What is kayaking? All you need to know!

What is Kayaking? It's a watersport that involves sitting in a small watercraft and propelling yourself through the water with a double-sided paddle.

Source: Pexels

Kayaking is a fantastic outdoor activity that’s perfect for anyone who loves adventure, nature, and a good workout. So, what exactly is kayaking? In simple terms, it’s a water sport where you use a double-bladed paddle to propel a small boat, called a kayak, through the water. 

Kayaks come in various shapes and sizes, designed for different types of water and activities. But no matter what kind of kayak you’re in, the basic idea remains the same: you, a paddle, and a whole lot of water!

Kayaking has become super popular over the years, and it’s easy to see why. It’s not just about the adrenaline rush or the peaceful moments of solitude on the water; it’s also a great way to stay fit and connect with nature. 

Plus, it's an activity that almost anyone can enjoy, from kids to seniors. Whether you’re looking for a new hobby, a fun way to spend a weekend, or an exciting way to explore the outdoors, kayaking might just be the perfect fit for you.

In this article, we’ll dive deep into the world of kayaking. We’ll explore its history, the different types of kayaking, the essential gear you’ll need, and some basic techniques to get you started. 

By the end of it, you’ll have all the knowledge you need to hit the water with confidence. So, let’s get paddling and discover everything there is to know about this amazing sport

History of kayaking

Alright, let's take a little trip back in time and see where kayaking all began. Believe it or not, kayaking has a rich history that dates back thousands of years. It all started with the Inuit and Aleut tribes in the Arctic regions of North America

These ingenious folks created the first kayaks, which were essentially small, narrow boats made from a wooden frame covered with animal skins, usually sealskin. They used these early kayaks primarily for hunting and fishing, navigating through icy waters with impressive skill and precision

Ingenious design

These early kayaks were marvels of engineering. They were designed to be lightweight and stealthy, perfect for sneaking up on prey. The Inuit and Aleut hunters were able to silently glide across the water, making them highly effective in their pursuits. 

These kayaks were also incredibly sturdy, capable of withstanding the harsh conditions of the Arctic seas. It’s amazing to think that these ancient designs have influenced the modern kayaks we use today!​

European adoption

As time went on, kayaking began to evolve. By the 19th century, European explorers and adventurers took notice of these incredible boats and started to adopt them for their own expeditions. 

They saw the potential for kayaking not just as a means of survival, but as a way to explore new territories and waterways. This was the beginning of kayaking as a recreational activity​

Modern evolution

Fast forward to the 20th century, and kayaking really started to gain momentum. Innovations in materials and design made kayaks more accessible and versatile. 

Fiberglass, and later, plastic kayaks became popular, making them more affordable and easier to produce. This led to a boom in kayaking's popularity, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, when people began to embrace outdoor adventure sports

Kayaking today

Today, kayaking is enjoyed by millions of people all over the world. From calm lakes and gentle rivers to raging whitewater rapids and open ocean paddling, there's a type of kayaking for everyone. 

What started as a practical tool for survival has transformed into a beloved pastime and a way for people to connect with nature, challenge themselves, and experience the thrill of the water​.

So, the next time you’re out on the water, take a moment to appreciate the incredible history behind your kayak. It’s a tradition that goes back centuries, connecting us to those early adventurers who first paddled through the icy waters of the Arctic. How cool is that?

Types of kayaking

Source: Pexels

Recreational kayaking

Recreational kayaking is all about having fun on the water with minimal fuss. It’s perfect for beginners and casual paddlers who want to enjoy a relaxing day on a calm lake, a slow-moving river, or even a gentle coastal area. 

Recreational kayaks are typically wider and more stable than other types, making them easy to handle and less likely to tip over. They usually have a large cockpit, so you can get in and out easily, and there’s plenty of room for you to stretch your legs. Plus, these kayaks are often made of durable plastic, so they can withstand a few bumps and scrapes without any issues.

