3 Tips for Kayaking Beginners

by | Sep 12, 2018 | Interviews

When kayaking comes to mind, it’s easy to think of a sporty young person who has invested thousands of dollars in brightly colored gear who takes season-long expeditions upstream of some tremendous river.

These people exist – and they’re having a blast – but don’t let their passion give you the impression that kayaking is just for the extremely fit, obsessed, and wealthy. Kayaking is a sport that is truly approachable for a wide variety of people, and the required investment of time and money is probably less than you think.

Kayaking First Kayak Beginner Arkansas Little Rock Rental
Photo credit goes to Rock Town River Outfitters
 We sat down with Sam Ellis, a long time friend of RaftUp and the founder of Rock Town River Outfitters, to discuss what it takes for a total beginner to get into kayaking. Sam has years of experience as a professional white water raft guide in Colorado. He founded Rock Town River Outfitters so that he could share the excitement and beauty of seeing downtown Little Rock from the Arkansas River. He has been leading tours and teaching classes at Rock Town since 2015, and is a seasoned professional at teaching beginners.

 Here are some tips Sam had to offer for people wanting to kayak for the first time:

1: A Good Kayak Instructor Will Be Able to Start from Square One

Kayaking First Kayak Beginner Arkansas Little Rock Rental
Photo credit goes to Rock Town River Outfitters
If you are interested in kayaking, but have never done it before, it can be helpful to participate in a guided tour or class. Good instructors and guides want all kinds of people to enjoy the water, so getting the fundamentals of kayaking down is important for them.

 There’s no need to fear embarrassment if you need to start with the basics. Sam shared that in his first year of instruction in Little Rock, he was teaching a client how to maneuver the kayak. When Sam said “paddle towards me, paddle forward”, the client said, “what do you mean paddle?”. No matter how little you know about the mechanics of kayaking, an instructor will be able to get you through it.

Sam says that a good instructor of a kayaking class should teach you how to get in and out of the boat, how to assist another kayaker in trouble, and how to get back in the kayak if you roll over. In advanced classes, Sam will even have clients roll over intentionally so that they are prepared in the event that they roll over unintentionally. This helps make the entire experience less scary for beginners and helps build confidence.

2: It’s Best to Start Where the Waters are Calm

Kayaking First Kayak Beginner Arkansas Little Rock Rental
It’s important to realize that moving water poses a danger to any person in a boat, regardless of their experience level. If you’re after adventure, it may be tempting to start your kayaking career in a fast river. This will be unsafe, and it will probably cause more struggle than excitement.

Sam suggests that beginners should stick to slow moving or non-moving bodies of water. A lot of times, your instructor or guide can suggest local bodies of water that would be safe and enjoyable at your experience level. For example, if you have done the Arkansas River, Sam might encourage you to go with a group on the Big Piney River or the Buffalo as a next step. Taking on challenges is something that should be done incrementally when you are kayaking, but becoming familiar and comfortable with your local rivers and lakes is a great deal of the fun.

3: When You Decide to Buy, Don’t Go too Cheap and Do Your Research

Kayaking First Kayak Beginner Arkansas Little Rock Rental
Photo credit goes to Rock Town River Outfitters
Once you have rented enough times, you may find that it is more convenient or cost effective to buy your own kayak. Even if you are starting to feel like a pro, understanding the different price points and varieties of kayaks on the market can be a little daunting. You can find some that are suspiciously cheap, monstrously expensive, or incredibly specialized.

Sam offers one warning to those buying their first kayak: avoid the department store. He once bought one to try it out, and reports that the material of department store kayaks is more fit for molding into a plastic easter egg than water recreation. Buying a cheap kayak really leaves you with an expensive pool toy. It will not last, and it may not keep up well with kayaks of better quality.

Buying a kayak is an investment. It’s important to do your research to get the most out of it. Find what kind of boat is best for the types of trips and bodies of water you want to paddle. According to Sam, the easiest way to overpay for a kayak is to pay for more bells and whistles than you need. You probably don’t need a flat-bottom bass boat-sized kayak with cup holders and storage if you think you’ll make a few brief excursions on lakes or slow rivers.

Kayaking First Kayak Beginner Arkansas Little Rock Rental
Photo credit goes to Rock Town River Outfitters. Special thanks to the model, Grizz Lee Bear.
Sam has a warning for people who are interested in kayaking: Be careful, kayaking is addicting. You can do it easily and you can do it anywhere. You can kayak for five minutes after work or make a full week’s trip out of it. It may just become your life like it did for Sam.
Kayaking First Kayak Beginner Arkansas Little Rock Rental

Rock Town River Outfitters is Little Rock’s first Arkansas River outfitter. They offer kayak tours, kayak rentals, bicycle tours and rentals, and will soon offer a wooden boat workshop. The wooden boat workshop will teach you the skills you need to build and walk away with your own hand-built wooden canoe. The workshop is one week long and will start the week of January 9-13. Check out their website here. They also have a great Facebook and Instagram

Whenever you start kayaking, please let your mom know where you are.

Let everyone know where you are on the water, whether you’re kayaking, power boating, or just floating in a tube. Share your adventures, find your way, and stay safe with the RaftUp app.
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1 Comment

  1. Margaret Cammarata

    I had never been on a kayak in the water before. To say I was scared to try kayaking is putting it mildly. I tried with once before, but backed out. A couple of months ago I was visiting from out of town and met with Sam down at the launch site and watched him and LISTENED to him. You see, deep down I really wanted to try to kayak, as the others in my group looked like they were having a blast. He offered to take me out with him in a tandem kayak, but he wanted me to just sit in the kayak and float. Well, I did just that and then I started to paddle. I felt the kayak glide through the water under me and realized I wasn’t going to flip. It was almost effortless to move and as I became more confident, I became more aware of how amazing everything looked from my view on the water. Sam’s easy going manner made the day fun! Grizz, his dog, made it even better!

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