If you’ve ever pictured yourself taking a canoe or kayak down a serene waterway, or navigating a stand-up paddleboard through beautiful blue waters, you’ve caught the “paddle sports” bug.
Paddle sports are a terrific, family-friendly activity. Example: the Outdoor Industry Association estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone go canoeing each year. But it can’t be overstated that, when you’re dealing with the water, you must pay extra attention to safety.
Here are ten expert tips to safely get started on the paddling adventure of your choice.
Start by visiting a pro. They will offer a basic introduction to your preferred paddle sport, plus provide tips on the best equipment for you.
When it comes to kayaks, canoes and paddle boards, “wider” equals more stability. Also, go for “flatwater” routes when you’re first starting out; these are lakes or ponds where the water doesn’t move. Save the waves or whitewater for the experts.
Take an “on-water” course to familiarize yourself with safety tips, “rules of the road” for sharing waterways and more. Before you go, check out your planned waterway, because there may be environmental rules, or times when it’s off-limits due to wildlife needs. For this reason, try going on your first few excursions as part of a group, led by an experienced instructor.
Speaking of wildlife, when you’re paddling, be aware of what’s going on around you. Try not to create a disturbance, and paddle as far away as you can from critters like otters, seals or wildfowl.
Understand the very real dangers of cold water. Even water that’s 50-60 degrees can trigger shock and hypothermia. This is where a lifejacket can be critical, but a wetsuit (or drysuit) might save your life in case you capsize. Know the conditions of where you’ll be paddling, and prepare appropriately.
Beginners tend to overuse their back muscles with their paddling strokes. For canoes, a good rule of thumb is to put your paddle in the water near your toes, then pull it out when you reach your butt. “Toes to butt” is the mantra many instructors offer. For kayaks, twist so that your upper hand crosses the front of your body.
For stand-up paddle boards, start on your knees and take a few strokes. Step up one foot at a time, and keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Grip the paddle with one hand at the top and the other hand in the center of the shaft. When paddling, keep the angled blade facing away from your body.
All paddling experts suggest being mindful of your “core.” It will help you maintain balance, as well as keep you from overusing the back muscles. Think of your paddle as a “lever” and let it do most of the work.
One more safety note: know your limits. No matter how fit you think you are, paddle sports may exhaust you more than expected, especially when you’re new to them. Don’t overdo; know when it’s time to turn back.
Always wear a lifejacket. Beginners should also go with a partner. Remember that paddles and canoes, kayaks and boards float. If you feel yourself losing your paddle, let it go and don’t worry. And if you capsize, don’t panic: take a moment to asses, then climb back aboard.
Sunscreen and water are essential. Wear a hat or visor whenever you can, as the sun’s reflection off the water can be intense. For that reason, you might want to do your paddle sports at a time of day when the sun is low.
So, do you feel ready to dive in? Grab a paddle and go for it!