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Intro to Kayaking

How to Carry a Kayak

Tips from paddling instructor Anna Levesque

No one wants to look like a complete rookie—especially paddlers who have yet to hit the water regularly. Getting your boat to and from the water is the often-overlooked first step to any adventure, and it can be challenging. But paddling instructor Anna Levesque says, “kayaking can help everyday life decision-making skills and be a platform for living a better life.” The more you eliminate mental blockades that keep you from paddling, the better—even if it means using a car-rack kayak lift system or a boat cart to get to the water. These easy first steps form the foundation of Levesque’s instruction business and resource, Mind Body Paddle, which shepherds greenhorns through everything from beginner clinics, camps and international trips to video tutorials and the new book Yoga for Paddling (

Just grab and drag. To tour a lake, you don’t need an expensive and fragile fiberglass boat. Check out plastic rec boats, which are OK to drag short distances, though not across asphalt, obviously. For mixed terrain and longer distances you need to pick it up. You’ll want to put on your life jacket first to hoist the boat onto your shoulder–remember, padded straps.

Lift in stages. Don’t follow your instinct to stand the boat up on its stern. Go alongside the grounded boat and pull up by the cockpit rim’s near side so the boat rests with cockpit facing out and the hull at your shins. Bending at your knees, pull up by the same grip and slide the boat up to your thighs. Once it’s stable, if you’re right handed, put your right hand on the far side of the cockpit rim, move it up to your shoulder, balance and stand up (like a squat). Balance so the stern isn’t dragging behind and the bow isn’t lunging. Walk upright, slowly, to the water.

Don’t give up. There are no magical solutions in kayaking, it’s a physical activity. There’s strength in paddling and in carrying your boat, so think of it as training to make you fitter. If you don’t have the strength to carry, you could always consider a boat cart, but try the buddy system of carrying two boats first—one partner carrying a bow grab loop in each hand with the back person on the stern loops.

Load up. The bigger the car, the more difficult this becomes. Make things as easy (light) as possible by removing any gear in the boat. To get boat to rack, reverse the final lifting step and take the boat back down to your thighs. Grab the bow and stern ends of the cockpit rim and, keeping you back straight, do the squat move with a clean and press motion so the open cockpit is above your head. This does take some strength, but it’s all core strength. Place the boat right into the J-cradles or rollers or onto rack bars.