From icy Arctic currents to the calm lakes of summer camp, kayaks have been a staple of outdoor life for more than 4000 years. And for good reason, as kayaking allows paddlers to dictate their own style and speed, making it a great hobby and workout for individuals with a wide range of abilitiesScience and medicine of canoeing and kayaking. Shepard RJ. Journal of Sports Medicine. 1987 Jan-Feb;4(1):19-33.. So grab a paddle and hop on board with this week’s Grobby (Greatist lingo for hobby)!

The Tip-Off — The Need-to-Know

The kayak— meaning “hunter’s boat” in Inuit— is believed to have originated in Greenland and was typically used for basic transportation, war, and, well, hunting. These craft were often made by stretching animal skins and tree bark over a log, and could generally carry only one passenger. Centuries later, kayaks— which, unlike canoes, have a dug-out cockpit instead of open seating— have been revitalized and reinvented for modern day use. Instead of primary use by hunters, today’s versions offer a relatively cheap way to exercise, relax, and enjoy the outdoors all at the same time.

Types of kayaks differ by their design and materials, each type with its own specific purpose— including recreational kayaking, sea kayaking, and whitewater kayaking. In each version, successful kayaking requires a knowledgeable paddlerDeterminants of kayak paddling performance. Michael JS, Smith R, and Rooney KB. School of Exercise and Sport Science, Faculty of Exercise, Health and Performance, Sydney University, Lidcombe, New South Wales, Australia. Sports and Biomechanics. 2009 Jun;8(2):167-79.. No matter the level of intensity, being able to propel oneself through water requires both stamina and upper body strength, with a particular emphasis on the shoulder musclesScience and medicine of canoeing and kayaking. Shepard RJ. Journal of Sports Medicine. 1987 Jan-Feb;4(1):19-33.. The rotation required for paddling is also taxing on the torso, making kayaking a solid option for those seeking a core workout on the water.

Testing the Waters — Your Action Plan

Before setting out to conquer whitewater, kayaking newbies can get their feet wet and learn technique on a small lake or pond (or even a pool, if available). Recreational kayaking is a safer and generally less expensive way to try out the sport, with models available from many outdoor stores for $150-$500. For less commitment, try renting a kayak from an outdoor outfitter. The more adventurous (and far more experienced!) can try playboating, a discipline of kayaking that goes beyond the norm by adding spins, flips, turns, and other tricks.

However, beyond the trauma and drowning risks that go along with many watersports, kayakers of all skill levels should be wary of rotator cuff injuries and tendonitisShoulder pathoanatomy in marathon kayakers. Hagemann G., Riike AM, and Mars M. University of Natal, Durban, South Africa. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2004 Aug;38(4):413-7.The relationship between joint range of motion, muscular strength, and race time for sub-elite flat water kayakers. McKean MR, Burkett B. School of Health and Sport Science, University of Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia. J Sci Med Sport. 2010 Sep;13(5):537-42.. Supplementary strength training can help develop muscle strength and balance to help prevent injuries, and no matter the experience level, all kayakers are advised to wear personal a floatation device (somehow we doubt floaties will cut it)An analysis of sea kayaking incidents in New Zealand 1992-2005. Bailey, I. The Travel Doctor. Tauranga, New Zealand. 2010 September; 21(3):208-18..