Suitable for: Beginners, casual paddlers, families

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Whitewater kayaking

Now, if you’re the adventurous type who loves a good adrenaline rush, whitewater kayaking might be your thing. This type of kayaking takes you through fast-moving rivers with rapids, drops, and waves that will get your heart pumping. 

Whitewater kayaks are shorter and more maneuverable, designed to handle the rough conditions and tight turns of a wild river. They’re built to be tough and durable, often with reinforced hulls to withstand the impact of rocks and other obstacles.

Suitable for: Thrill-seekers, experienced paddlers

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Sea kayaking

Sea kayaking opens up a whole new world of exploration. Whether you’re paddling along the coast, navigating through islands, or embarking on a multi-day expedition, sea kayaking is about adventure and discovery. 

Sea kayaks are longer and narrower than recreational kayaks, making them faster and more efficient for covering long distances. They often have storage compartments for gear, so you can bring everything you need for extended trips. These kayaks are also designed to handle the challenges of open water, including waves, currents, and wind.

Suitable for: Explorers, long-distance paddlers, outdoor adventurers

Source: Pexels

Touring kayaking

Touring kayaking is like the middle ground between recreational and sea kayaking. It’s perfect for those who want to take longer trips, maybe overnight or over a weekend, but aren’t ready for the full commitment of sea kayaking. 

Touring kayaks are designed for comfort and storage, with plenty of room for gear and provisions. They’re more stable than sea kayaks but still efficient enough to cover good distances.

Suitable for: Intermediate paddlers, weekend adventurers

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Sit-on-top kayaking

Sit-on-top kayaking is ideal for those who want an easy, fun, and often more social kayaking experience. These kayaks are exactly what they sound like—you sit on top of them rather than inside a cockpit. 

This design makes them incredibly easy to get on and off, even in the water. They’re great for warm climates because you’re likely to get wet, and they’re perfect for activities like fishing, diving, or just paddling around with friends.

Suitable for: Beginners, casual paddlers, anglers, and divers

What equipment do you need?

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First things first, you need a kayak! The type of kayak you choose depends on the kind of kayaking you want to do. Recreational kayaks are great for beginners and casual paddlers who enjoy calm waters. They’re stable, easy to use, and usually have a larger cockpit for easy entry and exit. 

If you’re planning to tackle rougher waters, consider a sea kayak or a whitewater kayak, which are designed for different environments and levels of maneuverability. Make sure to choose a kayak that suits your needs and skill level.


Next up is the paddle. A good paddle can make a huge difference in your kayaking experience. Paddles come in various lengths and materials, including aluminum, fiberglass, and carbon fiber. The length of your paddle should be based on your height and the width of your kayak. 

Generally, longer paddles are better for calm waters and shorter paddles are ideal for maneuvering through rapids. Remember, a lightweight paddle reduces fatigue, making your kayaking trips more enjoyable.

Personal Flotation Device (PFD)

Safety first! A personal flotation device, or PFD, is essential for any kayaking trip. This isn’t just about following the rules; it’s about keeping yourself safe on the water. 

PFDs are designed to keep you afloat if you capsize and can make a significant difference in an emergency. Look for a PFD that fits comfortably and allows for a full range of motion so you can paddle without restriction. Many PFDs come with extra pockets and attachment points for convenience.


If you’re planning on whitewater kayaking or surf kayaking, a helmet is a must. A helmet protects your head from rocks, branches, and other hazards you might encounter in rough waters. 

Even in calmer conditions, a helmet can provide extra protection and peace of mind. Make sure to choose a helmet specifically designed for water sports, as they’re built to withstand impacts and stay secure in wet conditions.

Spray skirt

A spray skirt is a handy piece of equipment that fits around your waist and attaches to the cockpit of your kayak, keeping water out. This is particularly useful in rough water or cold conditions, as it helps keep you dry and warm. 

