Kayaking is a sport for everyone

0610_summerfun_kayakKayaking on calm water that surrounds Hilton Head Island is not only relaxing, it can be a great adventure, too. And the best part? Kayaking is a sport for everyone.

“Ability is not a concern,” said Mike Overton, president of Outside Hilton Head, which rents kayaks and other water sports equipment. “If you can walk around the block, you can kayak. This is taking a nature walk through the marsh.”

With the abundance of accessible inlets, rivers and lagoons in the area, kayaking is an exotic yet practical exercise. But it remains unchartered territory for many locals and tourists. For those willing to try, here are some basic expectations and recommendations.

Whether starting with a lesson or tour, or for those who prefer trying solo, the necessities are safety precautions, knowing how to enter and exit the kayak and some paddling basics.

“Kayaking is relatively easy,” said Glen Barroncini, a kayak instructor and guide for H2O Sports on Hilton Head, which also rents kayaks and a variety of water sports equipment. “It’s getting in the boat, going over safety, paddle techniques, do’s and don’ts. Then we head out and enjoy ourselves.”

Important safety rules include wearing a personal flotation device, keeping safe distances from larger water vessels such as boats, maintaining balance and simply staying in a comfort zone.

When entering and exiting a kayak, a safe and convenient location is a boat ramp. Place the kayak parallel to the edge of the ramp and step sideways in and out of the kayak.

Kayak paddles, unlike canoe prototypes, have blades on both ends. Once in the water, grip the paddle with your arms slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Then alternate strokes from side to side, forming an imaginary figure eight.

From there, one can kayak for leisure, or turn an afternoon into vigorous exercise. It’s much like deciding whether to walk, jog or run intervals, only on the water. The harder you paddle, the more strenuous the workout.

Depending on the location, expect to encounter marine wildlife. In this area, dolphins are aplenty and may come within feet of your kayak. Manatees, river otters and various fish reside here, too. Many local companies that rent kayaks also have guided eco-tours and dolphin tours.

“When you’re in an kayak, you are almost part of the ecosystem,” said Overton.

Average kayak lengths are between 10-12 feet, and seats are often comfortable. Choosing a kayak that feels right is the key to alleviating the biggest fear: tipping over.

“They think of tipping because they watch on TV (and see) white water rafting,” said Barroncini. “These kayaks are pretty stable.”

Barroncini and Overton recommend starting with a tour, which serves as a lesson and a trial run before deciding to purchase. New kayaks are expensive, and Barroncini recommended used varieties for beginners.

Safety tips


  • Know how to use your paddle.
  • Always wear a life jacket.
  • Don’t step out of the kayak into shallow water. There could be oyster beds on the sea floor that will hurt your feet.
  • If on a tour, always follow your guide.
  • Watch for boat traffic.
  • If steering into a wake from a boat, approach at an angle and not straight on.

Source: Outside Hilton Head