I’ve always loved the water, it’s always been a huge part of my love and connection with nature. Whilst studying at university in Cornwall, I first discovered the joy of kayaking on the sea.
Now one of my favourite ways to get my wild fix is through kayaking, mainly on our local rivers. Here are seven reasons why I love kayaking and why everyone should give it a go!
Seeing wildlife up close
When you’re silently floating or gently paddling along rivers, you are as much part of your surroundings as the wildlife. It’s one of the few situations where you can get close to wildlife before they see or hear you.
Rivers, streams and even canals are often some of the best places for wildlife. Trees or thick banks of reeds often cloak riverbanks, providing wild places for wildlife to thrive.
I’ve seen wrens darting along riverbanks, flocks of long-tailed tits hopping from tree to tree. I’ve seen a charm of goldfinches rise into the air right next to me. I’ve seen the flash of cobalt blue as kingfishers speed past. We’ve paddled along a canal surrounded by hundreds of banded demoiselles.
I’ve sat metres from a mute swan family eating their lunch, paying me no mind. I’ve floated on the waves as seals’ heads bobbed metres away staring back with curiosity. I’ve spotted otter tracks on the riverbank. Many of my best wildlife encounters have been with my trusty inflatable kayak.
It’s free and easy
Once you’ve bought your kayak, paddle and buoyancy aid (life jacket) you don’t need to spend much more to enjoy the water. Nobody owns our seas and rivers. We simply have a look on Google maps, find a river near a road where we can park and off we go! Sometimes we turn up and the river might be too narrow or shallow so we simply find somewhere else to go. It’s always an adventure and a delight when we discover a new river to explore.
I have an Intex Challenger K1, an inflatable kayak. It’s about £70 which is very cheap compared to hardshell kayaks. I’ve had it two years and I’ve managed to put two tiny holes in it (once from standing in it) but both were easy to patch and it’s been fine ever since. It fits easily in my small Peugeot 206 when it’s folded up in its bag. When it finally does die, I hope to upgrade it with one of the more streamlined inflatable models that now exist.
My partner Alex has recently invested in a secondhand Oru kayak. Much pricier but it looks and moves more like a real kayak, but you can still fold it away when you’re done, so it also fits in my car.
It’s different every time
Even if we visit the same stretch of river, each time we go it’s a new adventure. The colours and textures of the sky and water change. The river may be deep or shallow with currents running at different strengths. You could paddle through a rich green jungle in summer. Or admire large open pale blue skies in winter. You never know what wildlife you might see or what memories you will make that day.
On our most recent paddle we managed to go further than usual on our local river because the water was deeper and we discovered a mini whitewater rapids which was so much fun to play in!
It’s fun alone or with friends
Alex and I introduced inflatable kayaking to our friends. Now we have a whole gang of us with inflatables! It’s always good fun to go out with a group of friends. We stop off for picnics, race each other, generally mess about and have a laugh! For me one of the best feelings was getting non-outdoorsy friends out on the water appreciating nature and feeling better for it.
But the solace and mindfulness that comes from kayaking on your own is also very rewarding. You can paddle at your own pace and absorb your surroundings, feeling at one with the world.
You’re doing exercise without realising
Kayaking often feels effortless, guiding the kayak along with your paddle or riding the current. Of course, it does depend on where you go. We often kayak on the river Nene which has a fairly gentle current. But when the wind picks up or if you’re on a fast moving river it will be hard work.
It’s a good feeling though, using your arm muscles to cut through the water and propel yourself forward. I’m often surprised to find my arms aching the next day. I’ve also noticed myself getting stronger and finding river currents and the wind less daunting than when I first took them on.
You can make a difference
Our rivers suffer from litter and plastic pollution just as much as our beaches. We always try to pick up as much litter as we can when we’re out paddling. It can be a fun challenge trying to grab floating bottles and untangling litter! It’s always satisfying bringing home a load of plastic to recycle, knowing in a small way, we’ve made a difference.
It makes you feel free
Like many of us, I struggle with my mental health at times. Being on the water is, for me, the strongest antidote to my anxiety and low moods. One of my happiest memories is kayaking with Alex out in St. Ives Bay in Cornwall. With my kayak riding the brow of the waves, my fingertips tracing the surface of the sea, I felt like I was flying.
Away from civilisation, surrounded by the beauty of the water, I feel free from the struggles of modern and urban life. Sadly, here in the Midlands, we’re pretty landlocked. But paddling on rivers gives me the chance to still spend time on the water, calming me and letting me live in the moment.
I’d recommend that everyone give kayaking a try! You don’t need to be sporty or adventurous to enjoy a gentle paddle on the water surrounded by nature and wildlife.
Why not check out a local kayak club or invest in your own inflatable kayak?