Kayaking 101: How to Get Started
The most popular paddle sport is easy to learn if you know the skill and safety basics
Invented thousands of years ago by the Inuit for hunting and fishing in the Arctic, kayaks have evolved from wooden frames covered with stretched sealskins to sleek, lightweight watercraft commonly made from fiberglass or high-tech plastics. Less expensive to buy and operate than most sail or power boats and easily transportable, kayaks offer one of the simplest ways to get out on the water, as well as a direct and peaceful means of connecting with nature.
All of this has made the recreational activity the most popular paddlesport in the country, with more than 11 million participants, according to the 2019 Special Report on Paddlesports and Safety by the Outdoor Foundation.
With its nearly 3,500 miles of coastline, 6,000 lakes and ponds, and other inland waterways, Maine offers multiple opportunities for kayaking adventures, says Rob Hutchison, a kayak instructor for L.L.Bean’s Outdoor Discovery Programs. While kayaking is easy to learn and accessible to all ages and skill levels, it’s important to have some basic skills, such as those taught in L.L.Bean’s Introduction to Kayaking class. Here are a few things to know before getting started.
- Choose the right boat. The options can be overwhelming, but L.L.Bean’s online Kayaking Buying Guide can help simplify your choices. The guide narrows the field to: recreational kayaks, good for beginners and short trips on calm waterways; light touring kayaks, which have some dry storage and are suited for paddling longer distances; touring kayaks, designed for intermediate or advanced paddlers and equipped with more dry storage for multiday trips; and fishing kayaks, with rod holders, storage for tackle, and anchor systems.
- Learn how to launch and land. First, check your PFD (personal floatation device) to make sure it’s properly adjusted and comfortable. On the shoreline, set your kayak so it is fully floating, with the bow pointing out to open water. With your paddle in hand and held perpendicular to the boat, grab the rim of the cockpit just behind the seat. This allows you to use the paddle like a kickstand on a bike, resting a blade on the bottom to stabilize your kayak. Straddle the kayak directly over the cockpit and sit down on the deck behind the seat. Put one foot into the boat, then the other, and slowly lower yourself into the seat. To land, do the process in reverse.
- Paddle properly. Efficient paddling ensures that you can move swiftly through the water and conserve your energy. Many beginners find it easier to start with an “unfeathered” paddle. This means your blades will be in the same plane. If they aren’t, you should be able to adjust them with the button at the center of the shaft. For the forward stroke, dip the blade in at your toes and pull it out at your hip, moving the paddle by rotating your torso, not pulling with your arms. To turn the kayak, use the longer sweep stroke, arcing the blade out from the front of the boat and pulling it all the way back to the stern.
AN EXPERT’S FAVORITE SPOTS
Hutchison, who has been kayaking for 20 years and enjoys the sport year-round with his wife, shares some of the places he especially likes to paddle around the state.
Portland Harbor: You can paddle in the open ocean or you can be protected along the shoreline—but be aware of larger boat traffic. It’s easy to put in at East End Beach, at Bug Light in South Portland, or at Spring Point Light or Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth.
Scarborough Marsh: The marsh is generally protected from surf and from wind, and there are lots of places to put in your kayak. You can start on the Pine Point side at the Town Landing and paddle in, or you can paddle out from launch areas located further inland on the marsh, like Seavey Landing. Just be aware of the tidal current and the wind direction to maximize your safety and fun.
Mount Desert Island: While visiting Acadia National Park, you can paddle within Bar Harbor, in Acadia, or on Somes Sound. Just south of MDI, the Stonington area is also beautiful with its evergreen-covered islands.