Spray skirts are made from waterproof materials like neoprene or nylon and come in different sizes to fit various kayak models. They’re a great addition for anyone venturing into challenging or unpredictable waters.

Dry bags

Keeping your gear dry is crucial, especially if you’re carrying valuables like your phone, camera, or extra clothes. Dry bags are waterproof bags that seal tightly to keep water out. 

They come in various sizes, so you can store everything from small electronics to larger items like sleeping bags. Investing in a few good dry bags can make your kayaking trips much more comfortable and stress-free.

Appropriate clothing

Dressing for the water is different from dressing for the weather. Even on a warm day, the water can be cold, so it’s important to wear appropriate clothing. Quick-drying, moisture-wicking fabrics are your best bet. 

Consider wearing a wetsuit or drysuit in colder conditions to keep warm. Don’t forget sun protection—long sleeves, hats, and sunscreen are essential for protecting your skin from the sun’s harsh rays. 

Source: Pexels

Difference between kayaking and canoeing

So, you've probably heard about both kayaking and canoeing, but what exactly sets them apart? While they might seem similar at first glance—both involve paddling a small boat on the water—they have some key differences in terms of design, paddling techniques, and overall experience.

Key differences in design

Let’s start with the boats themselves. Kayaks are typically enclosed with a small cockpit where the paddler sits with their legs extended. They often come with a spray skirt to keep water out, making them suitable for rougher waters. 

Canoes, on the other hand, are usually open on top, resembling a large, hollow shell. Paddlers kneel or sit on benches inside the canoe, and there's plenty of room for gear.

  • Kayak: Enclosed cockpit, legs extended, often with spray skirt
  • Canoe: Open top, paddlers kneel or sit on benches, lots of gear space

Paddling techniques

The paddling techniques for kayaking and canoeing are also quite different. In kayaking, you use a double-bladed paddle, which allows for a rhythmic, alternating stroke on each side of the kayak. This style of paddling is efficient and helps maintain speed and direction easily.

In contrast, canoeing involves a single-bladed paddle. Canoeists typically paddle on one side and use a variety of strokes to steer and propel the canoe. This can be a bit more challenging and requires learning different techniques, such as the J-stroke, to keep the canoe moving straight.

  • Kayak: Double-bladed paddle, alternating strokes
  • Canoe: Single-bladed paddle, strokes on one side

Unique experiences and uses

The experiences you get from kayaking and canoeing can be quite different, too. Kayaking often provides a more intimate experience with the water.

The lower seating position and enclosed design make you feel closer to the water, which is great for navigating narrow channels or tackling whitewater rapids. Kayaking can also be more physically demanding, offering a great workout for your upper body and core.

Canoeing, on the other hand, is usually more about relaxation and enjoying the journey. Canoes have more space, which makes them ideal for longer trips where you need to carry extra gear, like camping equipment. They’re also easier for multiple people to use, so they’re perfect for family outings or group adventures.

  • Kayak: Intimate water experience, lower seating, good for narrow channels and rapids, physically demanding
  • Canoe: Relaxing, more space for gear, better for longer trips, ideal for groups

Choosing the right activity for you

Deciding between kayaking and canoeing really comes down to what kind of experience you’re looking for.

If you’re after an adrenaline-pumping adventure or want to navigate challenging waters, kayaking might be the way to go. It’s also a good choice if you prefer a solo experience or want to engage in specific water sports.

If you’re looking for a more relaxed experience, with the ability to carry more gear and enjoy the scenery, canoeing is likely your best bet. It’s also a fantastic option for group activities and leisurely paddling on lakes or slow-moving rivers.

  • Kayak: Best for solo adventures, challenging waters, and specific water sports
  • Canoe: Ideal for relaxed, scenic trips, group activities, and carrying more gear

In summary, while both kayaking and canoeing offer unique and rewarding experiences, your choice will depend on your personal preferences and the type of adventure you’re seeking. 

