Those of us who prefer placid, glassy water tend to stay silent when our more fearless friends talk about running the rapids.
But (as long as whitewater's not involved), fear not. There's a place for us, too. Quite a few places, in fact, where flatwater aficionados can cast off on uber-safe paddleboats — those clumsy tubs powered by pedals — or oversize inner tubes, kayaks and stand- up paddleboards.
On-site rental venues for canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and other self-propelled watercraft are offered at many larger lakes, reservoirs and beaches.
Some marinas also rent motorboats, so if you're apprehensive about paddling in their engine-fueled company, ask if motorboats will be present. It's easier to learn a new sport when you're not worried about avoiding a JetSki or coping with a powerboat's wake.
Paddling doesn't necessarily mean whitewater. Here are some water sports for people who like their water calm and quiet.
THINGS TO KNOW
- Dress with the expectation that you'll get wet. Leave cellphones and other non-submersible valuables in a secure place.
- Take a lesson (equipment usually included in class price) to accelerate your skill. Exception: Paddleboats you probably can do this well right away.
- Use a life vest/personal floatation device (PFD), a legal requirement in many states. Marina concessions often include life vests in the equipment rental price.
- Wear sunscreen reflected light doubles your chance of a sunburn and bring a bottle of water.
Cost: Starts at $16 per hour.
Learning curve: Relatively short in terms of being able to paddle around enough to have fun.
Pro tip: Put your top hand atop the paddle handle and orient the paddle vertically, so the back of your hand faces straight upward, and the stem is between your fingers. The upper grip helps balance and aim your stroke. Use your other hand to grab the throat of the paddle; this hand powers your stroke. To check your form, hold the paddle horizontally. Your grip should be slightly wider than your shoulder width.
Find a comfortable sitting position and stick with it. Canoes are tippy. It's challenging to right an overturned canoe, or climb back aboard.
Workout: Somewhere between paddleboarding and kayaking if you're a beginner, with the potential for serious upper-body training.
Cost: Starts at $20 per hour.
Learning curve: Short but steep.
Other considerations: Sit-on-top vs. traditional kayak or inflatable kayak? If the concessions agent has all three, ask to try each out to see what's most comfortable.
The advantage of a sit-on-top is that it's so straightforward and user-friendly, allowing you to focus on paddling technique, and it's fine for an hour playing on a lake. Inflatable kayaks are a little clumsier to navigate, but easier to right than traditional kayaks if you flip over. In traditional kayaks, with or without the snap-on skirt, you're a lot closer to the water, in a position that schools you to use good paddling form.
Bonus for people unaccustomed to regarding themselves as athletes: Beginners left behind on rides or hikes with their more-athletic pals often are pleased to find themselves on an even keel with those friends, if the friends also are kayaking novices. Kayaking requires an upper-body control that many cyclists and hikers haven't developed.
Pro tip: It's all about your upper body. Sit solidly, the way your yoga instructor taught you, with a long spine, and use your torso from the hips up as you paddle.
Workout: Great for the upper torso and core.
Cost: Starts at $15 an hour
Learning curve: Is there a safer, sturdier human-powered water vessel than the comically buoyant paddleboat? (That's a rhetorical question.) Can you pedal a tricycle? Then you can handle a paddleboat.
Pro tip: Even if you're slathered in sunblock, choose a paddleboat with a canopy, if possible. The glare from the water maximizes your chances of a sunburn, especially if you're on the water for that two-hour minimum. That's a long time on a paddle boat. A really l ong time.
Workout: Like riding a recumbent exercise bicycle, but less effort.
4. Stand-up paddleboard
Cost: Typically $20 and up per hour; rental includes paddle and the floatation vest required at most public lakes.
Learning curve: Short but steep, comparable to learning to bicycle — but falling in water is easier on the body than hitting pavement or dirt.
Other considerations: First, measure the paddle. Your paddle should be 8 to 10 inches taller than you are. Measure by extending one arm overhead and grasping the bulgy side of the handle with your fingers as you let your wrist fold over the top of the handle.
Next, choose the board. Longer boards mean more stability. A thicker, wider, high-displacement, all-water board is best if you're heavy-set; think of this board as the equivalent of a cruiser bike. A lower-displacement board has a narrower surface and profile; the mountain bike of paddleboarding. A tour/racing board has a slimmer, responsive surface and a sharp bow that glides efficiently through water — like a racing bike.
Pro tip: Before rising from a kneeling position, fix your gaze on a steady point in the horizon, and keep watching that point as you rise to paddle. It will help stabilize you until you find a steady paddling cadence.
Workout: Excellent once you learn to balance and paddle. Terrific for the upper body and for core muscles. It's possible to practice yoga poses and fish on a paddleboard. Just sayin'.
Cost: Starts at $15 to rent inner tubes big enough to suspend an adult body over the water (or bring your own)
Learning curve: Expect to get dumped in the water a few times as you find your sweet spot on the tube — and isn't getting soaked half the reason you decided to go tubing?
Pro tip: Look for mellow stretches of shallow rivers. All are user-friendly for tubers who want to avoid whitewater.
Workout: A notch or two above couch potato because, hey, you're a tuber.