Getting Into Kayaking - Part 2
In Part 1 I wrote a about the 4 common types of kayaks you'll come across as a beginner, how they differ and what they are used for. Once you've got a kayak sorted you also need other equipment.
While you could do without it, a buoyancy aid is recommended. I am a good swimmer and I still consider it a must have item. In fact, I bought a buoyancy aid before I bought anything else kayak related. Even if you think you don't need one you can consider that it provides more than buoyancy. The shoulder straps are a good place for someone to grab you by if they need to give you a hand to get you back in your kayak or out of the water. You've got a bit of padding front and back in case of any impact and some buoyancy aids have pockets to stash things in. You can find a pretty decent buoyancy aid for around £50 and it will last you a long time. There are different types of buoyancy aids, look for something that has the buoyancy in front of your chest and behind your back. You don't want the style that has a bulky bit that goes around your neck and primarily have the buoyancy at your chest. Look for something that will give you free movement of your neck, shoulder and arms. Even short paddling sessions will easily have thousands of paddle strokes and you can't have anything that restricts your movement or that chafes.
I personally use a YAK Kallista 50N, a good entry level buoyancy aid for the budget conscious. It has a front zip so you don't have to put it on over your head and a nice pocket on the chest. It also has adjustable shoulder straps and dual adjustable side straps so you can get a good fit every time no matter if you're wearing light clothes in summer or your layered up in winter. It isn't bulky and is comfy enough that I forget I have it on within 5 minutes of donning it. Mine is black and, as a bonus, almost looks like a bulletproof vest :)
Another item on the safety list is a helmet. I don't consider this an essential for the type of kayaking I am planning to do, but I'm getting one anyway. If you're thinking of going down faster flowing rivers or doing whitewater kayaking, really any place where there are rocks or other hard things you can hit your head on (overhanging tree branches?), then a helmet is a good idea. As a motorcyclist I am of the opinion that helmets are very important, I've fallen many times, both on and off road, and the worst I've had was a concussion. I'd probably be dead by now if it wasn't for helmets. Lomo, the same people that sell dry bags, sell helmets for around £25, even if you aren't sure you need one, that's so cheap that you might as well get one. Kayak helmets look a lot like skating helmets, I'm not sure what the differences are, maybe kayak helmets handle getting wet better?
With the safety taken care of, there is one other essential that you can't do without: a paddle. There are two main styles of paddling they are called high-angle and low-angle and it has to do with the angle of our paddle relative to the surface of the water and also the type of kayaking you might do. The high-angle style is often used with whitewater kayaking and the low-angle style with touring. When you use high-angle paddling your paddle is held almost vertical, 90 degrees to the water, when you do a forward stroke. When you use low-angle paddling your paddle is held closer to a 30 degree angle to the water. Low-angle paddling is more relaxed and puts less strain on your joints. High-angle paddles tend to have wider blades while low-angle paddles have narrower and longer blades. In this case we are talking about Euro style paddles, the type you would think about as "normal" kayak paddles. A good example of a high-angle paddle is the Werner Tybee paddle, an example of a low angle paddle is the Werner Skagit paddle.
There is another style of paddle called a Greenland paddle, this style is the traditional paddle style of the Inuit people. It has very long narrow blades that are shaped almost like an aircraft wing. This style of paddle is very easy on the joints and feels very natural to use, or so I am told.
I have a dodgy shoulder from a motorcycle injury many years ago. I've noticed that if I use a high-angle paddle and paddling style that I become more aware of this old injury. I'll be buying a Werner Skagit paddle and I've bought some plans and I'm going to make my own Greenland paddle to try it out too. It's a good idea to have more than one paddle, it's not unheard of to break or even lose a paddle out on the water.
Now we've covered the basics: kayaks (in Part 1), buoyancy aids, helmets and paddles. This is enough to get most beginners asking the right questions. If you're going ahead with kayaking I recommend that you find a kayak club in your area. Armed with the basic knowledge I've provided you can meet experienced people and start asking the right questions. Most clubs provide taster sessions, they provide, at least, a buoyancy aid, a kayak and a paddle for you to try kayaking before you commit or buy anything of your own. Often clubs have kayaks that you can rent from them if you don't have the space to store one or you think you might not have the time to go kayaking often. From what I've seen prices are very reasonable so you don't have to own your own equipment until you have a better idea of what that should be. Clubs have helpful people who want to help you get into kayaking because they also love it. If you haven't done so already, try out a taster session at a local club under the supervision of experienced paddlers!