With weather warming and summer on the way, it’s a good time to hit the water in a kayak or canoe. And don’t worry about equipment at this point – rentals abound on local rivers and lakes. To get started, follow this simple four-step plan.
1. Pick Your Location
You can kayak or canoe on rivers, lakes, streams and – in the case of kayaking – in the ocean. Many of these locations are also great for stand-up paddling (SUP), too. (For more on stand-up paddling (SUP), see our related post.) Where you choose to start will depend somewhat on what’s available where you live, but experts recommend leaving the locations with choppy water, high winds, or a strong current to those with more experience. If you’re a beginner, choose a location with a boat launch, dock, or gently sloping beach where you can put in more easily.
2. Choose Your Time
In most areas, the wind tends to pick up in the middle of the day, while early mornings and late afternoons are calmer. This is why so many boating and water sports schools schedule their lessons in the mornings and evenings.
3. Find an Outfitter
In many popular vacation areas such as Lake Tahoe and Hawaii, finding an outfitter is as simple as walking down the beach. But you’d be surprised how many popular kayaking and boating areas are located around the San Francisco Bay Area and at lakes, rivers, and other recreation areas on the outskirts of cities everywhere.
4. Lessons, Guided Trip, or Rent-and-Go?
Most outfitters offer group and individual lessons, guided paddles, and individual rentals. If you already know how to kayak or canoe, then all you need to do is rent the equipment. But many people prefer to start with lessons or a guided trip. Learing with a group helps you get over any nervous jitters you might have. And you might make a new friend or two, as well! If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, here are a few local outfitters that offer lessons and trips designed for beginners.
- Lake Merritt Boating Center: The boathouse on Oakland’s Lake Merritt rents kayaks, canoes, rowboats and sailboats for affordable prices. And the calm water is the perfect place to learn. There are also pedal boats and pontoon trips for those who just want to have some on-the-water fun.
- City Kayak on San Francisco Bay offers kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding and surfski rentals and lessons at Pier 40.
- California Canoe and Kayak, Oakland: Rent a kayak from this full-service outfitter in Jack London Square and paddle up the Oakland estuary. Guided kayak and whitewater rafting trips, too.
- Sea Trek, Sausalito: Offers all levels of kayak (as well as SUP) lessons, classes, trips, and camps for kids on Richardson and San Francisco Bay.
- Blue Waters Kayaking Trips, Marshall: Full-service kayaking outfitter with classes, lessons, rentals, and group paddles on Tomales Bay.
- 101 Surf Sports, San Rafael: Offers kayaking, SUP, windsurfing and kiteboarding lessons and equipment rentals from their convenient dock on the San Rafael Canal.
- Board Sports, San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo: Offers SUP lessons and rentals from three Bay Area locations, as well as windsurfing and kiteboarding classes and camps.
- River’s Edge Kayak and Canoe Trips, Russian River: Offers Self-guided and group trips, both kayak and canoe.
Once you’re up and paddling, you may want to purchase your own equipment and set out on your own. This handy guide from Watertrails maps out kayak and SUP put-ins all over the extended Bay Area.