California Kayaking, Kayak Rentals, Mountain Lakes Kayaks for Rent, Kayak Classes
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kayak basics: tips for river & ocean

The kayakist has fewer strokes to master than the canoeist. Because he/she has a paddle blade immediately available on both sides of the boat, there is no need for the J-stroke, the cross-bow, or the pry. On the other hand, the kayakist has to be bracing continuously to stabilize this tippy craft. Each of the turning strokes requires a heavy lean to achieve max efficiency because the kayak is designed to turn most easily when on its side. Although disconcerting initially, this technique is quickly learned. The kayaker literally "wears" his boat from the waist down. You gotta lean on the paddle with your upper body while controlling the lean of the boat with your knees, feet, and hips.

The kayak paddle itself presents a problem alien to the canoeist. Because the blades are feathered and there is no grip as with a canoe paddle, basic paddle handling differs. Hold the shaft with your hands about shoulder width apart and your thumbs pointing toward each other. One hand firmly grips the shaft at all times and controls the blade angle for all strokes. This is the fixed hand. There are no special problems when paddling on the fixed side. For strokes on the opposite side, rotate the paddle shaft 90 degrees by loosening the grip of the nonfixed hand and dropping the wrist of the fixed hand down so the shaft is above the forearm. At the end of the stroke, loosen the grip with the nonfixed hand and rotate the shaft back to the initial position with the fixed hand.

The forward paddle stroke is done with the shaft at a 45 degree angle to the water. With the upper hand at shoulder height, push out with the upper hand as if throwing a punch while pulling back with the lower hand. To backpaddle, just reverse this action using the opposite face of the blade. Backpaddling is much easier in a kayak than in a canoe. In order to maintain a straight course, the kayakist may have to do an occasional sweep on one side while paddling "straight" on the other. In the sweep stroke, move the paddle in a wide arc from the bow to the stern while leaning the boat to the paddle side.

In the draw stroke, extend the paddle out as far as possible and lean on it. As the boat is drawn toward the paddle, gradually shift the lean of the kayak back to a vertical position. This lean enables you to obtain a greater extension from the boat resulting in a more powerful stroke. A draw stroke followed by a forward paddle stroke is essentially the same as the solo-canoeist's inverted C-stroke.

Kayak we rented

River turns (a bit advanced)

Another extension of the draw stroke is the high brace (Duffek) turn. This stroke is used for crossing current differentials such as required for eddy turns. In this maneuver the kayaker inserts his paddle into the eddy current while holding the paddle vertically with the power-face of the blade turned slightly away from the bow. This paddle position is coupled with an extreme lean of the kayak. Although the paddle is positioned nearly vertically, the kayaker is supported by the force of the current differential. The kayaker merely pulls on the paddle while the mainstream carries the kayak downstream, across the current differential, and into the eddy. This sequence is similar to reaching out and grabbing a sign post while running down the street. The centrifugal force swings you around while you continue to remain in an upright position.

California Kayak Instruction & Kayaking Tours


Central California

Mission Bay Aquatic Center
1001 Santa Clara Pl, San Diego
Sierra South Mountain
& Paddle Sports

Offers tours, classes and a store.
11300 Kernville Rd, Kernville, CA
Santa Barbara Adventure Co.
PO Box 208 Santa Barbara
Kayak Instruction, Tours & Rentals
1158 Saratoga Ave.
San Jose, CA 95129
Otter Bar Lodge Kayak School
Offers tours and instruction.
Trinity Alps, Forks of Salmon
Guided island sea-cave kayaking trips in
Channel Islands National Park.
111 Verona Ave, Santa Barbara
Whitewater Voyages
Offers rafting and kayaking classes.
5225 San Pablo Dam Rd.
El Sobrante, CA
Outdoor & Aquatic
Recreation Specialist

2687 S. Hwy. 49 Angels Camp
Wolf Creek Wilderness
Offers tours & sales.
595 E. Main St
Grass Valley, CA 95945

rowing / canoe clubs / kayaking groups

  • Bay Area Sea Kayakers (SF)
  • California Kayak Friends (LA)
  • Chico Paddle Heads
  • Dana Outrigger Club (OC)
  • North Coast Sea Kayakers Association
  • Gold Country Paddlers
  • Loma Prieta Paddlers (SF)
  • Marin Canoe & Kayak Club (SF)
  • Open Water Rowing Center (SF)
  • River City Whitewater Club (SAC)
  • San Diego Kayak Club
  • Shasta Paddlers
  • Stanford Kayak Club
  • Valley Wide Kayak Club (SoCal)
  • Western Sea Kayakers

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