Category: Learn

Is Kayaking Hard? Learn How To Overcome The Challenges


by Thomas Moore

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You are probably here because you want an answer to the question, “Is kayaking hard?”. The short answer is no; it’s not as hard as you might think. 

The basics of paddling are pretty easy to learn, but mastering advanced techniques will definitely take time and practice. And if you have ambitious goals, like tackling whitewater rapids or going on a long ocean expedition, you better be prepared for a challenge.

That being said, kayaking doesn’t require extreme athleticism or strength. With some patience, persistence, and a willingness to start slowly, you can gradually improve your skills and confidence on the water. 

So whether you decide to push your limits and take on thrilling adventures or simply enjoy the calmness of a leisurely paddle, kayaking can be a fun and fulfilling experience for anyone.

With the right guidance, you can quickly learn and enjoy kayaking. In the rest of this post, I’ll answer “How hard is kayaking?” in more detail and give tips for beginners. Let’s dive in!

Two people kayaking in the lake

Common Misconceptions About Kayaking Difficulty

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions out there about how hard kayaking can be. In this section, I’ll clear up some of those myths so you can have a better idea of what to expect and not let false beliefs hold you back.

Misconception 1: Kayaking Requires A Lot Of Upper Body

Who says you need to be a gym buff to enjoy kayaking? Contrary to popular belief, kayaking doesn’t require herculean upper body strength. Sure, a bit of brawn in your arms and shoulders can help, but don’t fret if you’re not super jacked.

What’s the secret? It’s all about proper paddling techniques and body positioning. 

By rotating your torso and engaging your core muscles, you’ll generate the force behind the forward stroke. This means your arms are mostly used for paddle maneuvering, so you can spread the workload throughout your body and reduce the strain on your arms.

If you’re new to kayaking, you can practice at a local kayak shop to see if it works for you. Many shops offer rentals and lessons, so you can get a feel for different kayaks and paddling styles before making a purchase.

Misconception 2: Kayaks Are Prone To Capsizing

You may have heard that kayaks are easy to tip over. Well, I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to worry too much about that! 

While some kayaks with narrow bases may be less stable, most recreational kayaks are built with a wider and more stable base, making them much safer for beginners. You’ll find that most yaks nowadays are designed with stability and maneuverability in mind, thanks to features like wider hulls and low centers of gravity that make them less likely to capsize

Of course, accidents can happen, but if you follow the proper safety procedures and stay calm, you’ll be able to handle any situation that arises. And don’t worry, I’ll cover those safety tips in more detail later in this post.

Misconception 3: Kayaking Is Not Safe

While it’s true that being out in the sun and wind can be dehydrating, and waves and currents can add an extra layer of difficulty, kayaking is generally a safe sport as long as you take basic safety measures. For beginners, it’s important to start with calm waters and keep an eye on weather conditions to avoid rough waters.

To mitigate potential risks, one of the most important safety measures is to always wear a life jacket while kayaking. In addition, it’s recommended to wear a helmet to protect against head injuries, as well as take lessons to improve paddling and safety techniques. 

It’s also worth noting that common canoeing and kayaking injury areas include the shoulder and wrist, so it’s important to wear gloves and the right gear.

Factors That Can Impact The Difficulty Of Kayaking

Kayaking can offer a fun and exhilarating experience, but the difficulty level can vary depending on various factors.

1. Distance

The first time you give it a shot, like many newbie kayakers, you might underestimate how long you’ll be on the water, which can lead to fatigue and maybe blisters (from all the paddling) on your first kayaking trip – and, that’s a recipe for a miserable time. I’m sure you don’t want that.

For beginners, it’s best to start with shorter distances and gradually work your way up. So, before you head out, be sure to plan your route and include some rest stops along the way. 

Trust me, it’s worth taking a breather, stretching a bit, and enjoying the scenery every now and then. And don’t forget to bring some water and snacks to stay fueled up so you don’t run out of steam halfway through.

2. Obstacles

Watch out for rocks, logs, and other obstacles when kayaking, folks! These hazards can be super dangerous, so be sure to stay aware of your surroundings and paddle with caution.

It’s also a great idea to learn how to navigate around obstacles and practice your maneuvering skills in calm waters before you take on more challenging conditions.

3. Waves

Waves are one of the factors that impact the difficulty of kayaking

Waves can make kayaking a bit more exciting – or terrifying, depending on how you look at it! 

