Sea kayaking is a sport, a lifestyle and a philosophy all rolled into one. Croatia is a great place to start kayaking. Here are top tips on where to begin.
How do you start with your sea kayaking journey? Here are our thoughts for all aspiring kayakers, either beginners or intermediate paddlers. What we have done is put together a list of 7 things that we think are most important for you on your journey to becoming a sea kayaker in Croatia. Inspired by our experience as Canoeing Ireland instructors and as sea kayakers.
1. Take a sea kayaking lesson
'Sometimes in life, your situation will keep repeating itself until you learn your lesson.'
Learning curve is very steep when you start sea kayaking. There is the gear, the skills, the rescues, the sea, other people at sea. In general, there is a lot of things to think about, and you need to start somewhere.
Here we speak from our experience. We have learned sea kayaking two ways. Firstly, the Balkan/Nike way in form of 'just do it'. Secondly, in a more systematical manner through Canoeing Ireland. Having tried both, we can conclude: just take a lesson. A good base makes it easier to continue learning and expanding the skillset. Bottom line is, there is soo much to learn all at once. And it is more fun with other fellow sea kayakers.
Malik Adventures offers Canoeing Ireland Courses for beginner kayaking trips.
2. Practice the basic kayaking strokes
'Never overlook the power of simplicity.'
As with most things, when you see someone paddle and it looks easy that means two things. Firstly it means that the person is good at it. Secondly, it means it is easy only if it is learned the right way.
With kayaking, this first step of grasping the basics is extremely important. Firstly, it creates a base that you can build on all more complex skills. Secondly, it greatly improves your efficiency and makes paddling a pleasurable activity. Here's a quick cheat sheet of standard techniques that are the basis for all that follows in your kayaking life:
- Holding the paddle: correct position and light grip. This enables you to control kayak's movements while staying flexible.
- Rhythmic forward paddling: develop a technique that uses your entire body and really makes your kayak go forward.
- Sweep and draw strokes: these are corrective strokes and can help you manoeuvre your kayak.
- Your posture: Keep active posture with your back straight to allow maximum torso flexibility and slightly forward leaning to transfer the energy from the boat, over the body to the water in the most efficient way.
3. Know your paddling space
'The sea does not like to be restrained.'
Sea, just like mountains should be respected: the looks can deceive. Understanding where you are paddling is a crucial factor in sea kayaking. That is particularly important in open water crossings which are so frequent in Croatia. This includes understanding the distances you are covering and water state you expect to encounter. It ties into weather forecast and knowing your climate.
Knowing your spaces is equally important when navigating Croatia's archipelago where winds can change force and direction quickly. Mornings will very likely be very different from the afternoons.
Hearing locals talking nervously mentioning words Jugo and Bura and pointing at the sea is an interesting indication of the weather. For more scientific approach there are wind charts, a Croatian forecast for the sailors and Wind guru to double check the forecast.
If we were to emphasise one more point about the space it is this: bring a physical printed map. Batteries on phones and GPS trackers are not as reliable. Things happen with electronics when you least expect it. Or just plain signal may be low on the islands.
4. Know your kayaking skills and limitations
'As we advance in life, we learn the limits of our abilities.' Henry Ford.
Nature teaches us self-awareness. It is important to be self-conscious of your fitness level and your paddling skill level. There is nothing wrong with not feeling comfortable with certain conditions. That's called learning. However, it is important to know how your skills impact your route selection. That's called wisdom. There are moments places to try stuff in controlled environments, and there are times to call it a day.
5. Know your kayaking team
'True teams are made when you put aside individual wants for a collective good.'
Sea kayaking is a social occasion. Going out alone is never a good idea, even worse when you are fresh in the sport. Sea is big. Water state can change quickly. Same applies to Croatia: while, on average, our waters may be shy on tidal waves, Adriatic sea compensates with very strong winds. You can easily find level 4 and 5 sea state in the Adriatic.
The more people you are, the safer (and more fun) the paddling will be. You can learn a lot from experienced paddlers in your group. However, you also need to move at the pace of the slowest team member so it is important to know your team's limitations: where you can go, and how far you can go.
6. Know your gear
'The man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools, he is all.' Thomas Carlyle
A kayaking trip requires some preparation. Going out on your own, without an instructor, means that you can 'sort your sh..t' yourself. Skill is one fundamental part of it. Gear is another one. Have your base layer, shell layer (UV protection), working layer (buoyancy, spray deck) and the rescue tools (towing rope, slings, water pump) as the basics for your trip. There is more to it, that is why a sea kayaking course is definitely the way to go.
7. Know your sea kayaking rescues
'You have two hands. One to help yourself, the other to help others.'
On a sea kayaking course, the instructor is here to help you if you capsize. That means safely getting out of the boat, emptying your boat out and then getting back in your boat. All done safely.
It's one different thing to do all that in a safe supervised environment. It is a completely different to do it on your own on the open sea. Your kayak is of very little use if it is upside down being carried off by the currents.
Don't get us wrong, all that is not hard. But it does require skill and practice.
Same applies to the skills to help your team. Make sure you are comfortable helping yourself and others before venturing out on your own.
8. Learn the etiquette
'Etiquette means behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential.'
It is important to understand that, we sea kayakers in Croatia, are sharing the sea with people practising other disciplines. There is recreational boating in form of sailing or motoring, or just people working on the sea like the fisherman, tankers, public ferries. Knowing how to change your course, when to move, when to stop with your sea kayak is critical. In general, try to avoid routes of other vessels.
You know how all hikers say to each other, unlike people you meet on the street. Paddlers will do the same. As will some sailors. The tougher the conditions, the more they are supportive.
Sea kayaking is inspirational, social and fun. It's a great workout. But most of all kayaking in Croatia is a platform to discover worlds not available to most other vessels on the sea. With all the islands and hidden little secrets, it reveals the best of Croatia, often in areas untouched by tourism.
However, it is a complex activity and takes a bit of time to master it. We highly recommend to do it in a systematical and safe way. A kayaking course is a great place to start.