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What Is Kayaking?

Kayaking is an exhilarating water sport where you navigate rivers, lakes, or oceans using a small, sleek vessel and a double-bladed paddle. It's a blend of adventure, exercise, and communion with nature, offering both serene escapes and adrenaline-fueled challenges. Ready to explore how kayaking can transform your relationship with the great outdoors? Join us on this aquatic journey.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Kayaking is a recreational sport in which participants use specialized boats called kayaks in a wide variety of waterways. Kayaks are boats which take a number of forms, depending on the function for which they are designed. People can take kayaking trips on the ocean, up rivers, in surf zones, and along white water courses. Participants can often have minimal skills and still greatly enjoy themselves. Some people take kayaks with them when they travel to go kayaking, and others rent kayaks or participate in guided kayaking trips at a destination.

A kayak is a boat with a covered deck and a small hole for someone to sit in. The legs of the sitter are concealed, warm and dry, inside the boat. They were originally designed for use in the Arctic, where cold water spilling into a boat could potentially be dangerous for someone using it. Many traditional kayaks were custom made for the individual user. Kayaks are propelled using double bladed oars, and they can be quite rapid and maneuverable.

Recreational kayaking in rivers is the most common type of kayaking.
Recreational kayaking in rivers is the most common type of kayaking.

One of the most common types of kayaking is recreational kayaking in rivers and lakes, using wide, highly stable kayaks. Because the water is usually relatively calm, people do not need much experience to enjoy this type of kayaking, although preparing them for a spill with life jackets is an excellent idea. More skilled kayakers enjoy ocean kayaking, which involves taking kayaks out onto the open ocean. More complex currents and big waves make this type of kayaking more dangerous.

Large waves make ocean kayaking dangerous.
Large waves make ocean kayaking dangerous.

People also use kayaks to go racing, or to navigate white water courses. Both of these types of kayaking require much more skill, along with specialized boats. Another type of kayak enjoyed by some people is the surf kayak, which is designed to be used in areas with breaking waves. The kayak is designed to be highly stable, and can be used almost like a surf board to ride the waves. Some companies also manufacture inflatable kayaks, which can be packed down to make luggage less cumbersome. Several variations on the inflatable kayak exist, including a version which includes an internal frame to make it more stable and safe for ocean use.

The gear required for kayaking is fairly minimal. At the most basic, a kayaker needs a kayak, a paddle, and a life jacket. For kayaking camping trips, waterproof bags which can be stuffed into the kayak are extremely useful. Longer kayaks often have a separate hatch for stowing gear. Kayak camping is a great way to explore the outdoors from the water, pulling ashore to hike, camp, or eat.

Kayaking emerges as a versatile water sport, offering a blend of adventure, relaxation, and a unique vantage point to explore nature's waterways. Whether one seeks the thrill of whitewater rapids or the tranquility of a gentle river, this activity caters to a wide range of interests and skill levels. For enthusiasts looking to complement their active lifestyle with optimal nutrition, incorporating the best greens supplements can be a wise choice to ensure a well-rounded diet, supporting the energy and wellness needed to paddle through life's aquatic adventures.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Sports&Hobbies researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Sports&Hobbies researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments


I have been white water rafting more than once and have always found this exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.

This year I am looking for something different to try and have been considering going on a guided kayaking adventure.

I haven't spent much time in a kayak, so would want to make sure I could handle being in such a small space like that.

Knowing that they are built to be very stable is good to know. Sometimes when you look ahead at the rapids you are going to be going through, you don't know if you are going to stay upright or not.


Every year our family goes camping in the mountains and we take along tubes to float down the river in.

We always make sure we are getting in and out at a mild part of the river that doesn't have a real strong current. The water is never over our heads and we can stand up at any time if we need to.

Once in awhile you will see some people river kayaking down this river. If you keep going for very long, the river becomes more like a rapids and I wouldn't want to be in it with a tube or a kayak.


I have only been in a kayak a couple of times, but for some reason they always scare me. I feel like I am too confined and am so afraid of flipping over.

If you flip over in a canoe, you have more room to maneuver your legs and get out of there. In a kayak, there isn't as much room and I am afraid I would get stuck and not be able to get out.

If I had the choice between canoeing or kayaking, I would choose canoeing any day. With a canoe, you can also have more than one person, which makes a day on the water much more enjoyable.


If you don't have a way to haul a regular kayak, an inflatable kayak might be perfect for you. If you are going to be in calm conditions, this gives you a good taste of what kayaking is like without all the hassle of hauling one.

We have a cabin on a lake and keep a couple inflatable kayaks around for the kids. They love spending time on the water, and this is an easy way to have more than one of them.

I don't think I would trust this if I was doing any kind of ocean or sea kayaking, but for a small lake like ours, they are a lot of fun.


I went kayaking in a bay between a river and the ocean, and I felt pretty safe. I think that being able to have my bottom half protected inside the boat made me feel more secure.

My husband and I got a double seated kayak, so if one of us got tired of paddling, the other could take over. For the majority of the venture, we both paddled.

The kayak rental place offered waterproof boxes to store our wallets and sunscreen in, but we chose to leave them behind in the car instead. They wanted $10 for the box, and since we only planned to be out for about an hour, it didn't seem worth it.

The trip was wonderful. We got to kayak out to an island made entirely of shells, and it had a really old lighthouse on it. We parked the kayak right on top of the shells and went inside the lighthouse.


@shell4life – Canoes and kayaks are both relatively light boats, but canoes are usually bigger. They have a lot more leg room and room for small coolers, fishing supplies, and other things you might need.

However, being bigger doesn't mean being safer. Kayaks tip over far less often than canoes. The design of a kayak is much more stable, and I always feel a lot safer in one than I have felt in a canoe.

Also, a kayak paddle has two blades and a canoe paddle only has one. For people like me who have trouble paddling a straight line, this is helpful. You can balance out your movements with this type of paddle.


I have been canoeing before, but I have never been kayaking. I'm not very familiar with the design of the kayak, because I don't believe I've ever seen one up close.

What is the difference between a canoe and a kayak? Is one more stable than the other? When I was canoeing down the Buffalo River, my canoe did tip over once, and I had to swim. Is this likely to happen with a kayak?

I love being out on the water, and eventually, I plan to invest in some type of watercraft. I will have to learn more about kayaks before I make my decision.


I saw a variety of kayaks for rent when I vacationed near the ocean. The place where I rented a kayak to go out on calm water also had sea kayaks, but going out on the sea in a boat as small as this sounded like a bad idea to me.

I'm not the best swimmer, and even though I would have had a life jacket on, I still panic when I'm thrown under water. I can just see myself drowning in the waves because I lost the presence of mind to get back in the boat. Either that, or sharks would eat me.

I love kayaking, but I will stick to still waters. I don't even want to try out a river with a strong current, because it could be just as dangerous as kayaking in the ocean.

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    • Recreational kayaking in rivers is the most common type of kayaking.
      By: soupstock
      Recreational kayaking in rivers is the most common type of kayaking.
    • Large waves make ocean kayaking dangerous.
      By: EpicStockMedia
      Large waves make ocean kayaking dangerous.