Is Kayaking Hard?  A Hip Grandma Story and What You Need To Know

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Is Kayaking Hard?  A Hip Grandma Story and What You Need To Know

Recently I was in Irving, Texas, where I had the pleasure of trying out kayaking in the Mandalay Canals of Las Colinas.  This experience wasn’t my first time in a kayak, nor will it be my last.  When I tell my friends about my kayaking adventures, the common question is, “Is kayaking hard?”  And there is a simple answer to that.  No.  Kayaking is not hard.  Getting in and out of the kayak can be a challenge.  In this article, we’ll talk about the correct and not-so-correct ways to get in and out of your kayak and a few other things you’ll want to know before getting started.

My most recent kayaking adventure in Texas began with a trip to the local Paddleboard Rental Company.  We could try out a stand-up paddleboard, an aqua cycle water trike, a pedalboat, or recreational kayaks.

The Pre-Kayak Adventure

It was a windy day in Las Colinas.  I prefer perfectly calm waters for paddleboarding because my skill level is relatively low, so I wasn’t sure I was up for that experience, which is the specialty of this rental place, so I decided to try out the aqua cycle water trike.  My friend Sandra was brave enough to give it a go with me.  We fearlessly squeezed into our lifejackets and boarded the trike to conquer the canal.  Unfortunately, no one issued our trike the correct directive, and it had no interest in doing what we asked.

After about 10 minutes of tense efforts at maneuvering it around the area near the dock to no success, Sandra and I backed into a nearby dock (because forward wasn’t working) and held on until the young man on duty came and held the trike while we climbed off.  We got some fun photos of our adventure, but that was the best part of the experience.

The pink-haired author sits on a water trike with arms spread wide and a big smile

Sandra and I put that behind us and returned to the launch area, where we asked for kayaks.  This experience wasn’t my first on a kayak, and I already had some basic skills, so I anticipated a more enjoyable experience than the aqua trike.  And it was.  Eventually.  But first, one must get in the kayak (insert ominous drumbeat here).

The author kayaks in waters covered in lilypads.
Photo Credit: Full Spectrum Photography – And yes – this is me!!! Taken on a previous trip to Janesville, Wisconsin’s Great Outdoors!

Getting into the Kayak the Frustrating Way

I need to preface this portion of the story by saying that conditions were not perfect on the day we visited.  The wind was stronger than usual, so our fearless leader and instructor, whom I shall call Randy (names have been changed to protect the innocent), was a bit stressed.  We all show our stress in strange and unique ways, and it felt to me that Randy’s way was by overexplaining and perhaps even rushing me through the process.  Just as no one instructed that darned aqua cycle of our plan, no one seemed to warn Randy that I don’t move quickly from standing to sitting.

Randy told me to sit on the edge of the dock where my kayak awaited.  As I was sitting, he instructed me to sit.  And as I lowered myself down again, he said I should sit.  Now, mind you, I am not as young as I used to be, and going from standing upright to sitting on a hard, flat wood deck with no handrails is not a fast process.  So, as I was nearing the sitting position, Randy once again told me I needed to sit.  With leftover exasperation from my water trike experience and feeling a little rushed and embarrassed that I couldn’t just drop to my bum in an instant, I may have snapped at poor Randy just a bit.  Clearly, I wasn’t working at his speed.

But alas – I eventually made it into the sitting position.  Once down, Randy told me to “shimmy on over” into the kayak.  Again, this girl doesn’t do much athletic movement quickly or with a “shimmy.”  So, after a few repeated directives to “shimmy on in” as I was planning my approach, I may have snapped again, “I’m shimmying as fast as I can!”

Seriously – It Cannot be THIS hard!

Finally, my moment arrived, and I was in the kayak.  Randy instructed me to slide my bum to the back of the seat.  Bum in the back.  Check.  Cue Randy with the second repetition to “slide to the back of the seat.”  Um, okay.  And yes – one more time, I hear, “slide your bum allllll the way to the back of the seat, please.”  And again, I followed the trifecta of repeated instructions with a snap, “My bum IS all the way to the back!”  I’m not sure Randy and I were communicating well that day. 

