What is Kayaking?


Kayaking is a sport and recreational activity that people of all ages can enjoy. The sport consists of using a canoe-like raft to paddle through open water and can be enjoyed by racing others or simply paddling for leisure or exercise. Types of kayaking vary depending on the body of water chosen, and there are different types of kayaks specific for each type of water. Kayaking is one of the most popular aquatic sports and is a great way to experience nature.


kayaking history

The kayak was first created by the Inuit, Yupik, and Aleut tribes of Alaska and Northern North America about 4,000 years ago for the purposes of hunting. Around the mid 19th century, the kayak was adapted for sport and recreation before becoming a part of the Olympics in 1936. However, it was the plastic revolution of the 1980s that transformed kayaking into what it is today, allowing kayaks to become more affordable and mass produced.

Playing Surface

kayaking playing surface

Different types of kayaks are specifically designed for individual water surfaces. These surfaces can range anywhere from still bodies of water, oceans, white water rapids, and more. Certain kayaks are meant for kayaking on lakes and steady rivers, while some are designed for more intense kayaking (white water kayaking, sea kayaking, and surf kayaking). For beginners, still bodies of water are great places to start.

Kayaking Equipment

Kayaking Equipment

Different types of kayaking create a widespread range of equipment, but all kayaking requires some of the same essentials, and it is important to bring all of it to ensure a safe and fun adventure. Clothing wise, it is important to dress for the water, not for the weather, as on the rare occasion you fall in, you will want to be wearing the proper clothing.

Here is the essential Kayaking equipment you should have:

  • Bilge Pump
  • Helmet
  • Kayak
  • Life Jacket/ Buoyancy Aid
  • Paddle
  • Signalling Whistle
  • Wetsuit


There are multiple types of competitive kayaking from flatwater river racing, whitewater slalom racing, and kayak freestyling, each with a different set of objectives:

River Racing: Lane by lane racing through a straightaway in which the winner is the first paddler to cross the finish line.

Slalom Racing: Navigating through a series of gates in choppy (white) waters. The paddler with the fastest time wins.

Freestyle Kayaking: Perform stunts and maneuvers. A set of judges scores these stunts of which the highest score wins.

If not kayaking competitively, the only objective is to have fun!

Rules and Regulations

kayaking rules and regulations

There are many rules and regulations to abide by while kayaking. While each form of competitive kayaking has its own sets of rules, we will focus on the basic safety rules and regulations of general kayaking for simplicity.

Here are the most important rules of kayaking you should know:

  • Avoid kayaking among swimmers
  • Do not cross the path of port entry and exit channels
  • Always where a form of life jacket
  • Try to avoid paddling alone
  • Give right of way to larger vessels with less maneuverability


It is important to understand basic paddling techniques to ensure a fun and successful kayaking experience.

  • Use core muscles to control paddle strokes rather than just the arms
  • Sit up straight and avoid slouching in the kayak to decrease back injury risk
  • Keep elbows at a 90 degree angle for maximized paddling results
  • Start kayaking in calm waters with good weather


Kayaking Lingo

Here is the common lingo and slang in Kayaking: 

  • Beater: A paddler who lacks skill or experience kayaking, usually a “beat down” for other paddlers.
  • Carp: An unsuccessful attempt at a roll in which the paddler looks like a carp.
  • Church: An adjective to describe a perfect run or a perfect day kayaking.
  • Hole: A point in the water where a current flows over an obstacle before reversing flow back over it. A hole is typically difficult to navigate.
  • Huck: The act of kayaking over a waterfall.


kayaking paddlers

There are a multitude of paddlers that are at the top of the competitive kayaking world. Whether  these athletes are river racers, slalom racers, or freestylers they are some of the most well respected paddlers who have mastered the art of kayaking and are responsible for the state of sport.

Here are the most famous Kayaking paddlers you should know:

  • Birgit Fischer
  • Paul Caffyn
  • Ian Ferguson
  • Ben Brown
  • Freya Hoffmeister
  • Adam Van Koeverden

Events and Competitions

Kayaking Events and Competitions

There are not many well known kayaking events and competitions outside of olympic kayaking. Most competitive kayaking events and tournaments found are fishing competitions from a kayak. However, there remain many options for local kayak racing events.

Here are some regional kayaking events :

  • Annual Green River Race (Asheville, NC): Whitewater rapids race down the Green River Narrows
  • Annual Outdoors Inc Canoe & Kayak Race (Memphis, TN): Flatwater 5k race
  • Spring Cedar River Races (King County, WA): Whitewater Slalom race down the Cedar River

Olympic Kayaking

olympic kayaking

Kayaking is a large part of the summer olympics with various individual and team competitions. Grouped with canoeing, this olympic sport  comprises 16 medal events, four slalom race events and 12 flatwater sprints. For the slalom races, athletes participate in 2 heats with the best four times advancing to the semis and then the championship. For the flatwater sprints, there are various sprints of different lengths in which athletes race against each other in a quest to finish in first place.


What type of kayak should I purchase?

The type of kayak depends on the type of kayaking. For beginners, it is recommended to use a sit-on-top kayak, as they offer the most mobility. Kayaks also range in types by water type, and there are tandem kayaks for those looking to kayak with a partner.

Do I need to wear a helmet while kayaking?

It is always recommended to wear and bring as much safety equipment as possible while kayaking. While a helmet is not required for all types of kayaking, it is always required for kayaking in whitewater and should be worn for most kayaking activities.

What is Slalom Kayaking?

Whitewater slalom racing is arguably the most popular form of competitive kayaking. This kayaking racing type consists of paddlers navigating through choppy waters through a series of gates. Unlike skiing, paddlers can not touch the poles of the gates without incurring a penalty.

What do I do if my kayak flips over?

Kayaks are designed to not capsize, but in the event that they do, the first thing to do is to remain calm. Then, push yourself out of the kayak and rise to the surface. To flip the kayak back over grab the opposite side of the kayak and pull it toward your body by rolling it back or flipping it over.