Kayak 101: Taking your Iowa aquatic exploration off shore.
Growing up in Iowa, most of my fishing memories were forged on the shore lines of a local lake or farm pond. I have since expanded my fishing quests by taking to the water in a kayak! If you are looking to expand your Iowa water adventures, there are a few questions I will answer for you before deciding to navigate the State’s waterways by way of kayak.
“How do I decide what kayak to get?”
Boats range in price, size, hull shape (bottom of the boat), and deck design (top of the boat). You will want to find a boat that fits your budget, that also fits the type of activity that you are planning to use it for. Here are some of the common attributes that you will want to consider in your boat search:
- Price: Kayaks range in price from $200 – $5,000 depending on brand, size, features, etc. Most of the more expensive boats are built to do and handle more than you will need for any of Iowa’s waterways. Finding a boat with the options you will need or want is the most important factor in finding your kayak budget.
- Boat Length: The length of the boat makes a huge difference when it comes to speed, stability, and energy required to maneuver your watery terrain. Longer boats track (move in a straight line) better, move through the water faster, and require less energy to propel the boat per stroke of the paddle. Shorter boats are nice for current paddling, as they are usually a little wider and provide a more stable platform for moving water, however will take more effort to maneuver in still waters.
- Weight capacity: When considering the carrying capacity of your boat, include your weight plus any gear you plan to bring along. Make sure your boat can carry you and your supplies comfortably. You do not want to be in a hairy situation with an overloaded kayak or canoe, the results can be dangerous and financially heartbreaking.
- Other considerations: Other factors in purchasing a kayak are hull shape, deck design/options, storage options, outfitting options (fishing, day tripping, etc.), and accessories available. Most of these are going to be situationally dependent and will be unique to each adventure seeker. Consider the first three options (price, boat length, and weight capacity) first, and then find the boat that meets the “want to haves” that fit your use best!
“What about a paddle? Or should I just use my hands?”
A good paddle is as important as the boat you choose and will make a big difference in your enjoyment of kayaking. Paddles have several options to consider including: shaft material, blade shape, and adjustability options. Consider these when you decide on what paddle will fit you best.
- Shaft weight/Shape: The shaft of a paddle is the long tube that connects the blades on either end. Shafts can vary in weight, stiffness, material, and adjustability. Typical materials are plastic, aluminum, and carbon fiber, which are listed in order from most to least heavy. Lighter shafts are usually more expensive, however if you plan to be out for hours at a time, the weight can make a huge difference! The shaft shape can also make a difference in how sore you will be after your first few paddles.
- Paddle Length: Paddles range in total length (blade tip to blade tip) and are measured in centimeters. You want the length of paddle to compliment your height and your boat width. This will ensure you have enough length to propel the boat efficiently while being comfortable to maneuver from a seated position. Most retailers can fit you for a paddle based on your height and kayak width measurements.
- Blade Shape: The blades are the “paddles” that propel you through the water on each end of the shaft. They have different shapes, widths, lengths, and other options that are all designed to move you through the water at different speeds and levels of efficiency. Blade style revolves around the way you paddle (high or low angle), and a simple conversation with a retailer can steer you in the right direction for what blade style will fit you best.
“Does the Style of Life Jacket I wear Matter?”
Depending on the kayak you choose and your recreational activity, your life jacket style may not matter. The most critical factors to consider are that you have a life jacket that fits you, that is built for your body weight, and that you WEAR IT. Try several styles on and find the one that is going to provide you the safety/comfortability you need for your recreation style.
They do make several lines that are built for the kayaker. These typically ride higher in the back to make sure they don’t interfere with the seat. They are more form fitting to ensure that they are not in the way when paddling, fishing etc. Typically, they are less bulky and have pockets and other gear holding offerings to make organizing and accessing your gear easy.
“I have never Kayaked before. Is it hard to do?”
Kayaking is actually very easy to master, but like every other skill, it takes practice. To get started, you will need to get comfortable in these areas to make sure you are adventure ready.
- Launching your Kayak: This probably takes the most practice to get good at. Find a spot that you safely put your boat into the water and can wade in about knee high. Get your gear into the boat and situated the way you want it. It may feel awkward at first however the safest method to get into either a sit in or sit on top kayak is to straddle front of the boat and pull it between your legs as far as you can and slowly sit down into the kayak. Once you are in, you can use your paddle to propel yourself out into the main water body or use it as a shoving tool to push off the bottom until you can start paddling.
- Rocking and Paddling: Kayaks range in stability, however they are all hard to tip if you are careful and deliberate in your maneuvers. Practice in shallow water (water that you can paddle in but can also stand up in) for your first couple times out. Rock your boat side to side carefully to get yourself used to the idea that this is normal. You will find that your boat has a sweet spot when tilting to either side where the hull stops tipping and catches for a moment. This is the farthest that you can tip “safely” when maneuvering your boat. Practice keeping yourself centered and upright when paddling and find your rhythm for steering your kayak. Once you get comfortable, start to spread your water wings and practice in different situations. Before you know it, you will feel like a pro!
- Moving Around: This is especially important for fishermen. You will likely have rods, tackle, or other gear behind you in the boat, in front of you in the boat, or on your life jacket. Practice getting into the boat and reaching around for gear in shallow water until you find the best system that works for you to get to your gear quickly, comfortably, and safely.
“Where can I go Kayaking?”
Anywhere! Iowa has thousands of acres of streams, rivers, ponds, and recreational lakes to take your new kayak to. Hit up the DNR website to find a State Park, County Conservation area, or other recreational waterway near you.
“Do you have any words of wisdom from a seasoned kayaker?”
- Iowa does require kayaks and canoes that are over 13’ in length to be registered. In Iowa, any kayak over 12’ is overkill for the waterways we have access to, however I personally own a 14’ Tarpon so mine requires registration.
- Make sure you bring a floating waterproof container or some gallon baggies to store your electronics, or other valuables in so they do not get wet in the event your boat does go over.
- A paddle that fits you is good, a paddle that fits you and floats is better.
- Launching from a boat ramp is ideal, but keep in mind that you should yield the ramp to motorized boaters for your safety. They are not always looking for you when backing trailers and boats into or pulling out of the ramp. Be very aware of your surroundings!
- Bring a flashlight and or coast guard whistle to signal others if you are in distress. This is especially important if you are on a river or larger waterbody and can be hard to see or find for other recreators or DNR rangers.
- Let someone else know where you are going so that in the event something bad happens, they know where to look for you or your boat. You can never be too careful!
- Most importantly, don’t be afraid to get wet, and don’t forget to have fun!