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Ashwin Muralidharan

Last updated: 15-07-2022

Kayaking is an amazing way to get out of home and beat the heat. It is a unique water sport to experience fun and thrill while moving through the pristine waters of nature. The sport has something for everyone – there are various kinds of kayaking in various kinds of waters using various kinds of kayaks – choose what fits your comfort best. You can ride through wild waves, drift alone on calm waters, or even go fishing. If you feel a calling to experience the adrenaline rush and true freedom, kayaking is an ideal choice.

At Bikat Adventures, when a discussion about venturing into Kayaking came up, we wanted to introduce a course that would be safe even for beginners without having to compromise on the thrill and excitement the sport offers. Our Basic Kayaking Course for Beginners is designed keeping in mind all the safety measures after studying the problems and concerns a beginner might face engaging with the sport for the first time. Stay on this page to get essential information about the sport, the course offered by us and the confidence to kick-start your kayaking journey.


What is kayaking?

Kayaking is a versatile water sport that involves using a kayak and a paddle to travel through different waters like rivers, seas, and lakes. A kayak is a small, slim and sturdy boat designed to keep a person afloat and navigate on water. Kayaks come in different types and sizes depending on the purpose like competitions, recreational purposes, exploration, and transportation. Disclaimer: Our experience is testament that kayaking may be an addictive sport – however not injurious to health!


History of kayaking

A kayak is an ancient watercraft created by the Eskimos around 5000 years ago to venture into the remote areas of glacial streams for hunting. The word kayak originated from the Greenlandic term – Qajaq, a hunter's boat. The first primitive kayaks were made from the skin of dead whales, bones of different animals, and driftwood. In the 1800s, Europeans came across kayaks and used them for other purposes like water expeditions, sports, and transportation. In the 1900s, Germans used kayaks to explore the white-water rivers with new techniques. In the middle of the 19th century, kayaking became a famous water sport throughout the world and officially made its way to the Olympics in 1936.




Evolution of kayaking

In the early 1800s, when the Europeans were active in their sea expeditions, they came across an Eskimo riding a kayak in the northern region of the Arctic islands. They got fascinated by the concept and the mobility that a kayak allowed for. They replaced their boats with kayaks to travel into remote valleys and islands. Little by little, they started experimenting with the kayaks by replacing animal skin with fabrics and different kinds of wood. This led to the birth of new designs and durable models of kayaks.

Later in the 1900s, the Germans were keen on studying the nature of river bodies and their features. This led to the birth of White Water Kayaking. They adapted the basics of kayaking into advanced methods that could run on rapids and waterfalls. White water rafting paved the way for new types of kayaks that could go faster and be more stable in rough water conditions.

In the middle of the 19th century, kayaking became famous worldwide as a competitive sport and also as recreational activity. It became a full-fledged medal sport in Olympics in 1936. In 1984, new variants of kayaks were introduced in plastic, Kevlar, and fiberglass materials in an attempt to make them light weight while also increasing toughness. Today, this activity is easily accessible for everyone from children to adults.


Types of kayaking

Kayaking can be classified into five basic types:


1) White-water kayaking: White water kayaking is going on rivers through rapids and different types of currents. It ranges from rivers with lesser flow to rivers with heavy waterfalls and rough currents.




2) Recreational kayaking: Recreational kayaking is the lighter form of kayaking created for fun and leisure. It is also the best method for beginners to get familiar with the waters and with kayaks. This activity mostly happens on small rivers and lakes.




3) Sea kayaking: As the name sounds, sea kayaking happens on the sea. Kayakers use long and narrow sea kayaks to cover long distances and go on day trips into the sea to cruise on open waters.




4) Surf kayaking: Kayak surfing is surfing on big ocean waves using a sea kayak instead of a surfboard. It demands good paddling skills to cross through the waves.




5) Kayak fishing: Kayak fishing is a unique type of kayaking that goes way back in time. Kayaking was discovered to venture into uncharted waters, in search of fish and fodder. The modern variants of fishing kayaks have vast legroom allowing the fishermen to stand up and swing their fishing rods.




Types of kayaks

Kayaks are designed in different styles depending upon the nature of kayaking. Here are the 8 basic types of kayaks:


1) Sit-in-kayaks and sit-on-top-kayaks 

Sit-in-kayaks allow you to sit inside a kayak in a way that your lower body is completely covered. They come with a spray deck that seals the lid to stop water from entering the kayak. They are primarily used in cold waters to keep your legs dry and warm.

The sit-on-top-kayaks are easier than the sit-in-kayaks. They are simpler and allow for easy access. There are no spray decks making it easier and quicker to get in and out of them. They are mainly used in warm waters.




2) Recreational kayaks

These are wider, lighter, and easy to maneuver. They are built for some light fun like gliding on small lakes and calm streams.




3) Sea kayaks

Sea kayaks are long and narrow boats made to help kayakers venture deep into the sea.




4) Fishing kayaks

Fishing kayaks are more spacious than other kayaks. They have enough room for a person to stand up and fish on both salt and freshwaters.




