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Kimberlee Bennett and Sandy Moore

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Posted: June 28, 2017

What you need to know before you get paddling

Tips for buying gear and getting on the water with a kayak, canoe or paddleboard.

Written by: Kimberlee Bennett and Sandy Moore
This dry-laid stone arch bridge on the Pemaquid River was built in the late 1700s. Photos by Kimberlee Bennett

This dry-laid stone arch bridge on the Pemaquid River was built in the late 1700s. Photos by Kimberlee Bennett

You may have seen people kayaking among sailboats in the harbor, canoeing across your favorite lake or sitting, standing, kneeling or even doing yoga on paddleboards, and imagined yourself out there with them.

So, what’s keeping you from starting a new water sport? Here’s what you need to know to get paddling.

First, understand that paddling is a sport and to participate safely you have to start with the basics and build from there. The more you learn and practice, the better you’ll get and the more fun it will be, whether you’re looking for a day of solitude, a big group outing or something in between.

The type of adventure you want will determine what equipment you need. If you plan on leaving the coastline in your rearview mirror as you explore the open Atlantic, sea kayaking is what you’re looking to do. Craving a rush of adrenaline as you navigate the rapids? You want whitewater. If you’re hoping to spend your days off paddling on lakes and ponds or slow-moving rivers, look into recreational paddling. Each of these options requires a different type of boat or board and paddle, and a different skill set.

Once you have determined the type of paddling you want to do, head to an outfitter and find the appropriate equipment. There is a wide range of products available that can balance your paddling and financial needs. (Note: Lower-priced kayaks may not have the floatation and design features necessary for use beyond shoreline play.)

The most important piece of a paddler’s equipment is a life jacket, also called a personal floatation device, or PFD. If it fits properly, you’ll forget you’re wearing it, and that’s worth the investment. Keep in mind that once you invest in your boat or board, paddle and PFD, you will be able to use them for years. We recommend that you try before you buy; you will know when you have found “the one.”

A paddler enjoys the setting sun at Mere Point in Brunswick.

A paddler enjoys the setting sun at Mere Point in Brunswick.

After equipping yourself for your paddle sport of choice, you’ll need some instruction on technique and safety. While there are many “how to” videos online, the best way to learn is on the water in a class, workshop or clinic at a local rec center, paddling shop or outfitter. Highly-skilled friends who know their stuff may offer a lesson or two in exchange for a post-paddling meal. A few key skills to learn and practice before gliding off into the sunset are getting in and out (or on and off), basic paddling strokes and self rescue.

Don’t forget the logistics of how you will transport a kayak, canoe or SUP. Look into different options that will work best for you. Make sure your boat or board can be safely secured to your vehicle. Remember, if it is easy to transport, you are more likely to take advantage of paddling opportunities.

Day trips close to home are a great way to get your feet wet. See our sidebar for great places for beginners in the area. Local paddling groups and retailers also can be resources for suggesting destinations. Local guidebooks with information on the launches, parking, swimming opportunities, picnic areas and fees will help you make the best choice.

Before you begin packing for your day, check weather and wind forecasts. Maine weather patterns often include increasing afternoon winds and pop-up thunderstorms. Always keep your eyes on the sky. Checking water temperatures is also crucial. Water temperatures are often much colder than air temps, even midsummer, so dress, pack and prepare accordingly.

If conditions are conducive for paddling, it’s time to get ready for your adventure. The following is gear you’ll want to acquire as a prepared paddler and also can serve as your packing checklist for each trip:

Water (Stay hydrated and bring more than you think you will need)

Sun protection: sunscreen, hat, sunglasses

– Bug spray

First-aid Kit

– Emergency whistle

– Cellphone (in a waterproof case)

– Waterproof bags and/or cases

Materials needed to clean, drain and dry your boat or board and gear (to help prevent the spread of invasive species)

– Extra layers of quick-drying clothes (not cotton)

Bilge pump or small bailer for kayaks and canoes

– Coast Guard identification sticker (affixed to your watercraft, often available from retailers)

All loaded up? One final step, recheck the weather and wind.

As you take advantage of the many paddling opportunities Maine provides, know your abilities and your limits. Make safety your top priority as you develop your skills. Now, get out there and create amazing summer memories.

A group of paddlers explores Runaround Pond in Durham.

A group of paddlers explores Runaround Pond in Durham.


    A long, sandy, gradual stretch of water extends from this beach launch. It’s a great place to practice your paddling. At the lake’s center is a spring-fed basin. The clear, clean water is home to 14 species of fish.
    This lake is surrounded by fields, orchards and forest owned by the United Society of Shakers. There is almost no development along the shoreline and the lake has beautifully clear water that warms up early in the season.
    After a short walk to the launch site, you will find a small shallow pond that is classified as one of the Audubon’s top Important Bird Areas (IBA) in Maine. This means there is plenty of wildlife to see. While paddling through the hand-sized lily pads later in the summer, you may hear the foghorn from nearby Portland Headlight.
    This short, slow-moving river connects Crescent Lake and Panther Pond. This means you can stick to the river and, if you have energy left over, you can explore further. Paddlers here experience going through a culvert and under a walking bridge. Keep your eyes open to see fish swimming by. Turtles bask on logs, and geese and loons often build their nests here.


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