As Randy handed me the paddle and stated, “this is a paddle,” I snatched it in my hand, braced it against the side of the dock, and shoved myself out into the water.  “Thanks, Randy!  I can take it from here!” I thought and paddled quickly away.  Ironically, his slow declaration of what a paddle was might have been an after-effect of me doing everything else he asked of me far too slowly.  Either way, I made my way into the canal with an expediency previously missing.

The author sits in a kayak near the dock.
The author sits in a kayak on a canal with buildings right behind her
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Getting into the Kayak the “Correct” Way

I usually don’t have such a helpful helper assisting me when I get into the kayak.  There are two methods for getting into your kayak:  the dock and the shoreline methods.  These instructions need a little adjusting depending on whether you have a sit-on-top kayak or a sit-inside kayak.  Either way, these are the basic steps for safely getting into your kayak on your own at a dock. 

  1. The first thing to do is ensure the dock you’re using is stable.
  2. Align your kayak parallel to the dock.  Try to get it as level with the dock as possible.  The lower your kayak is in relation to the dock, the trickier it will be to get in.
  3. Keep your paddle within easy reach near the side of your kayak.
  4. Sit down on the edge of the dock, facing your kayak’s bow (front).
  5. Place your feet in the kayak in the stirrups or on the deck of your kayak.
  6. Steady yourself by holding the dock and slide your hips off the dock and into the kayak.  No need to rush, but this should be a confident maneuver.  The longer your feet are in the kayak while your bum hovers above, the more likely you’ll take a dunk.
  7. Using the dock to steady, shift yourself in the kayak until you feel comfortable with your bum at the back of the seat and feet in the foot stirrups so that your knees are comfortably bent.

And here are the instructions for getting into your kayak in shallow water using the shoreline method:

  1. Find a calm, sandy beach.
  2. Place your kayak on the beach, parallel to the shoreline.
  3. Sit down on the beach, facing the bow of your kayak.
  4. Place your feet in the stirrups or on the deck of your kayak.
  5. Lean forward and place your paddle in the water with one paddle blade resting on the beach.
  6. Hold the paddle behind you and use it to help steady yourself as you slide your butt into the seat.  Hello, tricep workout!
  7. Sit straight and place your feet in the stirrups or deck.
  8. Once settled in position, scoot your kayak out into the open water.  You can also use your paddle to help push you away from the shore.

Enjoying the Kayaking Experience

And now, back to my story.  Once out onto the open canal water, I took a few deep breaths and began enjoying the sun, the breeze, and the unique feeling of paddling between tall buildings and sidewalks.  My only experiences in a kayak have been on small, calm lakes surrounded by nature and some boats.  A city canal was a new experience I will not forget.

But what happens once you’re in the kayak and ready to go?  Here are some basic tips for the beginning kayaker:

  • Start with a slow and steady forward stroke.  As you gain confidence, you can increase the speed of your paddle strokes.
  • Use your core muscles to power the stroke.  Use your arms to guide the paddle, but your core should be the primary power source.
  • Grip the paddle gently.  An overly tight grip will cause blisters.  I learned that the hard way during my first experience on the water.  If you find yourself gripping your paddle too hard, relax a little bit and remember you’re having fun.
  • Keep your back straight and your head up.  Good posture will help you maintain your balance and avoid fatigue.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to other boats, obstacles, and weather conditions.
  • Take breaks. Kayaking can be strenuous, so it’s important to pace yourself and take breaks when needed.  It’s a good idea to bring a water bottle and a snack along to fuel up as needed.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected. The weather can change quickly on the water, so be prepared for anything.
  • Keep a life jacket or personal flotation device handy.  If you are a beginner, wear it.  If you have some experience, keep it handy in the kayak in case you tip.  Tipping over in deep water can be disorienting and exhausting.  The right equipment is a must for any sport, and kayaking is no exception when it comes to safety.
  • Have fun!  The most important thing is to enjoy your time on the water.  Kayaking is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise.
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Getting Out of the Kayak Beached Whale Style

You may think this is the end of my Texas kayaking saga, but remember the old saying, “What goes up must come down?”  The same thing holds true for kayakers.  “What gets on a kayak must get off.”  So, as I finished up my time paddling and turned around to return, I whispered a prayer that Randy and I would not meet up at the dismount.  Lucky for me, Randy’s wife, Terri, was there and ready to help me.  “Whew!”  I thought.  “Maybe she will understand my pace a bit better.”

