By Melissa Gaskill
Done properly, paddling a kayak on placid water takes minimal effort and won’t leave you with sore muscles. Grip the paddle shaft with elbows bent and your hands shoulder width apart. Dip one end into the water and, rather than pulling the paddle back with the hand nearest the water, as you would a canoe paddle, push the shaft away from you with the other hand. Lower the other end into the water, and push the shaft away from you with the opposite hand. Pivot slightly at the waist toward the in-the-water end of the paddle as you do so. This uses the larger muscle groups in your shoulders, back, and core, rather than relying primarily on arm muscles. You won’t need to grip the paddle tightly; in fact, the upper hand can even be open as you push, using the heel of your palm. Kayaks glide easily along the water, and very little muscle power gets them moving pretty well. Once the boat is moving, you can use the paddle as a rudder. Paddling backwards can move the boat backward or, if you do so on just one side, change direction quickly.
Sit up straight in the kayak with your back all the way against the seat. Adjust the foot pedals so that your knees bend slightly. On long paddles, occasionally bend your knees more or stretch out your legs to avoid fatigue. If you should tip over, hold on to the kayak.
The law requires you to have a personal flotation device (otherwise known as a lifejacket) on board, and common sense dictates that you never paddle alone. Respect private property, and pack out your trash.