One of the joys of summer is getting out on the water. Whether you like swimming, paddleboarding, surfing, waterskiing, or some other sport, the heat of summer is often the best time to enjoy the water.
The fun doesn’t have to end when the air turns colder, though. Fall is an excellent time to set out on the quiet waters of a lake, pond, or flatwater river in a canoe, kayak, or other human-powered watercraft.
Paddling is not only a fun and relaxing way to get close to nature, it’s also great exercise! Canoeing and kayaking both provide an excellent cardiovascular workout, and help build upper-body strength. In addition, paddling is an enjoyable way to burn off extra calories. On average, a leisurely afternoon in a canoe burns 300 calories, while recreational kayaking can burn as much as 400 calories.
While there are countless specialty boats out there, from lightweight solo canoes for racing to trick kayaks for whitewater rodeo play, it’s easy to find an inexpensive boat. Unless you have hardcore sporting ambitions or plan to do some serious touring, a basic recreational model will likely meet your needs.
Recreational kayaks are generally short, wide, and stable, and are made from inexpensive flexible plastics, making them ideal for beginners. They come in both sit-inside and sit-on-top varieties. Sit-on-top styles are sometimes less expensive and are generally more comfortable for larger paddlers who may find sit-inside styles too confining, but they can make for a wetter ride, which is less-than-ideal in colder weather. Many companies also make low-cost inflatable kayaks, which are usually shaped more like short, wide canoes.
Canoes all share the same basic structure, but come in a variety of lengths to accommodate anything from a single paddler to an entire family. They are made from a wide array of materials, from wood to Kevlar. As with kayaks, inexpensive recreational models are generally made from plastic, or sometimes metal. Models made for beginners are generally wider in relation to the length of the boat than models for more experienced paddlers. This makes them more stable, but also slower.
Starter canoes and kayaks usually cost a few hundred dollars new, but frugal shoppers can easily find used boats at garage sales, in newspaper classified ads, or on sites like Craigslist. Before you spend money on a boat, though, make sure it meets your individual needs. Be sure to research the boat’s dimensions (will you fit in it?), weight (can you carry it?), and carrying capacity (will it carry you and any gear you may want to bring?). If you’re buying a used boat, be sure to consider the condition of the boat and find out if it will need any repairs or modifications to be seaworthy. Make sure the boat matches your intended use. A whitewater kayak won’t do you much good if you plan on long-distance lake paddles, while a large touring canoe is an exceptionally bad choice for surfing ocean waves.
Many outfitting companies allow customers to try out different models of boats before they buy. Renting a boat is also a good way to find out not only whether paddle sports are the right hobby for you, but whether a particular boat feels right. In fact, if you only intend to get out on the water a few times a year, it may make sense to rent for a while before committing to buy.
Expert paddlers have developed a number of special strokes to maximize efficiency of motion, but you don’t really need to learn them right away just to enjoy a fun afternoon on the water. Once you’ve been at it for a while, you may find that you want to take a few lessons to improve your skills. Just be sure to always bring along a Coast Guard approved personal floatation device, even after you begin to feel confident in your skills.
If you’re venturing out in a canoe or kayak in spring or fall, when the waters can be chilly, it may also be a good idea to invest in a wetsuit. If your craft capsizes, your body will be protected from the icy temperatures, which will prevent you from becoming hypothermic. If you choose not to invest in a wetsuit, always paddle close to shore, so you can easily make it to dry land, and be sure to pack a set of spare clothes in a dry bag so you can change if need be.