Home > Kayak Theory > Strokes and Techniques > Is Kayaking Hard?

Is Kayaking Hard?

Nicola Burridge
Updated on:
- If you buy via a link on this page, we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you. Learn more
- Read our review guidelines

Kayaking – is it a tough row to hoe or a walk in the park? If you’ve ever found yourself caught in this conundrum, then you’re in the right place.

The difficulty level of kayaking varies and depends on several factors, such as the type of water, the weather conditions, and your level of kayaking experience. 

We’ve put together this article to help you find out whether or not kayaking is actually difficult, along with a few tips to make your first kayaking adventure easier.

Is Kayaking Hard? - Pinterest ImagePin

Is Kayaking Hard?

Kayaking is not as hard as you might think. But if you’re looking to head off whitewater kayaking or sea kayaking then yes, kayaking can be difficult.

Generally speaking, basic recreational kayaking can be pretty easy to get the hang of. For example, if you plan to have a relaxing paddle on a calm lake or float along a quiet, slow-moving river, you usually don’t need much in the way of skills.

Almost anyone can give it a go, provided you have enough upper body strength to hold a paddle and use it to propel your kayak through the water. 

If you want to tackle more difficult or challenging water environments, you may need to learn additional skills to keep yourself safe. You may also need a different type of kayak that’s fit for purpose.

Ocean kayaking can require more advanced skills, such as navigation skills and self rescue. Kayaking through whitewater rapids can also require advanced paddling skills, as you will need to know how to turn quickly to avoid obstacles.

Both of these types of kayaking generally require you to have full control over your boat. Beginner kayakers should probably not attempt to paddle single kayaks in these types of water conditions unless you are on a guided tour with an experienced kayaker.

> The best beginner kayaks reviewed

How To Make Kayaking Easier – Beginner Paddler Tips

Opt For A Sit-On-Top Kayak

Two kayakers on sit-on-top kayaks paddling on river in daytimePin

A sit-on-top kayak can be much easier to get in and out of compared to a sit-inside kayak. This is because it has an open cockpit, so you don’t have to slide yourself into a small space or risk feeling trapped or confined.

Sit-on-top kayaks tend to have scupper holes in the deck to drain water, which can help prevent water from pooling inside your boat. This can give you one less thing to worry about compared to a sit-inside kayak that you would usually need to bail out manually.

A sit-on-top kayak can be easily righted if you flip it and fall off. You simply flip it back the right way and climb back on. These boats are also unlikely to sink because of their design.

You could even bring your dog along for the ride if there’s a flat area on the deck for them to lay down comfortably. Is kayaking hard with a dog? Check out our guide on how to go kayaking with dogs.

Choose A Recreational Kayak

Recreational kayaks are perfect for beginners. These boats are designed for increased stability in flatwater conditions. This means they can feel more stable and less tippy for beginner kayakers heading on a lake or slow-moving river.

These types of recreational vessels can be found as both sit-on-top and sit-inside kayaks. But for most beginners, it can be easier to learn to paddle in a sit-on-top recreational kayak because there is more space to move around on the deck.

A recreational kayak tends to have a wide and relatively short hull. The short length makes it easier to maneuver for beginners but the extra width of the kayak may mean speed is not its strength. But when you’re a beginner, slow and steady is the best way to go.

Paddle On Flatwater

It is generally much easier to paddle a kayak on calm flatwater than it is to paddle on rough, moving water. On flatwater, you can have more control over your kayak, as you don’t have to contend with strong currents, whitewater, or waves. 

Smaller lakes and ponds tend to offer better paddling conditions for beginners than larger lakes. Large lakes can sometimes offer similar conditions to paddling on the ocean, with wind and waves often making paddling difficult.

Paddling on flatwater can let you get to grips with your paddling technique and let you develop boat control before you head into rougher or bigger waters.

Launch From A Quiet Beach Or Sheltered Shoreline

Launching your kayak is not always the easiest thing to do, especially if you’ve never done it before. This is why it can be easier to choose a sheltered cove where there is a beach or gradual sloping shoreline. 

This means you’ll generally have less water movement and you can launch into shallow water. You can wade out a little, with the front of your kayak in the water (perpendicular to the shoreline) and launch from the beach.

