Essential Gear for Kayaking:
Of course, the basic of the basic is needed. A kayak, double bladed paddle and a lifejacket are the first and foremost items on the list. Depending on where you are paddling, you may also require a guide or more information about the area. There are multiple types of kayaks for different water conditions like rivers, lakes and tranquil lochs to raging white water rapids or coastal paddling. If you are just starting out, it´s most likely that you will be with an activity provider who will have supplied you with your equipment, but if you´re looking at buying a kayak, it would be best to take a look at all of the different varieties, what waters they are used for and where you will be paddling.
To go beyond the basics, if you are going to be paddling during the colder months, sea kayaking or white water kayaking, there is some additional equipment you will need. Cold weather and water call for a neoprene suit or dry suit (depending on what kind of cold we are talking about) because if you were to tip out, cold water can take a life in a matter of minutes. Make sure your suit has a hood for protecting the head (remember we lose a lot of our body heat through the head) and neoprene socks with a thick sole and gloves. A helmet is needed for white water paddling to protect from any bumps we may have along the way.
For expeditions, many kayaks, such as sea kayaks, have compartments for storage. For longer paddling trips, food supplies, water, camping gear needs to be factored in as well as sunglass (with a strap to attach to your helmet if you are going to be paddle white water), sunblock and a hat to protect for the sun´s rays that reflect off of the water.
Having a previously planned route is also essential as knowing where you are going and where you are of upmost importance. A map goes without saying but you can also bring along a GPS and some sort of mobile just in case. In some cases it may even be necessary to notify coast guards about your trip.
Paddling Training and Techniques:
The first skills you will need to know are how to paddle, how to change direction and if you are paddling a closed cockpit kayak you will need to how to do a wet exit (where you roll the boat and learn how to slide out). It is also convenient to know about your boat and it´s parts as good boat knowledge makes a better and more confident paddler. Organisations like BCU or AALA are national regulatory bodies for kayaking and outdoor activities. For the best training according to national standards, look for course providers recognised by these organisations with instrcutors that hold these qualifications.
When it comes to sitting in the boat, make sure that you are comfortably seated and that you are sat in the correct position. The small of your back must be against the seat and your feet (the balls of your feet) will either be positioned on the inner foot pegs or on the peddles which control the rudder (for sea kayaks usually). Your legs should be bracing either side of the cockpit as this is where much of your stability comes from.
Contrary to common belief, paddling is not only about arm strength but much of the power comes from torso, back and legs. The paddling stroke is a push-pull movement and the key to gaining more power is twisting the torso which will give you better endurance as you won´t tire yourself out as quickly.
Kayaking can take you to some of the most scenic natural spots in the UK and further afar. Explore the breathtaking coast around Devon, head up to Scotland for some rougher and wet and wild rapids or paddle along the Medway for some quiet paddling and lots of scenery. Remember, never paddle alone and share this experience with others!