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Sea kayaking is an outdoor activity that is rapidly reaching its maturity in Italy. Let’s run through a few points together that could be useful to anyone wanting to know a bit more about this new watery dimension.

A common desire for all nature, salt water and sports’ lovers is that of spending entire days at sea autonomously, in a sustainable and eco-friendly way. The kayak exactly matches this description.

Despite being a little vessel, it has great potential: you can use it all year round if you have the right gear and ability. It can accompany you on straightforward summer outings on calm, crystal waters or can be an ideal choice for weeks of marine camping. Sea kayak can also be the perfect option for surfing or for adventuring along the rocky coast in choppy waters.

It doesn’t occupy a lot of space. You can easily keep it in the garage and can move it around tied to your car rack, trying out different places every time.

Italy is the perfect place for practising sea kayaking. Between Ventimiglia and Trieste there are 7914 km of coastline to discover, covering a vast range of different scenery and environments.

You can enjoy beaches with fine sand as well as high cliffs overhanging the sea. Also paddle around wild islands requiring a day or two of circumnavigation or explore typical fishing villages. Paired with its food and wine, these characteristics make the “Bel Paese” a very appealing destination for kayakers from all over Europe and beyond.

Start off on the right foot – with a sea kayaking course!

It is in fact exactly as it sounds – not everyone knows that the perfect paddle starts from your foot!

My advice is to take part in a sea kayaking course. This is to avoid paddling the wrong way which inevitably leads to sore joints or nasty tendinitis. Not less important is the fact that by moving in a more efficient way, you can immediately go further using less effort.

The main themes faced in the course are: 

  • Technique
  • Safety, lifesaving and righting yourself (to be done in the sea without needing to disembark)
  • Necessary technical equipment and the most useful accessories
  • Meteorology, plus basic knowledge of winds and waves. (Checking the forecast will be your prologue to every outing – don’t forget that the sea is an extreme environment)

Environmental aspects too are discussed in well-organised courses. A knowledge of the biodiversity that surrounds you will make you a responsible kayaker. This will also give you another reason to find your paddling time amazing.

After having taken part in an initial Sea Kayak course, you can start to move independently. Once your technique has reached a good level, the eskimo is more confident and your knowledge of the basics has truly sunk in, it will be time to sign up for an advanced course.

Sea Kayak courses in Paraggi Bay, Portofino

Advanced courses deal with the following subjects:

  • Cartography
  • Orientation
  • Meteorology
  • Practical experience with rough seas and wind

As you improve, you will want to increase the range of your paddles. Start on your first excursions and then later on progressing to real expeditions. You will still need to continue along your learning path.

Certifications

Some of the federations and associations have put together a paddling certification system. This easily gives you a clear and organized formative path.

Usually, the certifications bear the name of the corresponding Douglas Scale for measuring waves for which you are prepared to paddle in. Here are some examples: 

  • Level 1: from 0 to 30 cm waves
  • Level 2: from 30 to 50 cm waves
  • Level 3: from 50 to 125 cm waves
  • Level 4: from 125 to 250 cm waves

In Europe and abroad, it is becoming necessary to hold a Certification, even for renting a sea kayak or taking part in tough excursions. Normally, either  Level 2 or Level 3 is requested.

My advice is to see these levels as certificates as a way of improving and maintaining a sincere relationship with the sea. Only we really know exactly which level of confidence we will have if we find ourselves in the various situations.

Paddling along in rough sea conditions in the B Zone of the AMP Portofino

Choosing personal equipment

When you are in your kayak, you will dress yourself with great care, considering the temperature of the water.

There aren’t many “physical” specialised shops. If you don’t have a shop nearby where you can see and try on items. Be aware that it’s very easy to buy technical gear online. Most shops deliver and in a quick phone call can advise you about what you really need. The important thing is to have a clear idea about what is necessary. If you are just starting, get your instructor to present you the various choices – there isn’t always just one!

Usually you start off by buying:

  1. Buoyancy aid
  2. Rock shoes (or at least shoes you can use in the water)

During the summer, you can dress lightly: in a costume and lycra top (which is fast drying).