Use The Right Size Of Paddle

It can be much easier to kayak if you have the right size paddle for you and your boat. Kayak paddle lengths vary. This is because there are different heights of people and different widths of kayaks.

If you have a wide recreational or fishing kayak, you might want to opt for a longer length of kayak paddle. Shorter paddles may be too short to comfortably paddle without overreaching or hitting your hands on the sides of the boat.

Paddle blades can also vary. Most beginners will usually want a longer, narrower paddle blade that is designed for a low angle paddling stroke. This allows you to paddle at a relaxed pace with less fatigue. 

Shorter, wider blades tend to be for a high angle paddle stroke and often used for sea kayaking and whitewater kayaking where speed and power are the order of the day.

Your paddle style may change as you develop more skills and want a more powerful forward stroke.

Take A Kayaking Lesson

Kayak lessons are recommended if you want to learn proper paddling techniques. While you can generally figure out how to paddle a kayak on your own, you may not always be doing it in the most efficient or effective way.

And if you want to develop your paddling skills to take on more challenging water conditions, then kayaking lessons are generally advised. 

Certified kayaking instructors can also teach you kayak safety skills and general water safety. You can also take kayak lessons in whitewater kayaks or sea kayaks if you want to learn a particular type of kayaking.

Choose The Right Kayak

No matter what type of kayaking you plan to do, if you want to make kayaking easier, you need to have the right kayak for the job. So if you do plan to take on more challenging water environments, you need to have a suitable kayak and the right safety gear. 

For example, surf kayaks are excellent for riding waves at the beach. But they are not the best kayaks for touring long distances, as they may have the nimble bones to handle sharp turns and wild tricks but they might not be the easiest to paddle on flatwater. This is because their speed and tracking performance may be limited.

Similarly, if you want to start kayaking down a narrow, winding river in a sea kayak, you may learn that kayaking is hard. A shorter single kayak can be a better option for river kayaking, as it can be easier to turn and navigate tight bends than a long, narrow kayak that’s designed for open water.

Do You Need To Be Fit And Athletic To Go Kayaking?

Most outdoor activities require a moderate amount of effort. Kayaking is no different. But you don’t need to be a regular at your local gym to be able to kayak. 

Kayaking is a low-impact activity. This means it’s not as physically demanding as other sports, such as running or crossfit. 

Kayaking can be a great way to build strength in your upper body as well as improve your flexibility and your overall fitness levels, without it being too taxing on your joints.

That being said, if you plan to exert yourself by running whitewater rapids or racing along at top speed, you will probably need to have a decent level of fitness to start with. 

But by kayaking at a relaxed pace to begin with, you can easily build your muscle strength and aerobic fitness over time to allow you to tackle more challenging kayaking activities in the future.

Can You Kayak With Bad Knees?

Yes, you can absolutely kayak with bad knees. The most difficult part of kayaking with less-than-perfect knees will usually be getting in and out of the kayak, as this will generally require you to bend your knees at some stage.

Getting into a kayak with bad knees can be easier if you try it from water that is knee deep. This means your hips will be closer to the height of the deck, letting you sit down on the deck more easily. 

Remember, you can always use additional accessories to make your kayaking journey more comfortable if you have bad knees, hips, or back. Extra cushioning can help. 

Finding the right kayak can also be a good idea. For example, a sit-on-top with a high-back seat for added lumber support can provide additional comfort and minimize back pain. 

Choosing a kayak with an elevated seat can also help with your posture and can let you sit in a more natural sitting position, which can help to alleviate pressure on your back.

Is Kayaking Safe? Tips To Stay Out Of Trouble

Wear A Life Jacket

The most important thing you can do to stay safe on the water while kayaking is to wear a life jacket. A Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is literally designed to save your life. But it can only do that if you wear it. 

Many bodies of water have rules regarding life jackets. And while most places simply state that you should carry a PFD on board for each person on your vessel, some places require you to wear one at all times. 

So it’s best to don your personal flotation device before you get in your kayak so that you’re prepared for any emergency. 

Video: Choosing The Right Life Jacket For Kayaking

Don’t Paddle In Conditions Above Your Skill Level

This should really go without saying but if the conditions look too dangerous for you to handle, don’t go kayaking. Water can be dangerous for anyone, let alone inexperienced kayakers.

