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The kayak has come a long way from its beginnings hundreds of years ago in the Arctic. Inuit people made the first kayaks out of wood and sealskins so they could hunt and fish, and travel safely on cold seas full of ice. These days, kayakers go paddling in fiberglass vessels in bright colors just for the fun of it. These modern kayakers hunt out beautiful scenery and quiet beaches on coastlines all around the world.

The typical kayak seats one person, although you can find two-person kayaks. It is fully enclosed to keep water out, except for the hole where the paddler sits. A kayak paddle is a longer version of a canoe paddle, but has a blade at both ends.

The paddler sits inside the kayak on a seat with their legs stretched out in front of them, with their feet on little footrests. Holding the paddle in the middle, kayakers use their arms, shoulders and back to dip one end of the paddle into the water.

Many people love kayaking for the great exercise and enjoyment. Others, like whitewater kayakers, love the sport for its thrills!
Courtesy of: Nick Schade

The kayak is very stable in the water because of its unique design. This means kayaks can slice through waves and navigate easily along shorelines. Kayaks also have watertight cargo holds to store gear.

There are different types of kayaks to suit different kinds of water. For example, sea kayaks tend to be longer and have a flatter bottom compared with whitewater kayaks, which are shorter and have more of a pointy bottom.

Sea kayaking is one type of kayaking that has a big following. It's like other kinds of kayaking, but is done over longer distances in rougher water. While it's mostly done on the ocean, you'll sometimes find sea kayakers in the most unusual places!

Darlene Huntington of Seattle once went to visit some friends in Nebraska: "Coming into town I ran out of gas and had to start walking, and what did I see but a guy in a sea kayak practicing his trunk rotation on the edge of this wheat field!"

Certain parts of the world are favored by sea kayakers. One of those areas is the Baja Peninsula in northwestern Mexico. It is almost totally surrounded by water, with the Gulf of California on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other.

"Basically, kayaking in Baja is like kayaking along a tropical paradise," says kayaker Guy Martel.

Baja is a big draw to kayakers who like long-distance touring. California kayaking enthusiast John Beyer goes on month-long kayak tours of Baja. Since the area is so remote, he can kayak all day and set up camp on shore at night without worrying about running into other campers or tourists. "It's the only waters where you can camp and kayak and not see a person for weeks on end."

Martel warns that this kind of solitude is not for everyone. He says paddlers should consider if they could really handle being alone day-after-day for a long period.

"Sea kayaking on your own is a real challenge to one's mental being. You have a lot of time to think, and this can be disturbing." In these cases, you can easily bring a friend, go in a group, or go on kayak trips that are just a few hours long at a time.

There's more to kayaking than the mental challenge. Sea kayaking is a physically demanding sport. Paddling for a whole day is hard work! "You have to have lots of endurance and plenty of upper body strength to do this," says Huntington. "There are areas which are really calm, but you can run into rough water anywhere. When you do, you have to be strong enough to paddle yourself out of there."

A kayaker needs good paddling skills, which can be developed with practice. "There are probably as many paddling strokes as there are waves in the Baja. Well, maybe not quite that many! But there are quite a few," says Huntington. Kayakers must familiarize themselves with all the major strokes. Knowing rescue maneuvers is also important.

For sea kayakers, navigation skills are essential. The kayaker must understand the effect of tides, and must be able to navigate on water with no landmarks but the stars, sun and miles of water. "The kayaker has to rely solely on a compass, a chart, and a good memory to guide [them]," says Huntington.

Admittedly, there's a lot to learn before hopping into a kayak and pushing off. However, paddling enthusiasts say it's well worth the effort. "There's no better way to see Mexico, to get to know yourself. It's my definition of bliss," says Huntington.

If you can't get enough of this sport, you may find employment as a kayak enthusiast. You could be an instructor, a coach or even a tour guide. As well, some kayakers volunteer or work for search and rescue organizations. Contact a local kayaking club or organization to find out how you can start becoming a "professional" kayaker.

Getting Started

If you've never tried kayaking before, experts suggest taking a beginner's paddling class to get some of the basic skills. Your local YMCA, YWCA or outdoors store is a good place to inquire about these classes.

Once you have a little paddling experience under your belt, renting a kayak is a good second step. Prices range, but usually they are no more than $40 a day. "It's a better idea to rent first to see if you really enjoy the sport," says Beyer. "It's a bit costly, but it beats wasting money on something you'll only do once or twice."

After some practice, you may consider going on a guided paddling tour. If you're still sold on kayaking after that, chances are you are destined to be a genuine paddlesport fanatic. You'll probably want to buy your own kayak, which may range in price from the upper hundreds to more than $1,000. Of course, used equipment is cheaper than new.

There are adventure travel companies that offer guided, fully-equipped kayak tours all over North America. Generally, all you have to do is show up and bring a sleeping bag. All this convenience comes at a cost, though. Not only will you have to pay the price of the tour, but for your transportation to the tour site.

You can also arrange your own tour. Go with a buddy and research your destination carefully. "The wonderful thing about Baja is that any person, from a beginner to an advanced kayaker, can enjoy the gulf. There are bays where the water is as calm as butter. Just make sure you research the areas you are capable of," says Beyer.


Internet Sea Kayaking Resources
A great index of links posted by the California Kayak Friends

Check out the paddling links at Great Outdoor Recreation Pages -- Canoeing and Kayaking Info
Lots of great information and links to get you going in the sport of kayaking

Specialty Travel Index
Visit this site for an exhaustive list of companies that offer paddling trips in all corners of the world

Nick's Kayak Page
Devoted to kayaking. Includes trip reports, pictures, and kayak building information

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