• Nikon
  • Roag
  • Gauteng Motor Show

So you wanna be a kayak supa star?

Words & Photos: Andrew Kellett

You’ve seen the adverts with kayakers flying off waterfalls, then resurfacing gracefully and sharing a smile with a group of preppy friends on the bank. Is this real? Well yeah, it can be.

Photo credit: Andrew Kellett

Just follow these five easy steps and you’ll be flying through the air before you know it. Well, maybe a little while longer than that.
1. Make contact with someone in the know. Visit an outfitter/expert and try out the sport before buying heaps of equipment.
2. Buy the best equipment you can afford. Kayaking has a very reasonable initial outlay for equipment and the kayaks never need a service - unlike a mountain bike!
3. Get the best training you can afford. This will kick start your progress in the sport. The better you learn first time round, the easier it will be on the water with your mates.
4. Get on the water. Even if it is flat water or the sea, any paddling will speed up your progress to becoming a star! This is not something you can learn on Youtube.
5. Paddle within your limits. Don’t be tempted into running harder rivers than you should. You will lose equipment and dent your confidence.
Ok, so you now have a plan. Let's talk gear. Depending on which environment you plan to paddle in, you will need some basic equipment.

Kayak - These come in three forms. Playboat, river runner and a creek boat. I use a Fluid Bazooka for creeking and a Fluid Dope for playboating. Both are locally designed and available from Paddlezone.

Buoyancy bags - Kayaking is a progression between swims. Even the good guys get to swim, so be prepared! If your boat floats high out the water, it will be less likely to get damaged. Here, I use Palm buoyancy bags, which are very durable. Available from Paddlezone.

Paddles - There are different paddles for the kayaks mentioned above, but when starting out one will do. I would also suggest a basic paddle, as this is probably the one thing that can get damaged or lost. I use a Stikine bent shaft from Werner paddles USA. You could also try the Desperado when starting out. Available from Paddlezone.

Splash cover - As you will notice when you get your kayak, it has more than one hole in it. One is a drain plug and the other is the cockpit where you enter the kayak. For obvious reasons, this will need to be sealed before launching into the water. You can wear a neoprene spraydeck or splash cover and then seal it around the cockpit once you are sitting in the boat. I use SEALS pro rand deck from the USA. It's never let me down and super dry. Available from Paddlezone.

PFD (personal flotation device, not a PDF) - This is what floats you when you are no longer with your kayak, and it also adds protection to your torso when paddling around rocks and scouting. This is a non-negotiable for kayaking, even in the sea! I use a Palm Equipment AMP PFD from the UK. It is durable, stylish and functional. Available from Paddlezone.

Helmet - When starting out, you are going to spend some time the wrong way up, so do yourself a favor and spend some money on this item. I use a Sweet Protection helmet from Norway. These are super stylish and keep the sun off your face. Also look at WRSI for a wide selection, including a full face. Available from Paddlezone.

These are the basics to start out, but if you have some budget left over or will be paddling cold water, you’re going to want to look at the following:

Base layer - You will need something warm under your paddle jacket and for this there are a couple of options. There is the 200 g weight Ice Breaker base layer that's imported from New Zealand. It is wool and will keep you warm and dry. Comes in long pants as well. Otherwise you could go for a onesie and be in fashion. The Tsangpo from Palm is a great buy. I use both depending on the conditions, and are available from Paddlezone.

Dry paddle jacket - This is designed to keep the water out with a neck seal, wrist seals and a double waist seal. If you are a top paddler and not rolling much, you can pretty much stay dry. I use Palm Equipment Atom dry top to stay as dry as a bone. Dry as a bone. Available from Paddlezone.

Dry pants - The same as for the paddle jacket, but with built-in, waterproof socks so that your feet stay dry when wading through water. It also helps reduce wind chill when you are scouting in bad conditions. I use Palm Equipment Ion pants, which are dry and comfortable to wear. Available from Paddlezone.

Photo credit: Andrew Kellett

Elbow guards - These are essential when you start hitting the steeper, gnarly runs with loads of rocks. It will save you from many bruises and even protect your jacket. Brand new on the market are the elbow pads from G-form. Available from Paddlezone.

Water shoes - These need to be light, have a good grip and are easy to dry. You'll be heading out of the city, so be prepared for some miles in the bush and invest in some good shoes. Vibram Fivefingers have a wide range of slim fitting shoes that are ideal for kayaking and the outdoors. Available from Vibram Fivefingers.

Safety equipment - Necessary to look after you and your paddling buddies. This is how it works: You get to a tricky rapid and your mates set up safety for you to run through. Once you’re down, they head to their kayaks and you look after them. Yes, ‘Kayaking Buddies’. No it’s not gay! Throw bags, slings, pulleys and carabiners are all required. Available from Paddlezone.

Dry bag - This will prove vital for carrying your precious kit around. It is always a good idea to carry your mobile with you in the outdoors, in case you need to alert someone in an emergency. I use a wide range of dry equipment from Sea to Summit. Cell phone pouch, 5-litre dry bag and a large harnessed dry bag that's ideal for travelling. Available at Paddlezone and Adventure Inc.

Outdoor first aid - A small kit should be carried by at least one boat on the water, unless you are close to road access. I use a 5-litre Sea to Summit with basic first aid contents. Available at Paddlezone and Adventure Inc.

Right, now you've got the gear, get the best training you can afford. Heard the saying, 'You get what you pay for'? This is what your training should include.

Session 1: 2 hours - kayak rolling and basic introduction to equipment.
Session 2: 2 hours - paddle strokes and body position and rolling.
Session 3: 1 day - river features and hazards, scouting, paddling in moving water, flip drills and recovery in moving water.
Session 4: 1 day - safety and basic rescue. These sessions can be combined into one training weekend, however I suggest the rolling is done separately as you will get cold and tired very quickly and will not benefit as much from the rest of the day’s work. Paddlezone runs full a weekend course that's aimed at beginners and intermediates.

See you on the water soon!

More information
Andrew Kellett is a five-time National Freestyle Kayak Champion and an accomplished expedition kayaker with many first descents under his belt. In 2012, he started exploring the sport of WWSUP on rivers.