This means don’t attempt to kayak along a Class IV whitewater run if you have no whitewater skills or experience. 

Similarly, you should avoid paddling in conditions that are beyond the capability of your kayak. If you have a kayak with a flat bottom and limited secondary stability to handle rough water, you should not use it on whitewater rapids. 

Inflatable kayaks can usually be better for these types of conditions, as they tend to offer combined stability for both flat and rough water. However, even if your inflatable kayak can handle Class III and IV rapids, you would still need the whitewater skills to navigate the rivers in those conditions.

If you have little kayaking experience in rough waters, it’s probably better to stick to calm waters until you develop your paddling technique.

Check The Weather Forecast

The weather can make kayaking hard, especially if it’s windy. This is why it is always a good idea to check the weather forecast in advance of your kayaking trip. 

You should also check for heavy rain, as some rivers can become flooded after periods of heavy downpours. This can cause faster and stronger currents, as well as debris that could cause problems, such as log jams.

> Kayaking in the rain tips

If the water looks rough or it’s extremely windy, it’s best to postpone your kayaking trip and wait for the conditions to improve. Even experienced kayakers should avoid stormy weather as this can make for very challenging kayaking conditions, which can get worse rapidly.

You can always find a weatherproof radio to take with you on kayaking camping trips so that you can check the weather forecast while you’re in the wilderness.

Paddle With A Buddy

Couple kayaking in the seaPin

As with most outdoor recreation activities, it is always better to go with a partner. This is even more important if you are new to kayaking. If you get into difficulty on your kayaking adventure, your buddy can come to your rescue or raise the alarm, if necessary.

Tandem kayaks can be a good idea for you and your kayaking partner to head out together.

However, double kayaks can be a little trickier to paddle than solo kayaks. You and your partner need to get into a rhythm and mirror each other’s paddling stroke to maintain a forward paddling motion. 

It can make kayaking difficult if you and your partner are not synchronized in your paddling style. It may also lead to arguments because of the frustration. 

Dress For The Water Temperature

It can be easy to dress for the weather when you’re heading out on the water. But even though the weather might be warm, the water might be cold. This is why you should always dress appropriately for the temperature of the water. 

If you do happen to capsize on your water adventure, cold water shock is a real thing. It can be very dangerous and can cause drowning, even for experienced swimmers. 

If you plan to paddle in cold waters, it can be beneficial to wear a suitable wetsuit or drysuit to help insulate your body if you do hit the water. And remember to wear your life jacket on top.

What Do You Do If You Fall In The Water?

The first thing you should do is try to remain calm. If your kayak has flipped upside down, the next thing you should do is flip it back so that it’s the right way up. 

If your kayak has a cockpit or any hatches, you should empty these before you get back in. If you can’t do it from the water, and you’re close enough to shore, it might be easier to swim to shore with your kayak and empty it when you’re safe on land.

Once your kayak is round the right way, make sure your kayak paddle is secure. If you have a paddle leash attached, your kayak paddle shouldn’t have floated too far from the kayak.

Next, climb back on to the kayak by positioning yourself close to the center of the boat and launching your body up and over using a swift kick of the legs. Then you can reposition yourself in the seat.

If all of this sounds too much to handle, you can hold onto your kayak and swim back to shore with it to re-enter the kayak from land.

Do Kayaks Tip Over Easily?  

By the look of them, you might think they do. But no, kayaks generally do not tip over easily. They are typically very stable boats that can handle a wide range of waters, depending on the design of the hull.

There are many types of kayaks with different hulls designed for different conditions. A kayak with a flat bottom will generally be very stable on flat water. A rounded or V-shaped hull will feel less stable but will offer a higher level of stability in moving water.

Conclusion: Have We Debunked The Myth That Kayaking Is Hard (Sometimes)?

Now that you’re equipped with some of the best kayaking tips to improve your paddling experience, you will hopefully find that kayaking is not as difficult as you first thought.  

Remember to stick to calm waters if you’re new to kayaking. Always wear your life jacket and choose the right kayak for the water conditions. It can help to practice your paddle stroke on sheltered flatwater before you take on anything more challenging. 

So is kayaking hard? Only if you want it to be.

Leave a Comment