Source: Pexels

Basic techniques and skills

Alright, now that you’ve got the lowdown on what kayaking is and why it's so awesome, let’s get into the fun part—actually paddling! Before you hit the water, it’s important to know some basic techniques and skills to make your kayaking experience safe and enjoyable.

How to paddle

Alright, let's start with the basics: paddling. Paddling is the core skill in kayaking, and getting it right will make your experience so much smoother and more enjoyable. You’ll be using a double-bladed paddle, which means you’ll alternate sides with each stroke. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get started:

  • Grip the paddle: Hold the paddle with both hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your grip firm but relaxed.
  • Engage your core: Rotate your torso, not just your arms, to engage your core muscles. This adds power to your stroke and prevents fatigue.
  • Dip the blade: Fully immerse one blade of the paddle into the water while the other blade stays out.
  • Alternate strokes: Alternate sides with each stroke, maintaining a steady rhythm. Keep your strokes smooth and even.
  • Practice torso rotation: Make sure to rotate your torso with each stroke to utilize your core strength effectively.

Steering and maneuvering

Next up is steering and maneuvering your kayak. This can be a bit tricky at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be navigating like a pro. Here are the steps for two essential techniques:

Sweep stroke (for turning):

  • Start Position: Dip the left blade into the water at the front of the kayak.
  • Sweep: Sweep the paddle in a wide arc toward the back of the kayak.
  • Right turn: For a right turn, use the left blade and sweep wide.
  • Left turn: For a left turn, use the right blade and sweep wide.

Draw stroke (for moving sideways):

  • Extend paddle: Extend your paddle out to the side of your kayak.
  • Pull straight: Pull the blade straight toward you.
  • Repeat: Repeat as necessary to move sideways to your desired position.

Getting in and out of the kayak

Getting in and out of a kayak might seem straightforward, but there’s a bit of technique to it, especially if you want to avoid an unintended swim. Here’s how to do it:

Getting In:

  • Position kayak: Place your kayak parallel to the shore or dock.
  • Sit on edge: Sit on the edge of the kayak with your feet on the ground.
  • Legs in first: Place your feet into the cockpit first.
  • Lower yourself: While holding onto the sides for balance, lower yourself into the seat.

Getting Out:

  • Position kayak: Bring your kayak parallel to the shore or dock.
  • Scoot to edge: Scoot your butt onto the edge of the kayak.
  • Lift legs out: Lift your legs out one at a time.
  • Stand up: Stand up carefully, maintaining your balance.

Safety tips and practices

Safety should always be your top priority when kayaking. Here are some essential tips to keep in mind:

Always wear a personal flotation device (PFD), regardless of your skill level or the type of water you’re paddling. Check your gear before heading out to ensure everything is in good condition, including your kayak, paddle, and safety equipment.

Be aware of the weather and water conditions. Avoid kayaking in extreme weather or in areas with strong currents if you’re not experienced. Learn and practice self-rescue techniques, such as the wet exit and the Eskimo roll, so you’re prepared in case you capsize.

Stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun with appropriate clothing, sunscreen, and a hat. Lastly, always let someone know your kayaking plans, including where you’re going and when you expect to return. This way, if something goes wrong, help will know where to find you.

Source: Pexels

When is the best time of year to go kayaking?

So, you’re pumped about kayaking and ready to get out on the water. But wait—timing is everything! The time of year you choose to go kayaking can make a huge difference in your experience.

Whether you’re seeking sunny days on a calm lake or thrilling rides through whitewater rapids, knowing the best season for your kayaking adventure is key.

Seasonal considerations

Deciding when to go kayaking can make a huge difference in your experience on the water. The best time of year largely depends on where you are and what type of kayaking you’re planning to do. 

Generally, spring, summer, and early fall are the most popular seasons for kayaking because of the pleasant weather and water conditions. However, each season offers unique benefits and challenges.