In colder weather you’ll need:

  1. Thermal base layer, just like that you use for other sports
  2. Waterproof jacket
  3. Neoprene wetsuit, either with long johns or trousers and a top

You will then discover that there are more technical and expensive items, especially connected to practising the sport in the winter months. Find out about special technical materials like Goretex, and perhaps rediscover how warm wool is as the perfect base layer.

With experience, you will learn to understand what extra clothing you need based on the sort of paddles you want to undertake. You will add more and more things to your wardrobe until -as in my case- your kayaking gear counts more items than my everyday clothes!

How can I paddle if I don’t have a kayak?

During the kayaking course, you will probably have used (or will, in the future) the school’s equipment. Before buying your first kayak, you can also rent one or join a boating club that gives you the possibility of using shared equipment.

If you don’t have your own kayak, another good solution can signing up for a guided kayak excursion. All the necessary gear will be provided for you. 

This way you will get the chance to discover new places and spend time on the sea with other people under expert guidance.

Having experience with different kayaks will give you a wider understanding. You will be able to choose the right vessel to buy more clearly, based on your build and needs.

A kayak for all budgets

My opinion is that a kayak is not for life and the same goes for your paddle. When you feel ready to buy your first kayak, enjoy the moment in the awareness that, sooner or later, you will probably exchange it.

This is due to new requirements that can change over time. For example your technique, fitness level and the sort of expeditions that you want to do. They really never wear out.

Fortunately, other paddlers find themselves in the same situation. Try and check out the used kayak market online. You will see that amongst many uninteresting proposals, there are bound to be some that are exactly suited to you.

I have friends who have paddled all their lives and continue to do so with canoes that cost them just a few hundred euros; others that have 5-6 top range kayaks in their garages.

So kayaking is suited to all budgets. A good used kayak that will allow you to improve and go on interesting sea expeditions safely, can be bought at around € 700. A top of the range new canoe may cost up to € 5,000.

Finally – on the sea with your own kayak

Now it’s time to put everything that you’ve learned during the courses to use. A sea kayak needs wide open spaces, just like its conductor. Sea and lakes are the perfect environment. Made sure that the weather and sea conditions are suitable for your skill and fitness levels and that you have suitable equipment, finally you are ready to get on the water. Remember the saying always go kayaking in pairs, but it’s better as a trio.

Bergeggi Island, November 2020

You can launch off from a lot of places, such as beaches and public slips. The most expert paddlers launch themselves from rocks or bluffs, places that at first glance seem impossible! Always ask local paddlers which are the best places to launch off from, the safest and the most convenient for parking. Make sure you are aware of the navigation rules in the area. Remember to stay within 300m of the coast, don’t get in the way of other vessels and give way to absolutely everyone!

Greet other sea users with a smile!

How fast is a Kayak?

It depends. The kayak’s speed depends on the hull, but above all on the paddler. The average speed of a kayak is about 3 knots (5.5 km/h). On average, a beginner kayaker paddles for 2-3 hours; a kayaker with medium experience for 5 hours; an expert for 8-9 hours, maintaining an average speed of 4 knots (7.4 km/h).

These speeds vary a great deal based on weather conditions. There is a stretch of sea that I know that you can usually cover in an hour, which has taken me only 45 minutes in fair conditions and over two hours with wind and opposing waves.

Paddle with your mind – and your keyboard

Spending hours browsing the net looking for information and knowledge about sea kayaking can be an enriching pastime if done in the right way. Especially if you live far away from the sea. There are loads of useful Facebook groups where you can glean information about technique, styles, equipment and places to visit.

On social media you can meet people to paddle and organise excursions with. I think that I have got to know more than twenty fellow kayakers this way. Do remember though that kayaking is done on the water; there are many nice people with numerous opinions, but are then not so interesting once they have a paddle in hand.

“Easier said than done”. Exploit every chance you can to spend hours on the water because, at the end of the day, this is the ultimate end of the sea kayak.

 

Author: Giuseppe Debernardi, head of the OP guides and instructors // ISKGA kayak guide// Lover of the sea in all of its forms!

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