuff that makes becoming a better paddler actually difficult: the mental endurance. I have no advice or how-to’s on the mental game of kayaking, only my own limited experience thus far.
For as long as I’ve been boating, kayaking has always been intimidating. There’s plenty of reasons, but I’ve found my biggest challenge in overcoming this fear of being Brand-New. It took a long time to get over the fact that learning to kayak would mean starting over. It would mean being a liability on the water, instead of an asset. And when it came down to actually putting myself in a kayak and getting over my fear of being Brand-New, it took years of self-persuasion.
Boating is hard. Every beatdown seems like it has only ever happened to you. Every rapid seems like life-or-death to some degree for a while. Every unfortunate encounter with duder-bro paddlers makes kayaking seem like it is quite a stupid endeavor. (the people who don’t go boating to experience the river itself, but the self-gratification of running the gnar- and getting the GoPro footage.) Boating is hard, and it is also such an epic way to learn your own limits and how to challenge those limits with purpose.
AMATEUR ADVICE HOUR: PRO TIPS FROM A TOTAL BEGINNER
#1) DIAL YOUR ROLL.
- Seemingly obvious, but a good place to start. Go to pool sessions, or the Jonsrud eddy, or Brennan’s, or anywhere. Fire off rolls until you’re dizzy. More time spent on practice equals less time spent upside down in combat. You will be a useless paddler if your roll isn’t solid, or if you don’t bother keeping it solid.
#2) DIAL YOUR GEAR.
- It is really important to have reliable gear that fits well. This goes for PFDs, helmets, drysuits, sprayskirts, paddles, etc.- and your kayak. Renting gear (hey Love Boat Library!) is a great affordable option if you’re just starting out and aren’t willing or able to invest in all the crap you need just yet.
#3) DIAL YOUR CREW.
- Knowing the right people and building a solid crew is probably the hardest part of getting into kayaking. The more you paddle, the more you’ll meet people you want to paddle with. Use your best judgement on who you trust to lead you down a new run, and remember to watch out for the safety of others as much as your own. Taking a swiftwater class is a great (but not cheap) way to sharpen your own knowledge, especially if you don’t have a ton of prior river experience.
#4) DRESS FOR THE SWIM.
- It’s pretty critical to have a general understanding of water levels and temps on any given river, and always dress for that swim. A long swim or prolonged rescue can be dangerously cold, even on a bluebird day.
(Like I said, this advice column covers the absolute basics. The rest is up to you!)