If the waters are choppy, you’ll need to adjust your paddling technique to keep from getting swamped. Don’t worry, though – with a little practice, you’ll be out there handling the waves with finesse. 

If you’re not used to dealing with waves, take it slow on, say, calm lakes, and gradually work your way up to more challenging waters.

Technical Skills

Paddling with the wrong technique can leave you feeling like you’re going nowhere fast: and it could even lead to injury. Unless you want your fingers to look like prunes, I suggest you learn proper paddle strokes. 

You’ll find it easy to nail these skills on your first trips. Don’t worry if it feels awkward and tiring at first – just keep practicing until it becomes as natural as breathing. Once you get the hang of it, you can enjoy the scenic beauty while paddling. 

I’ll now go over the crucial basic paddle strokes that you’ll have to master first.

Basic Paddle Strokes

These basic paddle strokes are essential for any kayaker, as they allow you to maneuver your kayak with ease and precision. 

First up, we have the forward stroke. To do this one, you’ll grip the paddle with both hands and place the paddle blade near your feet. Use your core muscles to rotate your torso and pull the paddle through the water towards your hips. Your arms will help you maneuver the paddle as you go. You can tweak this stroke to change your speed or direction.

Now, onto the sweep stroke! It’s great for turning your kayak and avoiding obstacles. Just place the paddle blade behind you and use your upper hand to push it away from the kayak while the lower hand pulls it towards you. This will turn your kayak in the opposite direction of the paddle in the water.

Advanced Paddle Strokes

Since we’ve covered the basics, I’ll show you some techniques to step up your game and be the captain of your kayak. 

One of these is the J-stroke, which is used to help the kayak travel in a straight line without needing to constantly switch sides.

To perform a J-stroke, start with a normal forward stroke, but just as the paddle reaches your hip, twist your wrist so the blade turns outward and away from the kayak. This will cause the blade to act as a rudder and prevent your kayak from turning away from the side you’re paddling on.

And the sculling draw? That’s how you move your kayak sideways and show off your fancy paddling skills. Just be prepared to put in some extra practice time because these strokes require some serious finesse.

There are also more specialized strokes that can be useful in certain situations. 

One such stroke is the bracing stroke, which is used to prevent your kayak from tipping over in rough water or strong currents. The bracing stroke involves quickly placing the paddle blade perpendicular to the surface of the water on one side of the kayak while leaning to the opposite side. 

Another specialized stroke is the sculling brace, which is used to maintain balance while stationary in the water or while moving slowly. To perform a sculling brace, you need to make a figure-eight motion with the paddle blade on one side of the kayak while simultaneously leaning towards that side.

You may find it helpful to watch this YouTube video that demonstrates advanced kayaking techniques.

Safety Considerations

You know what’s even more important than looking cool in your kayak? Safety! Yup, that’s right, before you hit the water, you better have a few key safety tips under your belt.

First and foremost, it’s important to wear a personal flotation device (PFD) at all times while kayaking. Even if you’re a strong swimmer, unexpected circumstances can arise, and a PFD can save your life. 

For on-the-water sports like kayaking, Type III PFDs are considered the most appropriate, as per the classification of the US Coast Guard.

Waterproof kayaking gloves may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about safety equipment, but they are crucial for a comfortable and safe kayaking experience. These gloves can keep your hands warm and dry, protect against blisters and cuts, and provide a better grip on the paddle.

Always ensure that your kayaking equipment is in good condition before hitting the water. Check your kayak for any damages, ensure your paddle is secure, and make sure your PFD fits correctly. 

If you’re kayaking and experience a capsize, it’s important to know how to recover quickly. Even experienced kayakers can face unpredictable circumstances, so learning the basics of self-rescue is essential. 

One way to recover from a capsize is to perform an Eskimo roll, but if that’s not possible, you should do a wet exit, retrieve your paddle, flip the kayak back up, and get back onto the deck before removing any excess water.

By taking these safety considerations seriously, you can have a fun and safe kayaking experience.

Safety Equipment Needed

Life jackets are needed for kayaking.

Of course, the specific equipment you’ll need will depend on factors like the type of kayaking you’re planning to do and the conditions of the water. But to give you a general idea, here are some common items that every kayaker should have on hand:

  • Personal flotation device (PFD)
  • Helmet
  • Spray skirt
  • Wetsuit or drysuit
  • Whistle
  • First-aid kit
  • Paddle float
  • Bilge pump
  • Flares
  • Rescue knives
  • Airbags and buoyancy bags
  • Navigation and communication tools (GPS/Map, flares, and Compass)

Tips And Tricks For Beginners

Now I’m going to share some tips to make the start of your kayaking journey a breeze!

