Early in your first day of kayaking, you should learn and practice a wet exit. This is simply the process of swimming out of the boat when upside down. You should be under for only about 5 to 10 seconds.

The wet exit

Early in your first day of kayaking, you should learn and practice a wet exit. This is simply the process of swimming out of the boat when upside down. You should be under for only about 5 to 10 seconds.

Your future as a kayaker depends on being relaxed in the boat. This in turn demands that you are comfortable hanging out underwater. Practice the wet exit until you can do it in a slow, controlled manner.

Don’t worry about getting out. Sounds crazy, but if you are worried about getting out underwater, do the opposite. Get in underwater. Yep, flip the boat upside down, and swim around under it and try to snake your legs into the boat. An alternative system is to flip without the skirt the first time.

Rehearse these five steps mentally before you flip and practice your wet exit.

  1. Hold your breath and tuck (don’t worry about your paddle for now) The tuck forward provides protection and helps you to orient yourself
  2. Pound on the bottom 3 times (with your hands wrapped around the boat) This helps orient you, lets others now you are upside down, and most importantly, helps you slow down your exit.
  3. Bring your hands to the cockpit rim by your hips, and work your way along the cockpit to the front grab loop. Pull the loop forward and up.
  4. Move your hands back to by your hips, and push the boat away (something like taking off a pair of pants).
  5. Push back further, until your legs are free of the cockpit and the PFD can pop you to the surface. Stay tucked forward, and somersault forward out of the boat.

Hint: Usually, when someone has a bad experience getting out of a boat it is caused by an old design small cockpit boat, or leaning back. Leaning back and trying to swim to the surface accelerates your panic underwater, and can actually tangle your legs, and make the wet exit feel more difficult and rushed than necessary.

After your first few wet exits, get a friend to help you empty your boat. Then, with a little practice you can try placing one end on shore and lifting the other end to drain water.

Tip: Be especially careful of lifting your boat when you are cold and wet, or when the boat is full of water. Lift with your legs to avoid back injury!


Balance is obviously a pretty important part of the sport. If your whole body is stiff, you'll flip!

To be comfortable, powerful, and balanced, you will need good posture in the boat. Sit comfortably with your chest forward, and chin up. Then check if cramped boat outfitting impairs your posture. Also, tight hamstrings will make sitting up straight very hard. To balance easily and use a wide variety of strokes you'll want to be flexible. Gently stretch your muscles before, and after you paddle.

All your strokes should be done with your arms comfortably in front of your body. This keeps your arms from getting in extended or awkward positions. If you need to do a stroke that goes to the end of the boat, simply turn your torso to keep your elbows low and in front of your body.

Every time you get in your boat on the water, get comfortable with the inherent stability of the boat. To do this, hold the paddle low and out neutral, and wobble the boat gently. You will find it is really quite stable.

Many important maneuvering strokes require edging while you take a stroke. The masters in this sport don't rely on their paddle for support, even with their boat tilted on edge.

Tilting the boat is an important part of learning to paddle, but the leans you need are rarely described with precision. Leans can be categorized into three types: the J lean which is best, the bellbuoy lean which only occasionally is correct, and the body lean which doesn’t do much good!

The best lean to use is the J lean. The J lean, named for the shape of

The bellbuoy lean is named for the stiff rocking action of an ocean bellbuoy. Navigation bellbuoys are so bottom heavy that they are self righting. Boats aren't that way, so bellbuoy leans in a kayak require support from the paddle. This makes it an inappropriate whitewater lean for most instances.

The body lean leaves the boat flat while the body leans. Beginners like this lean since the boat feels securely flat. Unfortunately, a flat boat usually defeats the purpose of the lean. Beginning paddlers are easily fooled into thinking they are leaning the boat when in fact they are just leaning their body.

Work the J Lean

Still without the blade in the water, hold the boat at a tilt. Do this by shifting weight into one butt cheek, and fine-tuning the boat tilt by gently pressing up with your top knee. You will find the most comfortable and steady tilt comes from the ribcage and weighting one butt cheek.

Feel how the weight and pressure changes from both knees to just one. Thrust out your ribs and physically torque up the opposite knee.

Feel how the weight and pressure changes from both cheeks of your butt to just one. Keep your body comfortably relaxed over the boat with your head centered over its center. Rock the boat over to edge on the other side and try the same maneuver. If you can hold that lean for awhile, try paddling forward while you maintain a slight J lean.