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Getting started into paddling; part one of two

Kayakers at Lake Nockamixon which has become a very popular waterway for paddling.
Kayakers at Lake Nockamixon which has become a very popular waterway for paddling.
Duane Sedlock

For years you may have wanted to get out and go paddling. This should be the year you go for it. When you head out to any waterway whether it’s a lake, pond or river there seems to be someone kayaking. Kayaking has dramatically increased in popularity especially over the past ten years or so.

First, safety is of the upmost importance when going paddling. It can be a fun pastime but could have a tragic ending if common sense is not followed and the proper safety equipment’s (proper-fitting U.S. Coast Guard approved PFD, correct-sized paddle and a sound-making device capable of making a 4 to 6 second blast) are not used. It is always best to paddle with others. Last year, three paddlers in our area rivers (2 in the Delaware River and 1 in the Lehigh River) drowned. None were wearing a life jacket.

Early spring, winter paddling and anytime during the year after heavy rainfalls can be dangerous for the inexperienced and unprepared, so it is best to tag along with more experienced paddlers, or stay off the water at these times.

A good way to get started into paddling is with a canoe club, county park system, nature center, at a kayak demo day sponsored by certain boat dealers, Cabela’s or at an L.L. Bean’s Kayaking Discovery Course. The PA DCNR also offers programs which are listed on their calendar of events page. Events may be free or have a slight fee.

Some of these providers will usually help you obtain necessary equipment if needed and provide helpful hints on what to bring. Sometimes they even include the kayaks, canoes and safety equipment. They may also provide a car shuttle.

On the Delaware River, several commercial outfitters are run by seasoned professionals along both sides of river in New Jersey and Pennsylvania which can assure you of a safe trip with consistently up-dated equipment, the convenience of shuttles from end to end, and words of advice that will make your trip the best it can be.

Paddling the rivers, lakes and ponds in our area is one way to have a great day in the outdoors for people of all ages. It can be just a leisurely relaxing paddle or could become a vigorous workout. Also, fishing in a kayak can be an awesome experience. If possible, plan your trip for a weekday, when waterways are usually less crowded.

Not sure where to go paddling? There are more than 85,000 miles of rivers and streams and 76 natural lakes in Pennsylvania and that doesn’t include the hundreds of man-made lakes and reservoirs across the state. There are just simply so many places to go kayaking. But be sure not to trespass on private land or waterways unless you have the owner’s permission.

A favorite canoeing and kayak stretch for year-round placid paddling is on the Lehigh River from the Route 33 PFBC launch, north towards Freemansburg and south to the Chain Dam in Easton.

There are also many fine area lakes to paddle in, including: Lake Nockamixon in Bucks County, Lake Minsi which is north of Bangor in Northampton County, Leaser Lake in northwestern Lehigh County, the Francis Walter Dam in Carbon County, Mauch Chunk Lake north of Jim Thorpe in Carbon County and White Lake near Blairstown in Warren County, NJ, to name a few.

Bring water, sunscreen, bug spray and a camera; and even a bag lunch and snacks which can turn the outing also into a picnic. Use some type of dry bag or waterproof container for food and camera. Afterward, a stop at a local restaurant or ice cream shop can add the perfect ending to a great day.

Don’t forget your PFD; and remember your boat, even if non-powered, must be registered in PA regardless of what state you reside in if using any PFBC lake or launch site, or on any water in a state park. (In 2012, the Fish and Boat Commission sold more than 40,000 launch permits for unpowered boats like kayaks and canoes.) Also note; waters at Bucks County parks require an additional county permit. Canoes and kayaks do not need to be registered to go on New Jersey waters if manually powered. It is best to always read signage at boat launches and to investigate unknown waterways before going there.

If you’re looking at purchasing a kayak, read as many on-line reviews as possible (check out and visit various stores or dealers. Learn about the different types of boats, their stability and features and the materials used to make them. It’s always best to test drive a canoe or kayak before purchasing. You don’t want any regrets after buying a vessel which won’t suit your needs.

Many sporting goods stores such as Dick’s and Sports Authority offer low price kayaks but the quality of them may be cheap, which may be fine though for the beginner. Higher quality kayaks are available at L.L. Bean’s at the Promenade Shops in Center Valley and at other local boat dealers, but they can be pricey.

Another option for some good quality kayaks at affordable prices is to try Nature’s Way which is located on Route 563 just off of Route 412 near Lake Nockamixon. They are friendly and knowledgeable, having a wide array of canoes and kayaks both new and used. Their hours are Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., or call Bill Amey at 215-536-8964 for more info or to schedule a demo. They also have kayak and canoe rentals available for use at Lake Nockamixon. At Nature’s Way they are concerned about you getting into the right kayak rather than just making a sale.

Next time: transporting, entries and exits, plus some other tips.

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