5) Crossover kayaks

A crossover kayak is a versatile variant built to perform on all types of waters. A kayaker can ride it through a lesser rapid of a river and also easily maneuver it on the open waters of the sea.




6) White water kayaks

White water kayaks are special boats used to navigate through the wild waters of a river. They come in 4 different models – river runners, playboats, creek boats, and longboats.




7) Inflatable kayaks

Inflatable kayaks are made for beginners and children to practice on calm waters. They are easy to carry and comfortable to sit on.




8) Tandem kayaks

Tandem kayaks are unique 2-seater kayaks ideal for children and beginners to travel with experts.




Parts of a kayak       

Be it hiking, biking, or kayaking, knowing the names of your equipment and all their functions helps perform better. 


1) Bow: The bow is the front end of the kayak; it always represents the direction you go.


2) Stern: The stern is the back end of the kayak; it's smaller than the bow to maintain stability.


3) Cockpit: A cockpit is where you sit and steer the kayak.


4) Handles: There are two handles in a kayak. One on the bow and the other one on the stern. They are used to pull the kayak on water and land.


5) Deck: A deck is the upper part of the kayak that faces the sky.


6) Hull: The entire bottom section of the kayak that touches the water is known as a Hhull.


7) Seat: A kayak seat supports your back and helps you maintain a comfortable body posture.


8) Footrest: The footrest is the spot where you rest the bottom part of your foot.


9) Knee braces: Once you place your knee beneath the knee braces, they lock your lower body allowing complete control of the kayak. 


10) Drain plug: The drain plug is located in the upper part of the stern, and it is removed to flush out all the water stored inside the kayak.


11) Paddle: A paddle is a tool with twin blades used to slice through the water surface and steer the kayak.






When and where to kayak

Summers are perfect to get introduced to the sport for the water is warm and bearable allowing for undistributed focus on learning. If you plan to learn in India, March to May and September to October are ideal. India has a wide range of natural water sources where you can learn white-water, sea, and recreational kayaking. Below is a list of some hot spots and the types of kayaking they are suitable for:


  1. Rishikesh: White-water kayaking on River Ganga
  2. Ladakh: White-water kayaking on Zanskar River
  3. Chennai: Ocean kayaking on Kovalam Beach
  4. Manali: White-water kayaking on Beas River
  5. Kerala: Recreational kayaking on backwaters in Kerala
  6. Goa: Ocean and recreational kayaking (mangroves) in Goa


Skills you learn in the Basic Kayaking Course at Bikat Adventures

We offer a 3-day and a 5-day white-water kayaking course in Rishikesh in the currents of Ganga which provide for all levels of rapids perfect for a beginner to get a taste for the sport. The course is meticulously planned to equip you with the basic techniques of kayaking and provide you with a strong foundation to take up the sport more seriously. We have in our team, experienced and professional kayakers to train you with all the necessary safety measures in place. At the end of the course, you will be equipped and trained enough to cross a class 2 rapid in style. Starting anything new can be scary, but fret not, kayaking is heaps of fun and with experts and safety measures all laid out, it is also very safe.


Check out our itinerary here.


The "how-to” of kayaking:


1) How to attire: The first and foremost step to initiating kayaking is to know how to attire appropriately for the white-waters. Kayaking on the river means exposure to heavy winds, different ambiance, and deep frigid waters. The kayaking clothing and accessories are designed to keep us dry, maintain our body temperature and protect us from harsh environments. A life jacket, lightweight helmet, and splash skirt are some of the main parts of the attires.




2) How to sit inside a kayak: Sitting inside a kayak onshore is simple and easy. But there is a small trick to it. Kayaking is all about balance. Getting settled and fitting in properly inside a kayak helps us to maintain a perfect balance and steer well.




3) How to launch a kayak on the water: Launching refers to entering the kayak on the water from the shore. The shoreline of a river is a mix of mud and water. Placing the kayak on the right plain, in the right way, and distance will allow us to slide and get in quickly.




4) How to get out of a kayak: Getting out of a kayak is the reverse of getting into a kayak. kayakers have to paddle into shallow waters, stably set the kayak, release their legs, and get out. Beginners tend to slip for the first time. Don't worry; it's fun and easy.




5) How to paddle: Paddling strokes are the primary motion that let a kayaker move freely on the water. A paddle is a shaft with two blades on the end that allows us to move freely on the water with special strokes and techniques. Every stroke cuts the water and creates momentum to pierce through the flow or go with it. The key techniques involved in paddling are going forwards, backward and sweeping to turn.




6) How to drain water: A kayak becomes heavy and uncomfortable for the legs with water inside the deck. It has to be taken to the shore and drained manually.




Other essential tips:


1) Wet exit

When your boat flips, a wet exit is a technique you must use to come out of the kayak. Once you face downwards and upside down underwater, stay calm. Lean forward and grab the tag of your skirt. Gently pull off your skirt and hold the sides of your cockpit. Apply pressure and push yourself outside.


2) River features

The river features help a kayaker read the river and navigate efficiently on a wave trail. Some of the basic features are:

  • Eddy current: An eddy current is an upstream flow or the reverse flow of water that goes opposite the main river flow. This happens when the mainstream of water hits a huge rock and turns back as a current.


