Have you seen all those scenic photos on Instagram, always longed to get out there into the wilderness and to paddle a river, camping on the banks each night? You have to start somewhere, here’s a brief guide to get you on the water and to spark that passion.
Canoes are not cheap, but you don’t need to buy one to have a go. There are a number of canoe hire companies out there, but also joining a canoe club can get you access to trying a canoe. After the canoe you need a paddle and a buoyancy aid (like a lifejacket). Then you need to be able to transport it. Here’s a simple guide to the essential bits of kit, but as you delve deeper into paddling you will find a myriad of kit to make your paddling more comfortable, enjoyable and safe.
There are hundreds of models, different makes and sizes – but when you are getting started you can’t really go wrong. If you can visit your local canoe club, canoe and kayak store or if you know anyone, get their opinion, but the best boat is the one that gets you out there on the water.
Inflatable or folding canoes are easiest for transport, but if you want to do longer trips, take a lot of gear in the boat for camping or take on some whitewater, you are better looking at the more traditional large open boats, like the picture above. You can find second-hand canoes from £200 and a new one will be £900 plus. But talk to your local canoe shop and they may have a beginners package with a Canoe, 2x paddles and 2x buoyancy aids to get you started.
You can pick these up relatively cheap, check on eBay. Handmade wooden paddles look beautiful and feel great when you are using them, but they can start around £100. For dropping, bashing, clunking and practising, any of the alloy shaft and plastic paddles will let you learn without fear of breaking a paddle and can cost as little as £20.
A buoyancy aid
This is to help you float when (not if) you fall in. Get a comfy one that fits, you don’t want to be tempted to take it off just to be more comfortable. Basic ones start at around £40, these fit well and are basically just flotation. You can get ones with more pockets, zip up fronts, slip-on over the head, built in tow lines, whistles, a chest harness and space for a hydration pack – Don’t compromise on comfort, buy one that fit’s your budget and you can always buy the next model up when you progress. The handy thing with buoyancy aids is once you have upgraded, your first one becomes a spare for a mate just getting started!
A dry bag – a plastic bag that rolls shut for you to store anything you want to keep dry, spare clothes, mobile phone, car keys, lunch.
A dry barrel – a hard plastic barrel that you can seal up to keep your kit dry.
A roof rack – You can get these to fit any car, add a couple of straps and you will be able to transport your canoe anywhere.
Waterproof clothing – Your usual waterproof jacket and trousers will do, mainly to keep off the rain and the odd splash. You can buy a drysuit, these use latex seals and waterproof zips to keep your clothes 100% dry, but start at £250 and are not essential when you are starting out.
Getting on the water
You’ll never stop learning canoe skills, I’ve been paddling for nearly 20 years now and I still pick up new things all the time. But to get you going, check out the how-to videos on YouTube and some tips below:
Getting you going! Place your thumb under the T-grip and curl your fingers over the top, now place your opposite hand about ¾ of the way down the paddle, now you are holding it comfortably, pop the paddle in the water just by where your knee is, aim to get all of the blade in the water, pull it back in a straight line and avoid following the curve of the canoe – just one straight line, then take it out and do it all again!
With two of you in the boat, most people find it easier to paddle on opposite sides of the boat to their partner. The person in the front of the boat, all you need to do is keep paddling and be the eyes of the person in the back – you can see what’s coming up better than them.
The paddler at the back is in charge of steering – you paddle forward and hold the paddle in the same way as the person in front. But, to steer, little corrections here and there will keep the boat going in a straight line. To steer, place the paddle in the water vertically in line with the boat (point your thumb up to the sky), try and get as much of the blade in the water as possible. Then control the direction by pushing the paddle away from the boat or by pulling it towards yourself.
That’s it, to begin with – for most trips you will be fine with just these tips – as you progress, you will find many other ways of moving the canoe around and searching out YouTube, going canoeing with other more experienced paddlers, signing up for a beginners course or joining a canoe club will help you continue to progress your paddling.
Coming up next: Top 3 Places for that first trip…