Spring is a fantastic time to hit the water, especially if you enjoy seeing nature come alive. Rivers and lakes are usually full from the winter melt, making for exciting conditions, especially in whitewater kayaking. 

The weather is warming up, but it’s still important to wear appropriate gear because the water can be quite cold. A wetsuit or drysuit can keep you comfortable during those early-season paddles.


Summer is peak kayaking season for a reason. The days are long, the water is warm, and the weather is generally predictable. This is the perfect time for all types of kayaking, whether it’s a leisurely paddle on a calm lake, a thrilling ride through rapids, or a coastal adventure.

Just remember, summer is also the busiest time on the water, so you might encounter more fellow paddlers and boat traffic. Don’t forget to stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun with sunscreen, hats, and lightweight, UV-protective clothing.


Early fall offers some of the best kayaking conditions, especially if you love vibrant foliage. The cooler temperatures can make for a comfortable paddling experience, and the water is still relatively warm from the summer. 

It’s also less crowded, giving you a more peaceful and serene trip. However, be mindful of shorter daylight hours and rapidly changing weather. Always check the forecast before heading out and dress in layers to adjust to the temperature changes.


Winter kayaking can be a thrilling experience, but it’s not for the faint of heart. This season requires extra preparation and the right equipment. 

If you’re well-equipped and experienced, you can enjoy the quiet beauty of winter landscapes from the water. Make sure you’re dressed appropriately in a drysuit, and always paddle with a buddy for safety. Be aware of ice, cold water, and the risks of hypothermia.

Weather and water conditions

Besides seasonal changes, always keep an eye on the weather and water conditions. Ideal kayaking weather is generally calm, with little wind and no precipitation. Strong winds can make paddling difficult and even dangerous, especially for beginners. Rain and storms can also pose risks, such as increased water levels and stronger currents.

Check local water conditions and advisories before heading out. Some areas might have specific seasons where water levels are safer and more enjoyable for kayaking. For example, certain rivers are best navigated during the spring melt, while others might be safer in the summer when water levels are more stable.

Best times for different types of kayaking

  • Recreational kayaking: Best in late spring through early fall when the weather is warm and the water is calm.
  • Sea kayaking: Summer is ideal for sea kayaking due to warmer water and calmer seas, but early fall can also be beautiful with less boat traffic.
  • Whitewater kayaking: Spring is often the best time for whitewater kayaking due to the high water levels from snowmelt. However, summer offers more stable conditions.
  • Surf kayaking: Late summer and early fall provide the best waves and warmer water.
  • Kayak fishing: Spring and fall are prime fishing seasons, as fish are more active in cooler water temperatures.

Source: Pexels

Popular kayaking destinations

Now that you’ve got the basics down and know the best time to hit the water, it’s time to talk destinations. Where you kayak can make or break your adventure, and the world is full of amazing spots just waiting to be explored.

1. Glacier Bay, Alaska, USA

If you’re looking for a kayaking experience that combines breathtaking natural beauty with a touch of adventure, Glacier Bay in Alaska should be at the top of your list. Imagine paddling through pristine waters surrounded by towering glaciers, lush forests, and abundant wildlife. You might even spot a humpback whale or a playful sea otter!


  • Scenery: Stunning glaciers, icy blue waters, and rugged coastlines.
  • Wildlife: Keep an eye out for whales, seals, sea lions, and various bird species.
  • Adventure level: Suitable for intermediate to advanced kayakers due to cold water and potential weather changes.


  • Guided tours: Consider taking a guided tour if you’re unfamiliar with the area. It’s a great way to learn about the local ecosystem and ensure safety.
  • Gear up: Dress in layers and make sure you have proper cold-weather gear, including a dry suit.

For more information, visit Kayaking - Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve (U.S. National Park Service) (

2. Dalmatian Coast, Croatia

For a kayaking trip that’s rich in history and culture, the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia offers an incredible experience. Paddle along the crystal-clear waters of the Adriatic Sea, explore hidden coves, and visit ancient coastal towns that date back to Roman times.


