Introduction to sea kayaking
Becoming an advanced level paddler with exceptional kayaking skills can be a lifelong expedition, but every journey starts with the simple step of getting started. For a beginner to kayaking the sea or just about any water, can seem a bit scary at first. Developing self confidence in real paddling conditions is the key to your safety and to enjoying your sea kayaking. A qualified instructor can employ a range of painless and progressive instructional methods to make the learning process easier and more fun. The techniques are actually quite simple. Developing the confidence to stay in the kayak, relax and use those skills when needed can be an awesome journey. With effective instruction there is no sea kayaking skill too advanced for the beginner. In learning the “fundamentals" of paddling will build a good foundation for further skills development. .
The same techniques that apply in calm water also apply in advanced sea conditions (only better done with more practice and experience). Instead of teaching beginners to paddle like beginners, I prefer to instruct in how to start using and developing good techniques. That is why I prefer to call it "fundamental skills" rather than "beginner skills" In the articles that follow we’ll cover the absolute fundamentals: how to get in and out of your kayak, how to move it through the water with a minimum of effort and what to do if you fall over.
The following is a starting point, not the end of the journey. As with any skill, proficiency takes practice and experience. Taking a lesson from a qualified instructor can certainly help. However, there is no substitute for time spent on the water in a kayak.
Getting started – first things first…
Sitting comfortably in the Kayak
An enclosed deck kayak, an open canoe and a sit on top kayak are quite different designs and require different ways of getting seated, safely and comfortably, (dry that is !!)
Let’s look at the enclosed deck kayak.
Firstly find and adjust the foot pedals or foot braces. There is a variety of adjustment methods. The foot pedal should slide forwards and backwards and lock in depending on your leg length. Some use a trigger just behind the pedal to release the catch, others may a long stick which is twisted or pulled to release the catch, allowing the pedal to slide forward or backwards.
This is generally best done on dry land as you may need a number of attempts to get the adjustment comfortable. If there is any discomfort now, it will be far more uncomfortable and a lot more difficult to adjust out on the water. In order to test the comfort setting you need to be sitting in the kayak. Some cockpit openings are quite small while others very generous. Either way, the technique is similar whether you are on land or in water. ,
- Straddle the kayak with your feet either side of the cockpit, just above the seat.
- Lower yourself into a squat position, grab the cockpit combing for support and balance and lower yourself into the seat. This may take a little bit of flexibility.
- Then swing the legs inside one at a time.
- Or it may be easier but requiring better balance or some form of support to sit on the deck behind the seat, swing the legs in and slide forwards into the seat.
Once in, the feet should be in a neutral position (feet and ankle in an L shape) splayed slightly, knees apart, bent and with light pressure, under the deck or thigh braces if fitted. Sit upright.
You should be able to apply pressure with the ball of the foot on the foot brace as if squeezing a tube of toothpaste with your foot. (more on this later) Don’t push with your toes as this can become uncomfortable and may lead to cramping. You pretty much become a part of the kayak with your 3 points of contact. While gently pressing with the feet on braces, knees are raised under the deck or knee / braces and backside on seat. A good test is to see if you can capsize the kayak by rolling it sideways without falling out.
This is just as essential for the beginner as the expert paddler. (Fundamental skill .
Now on the water
It may seem easier at first to hop into the kayak on dry land, without getting your feet wet, then have someone drag both you and the kayak to the water. Not a good habit to get into. There comes a time when you are the last to launch and no one to drag you. Also tends to put holes in the bottom of the kayak. Not a good look .
Float the kayak in shallow water and either straddle the kayak, use a side saddle approach or use some support. Support can be either someone holding the kayak for you or holding onto some solid object or even using your paddle as a brace for support. You can use your paddle by holding one end behind you on the back deck with the other end resting on the shore or bottom. Be very careful with your expensive paddle as it can easily break in this position. Use the paddle to support your balance only. Not your weight!. With some form of support it is usually easier to start by sitting on the deck behind the seat and sliding in feet first. For a “sit on kayak” the side saddle approach works well. Simply float the kayak in knee deep water, sit on the seat and then turn forwards bringing the legs aboard. Too easy.
For an open canoe or kayak with a very large cockpit opening.
Bend down, grab both sides of the opening (in front of the seat) with both hands. Leaning on your arms for balance simply step into the craft and promptly sit down.
Getting in from a dock or jetty.
Not so easy as even a floating dock can be a long way out of the water. This is possibly the dorkiest thing you will ever do. Tie the kayak to the dock or have someone holding it for you. Sit on the edge of the dock with your feet inside the kayak in front of the seat. Holding onto the dock with both hands for balance and support stand / squat in the center of the kayak and then lower yourself onto the seat.
Getting in from a rocky shore.
To minimise / avoid damage to both yourself and the kayak, start with the kayak floating in as deep water as you can and use one of the methods just described. Pretty much a deep water entry.
Getting in on a surf beach.
This is where the sets of waves are large enough to swamp the kayak and fill the cockpit before securing your spray deck/ skirt. Timing is all important. Judge how far the surf is running up the beach and determine a spot where the waves have lost energy but there is still enough water to float the kayak. Getting in is as on land. Wait for the set to subside and quickly get in. Secure the spray deck before the next set of surf which will surge up the beach to you. The initial waves will wash past you and when you have enough water under your kayak you simply paddle out into the wide blue yonder.
Getting out of the kayak.
This is imply the reverse of getting in. If you happen to capsize and are upside down. Do not panic. If you can manage to stay calm and sit there your PFD will float you to the surface or near enough to get a breath. Otherwise, stay calm, tuck yourself forward as far as possible. Place your hands near your hips at the cockpit combing. (If wearing a spray skirt, grab the spray skirt release handle / strap. Push forward and up to release the skirt.) Push yourself out of the seat and tumble forward bringing your legs out last. Your PFD will float you towards the surface and you will be out in a jiffy.
A few things before launching out.
Do a safety check of the essentials. Where you intend to go and for how long will make a difference to the safety gear you carry with you. As a bare minimum before any launch check: ALL hatches are secure, Deck lines and grab toggles are in good condition, NO loose cordage about, PFD is securely fitted, spray deck release is in sight. Some people refer to this as the Holy Crap Strap. Because when you capsize and want to exit it is tucked inside the kayak, out of reach.
The next articles in this series will deal with on the water skills. Paddling the kayak in the direction you want to go and staying upright. That is Forward paddling strokes, Steering strokes and Support strokes.
For these 3, it doesn’t really matter which order they are learned in. I could find 6 instructors who each will have a different preference. n X (n -1).