  • Eddy line: The line separating the main water stream and the eddy current is the eddy line. Kayakers use the eddy current to turn their kayak from the main flow.


  • Rocks: There are no rivers without rocks. Some are small, some are big, some are flat, and some are thin. The rocks create the white waters. When massive torrents hit the solid rocks, it breaks the flow creating water currents that crash with each other with foams and splashes.


  • Rapids: Rapids are sections where the water flows incredibly fast. In kayaking, they are classified according to their intensity. Beginners are trained in class 2 rapids while pro kayakers train in class 5 and above.




3) Safety protocols

Though the kayaking course is held under the supervision of experienced kayakers, one has to learn and be proficient with the safety protocols. They will help keep you safe and self-reliant.


  • Always take the 5 primary gears

Helmet, life jacket, spray skirt, kayak, and paddle. If it's hard to remember, you can classify it as 3 things you wear (helmet, life jacket & spray deck) and 2 things you carry (paddle and kayak).


  • Don't compromise on the attire and comfort

Kayaking is fun and safe only when you wear all the right attire and accessories. Without these, you risk your rides being uncomfortable and unsafe. Since each gear serves a special purpose, lack of it cannot be compensated with other equipment. This means that each gear is important to make your ride smooth – you cannot afford to miss even a single item on the checklist. For example, the spray deck is special clothing worn to keep the water from entering. If you forget to wear it or keep it loose, cold water will pour in and freeze your legs. This will create pain and spoil your strokes. 


  • Never panic underwater

The water is your friend, and you must never try to fight it.  Counting is one of the best ways to focus underwater. If it doesn't help you, try to lean forward, hold your kayak and think about the instructions. This will help you come back to your senses and do the right thing at the right time.


  • Go kayaking under professional supervision

The basic kayaking course will equip you with the necessary skills to paddle on water. But, kayaking as a sport takes several years to master. The water currents are unpredictable, and they can take you through rough patches. Beginner or not, until you practice on different waters and get well versed with advanced techniques, take an instructor with you.


  • Follow the line or follow the rule

Following the line means following the instructors. A dedicated instructor will always be ahead of you when you start paddling to show you the right way. Following them will keep you safe. If you cannot follow the line, then follow the rule. The golden rule in kayaking is never to stop paddling. If you stop paddling, the force of water currents will either flip you or take you in a different direction.


  • Keep yourself hydrated

Dehydration is a very common challenge while kayaking under the sun. Keep drinking water every 30 minutes to maintain your body's water level.


  • Never ignore the theory

Theory is crucial before you start kayaking. Knowing the names of the rapids, shorelines, and activities will help you learn the basics quickly and perform well.


4) Rolling and T- Rescue

  • Rolling is an integral part of kayaking. For beginners, a basic roll is taught so as to get familiar with the kayak underwater and perform wet exits. Advanced rolling techniques are taught for pro kayakers to avoid wet exits and resurface back on the water. These techniques are essential in the high waters with rapids of class 4 and higher. Though there are different names for the rolls, like the C-to-C roll and hand roll, they are commonly known as Eskimo Roll, adapted from the survival techniques of the Eskimos on waters with freezing temperatures.


  • T-Rescue is a unique form of rescue on the water where a different kayaker will help you roll over back to the surface. When a kayaker flips over, an external kayaker will slowly and perpendicularly approach the fallen kayak and gently hit the kayak's body. The fallen kayaker stretches their arms, holds the other kayak's bow, raises themselves up, and snaps their lower bottom to come out of the water. This entire process looks like a T when observed from a distance, giving it the name T rescue.


5) River runs through rapids

River runs are the most fascinating part of white-water kayaking. River run refers to cruising long distances on a river through heavy rapids and calm waters. In our Basic Kayaking Courses, each day will be 8-12 km long, crossing class 2 rapids of Ganga River. Rapids are the action-packed sections where the water flows with great momentum. They are classified according to their intensity. Here are the names of the rapids you will be covering:

  • Clubhouse (Class 2)
  • Cashflow (Class 2)
  • Initiation (Class 2)
  • Double-Trouble (Class 2)
  • Hill-Turn (Class 1)




6) Ferry techniques

Ferrying is an exciting technique used in kayaking to cross streams. Advanced kayakers practice this on high-level rapids and rough eddy lines to cross the stream without flowing away. The instructors teach you to ferry in and enter a rapid in the basic kayaking course.




If you are interested in knowing some exciting facts, busting some myths, and learning more tips about kayaking.



Read this article - Kayaking - Facts, Myths, Tips, and Trivia


That's everything you need to know before enrolling into the basic kayaking course. We hope this article gives you all the necessary information to enter the world of kayaking and experience true freedom. Turn that intention into action, plan now, get into the waters, and have some fun. Feel free to reach us in case of queries.


Ashwin Muralidharan

Dreamer, listener, and a curious soul. I indulge influence and leave my impressions behind. If y Read more

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Neeti Singhal

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A psychologist, a developmental researcher, and a constant seeker of stories, Neeti is usually found slouching over her drawing sheets, sometimes weaving a maze of words, and always itching for her next calling!

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