What is Sea Kayaking?
Kayaking comes in two basic forms, sea kayaking and white water kayaking. This site focuses only on sea kayaking, but if you're just starting out you might want to try both. Most people think of white water when they hear the word 'kayak.' The popular image is of a small boat hurtling through gushing bursts of rocky river while a helmeted athlete flicks a paddle with lightening speed. Whitewater kayaks are smaller to allow for better manueverability, and are usually made of plastic strong enough to withstand being pounded against rocks.
Sea kayaking is pretty much anything that isn't white water, although surfing in sea kayaks requires similar skills and provides similar thrills. It's what you choose to make it. Sea kayakers can be found poking through flatwater lakes, fighting the chop on open water crossings, circumnavigating coastal islands, or journeying parallel to the shore just behind the surf line. Different approaches appeal to different people, and expert paddlers can be found mastering multiple styles.
Sea kayaks are designed for various purposes. Some are larger and have space inside to accomodate camping gear. Some are narrow with v-shaped bottoms that enable a paddler to twist and turn. In the next section the various types of boats will be discussed.
When talking to non-paddlers, kayakers are frequently asked, "Don't your arms get tired?" Few people understand that the basic paddling stroke is driven from the torso and the shoulder. If your arms are tired you need to check your form.
It doesn't cost a lot to become a sea kayaker, but as with any sport you can spend quite a bit on gear if you choose. Some items, however, are indispensable. In addition to a boat and a paddle, you will need a personal flotation device (PFD), a spray skirt, and a paddle float. Other items that you might find yourself shopping for include a bailing sponge, a spare paddle (which you should get as soon as possible), a whistle, a safety kit, drybags, a compass, a GPS (global positioning satellite system), chart cases, and the list can go on.
When you're out on the water, you are responsible for your own survival. This is a basic rule of paddling, and all adventure sports for that matter. The very first thing you should learn is how to get out of your kayak if you tip over. A 'wet exit' means that you release your spray skirt and let yourself fall out of the kayak. Now your head is above water and you can work on getting back in your boat. We'll talk about this in the section on Basic Rescues.
A skill that many paddlers strive for is that of rolling. To roll, you stay in your boat after tipping over and use your paddle and your body to flip yourself upright.
Is paddling a seasonal sport? Well, that depends on the paddler. If you plan to paddle in cold weather, you're going to need to learn everything you can and make sure you get the right gear. Hypothermia is a greater threat than drowning. Cold water carries heat away from the skin twenty times faster than a comparable air temperature, and your chances of survival drop exponentially with every minute.
The section Places to Paddle provides tips on places you can hone your skills and advance your knowledge. Kayaking is a pretty simple sport, but you can achieve a high level of finesse. Good paddlers move through the water like ducks, quick, graceful, and playful. You can become as comfortable in the water as ducks are, if you practice and push your skill level.