I went kayaking for the first time at 51 – Here’s what happened


It was my first trip to Cornwall in 20 years and things had changed. Cities were either more built up or more dilapidated. And there were many more tourists on the streets and on the beaches than before. What hadn’t changed was the beauty of the coastline of this region of South West England. Dramatic cliffs, rocky shores, soft sandy beaches: Cornwall has it all.

The last time I went to Cornwall, my children were still young. They loved going out on the waves on boogie boards and wading in the sea, but as a mother watching over her children, I was the one sitting on the sand with all our stuff. This time, at 51, things would be different, it was my turn to get out on the water.

Swanpool Beach on the south coast of Cornwall

Photo credit: Samantha Priestley

North vs. South

The north and south coasts of Cornwall are very different. While the north coast has soft sandy beaches and crashing waves that are a surfer’s dream, the south coast is pebbly and has calm waters that paddlers love. Both coasts are beautiful in their own way, but it was on the south coast, with calm seas, that my partner and I saw paddle boards and kayaks lined up at each beach. We started thinking about trying it out for ourselves.

We didn’t fancy surfing the north coast (maybe next time), and the beaches on the south coast are mostly pebbly, so not ideal for sitting out. It was lovely and quiet on the south coast, and we decided to hang out at Swanpool Beach, but were looking for something to do. The kayaks looked very attractive, waiting near the shore in bright blue, yellow and red. As my partner and I watched couples get out on the water and back with big smiles on our faces, we decided to give it a try.

The author and his partner before their kayaking trip to Cornwall, UK.

The author and his companion before their kayak trip

Photo credit: Samantha Priestley

A converted kayak

The closest I’ve ever had to kayaking was rowing a boat down a river, which has some similarities, but still isn’t quite the same. I admit I was a bit nervous when I put on the buoyancy aid and listened to the safety demonstration. The man running the kayak rental explained to us how to use the oars and then told us that it was really hard to get back into a kayak if you fell out of it; “So don’t fall for it,” he said.

A hidden cove that the author found while kayaking in Cornwall, UK.

A hidden cove that the author discovered during his trip

Photo credit: Samantha Priestley

He told us about some hidden coves along the rocky cliff and led us to our kayak. For our first time, my partner and I chose a double kayak so we could go out together. There were plenty of single kayaks but the doubles seemed more popular. My nerves quickly dissipated once I was out on the calm seas paddling along the shore. I really enjoyed the experience.

It’s all in the technique

Before you start paddling and steer the kayak in the direction you want to go, there is the small issue of getting in there in the first place. My first attempt to get into the kayak was very unsightly! We pushed the kayak to the edge of the water, so its nose was in the sea, and I stood ankle deep in the water and tried to get in. I can tell you how it doesn’t work. All I did was push the kayak further with the foot that was in it, while my other leg was still in the water! I quickly learned that the way to successfully get into the kayak is to sit in it, bottom first, like sitting in a chair, then swing your legs around and into the kayak. Getting out of the kayak is the same in reverse. You swing your legs to one side and stand up. Simple.

Your kayak guide will show you how to use the oars before you start. It’s a very simple case of dipping the oar into the water in front of you and picking it up behind you, then doing the same on the opposite side. It forms a nice flowing movement that is easy to follow. To turn left, paddle from the right side and to turn right, paddle from the left side. This is called opposite side paddling.

The author is kayaking at Swanpool Beach in Cornwall, UK.

The author is kayaking at Swanpool Beach

Photo credit: Samantha Priestley

Everything looks different from the water

I’ve been on river cruises and been in a rowboat on a lake (and river), and it’s true what they say – discovering a place from the water is very different from perspective that you have on things from the earth. Being out at sea brought a whole new dimension to it and I loved kayaking around the rocky coast, finding hidden caves and coves that no one else could see from the beach.

We stopped at one of the small beaches in a cove and took time to enjoy the beauty of our quiet little bay. I had a little jitters when I got back in the kayak into this hidden cove because I could see how far the beach was and how far we had travelled. But once I got back in the kayak and started paddling again, I felt safe and we headed back to the beach.

It gets wet in the kayak

Before leaving, our guide told us that we had to leave all our belongings behind. There was a hut with spaces for shoes, bags and all the personal effects that we had with us. You should be aware that a fair amount of water ends up in the kayak, so the lower half of your body is going to get wet.

While we were having a day at the beach, we were already wearing our bathing suits, so we just kept a T-shirt over it, but if you’re not prepared, you’ll end up with wet clothes. I didn’t realize we would need to leave it all behind. My partner took his phone on the kayak with him, even though the guide recommended leaving them behind. If you have a waterproof phone, like my partner, you can take it with you, although obviously this is at your own risk. It would have been a shame not to be able to take pictures while we were kayaking.

Tips for kayaking for the first time

  • Choose calm waters for your first kayak, either a gentle sea like we did, or a lake.
  • Watch out for rocks or anything in the water, like reeds if you’re on a lake. Don’t panic if you run into rocks, just use the opposite paddle to dodge them.
  • If you opt for a double kayak like we did, the lighter person goes up front.
  • Your paddles should be held at body width with both hands, and your paddle should enter the water with the rounded side away from you. Take a good look at your paddle before you start so you know you’re holding it the right way.
  • If you stop somewhere, don’t try to get back into your kayak while you’re in the water; it’s incredibly difficult. Take your kayak to an embankment or the beach to come back. You can position the kayak so that you are knee deep in the water, but no deeper than that.
  • Relax and have fun. You are unlikely to fall out of the kayak, they are very stable and if you do you have your buoyancy aid.
  • Be sure to take in the scenery as you travel along the water. It’s a unique way to see the territory.

For more inspiring stories and kayaking tips, check out these articles:


Comments are closed.