Kayaking 101: Advice for First Time Kayak Buyers

By Greg Whittaker
Mountain to Sound Outfitters

It’s never too early to start thinking about paddle season. Here are some hints and tips for first time kayak buyers. If you still have questions after reading this, you can make an appointment to come talk to our staff.

Paddle Safely!

  • Dress for the swim – the worst swim that could happen. Stay near shore if you’re not dressed for extended immersion
  • Use good judgment – it’s your most important safety gear
  • Always wear your PFD snugly – you can’t adjust it after you fall in!
  • Clear the decks – prevent entrapment
  • Basic safety gear: PFD, paddle float and bilge pump
  • More safety gear: knife, headlamp, extra fleece, vhf radio, cell phone, charts, compass, tow line and whistle
  • Check the weather, NOAA weather radio/website
  • Don’t forget a thermos of hot soup and your First Aid Kit
  • Read Sea Kayaker Deep Trouble by Gronseth & Broze
  • Develop strong paddling skills – take a class at Alki Kayak Tours

Paddle Strokes

  • Use torso rotation more than arms 
  • Power in front, steering in the rear – in at the toe, out at the hip… unless you’re correcting your course
  • Can’t keep it straight? Slow down!

Pick the Kayak That’s Right for You

  • Price – what kayak do you get for the money you spend?
  • Can you lift it yourself? Will you always have help? Can you get it on and off your car by yourself?
  • Do you have room to store it? Where? 
  • Where do you want to paddle? Do you need a boat designed for rough water?
  • Do you fit comfortably in the boat?
  • How fast do you want to go? Do you want to paddle long distances, maybe go kayak camping?
  • Plastic = least expensive, prone to warping, can take a hit & not make you cry
  • Thermoform (ABS) = mid price range, light, low maintenance
  • Composite (Carbon Fiber, Kevlar, Fiberglass) = light, stiff, high maintenance, expensive, long lasting

Pick the Right Paddle

  • Materials – there are many paddles to choose from
  • Carbon = lightest, stiffest, most efficient, hardest on your joints, most expensive
  • Metal & plastic = heaviest, least durable, least efficient, least expensive
  • Fiberglass = in between
  • Bent shaft = some people prefer for ergonomic effect

Pick the Right PFD

  • Room for shoulder movement
  • Pockets, accessories for the activity you want
  • Make it a snug, comfortable fit
Kayaking 101: Advice for First Time Kayak Buyers

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