Every sport has its own specialized vocabulary, and kayaking is no exception! Getting a handle on the lingo is an important part of learning the ins and outs of any sport. This list of common kayaking terms will be a helpful resource to those who are new to the sport. Take the time to familiarize yourself with this glossary of kayaking terms so you can speak a common language with your fellow kayakers.
Back Stroke – The technique used for moving backward by pushing instead of pulling the paddle through the water.
Baja Sleigh Ride – This happens when a fisherman hooks a large fish and his kayak is pulled around in circles.
Bearing – The direction in which you wish to travel.
Bent Shaft Paddle – An ergonomically designed paddle that is bent to allow the paddler’s wrists to maintain a neutral position.
Blade – The wide part at the end of a paddle. This is the portion of the paddle that is pulled through the water to move the boat forward.
Boof – A maneuver used in whitewater in which the kayak “jumps” up and over obstacles in steeply graded rivers. The technique is somewhat similar to a skier jumping off a cliff. Possibly derived from the sound you make when performing this maneuver.
Bow – The front end of a boat. Americans pronounce this to rhyme with “wow”, but the Brits pronounce it to rhyme with “show”.
Brace – A stroke utilized to prevent the kayak from rolling or capsizing.
Bulkheads – The walls which create sealed watertight compartments in the bow and stern of a kayak and provide structural support and buoyancy.
Carp – An unsuccessful roll in which the kayaker doesn’t make it all the way to the surface, but manages to catch a quick breath.
CFS – Stands for cubic feet per second. This is the standard measure of river flows in the U.S. The number indicates how much water is flowing past a specific point on the river.
Chine – The transitional area located between the bottom and the side of a boat.
Class I Rapid – The least dangerous and easiest type of whitewater to negotiate in your kayak.
Class II Rapid – Slightly more waves and turbulence than what you will find in a Class I rapid, but still very easy to negotiate with very little danger.
Cockpit – The opening in the deck of a kayak where the paddler is seated.
Deck – The top of the kayak which prevents water from getting inside the hull.
Downstream – The direction that the current is moving in a river.
Downstream V – A “V”-shaped area of darker water edged by whitewater which shows the safest path through a rapid.
Drytop – A jacket designed to keep your upper body completely dry while paddling.
Ferry – Maneuvering across the current rather than with it.
Footpegs (also known as foot braces)- Adjustable structures located within a kayak’s cockpit which provide support and increased leverage for the paddler.
Forward Stroke – The most basic stroke used to move a kayak in a forward direction.
Grab loops (or grab handles) – Loops of rope attached to the bow and stern of a kayak which provide an easy-to-grip handle for portage.
Hatch – A storage compartment in the body of the kayak which can be reached from the cockpit. Keeps items dry even in rough water when the hatch cover is secured.
Heading – The direction in which your kayak’s bow is pointing.
Hole – A location on a river where the current reverses itself due to an obstacle. A hole can trap boats and prevent them from continuing downstream.
Hull – The bottom part of the kayak that sits in the water.
J-Cradle – A “J”-shaped rack accessory that allows you to easily and securely tie down a kayak on top of your car.
Kayak – a small boat usually designed for a single occupant and propelled with a double-bladed paddle.
Keel – The strip that runs along the bottom centerline of the boat.
Lee – An area sheltered from wind and weather.
Open Water – A large body of water (such as an ocean or Great Lake) that offers no protection from the wind.
Paddle – The means of propulsion and maneuvering for a canoe or kayak. Canoe paddles have only one blade, while paddles for kayaks have a blade at both ends of the shaft.
PFD – Stands for Personal Flotation Device, otherwise known as a lifejacket. No matter how strong a swimmer you are, you should always wear a Coast-Guard approved PFD when kayaking – especially in whitewater.
Portage – The act of carrying your kayak over land instead of riding in it on the water. It is sometimes necessary to carry a kayak in order to get from one waterway to another or to avoid a particularly dangerous area of rapids.
Rapid – A section of river with a faster current and intensified turbulence caused by an increase in the incline or gradient of the river.
Reading Water – The ability to find the safest route through rough whitewater.
Riffles – Shallow areas of rapids in Class I rivers.
River Right/River Left – As you face downstream, the banks of the river are referred to as “River Right” and “River Left”.
Roll (or Eskimo Roll) – A maneuver to right a capsized kayak without exiting the cockpit.
Rudder – A steering device located at the stern of some kayaks. It may be operated either by foot pedals or by pulling rope lines on the deck of the kayak.
Sculling Draw – A figure eight stroke used to pull the kayak sideways.
Shaft – The pole that holds the blades of a kayak paddle.
Shortie – A paddling jacket with short sleeves.
Sit-On-Top (SOT) – An open kayak without a cockpit.
Skeg – An adjustable steering fin which is used to help keep some sea kayaks on a straight track. Similar to a rudder.
Spray Skirt – A waterproof “skirt” that is worn around the waist of the kayaker and attached to the rim of the cockpit. Keeps the cockpit dry in rough water and offers extra protection from the sun, rain, and wind.
Stacker – A roof rack accessory that allows you to carry several kayaks on top of your car.
Stern – The back end of a kayak or any other type of boat.
Strainer – A tree or branch that allows water to pass through, but creates a trap for kayaks.
Swamp – To fill a boat with water.
Sweep Stroke – This basic stroke is used to turn the direction of the kayak by reaching out and ahead followed by a sweeping movement from bow to stern.
Swim – What you do after getting dunked when your boat capsizes.
Swim Beer – The traditional beverage purchased for someone who helps to rescue you when you go for an unintentional swim.
Tandem Kayak – A kayak with two cockpits which allows two people to paddle at the same time. This is a slightly longer vessel which is ideal for couples.
Tow Leash – A long section of webbing attached to a kayaker’s waist or rescue harness. Can be utilized to pull an exhausted kayaker to shore.
Tracking – A kayak’s ability to maintain its course based on the design of the hull.
Tricky-Woo – This is a complicated maneuver done by competitive freestyle kayakers that involves three consecutive 180-degree horizontal angle rotations using only one paddle blade. When you successfully execute this tricky maneuver, you will say “Woo!”
Upstream – The opposite direction from the flow of a river’s current.
Water Sandals – Waterproof footwear with a non-slip sole made especially for water sports such as kayaking.
Wet Exit – The act of swimming out of your kayak (generally unexpectedly) rather than climbing out of it (which would be a dry exit).
Whitewater – Water that appears white when it mixes with air. Whitewater occurs when a strong river current flows over rocks or other obstacles, or when the incline of a river increases and creates a more rapid and turbulent flow.