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Kayaking 101

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Kayaking is one of the fastest growing water sports. It can be peaceful and meditative on still water or exhilarating and exciting on white water. Either way, there are a few basics to consider.

Kayaking is one of the fastest growing water sports. It can be peaceful and meditative on still water or exhilarating and exciting on white water. Either way, there are a few basics to consider.

You should be in good physical condition and know how to swim. Even the most experienced kayaker winds up in the water sometimes. Being in shape will help you with the stress of fast water or long tours. As you learn to manage the strokes and the kayak, you'll get even stronger. An introductory course in kayaking is essential and costs about $60 for three hours of instruction.

Getting in and out of your boat is easiest with the boat parallel to the shore. Place the paddle across the back of the cockpit at a right-angle to the kayak and tilt so the blade touches the dock or beach to brace you. Stay low to the cockpit with your legs straight in front of you to slide in or out. Never try and stand up first your centre of gravity must be low or you'll tip.

Getting the kayak moving is an aerobic activity even though you're sitting down. The strong short strokes increase blood flow and heart rate, using more oxygen. You'll actually exert your entire body, not just the arms. The control points for steering and balance are your hips, knees and feet. Legs help keep you balanced and provide power to the strokes. Use the torso, back and shoulders to preserve arm strength.

Near-shore ocean and lake kayaking is best for beginners. A short wide kayak is the most stable; a long, narrow one is the fastest but is harder to turn and tips more easily. You can rent a two-person one for about $75 a day, complete with coastguard safety equipment. Bring water, hats, water-friendly footwear and layered clothing. River kayaking is for more advanced paddlers. The boats are half the length and turn on a dime.

If you get serious and want your own boat, expect to pay from $800 to $3,500 new and less for used. The most popular kayak materials are fibreglass, plastic and a fibreglass-Kevlar blend. The cheapest are plastic, but their bulkier design isn't as fast as the other types. If you're lifting it by yourself, weight is a factor. A plastic boat 17 feet long weighs about 60 pounds, a fibreglass one the same length about 50 pounds and a Kevlar blend about 45. If you travel or have little room for storage, a folding boat may be the best they're as easy to transport as a piece of luggage.

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