I paddled up to the dock, where Terri grabbed the paddle and pulled my kayak in so it was touching the wooden dock.  She looked me over from head to toe, seeming to study the situation, then cleared her throat and stated, “The easiest way for you might be to just roll on out of the kayak onto the dock.”  Yes indeed.  That is what she said.  And so, after a moment of stunned silence, she started to speak again, “just roll on out.”

Not waiting for a third repetition, I did as she requested and rolled myself like a beached whale out of the kayak and onto the dock.  Friends, it does pay to have a sense of humor.  And the years of therapy I have had have treated me well.  There was a time not so long ago when I would have hidden in a corner to have a good cry about my lack of athleticism, curvy physique, or embarrassment after not performing like an Olympian.

But alas, life is a learning journey, and on this day, I learned that wind, kayaks, aqua trikes, and stressed out (and dare I say awkward) tour guides and I are not the best match.  Thankfully, I have learned that a few deep breaths, a quiet prayer, and a little positive self-talk can put a frustrating situation behind me and allow me to remember it with humor.

The author lays splayed out across the deck near her empty kayak.

The Correct Way to Get Out of Your Kayak

Now that you know that rolling out like a whale isn’t necessarily the best technique, let’s talk about how to get out of your kayak.

It is as simple as reversing the steps you took to get in, either from the dock or shoreline:

  1. Paddle your kayak to the shore or the dock to sit parallel to the dry area.
  2. Using your paddle for stability, and using your arms, lift your butt and swing it over to the grass or the dock.
  3. Pull your legs out and stand up.

Of course, this makes it all sound so simple, but remember that if this is a new process, you’ll be using muscles you may have forgotten, and you may have to practice several times before getting it just right.

Frequently Asked Questions about Kayaking

Is kayaking physically demanding?

Kayaking can be a physically demanding activity.  It requires upper body strength, core strength, and cardiovascular endurance.  The amount of effort needed to paddle a kayak varies depending on the type of kayak, the conditions, and the paddler’s skill level.

Beginner kayakers will do their best to start on calm water with low traffic.  Paddle gently, knowing you will build strength and stamina as you practice.  I recommend renting a few times to know how much you enjoy it before investing in your kayak.

When you rent, you can try out the many different types of kayaks available.  Most businesses that offer kayak rentals have a variety of options available, from a sit-in kayak to a sit-on kayak or even inflatable kayaks, so you can find one that is perfect for your needs.  Renting helps you get a feel for the right kayak and equipment to suit you.

Kayaking is a great way to get exercise and enjoy the outdoors.  It can be a fun and rewarding activity for people of all ages and skill levels.

Is kayaking good for beginners?

Yes, recreational kayaking is an excellent activity for beginners.  It is a relatively easy sport to learn and can be a lot of fun.  Kayaking is a great way to exercise, enjoy the outdoors, and explore new places.

Try renting a few times first.  Renting and taking beginner kayaking lessons is a fantastic way to help you learn the basics, such as how to get in and out of your kayak and paddle.  Once you have learned how to paddle, you can start exploring new places.  Kayaking is a great way to get to places you cannot reach on foot or by car.  You can also use a kayak to explore rivers, lakes, and the ocean.

Is kayaking exhausting?

The short answer is yes and no.  Whitewater kayaking can be very exhausting.  Yet kayaking for fishing or photography may be very relaxing.  Much of your kayaking experience will be determined by weather and water conditions.  For example, if you are sea kayaking on calm water, you will be less exhausted than when fighting currents, large waves, and boat traffic.  The best way to determine how exhausting kayaking is for you is to start slowly and ease your way into the experience.

Wrapping it all Up

Kayaking is a fun and relaxing activity, perfect for young and old alike.  You can decide how strenuous you would like to make your experience, but I recommend beginners start with a rental and a patient instructor.  Have fun with your experience, and remember that, like any other new experience, it may take a couple of outings before you really fall in love!

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PIN Image for this post showing the author in an orange kayak surrounded by lily pads and the title

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