Interest in kayaking is booming. It's no surprise; paddling is fun, exciting, and affordable. The level of difficulty is up to the individual paddler -- you may choose to slip silently through marshgrasses in quiet estuaries, slam down whitewater thrillrides in wild mountain rivers, or almost anything in between. There are no age limits in paddling; everyone from children to the elderly can handle a kayak. Enough disabled people paddle to create an audience for books on the subject, such as Paddling for Disabled People.
Since kayaking focuses more on finesse than on brute strength, women can kayak as well as men. Women may even have an advantage in the novice stages of their paddling careers because of their low center of gravity. Paddling is great way to stay in shape, too, and you won't even notice you're exercising till your clothes get loose.
But the greatest benefit of paddling has nothing to do with practical concerns. Personally, I would have to say it uplifts my soul. Pushing off in my tippy little boat and dipping my paddle into the living waters eases my mind in a way no other activity has ever done. On peaceful days the estuarine river I paddle on is glassy and lazy, and blue herons fish in the shallows only a few yards away. On windy days my little boat perseveres through the chop and I get a taste of what it means to be truly self-sufficient -- a little taste, but for my skill level and my tastes, it's enough. Observing the water changing from day to day, or even from hour to hour, has taught me more about waves and tides in a single summer than I learned in two years of marine biology classes.
I started paddling to explore the marshes on the Chesapeake. I'd never seen a bald eagle, an otter, a blue heron, or an osprey until I began paddling; now these beautiful creatures are regular sights. But still, each time I see one it's a thrill. The feeling of oneness with nature is hard to describe without sounding like a greeting card, but imagine moving through the water in a low little boat with oblivious fish only inches from your hand. Not only have fish jumped over my bow, they've landed right on the bow. Being raised as a kid in surburbia and having lived most of my adult life in cities, the chance to see nature close up is magical to me. I feel blessed every time I get to experience something like that.
These pages are intended to give you taste of what sea kayaking is like, and to provide you with some basic information that you can use to determine your next step. They are not a substitute for paddling instruction. Even though basic strokes will be discussed, it wouldn't be wise to try any of these things by yourself if you're a beginning paddler. Kayaking is as safe as you make it, but as with all water sports, good judgment is your best piece of safety gear.