Introduction to Kayaking

Posted On: 17 January 2020


Welcome to the Boyne Valley Activities introduction to kayaking. For those interested in learning how to kayak, this is the place to check first. We’ll take you through the history of the activity, how it differs from canoeing, the different types of kayaking, how it gets you fit, and what you need to start.

History of Kayaking

The first kayaks were carved out of wood by Inuit people and used for fishing in the Arctic. The word kayak comes from the Greenland language and means “hunter’s boat”. As the waters in the arctic tend to be on the cold side, a capsize was a dangerous event and usually meant instant death. As a result, kayaks had cockpits carved into the boat which were covered with a hide, usually stitched by their wives. The hunter was held inside the boat and when they capsized they would roll up the other side and back into an upright position. This is called the Eskimo Roll, not to be confused with the Breakfast Roll which was invented by the Irish.

Difference between Canoes and Kayaks

Landlubbers tend to confuse canoeing with kayaking. A Canoe is typically a watercraft approx 16ft long with 2 seats, one at the front and one at the back. Apart from the obvious difference in length and design, the canoe is open. This means that should the canoe capsize, you and everything in it will fall out into the water. In watercraft terms, this is called a “Swim” and produces much merriment among spectators.

A kayak, on the other hand, tends to be a watercraft roughly 8ft long with one single seat. Kayaks are closed and you sit in the middle in the “Cockpit”. Once inside, you adjust yourself in with backrest adjusters and thigh braces. When this is done you will then seal up the cockpit with a “spraydeck” to keep the water outside the kayak at all times. Now, when this Kayak capsizes, the spraydeck will keep the river out – and the thigh braces will keep you in! After reading this you would think that more people would take up canoeing, but strange as it may seem, kayaking is what people want to learn.

Different types of kayaking

Once you try kayaking you open up a whole new world of activities and sports on the water. Here are some of the different types of kayaking.

Flatwater Kayaking – This is usually how you learn to kayak. Picture yourself gently floating down the Boyne, drifting by kingfishers and swans and unwinding from the 9 – 5.

Sea Kayaking – Designed for stability and to handle long-distance paddling sessions.  Some love the open swell of the ocean while others think it is just not as sexy as river paddling.

Sailing – a kayak fitted with a sail. You might see this on the ocean or on lakes. Lazy gits.

Surf kayaking – a kayak with a fin underneath for turning on waves and scaring the bejaysus out of surfers

Race kayaking – If you have a competitive streak (which most paddlers do), you can race across flat water (sprint racing), seawater (ocean racing), down long rivers (marathon racing), or through floating whitewater obstacle courses (slalom racing).

Canoe Polo – two teams of five attempt to put the ball in the other’s net. Played in kayaks, not canoes, just to confuse you.

Freestyle – This is where you try to execute a range of different tricks using the flow of the water and your own flexible gymnastics on a feature such as a wave or a hole.

Wildwater – Great fun. Adrenaline. You versus the river.  Aaarrrghh!

What kayaking does for the body

While we are big fans of the fresh air and the way it clears the mind, kayaking also gives you very specific benefits to the body. Your cardiovascular fitness and upper body strength will improve instantly from paddling (Never, ever say rowing!). Your torso and legs also get a major workout as your legs need to apply pressure and your torso needs to rotate to propel your craft across the water. Despite all the videos of nutters sliding down waterfalls on Youtube, kayaking is a low impact activity, especially on the Boyne which is a grade 2/3 river, so you won’t get your bones and joints being ground down like in other activities.

What you need to start kayaking

Like everything else in life, there is a right way and a wrong way to start kayaking. Lessons are essential and the Level 2 Kayak course is the gateway into the activity. It teaches you safety, watercraft and confidence. This course is compulsory before you can go on club trips with others. Some people like to join a club to do the course while others prefer to come to us first as we tend to have more courses running. The course is the same no matter where you do it. Each course must follow the Canoeing Ireland syllabus and be carried out by trained instructors.

Hope to see you on the water soon in the Boyne Valley!

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