What you need to know to get started kayaking

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The kayak (A). This intimate watercraft should fit youphysically and psychologically. Its shape and dimensions makedramatic differences in speed, handling, and comfort, so the onlyway to know what suits you is to rent or borrow many kayaks beforedeciding to purchase one. Beginners often buy too soon, investingin a wide, stable kayak that will seem bargelike as they gainskills. Newbies also crave a rudder, which later may become anuisance. The most popular sea kayaks are fiberglass, which startat about $2,500. Rotomolded plastic kayaks are heavier but lessexpensive (from $1,000), while ultralight Kevlar ones cost more(about $3,000). Build-it-yourself wood/fiberglass kits are a viablealternative (around $700).

The paddle (B). This is not the place to economize―it's your engine and your most important control, and you'reholding it up all day. It should be as light and as strong aspossible, and its size should match your body and strength. Goodfiberglass paddles cost $200 and up, and the best carbon-fiberpaddles are $300 to $400. You'll also want to purchase a spare (C), which you'll bungee to the deck.

Safety accessories. Neoprene spray skirt (D) to keep lower body and kayak interior dry; PFD, apersonal flotation device or life jacket (E); bilge pump (F); and signaling device (flares, whistle, mirror, and/orlights) are essential. The need for other equipment, such as a wetor dry suit and VHF radio, will depend on the conditions you planto paddle in.

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