  • Scenery: Crystal-clear waters, limestone cliffs, and picturesque islands.
  • Cultural sites: Explore historic towns like Dubrovnik and Split.
  • Adventure level: Suitable for all skill levels, with plenty of calm bays for beginners and more challenging routes for experienced paddlers.


  • Island hopping: Plan a multi-day trip to hop between the beautiful islands. Many of them offer charming villages and local cuisine.
  • Summer kayaking: The summer months are ideal for kayaking here, thanks to warm weather and calm seas.

For more information, visit Croatia Kayaking Tours Dalmatian Coast Kayak Trips (

3. Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand

Abel Tasman National Park is a kayaker’s paradise with its golden sandy beaches, clear turquoise waters, and lush coastal forest. This stunning location on New Zealand’s South Island offers a perfect mix of relaxation and adventure.


  • Scenery: Golden beaches, clear waters, and lush native bush.
  • Wildlife: Spot seals, dolphins, and various bird species.
  • Adventure level: Suitable for all skill levels, with sheltered waters making it ideal for beginners.


  • Camping: Take advantage of the park’s excellent campgrounds and plan an overnight trip.
  • Guided tours: Consider a guided tour to learn about the local flora and fauna and ensure you don’t miss any hidden gems.

For more information, visit Abel Tasman Kayaking Tours | Day Trips & Multi Day Options

4. Na Pali Coast, Hawaii, USA

For those who crave an exotic adventure, the Na Pali Coast in Hawaii offers a kayaking experience like no other. Paddle along towering sea cliffs, lush valleys, and pristine beaches. This is one of the most challenging and rewarding kayaking destinations in the world.


  • Scenery: Dramatic cliffs, waterfalls, and secluded beaches.
  • Adventure level: Suitable for experienced kayakers due to rough ocean conditions and challenging terrain.
  • Wildlife: Look for dolphins, sea turtles, and monk seals.


  • Fitness: Ensure you’re in good physical condition; this route is demanding.
  • Season: The best time to kayak here is during the summer months when the seas are calmer.

For more information, visit Kayak the Na Pali Coast, The Mount Everest of Sea Kayaking (

5. Amazon River, South America

For a truly unique and immersive experience, kayaking the Amazon River offers unparalleled adventure and exploration. Paddle through the world’s largest rainforest, navigate narrow tributaries, and discover the incredible biodiversity of the Amazon Basin.


  • Scenery: Dense rainforest, winding rivers, and exotic flora.
  • Wildlife: Encounter diverse wildlife, including monkeys, birds, and possibly even river dolphins.
  • Adventure level: Suitable for intermediate to advanced kayakers due to remote location and potential for challenging conditions.


  • Guided expeditions: Joining a guided expedition is highly recommended for safety and to gain deeper insights into the ecosystem.
  • Preparation: Be prepared for a humid climate and take necessary precautions to protect yourself from insects and other wildlife.

For more information, visit Amazon Kayaking Tours Lodge Based Kayak Trips (


So, you're ready to take the plunge into the world of kayaking? Let's go! Whether you're looking to chill on a calm lake, get your adrenaline pumping on whitewater rapids, or explore stunning coastlines, kayaking has got your back. 

But before you hit the water, gear up with the essentials—kayak, paddle, PFD, and helmet. Master the basics of paddling, steering, and safety to ensure a smooth ride.

Wondering when to go? Spring, summer, and early fall are the best times, but it really depends on your chosen spot. Speaking of spots, dream destinations include the wild beauty of Glacier Bay in Alaska, the clear blue waters of Croatia's Dalmatian Coast, New Zealand’s breathtaking Abel Tasman National Park, Hawaii’s dramatic Na Pali Coast, and the vibrant biodiversity of the Amazon River. 

So, pick your adventure, grab your gear, and get ready for an unforgettable kayaking journey. Happy paddling!

Friska 🐨

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