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Kayaking NC: Getting Started


I’ll never forget my first time kayaking on a sit-on-top kayak in Lake Erie when I was twenty years old. I was working a seasonal job in between my junior and senior years of college as a lifeguard and camp counselor for Lake Metroparks where I grew up in Northeast Ohio. My supervisor said we were going to paddle out to the break wall and lighthouse, which was about a half mile off shore. I remember feeling afraid and nervous, even though I was wearing a life jacket, but I’ll never forget the sense of calm, peace, and relaxation as I paddled away from shore. Since then, I’ve been hooked on kayaking and went on to become a kayaking instructor and instructor trainer through the American Canoe Association (ACA) over the course of my career. While I don’t paddle as much these days with four young children at home, I do enjoy getting out every now and again.

I’ve helped many people get their start into kayaking for their first time. That being said, anyone who has not been kayaking before should get professional instruction before ever venturing out on their own. There’s a term we use in the paddling community called “K-Mart Kayakers.” These are the folks who head to their local big box store, purchase a kayak, then head straight to their nearest waterway to paddle for their first time. Often times these are the same folks who end up in near-death and rescue situations because they didn’t take the time to learn the basics before heading out. However, with proper instruction and risk management practices, kayaking is an enjoyable activity that can be enjoyed over a lifetime.

This first of two blog posts on kayaking will share reasons to kayak, provide an overview of kayaking disciplines (types), and local resources for kayaking here in North Carolina. This is from my Kickin’ it in a Kayak workshop that I facilitated for the new Cabela’s in Garner, NC after their grand opening back in 2015, which is from a presentation through the American Canoe Association (ACA).

Top 10 Reasons to Kayak

  1. Kayak because it’s fun!
  2. Kayak to be close to nature.
  3. Kayak to be with friends.
  4. Kayak for exercise.
  5. Kayak for adventure.
  6. Kayak for relaxation.
  7. Kayak as part of another activity (i.e. fishing).
  8. Kayak to stay cool in the summer.
  9. Kayaking is a sport for all ages.
  10. Kayak for love.

North Carolina – Nothing Compares!

From world class whitewater paddling in the mountains of Western NC to the inland lakes and rivers of the Piedmont and Sandhills to the bays, estuaries, islands, and sounds in the Coastal Plains, North Carolina provides endless opportunities for paddling across the state.

Recreational Kayaking

Level: Beginner

Venue: Inland lakes and slow moving rivers

Local Sources:

  • Lakes: Falls Lake, Lake Johnson, Lake Wheeler, and Jordan Lake
  • Rivers: Cape Fear River, Haw River, Neuse River

Coastal (Sea) Kayaking

Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Venue: Bays, estuaries, islands, sounds

Local Sources:

  • Bays: Bulls Bay
  • Islands (OBX): Hatteras, Ocracoke
  • Sounds: Albemarle, Pamlico

River (Whitewater) Kayaking

Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Venue: Fast rivers with steep gradient

Local Sources:

  • Falls of the Neuse (Raleigh)
  • Rivers of Western North Carolina (Mountains)
  • U.S. National Whitewater Center (Charlotte)

Agencies and Clubs

Clubs & Groups

Education & Instruction

Raleigh PRCR Outdoor Recreation Programs

  • Personal Roll Instruction
  • Kayak Basics
  • Neuse River Sampler
  • Pool Roll Clinics (Winter)

Liveries & Outfitters

Rental Operations


Kayaking is an awesome outdoor recreational activity with abundant opportunities here in North Carolina to enjoy! Whether it’s the relaxation of recreational paddling on a local inland lake, the adrenaline rush of running a big drop while whitewater paddling in the mountains, or seeing wildlife up close in the bays, estuaries, or sounds of the coastal plains, there is a style and type of kayaking for everyone. This blog post was to share resources for how and where to get started. The next blog post will provide more information on the “Know Before You Go!”

Published by Dave Herpy

I am a father of four, a camp and outdoor recreation professional, and a freelance writer. I have over twenty years of experience in the outdoor industry and over a decade of experience as a freelance writer. I enjoy camping, cycling, golfing, hiking, kayaking, running, swimming, and triathlons, as well as traveling, volunteering, and writing. I live in Clayton, North Carolina.

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