Getting Started: You Want to Canoe. Now What?

Getting Started: You Want to Canoe. Now What?

The hardest part about starting a new hobby is getting it off the ground, right?

Whether you spent months researching vigorously, got introduced to it by a third party, or simply benefitted from the Immaculate Conception of hobbies where you – the Virgin Mary – get knocked up by a little luck, good timing, and common sense soon giving birth to a decent plan – the sweet baby Jesus, getting these things going is hard work.

Well, I’m jumping into this backwards. Most successful bloggers write about their successes in a particular area as a means of coaching others through the seemingly difficult task. These instructional blogs are usually written from the pretentious “I know what I’m talking about from up here way above you” point of view with little consideration for the struggles of the grunts out their busting their butt.

From personal experience, I can tell you none of my canoe trips have ever looked like the magazines. Never have I taken a picture as good as Aaron Black-Schmidt or described the environment I exploring as thoughtfully as Jacques Cousteau. However, in my limited time getting this hobby off the ground, there are some things I have learned busting my butt like everyone else.

Get in the Boat

It seems like an easy place to start. That’s misleading, though. Unless you live on a river, own a canoe, have two canoe-compatible cars for shuttling, and can get your hands on some regional river maps, getting in the water is a pretty big, boring ordeal.

Get some help. Find an outfitter that will give you an all-inclusive experience that includes canoe and equipment rental, transportation, up-to-date maps, and knowledge of the river. On top of all that, the outfitter will serve as your safety net if you get lost, injured, or run out of energy and just paddle too slow.

Save. Don’t Spend

Through my years working in the paddlesport industry and surrounding myself with paddling and angling friends, I have come to the conclusion that paddlers are very similar to little kids. Our attention span indoors is ridiculously shorter than most; we love getting dirty, and – most importantly – given the choice we would buy all of the equipment/toys in the store. Not only would we buy it. We would also bring it with us everywhere in an attempt to set the Guinness Book of World Records for split time in a 600 pound rigged canoe.

Innovation in the paddlesports accessory industry is catering to us, maybe even promoting our odd attraction to over-doing it with gear. Accessory companies are developing ways to mount, store, rig, and secure anything and everything to a canoe that hasn’t changed much in design since Lewis and Clark paddled around exploring the Wild West.

You didn’t hear this from me: You don’t need it.

I can feel my customer’s glares piercing their computer screens…

Let me clarify. You don’t need it right away. Take 2-3 trips to get to know your needs, your positioning, and your paddling style. On my first trip, my buddy and I went 12 miles with two paddles, two life jackets, a Styrofoam cooler, and a GoPro. It wasn’t until the third or fourth trip that we got involved with our accessory rigging.

Brace for Failure

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Nothing, especially canoeing, goes as you previously imagined it would. The river is always slower and muddier than you expected. The north wind always blows from the south when your arms start getting tired. The sandwiches always take on water in the cooler. And – the one that gets me every time – the canoe ALWAYS gets dirty.

Do yourself a favor and get past these irrational expectations.

Take Pictures

You’ve braced for failure. You’ve braced for failure like it’s coming at you trying to pillage your village and steal your women and children.

There’s still going to be a little disappointment.

It’s going to be a long day. There are going to be stretches where you paddle as fast as you can and still don’t reach 3 miles per hour. The current is going to try it’s best to push you into the eddy. Your back is going to hurt.

When you get off the water, you don’t want these aches, pains, and letdowns to be your lasting impressions. Instead, take pictures.

Even bad pictures are better than no pictures. Once you have had some time off the water to shower, eat, and take a nap, these pictures will remind you how worth it all of the struggles were.

Plus, your Instagram account called; it’s tired of the same old neon light and bathroom mirror selfies.


canoeing, editorial, tips

Mark Vlaskamp

After four years as Marketing Director for Yak Gear, Mark now partners with creative outdoor brands and pursues the gray area between freelancing and (f)unemployment. Currently, he is floating between Austin and Houston, TX - still searching for new water, cool people, and cheap beer.

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A Long Portage:

We're back after a really long portage. What used to be a roadtrip-centric canoe blog is now a bit more settled in the Texas Hill Country. We still believe canoeing is dated, not dead. And we still chase high CFS and sticky situations.

But we're not on a roadtrip battling for cell service from the backseat of the Jeep anymore. We're enjoying life off the road. The showers, hot meals, and stable jobs are nice too.

If the paddling road trip is what you're looking for, it's moved here.


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