Take Lessons

If you’re feeling a bit unsure about kayaking and haven’t tried any water activities before, taking a few lessons might be a good idea. It’s always helpful to get some guidance from an experienced instructor who can give you feedback and tips to improve your skills faster. 

You can usually find lessons at your local canoe and kayak club, where they’ll teach you the most efficient and effective paddling techniques and how to stay safe on the water.

Choose The Right Kayak

I would highly recommend taking the time to research the different types of kayaks available before making a purchase.

You can find kayaks of varying designs, shapes, and sizes, and you’ll want to ensure you get the right one for your needs and skill level. If you’re new to this sport, a recreational sit-on-top kayak is a great option. These are easy to handle and perfect for calm waters.

For experienced kayakers who love a challenge, a sit-inside kayak might be more your style. You’ll more effectively tackle rough waters with these more advanced kayaks. 

Also, please don’t underestimate the need for a good paddle, folks! It’s the difference between a blistered and fatigued day on the water versus smooth and efficient strokes. So, do yourself a favor and choose the appropriate paddle to make it easier on yourself. Like I mentioned earlier most injuries will happen to your hands, so please don’t overlook this.

Dress For The Water

Don’t let the warm weather fool you – when kayaking, always dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. That means suiting up in a wetsuit or drysuit, along with a trusty PFD and proper footwear.

And let’s talk about clothing: comfort is key! You want to be able to move and groove without any restrictions, so opt for quick-drying clothes or a wetsuit that won’t slow you down.

And don’t forget to bring a hat and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun.

Choose The Appropriate Location

Starting on calm waters like a chill lake or a relaxed pond is a great way to get your feet wet without being thrown in the deep end. You can improve your paddling skills and confidence without worrying about rough currents or gnarly waves. 

As you get better, start exploring different locations with different difficulty levels, but always check the weather forecast and water conditions first. Safety first, always!

Paddle With A Partner Or In A Group

Kayaking solo can be a bit of a thrill, but kayaking with a few buds can turn up the adventure and keep you safer too. A little teamwork and vigilance can go a long way out on the water. 

But if you go it alone you should notify someone where you’re headed, and when to expect your return. Just in case.

How To Progress And Challenge Yourself In Kayaking

Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, but always stay within your limits and be aware of your surroundings.

As you gain more experience in kayaking, you can start exploring more diverse water environments, such as rivers or the sea, which may offer new challenges and require you to develop additional skills.

Join a kayaking club or group to learn from the pros and pick up some fresh paddling moves. You can usually find clubs that offer regular paddling trips and training sessions that can help you improve your paddling technique and build confidence.

Another way to level up is to learn new paddling techniques. 

For example, mastering the eskimo roll can be a valuable skill to have if you plan on kayaking in rougher waters. It involves flipping your kayak upright while underwater and is a crucial skill for kayakers who want to continue paddling without having to exit and re-enter the yak.

I always recommend never pushing yourself beyond your limits while kayaking. Always stay within your skill level and challenge yourself safely. And speaking of safety, make sure you have all the necessary equipment, such as a PFD, a whistle, and a waterproof phone case. Remember, it’s better to be over-prepared when it comes to trying new things.


So, after all that we’ve discussed, how hard is kayaking? Well, it really depends on your perspective! Like any sport, there are some basic techniques to master and a learning curve but with practice and determination, anyone can become a skilled kayaker. And the best part? Kayaking can be incredibly rewarding for people of all ages and skill levels! 

If you’re like most newbies, you might have had some doubts about kayaking being too tough or risky. You may be swayed by all the myths and half-truths floating around.

But trust me, it’s not as daunting as it seems! Just like any other activity, there are various factors that can affect the difficulty level. But you should worry! Just know that with the right guidance, safety gear, and an open mind to learn, kayaking can be a fulfilling way to push your limits (mentally and physically) and have a blast as well. 

As I wind up I want you to give kayaking a try and see for yourself. Don’t forget to have fun out there! Take in the beautiful scenery, soak up the sun, and snap some pics to make those memories last a lifetime.

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Written by:

Hi, my name is Thomas, and I am a kayaker with over a decade of experience. I enjoy this outdoor water activity and also enjoy writing posts for this blog that help people learn more about kayaking.