Help me start another hobby
March 30, 2010 7:27 PM   Subscribe

Noob looking to start kayaking.

Looking for any advice you can send my way. I'm 6'2" 215 size 13 feet. I'm guessing I can't go out and buy any old kayak and fit into it based on my size. Are they as picky as bikes when it comes to fit? Good brands I should keep an eye out for? Anything I should be careful of when I head out? What other gear will I need? Obviously a life jacket, helmet, and paddle. Any help would be greatly appreciated!
posted by no bueno to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Check out
posted by quodlibet at 7:44 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might consider taking some classes first. Kayaks (and the associated gear) aren't exactly inexpensive. I don't know about where you're at, but where I used to live there were several companies that did fairly inexpensive beginner classes which included equipment rental (kayak, suits, etc.)
posted by R343L at 7:48 PM on March 30, 2010

Where are you? If you're anywhere cold-ish or with cold water, you should get a well-fitting wetsuit/drysuit that's suited for your water temp first. See here.
posted by lalochezia at 7:59 PM on March 30, 2010

When I took up kayaking, a local sporting goods shop would rent kayaks for a very reasonable rate, and that let me try several different ones before I bought one. Of course, then Dick's moved in and the local place went out of business, but you might look into whether anyplace near you does anything similar. If there's a paddle club in your area, they might have try-it-out days or classes as well; I attended a paddle day put on by a local club and not only got to try several boats but got to chat with people about what kind of kayak would be best for me, my size, and the kind of paddling I wanted to do. My local community education offers kayaking classes where you can learn to paddle, roll, and so on.

As far as safety goes, my favorite book on the subject is River Safety: A Floater's Guide by Stan Bradshaw.

Get a good dry bag and always take a change of clothes and a little more food and water than you think you'll really need with you. I am a purely recreational paddler, barely-any-white-water paddler but even so on these quiet Michigan rivers have had paddles that took a lot longer than we expected; and once my boat sank under me thanks to bad advice I got from an idiot, when I was too new to know better. Or I've been with people who managed to get drenched and would have been badly chilled had others of us not had enough clothes along to cobble together a dry outfit (this is for conditions where a dry suit or wetsuit isn't necessary).
posted by not that girl at 8:17 PM on March 30, 2010

What kind of kayaking? Touring, sea, or whitewater?
posted by procrastination at 8:21 PM on March 30, 2010

Response by poster: I'm in Denver, probably a lot of river cruising and some whitewater.
posted by no bueno at 8:35 PM on March 30, 2010

Best answer: Former whitewater kayak instructor and sea kayaking trip leader here.

Taking a class is a great idea. You might try the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center. Their website says they are two hours from Denver. You'd want to take a beginner/introductory class.

Taking a class from a well-trained, professional instructor will put you so much further ahead than trying to putz around on your own. You can accomplish in a weekend what you'd otherwise spend a season learning. You'll learn all about the equipment, proper techniques, etc. Then you can figure out a good boat for you and maybe even pick up some used equipment at a decent price.

I say this as someone who putzed around with well-meaning but un-trained local paddlers who didn't really know how to teach someone. Then, when I took a class from talented, well-trained instructors, I learned so much so quickly.

And I do recommend taking a whitewater class. It's much easier to go from whitewater to flatwater than vice versa.

Feel free to send more questions my way. Good luck! It's a great sport.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:55 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Go see the folks at Confluence Kayaks! They are pretty much the nicest people ever, and they have about a million years of combined boating experience between them all. They run open pool sessions and rolling lessons at the DU pool all winter, and they teach lessons at Confluence Park in the spring. They will rent you gear, and they will be able to hook you up with local groups, etc. Seriously, go talk to them.

Also, check out Colorado Whitewater. They're a well organized group of paddlers. You won't have an instructor if you run rivers with them, but there will be more experienced people in your group who have run the river before and the people are usually pretty interesting and low key.

American Whitewater is always a good source of info about boating in general. Don't freak yourself out with their accident statistics though.

But mostly, go talk to the fine folks at Confluence.
posted by colfax at 11:27 PM on March 30, 2010

nthing taking a few classes and not worrying about buying any equipment yet.

Getting the basics down early on will make things far easier as you progress particularly if you're interested in whitewater where solid technique and confidence in the boat will keep you safe and having fun in what is a potentially dangerous environment. On that note, it's difficult to overemphasise the importance of at least some basic river safety training before you head out on your own. At some point you will end up parting company with the kayak somewhere you'd prefer not to and if you've been swimming in rivers in a (relatively) controlled environment beforehand you'll panic less and be able to get back to dry land fairly easily. When you're on the river, particularly in more remote locations, you're also the first and sometimes only source of help to other kayakers/canoeists who get into difficulties and basic skills like learning how to properly use a throwbag/line could save someone's life.
Apologies if that sounds a little dramatic, colfax is right, you shouldn't freak out about the accident statistics, it's not an unreasonably dangerous pastime but, speaking as someone who's been pulled out of more rivers than I care to remember, things can and will go wrong and you have to be prepared for those situations.

Finally, I'm almost exactly the same height and weight as you and I've found very few boats I've been unable to fit's just a question of how much discomfort you're willing to endure to do so.
Also, with apologies for the pedantry, on this side of the Atlantic at least a life jacket is the sort of inflating vest that you see in airplane safety videos, for kayaking you're interested in a buoyancy aid (also known as a personal flotation device (PFD) or similar)
posted by VoltairePerkins at 4:41 AM on March 31, 2010

Nthing the "take some classes" advice. It really helps in general, and knowing how to successfully wet exit and then get back in is invaluable. You want your first capsize(s) to be in a controlled, safe environment so you can get used to the feeling - before it happens in real life.

Also, find a good shop or club that hosts a "demo day" or similar. They'll be able to suggest boats that fit your size and interests and then you can try them on for size. I found my first kayak at a kayak "fest" where I got to talking with a bunch of representatives that were there - had already rented some boats and taken some classes so I had some points of reference to discuss with the reps.
posted by johnvaljohn at 6:00 AM on March 31, 2010

All of my information is going to relate to whitewater; I don't know much about flatwater kayaking.

Colfax is right about confluence kayaks. is the go-to forum for most rocky mountain paddlers, though some are partial to Eddyflower. If you post at either of those sites, you can probably get some advice from people who have taken whitewater classes out here.

I learned to kayak from informal instruction, but taking a class is definitely a good idea. Colorado is a little tough on beginners, because the kayaking is so seasonal. Most of the rivers have relatively short windows when they run on snowmelt, and then they're done. There are some notable exceptions, like the Arkansas and the Colorado. The other issue is that since, even in those rivers, most of what you're kayaking on was snow very recently, the water temps are very cold. You'll need lots of insulation. I wear a drysuit almost all season, and love it, but they're expensive. Late in the summer things start warming up some, but then you start running out of water.

If you're interested in grabbing a beer sometime, I could talk you through the process of borrowing/renting gear and talk to you about some rivers worth checking out once you get geared up. My friends and I will also be spending a fair bit of time down at Confluence Park knocking off the dust and practicing some swiftwater rescue techniques. Memail me.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:08 AM on March 31, 2010

« Older Newbie Mom. Jaded daughter.   |   Help me with Travel to Japan, please! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.