How Kayaking Works

This white-water kayaker is getting his money's worth.
This white-water kayaker is getting his money's worth.
Toshi Kawano/Getty Images

You could zoom down a mountain river gorge as white-water mist pummels your face. Or maybe you'd rather navigate the serene waters of a placid mountain lake at sunset. Perhaps paddling in the shadows of urban skyscrapers is your cup of tea. If you seek thrills, you might enjoy an aerial maneuver in the pounding surf of the Pacific. Whatever your preference, kayaking has a lot to offer any outdoor lover.

The kayak is a versatile vessel. Depending on where you want to paddle, you can find a kayak tailor-made for the journey. Some are long, narrow and built for speed. Some are short, wide and can turn on a dime. They can be made from fiberglass, plastic, Kevlar and even wood. Some kayaks have you sit inside a cockpit with your legs extended in front of you. Some have a seat on top of an open cockpit, much like a canoe. The paddles can be short or long, curved or flat, parallel or offset -- but they're all two-sided. Deciding which kayak and what paddles to use depends on a variety of factors. In this article, we'll help clear up the confusion. We'll also learn about the history of the kayak, teach you about the gear you'll need and roll into some of the common maneuvers.