The 5 Basic Skills Every Multisport Kayaker Should Learn First

Here are the 5 basic skills that every multi-sport kayaker should learn first.

Why Getting the Basics Right Is So Important

I know you're excited to start kayaking, but you need to get the basics right first in order to experience long-term success with paddling.

The "disaster session"

Imagine trying to get into your kayak for the first time. You fall into the water and get totally soaked. Now you're cold, embarrassed, and demoralised.

Once you do finally get paddling, your back starts to ache and you wonder why your paddling feels wonky. One side feels good, but the other side feels wobbly and weak.

You struggle to steer the boat where you want to go, and without warning you fall into the water again.

It is then that you realise you've made some terrible mistakes. You are unable to get yourself to shore, and it's starting to get dark!

The following 5 tips will ensure that your first kayak training sessions are a positive, safe, and productive experience...

Skill #1: How to Get Into Your Kayak Without Falling Over

Falling out of your kayak before you have even set off can be embarrassing, demoralising, and is a waste of your valuable training time. 

To ensure you stay dry while getting into your multisport kayak, follow these easy steps:

  1. Position your kayak side-on (parallel) to the bank.

  2. Position yourself between the bank and your kayak.

  3. Hold your paddle behind your body, with the paddle shaft at 90 degrees to the kayak and bank (you will use the paddle as a brace between the bank and your kayak).

  4. Position one paddle blade power-face-down on the bank.

  5. Place the opposite end of your paddle just behind the cockpit (seat area) of your kayak.

  6. Place the hand that is closest to the bank about mid-way on your paddle shaft.

  7. Use the hand farthest from the bank to grip both your paddle shaft and the cockpit rim (your fingers will be inside the boat, and your thumb will be wrapped around the paddle shaft).

  8. Sit down on the back edge of your cockpit (just in front of your paddle), keeping your weight slightly towards the bank.

  9. Carefully step your feet into your kayak.

  10. Straighten your legs, then slip your knees and hips inside the kayak so you are sitting in your kayak balanced and ready to paddle away. 

Skill #2: How to Paddle With Perfect Posture 

Getting your paddling posture right from an early stage is essential. 

You'll want to get used to sitting in your kayak in the correct position, so as your technique improves, you are already sitting in a powerful position.

To ensure you are in the correct paddling position, follow these tips:

  1. Your knees should be bent.

  2. Sit tall in your kayak, with a neutral spine position (not hunched forward, or slouched back).

  3. Bend at your hips so your shoulders are directly above your hips (90-degree bend at your hips).

  4. Keep your chin up.

  5. Pull your shoulders back, by trying to squeeze your shoulder blades together.

Skill #3: How to Feather Your Paddle During the Forward Stroke

If you have chosen the correct type of paddle, and have set this up correctly, then your paddle blades will be at different angles to each other.

Because of the angle difference (offset), you will need to "feather" your paddle and you take each stroke. 

When you feather your paddle correctly, your blades will be aligned in the correct direction when they meet the water.

If you fail to feather your paddle correctly, your blades will be poorly aligned in the water, which will lead to a drastic loss in performance and reduced balance in your kayak.

Here is how to feather your kayak paddle correctly (written for a right-handed paddler):

Understand that the goal of feathering is to ensure that with every forward stroke, the power-face of your paddle blades are aiming directly backwards (from your direction of travel) while in the water.

  1. Grip your right hand on the paddle shaft, near the right blade, so that when you take a right forward-stroke your power-face points directly backwards, and your right wrist is straight.

  2. Imagine your right hand is stuck to your paddle shaft with super-glue (your right hand NEVER moves from this position).

  3. Hold the paddle shaft in your left hand LOOSELY, near the left blade.

  4. In between each and every stroke allow the paddle shaft to rotate (slip) in your left hand.

  5. Take particular care to ensure that when you place the left blade in the water, the power-face is aiming directly backwards before you re-grip your left hand and take your stroke.

Skill #4: How to Use Your Rudder Pedals Correctly

Using your rudder is going to be one of your primary methods for steering your multisport kayak when you get on the river.

When you go to the river for the first time, you do NOT want to be thinking about your feet!

You want steering with your rudder pedals to feel like second nature - just like driving a car.

This way, when you start paddling on the river, you can focus all your attention on where you want to go, not how to operate your pedals.

Here is how to use your rudder pedals correctly:

  1. Ensure your pedals are set up correctly.

  2. Understand how your pedals work. Take a look inside your boat and notice that you have a solid foot-plate, and a flap above the foot-plate with a line (string) that connects the flap to your rudder.

  3. To turn left, use your left foot to push the left flap forward.

  4. To turn right, use your right foot push the right flap forward.

  5. Ideally, you should have the balls of your feet on the solid foot-plate, and your toes on the flaps.

  6. Remember to relax the foot you are not pushing on, so you don't bind up the system.

Don't just paddle in a straight line!

While training on flat-water, practice drills that require plenty of steering. Go around obstacles, follow the curvature of the shore-line, or zig-zag back and forth.

If you can train your brain to steer your kayak using your rudder, you will be able to confidently manoeuvre your kayak when it comes time to paddle down the river.

Skill #5: What to Do if You Fall Out of Your Kayak

Every kayaker falls out of their kayak from time-to-time. It's part of our sport, so try not be too embarrassed or upset.

If you do fall out of your kayak during a flat-water training session, here is what you need to do to ensure you stay safe:

Before you fall out of your kayak:

  1. Wear a properly fitting PFD (life jacket) 100% of the time.

  2. Don't kayak alone. It's best if you have another paddler around who can help you get to shore.

  3. If you must kayak alone, keep really close to the shore. 

  4. Carry waterproof communication (like a cell phone in a sealed pouch) in an easy-to-reach place ON YOUR BODY (not in the boat).

After you have fallen out of your kayak:

  1. Keep hold of your kayak and paddle. If you did let go of these things when you fell over, swim after them! 

  2. Do NOT climb on top of your kayak. This will fill the kayak with water. Instead, float in your PFD.

  3. Leave your kayak upside down. This traps air inside your boat and makes it easier to drag to shore.

  4. Swim to the front of your kayak.

  5. Find the grab handle at the front (nose) of your kayak.

  6. Hold your paddle in the same hand as your kayak. This frees one arm for swimming.

  7. Ensure your paddle is held parallel with your kayak for less resistance through the water.

  8. Holding both your paddle and boat in one hand, swim to shore with one arm and two legs. Drag your kayak behind you as you swim.

This Article Is Step 6 of My First Timer’s Guide to Kayaking in the Coast to Coast

  1. Book Your Grade 2 Course

  2. Buy a Kayak

  3. Buy a Paddle

  4. Buy a PFD (lifejacket)

  5. Set up Your Equipment

  6. Learn the Basics

  7. Join a Kayak Club

  8. Learn the Forward Stroke Technique

  9. Develop Your Boat Handling Skills

  10. Spend Time on the River

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