Kayaking, Where do I Start?

You’ve seen the pictures, people paddling off into the sunset on beautiful, ripping it up in the rapids, paddling with dolphins in the sea and thought to yourself – I want some of that. But how and where do I start?

First, let’s look at the different types of kayaking and terminology we use and what they mean:

Touring Kayaking covers anything from a few hours pottering around a gentle loch to multi-day long distance expeditions on lochs and rivers. It may involve rivers with some gentle rapids and wave trains. The boats are somewhere in the 12-16ft range and have compartments for storing gear at the front and the back.

Loch Faskally

Sea Kayaking is touring on the sea. Again, it can be a few hours exploring a sheltered coastline, to disappearing off over the horizon out to another island, or even a different country! The difference is that the sea is an ever-changing beast, requiring knowledge of currents, tides, and unexpected weather conditions to make your day enjoyable and safe. The boats used tend to be a bit longer and faster – in the 14-18ft range – with more storage capacity and designed with some features to better handle bigger waves.

Arbroath Cliffs Sea Kayaking

White water kayaking is when we start to move from smaller river rapids to bigger ‘white water’ rapids. We learn to play and control the boat amongst the fast-flowing currents and river features. The boats are small, manoeuvrable and great for play, and come in all different shapes and sizes depending on their intended function.

River Ericht White Water

There are of course many other variations and specialist types of paddling, but they all involve the same basic skills.

Some people will stick to only one type of kayaking, and some will experiment and play across all of them (you can never have too many boats, right?). When starting out you may have a dream of facing big rapids or packing your boat for a multiday sea expedition, or even just having somewhere relaxing to go to take in nature and spend a few hours a week relaxing in calm condition. But how do you get there?


Whatever your ambition, even if you simply want to give it a go and see what it’s like floating about on water, we all have to start somewhere: flat water. This is a term we use for a sheltered location such as the beautiful Loch Faskally, or Loch Forfar, which would be a suitable venue to get you started in the world of kayaking. You can join an open tour or request a private trip.

We use stable yet capable touring kayaks (single, or double if you fancy bringing a friend and are still unsure you want to go on your own). We’ll first take you through the basics of independently manoeuvring the boat, to get you moving in all directions. We will then go on a journey to explore the scenery and nature whilst continuing to get you comfortable with being in the boat and moving it around competently and confidently. Don’t worry if it takes some time to get used to, we all learn at different speeds and your guide will make sure you can go at your own pace and have a laugh in the process. You may take a couple of trips to find out if you like it, or you may have decided to go from a double kayak to trying on your own in a single. You may decide that you enjoy these trips as simply a nice experience and not want to progress any further other than exploring different locations in serene settings.


The next step might be to introduce coaching. Coaching is a tailor-made method of professional instruction and tuition, focused entirely on you and your development. You may have decided after a few guided trips you want to improve your speed or turning, or you simply want to get more into the technicality of it as you’ve seen someone else do it and make it look so easy.

A coaching session could be back on a sheltered venue, focusing on different methods of paddle strokes and/or turning strokes, to give you that boost and confidence to take your kayaking to the next level. It could also be on a more open water venue that is more exposed to wind and waves, to look at techniques on how to safely and enjoyable deal with these variable conditions.

The best way of progression is to try different venues – we can advise you on specific venues that may be suitable to challenge you further or to try moving water on the rivers, which has the added fun that the water below you is now pushing and pulling you in different directions.

Intro to River Touring Coaching on the River Tay


The sea is a mysterious and unpredictable body of water, with ever-changing tides and current. It draws us in with its wildlife and fosters a need for exploration. It can take a while to understand exactly what is going on underneath the water; why is the water suddenly going against you? You may find that what started as a flat calm, still day can become more turbulent. This is why our guides and coaches spend a lot of time learning and developing; to help you understand and to provide you with some excellent choices of locations to make sure your trip is safe and challenging. We are lucky to have some great places like Dundee, Broughty Ferry, Wormit, Newburgh, St. Andrews and Arbroath on our doorstep.

Your first foray to the sea might be at Wormit, sheltered from the North Sea swell, but allowing you to experience the movement of the currents. We love to get geeky when out on the water so feel free to ask as many questions as you want: what types of kit are we using? Why is the water doing something strange here but not over there? Why does the water flow in two directions at the same time? Why does it change so much? All of these things take time to learn but we can advise you on a selection of venues that best represent your learning journey, bringing in new experiences as you progress. Sea kayak coaching can be used to speed up this learning with intensive days focusing on the technicality of what’s happening and developing a toolbox of tricks to help us use these varying conditions to our advantage.


You’ve tried kayaking on the lochs and gentle rivers, maybe you’ve even managed to go down some small rapids on sections like Grandtully to Dunkeld on the River Tay and quite enjoyed the thrill of bouncing on the water or getting splashed as you go through a small wave train. Now you want to take it further! The best way to get to grips with some basic white-water kayaking is to book some white-water coaching with us. We can advise suitable venues for your experience like the river Ericht, or sections of River Tay or Garry. We will spend some time taking you through the basics of how to control your boat in the faster flowing water, how to go down rapids safely, what an eddy is and how to find one to stop in and how to get in and out of that eddy. We can even show you how to surf on a kayak in a river! It is great experience whether you are an experienced sea or touring kayaker, or new to sport completely.


You can book guided tours and tuition directly on our website or maybe you’re still not sure where to start, but keen to get going. If this is the case, please drop us an email at info@outdoorexplore.co.uk and ask us a question. We will happily advise you on the best locations or set up a private trip for you to start your kayaking journey. No personal ambition is the same, so we won’t push you into one type of paddling or push you beyond your comfort zone. We want you to enjoy this fantastic sport in whatever form you decide and will support you on your journey at all times.

Remember paddle-sport is not just about kayaking; we also provide all levels of guiding and coaching on stand-up paddleboards, canoes, and even some historic and unique watercrafts called coracles…!