This glossary is meant to be a useful resource for new paddlers. If you have a term that you feel would be a helpful addition or if you have a question about a definition please let me know. For recreational kayak instruction please check out the DVD Recreational Kayaking for Women and our Calendar.
Back band: The band located behind the seat that can be tightened to keep the paddler in an aggressive, upright seated position. The back band provides support for the lower back. In recreational kayaks there is often a back to the seat that allows for a more comfortable and relaxed seated position.
Back Stroke: The technique used to paddle backwards.
Base layers: Layers of clothing made from natural (except cotton) or synthetic fabrics that paddlers wear under their outer layers. Good baselayers wick moisture away from their skin, keeping the paddler warm or keeping them cool — depending on the weather. Always avoid wearing cotton as a base layer as it traps moisture close to your skin, doesn’t dry quickly and keeps you cold. Examples of good base layers are fleece, wool, polypropelene and neoprene.
Bent shaft paddle: A paddle with a shaft that’s ergonomically bent where the hands grip the paddle so that the paddler’s wrists maintain a neutral position. Paddlers with tendonitis or wrist problems usually prefer bent shaft paddles.
Booties: Neoprene shoes that fit tightly so that they can easily and comfortably fit in a kayak to protect the paddlers’ feet.
Bow: The front of a kayak.
Bow Draw: An intermediate turning stroke performed at the bow of the kayak. The bow draw is a very efficient turning stroke.
Bow/stern lines: Rope or straps that are used to tie down the bow and the stern of the kayak to the bumpers of the vehicle.
Bulkhead: A foam block that is sealed to the inside of the kayak – usually in the stern that keeps water from entering a section of the kayak when it is flipped upside down. This allows the kayak to take on less water and float better when it’s upside down making it easier to rescue. It also keeps water out of the hatch.
Carabiner: Is a metal loop with a gate. They’re used in climbing and in rescue systems in kayaking as well as tow leashes. They can also be used to secure drybags, and water bottles inside the kayak.
Cam straps: A piece of webbing with a metal buckle that is used to tie down kayaks on roof racks.
Class I Rapid: Very mellow, easy-going whitewater with little or no consequence.
Class II Rapid: A rapid that has some waves and whitewater, but that is still very easy to maneuver with little or no consequence.
Deck: The top of the kayak.
Deck bungees: Straps made out of bungee cord located on the deck of the stern and/or bow of the kayak. These straps allow for easily accessible storage of gear on the deck of the kayak.
Drytop: A paddling jacket with latex gaskets at the neck and wrists designed to keep the paddler’s upper body completely dry.
Downstream: The direction in which the current is flowing in a river.
Downstream V: A tongue of dark water that loosely forms a ‘V’ with whitewater at the edges. The downstream v is a river feature that indicates the deepest and most obstacle-free entry into or path through a rapid in a river.
Dry bag: A waterproof, sealable bag that keeps contents dry. Paddlers use drybags for first aid kits, snacks and other stuff they want to bring down the river with them.
Eddy: A river feature formed when the current flows around an obstacle and water flows back upstream to fill in the space left by the deflected current. The current inside of eddies flows upstream. Eddies are great for resting, getting out of the current, getting out of the river and scouting.
Edge Control: The ability of a paddler to set, maintain and change their kayak edge to varying degrees to maneuver. More important in whitewater and sea kayaking, less important in recreational kayaking.
Ekimo Roll: The technique that kayakers use to right themselves when they flip over.
Feather: Refers to the offset of each paddle blade from each other. Blades offset from each other at 90 degrees makes it easier to paddle on windy days because the top blade slices through the wind. Today paddle manufacturers make paddles that you can adjust the feather on yourself.
Also refers to the cocking or bending of the wrist to make small adjustments to the angle of the paddle blade. Feathering is used to ensure that the paddle blade enters the water at a certain angle, remains neutral in the water or creates resistance against the water to perform strokes and maneuver.
Foot braces: Small, adjustable plates (usually plastic) for your feet to brace against when paddling. Foot braces give the paddler more leverage with every stroke.
Forward Stroke: The stroke that paddlers use to propel themselves forward.
Grab loops/handles: The loops or handles situated a the bow and stern of kayaks that allows the paddler to carry and strap down the boat.
Hatch: A dry storage compartment built into the kayak that is accessible from the deck.
Hatch cover: The removable cover to the hatch that keeps water from flowing into the hatch from the deck when it is closed.
Hull: The bottom of the kayak.
J-cradles: A rack accessory in the shape of a ‘J’ that makes it easy to tie down a recreational or sea kayak on your car.
Kayak: A small human powered boat that is propelled forward using a two bladed paddle.
Open Water: A large body of water that is not protected from the wind by trees or shoreline. Open water should only be attempted by experienced sea kayakers.
Outfitting: The term used for the additional adjustable features that allow for the kayak seat to fit comfortably. Includes seat, back band, foot braces and thigh braces.
Paddle: A shaft with two blades on either end that a paddler uses to maneuver his/her kayak.
Paddle Jacket/Splash top: A paddling jacket without gaskets that is used to break the wind, but that doesn’t keep the paddler dry.
PFD: Personal Floatation Device or lifejacket. One of the most important pieces of safety gear for a paddler. Always wear your PFD properly when you’re kayaking!
Portage: The act of carrying your kayak around a rapid or obastacle because you don’t want to run it in your kayak.
Racks: A system of bars mounted onto the roof of a car used to carry kayaks or other toys such as bikes, skis etc…
Rapid: A section of river where the gradient increases causing the flow of the water to speed up creating more turbulence.
Reading water: The technique used to decipher and recognize the safest paths through turbulent whitewater.
Rudder: A steering device that drops down from the hull at the stern of the kayak. The paddler drops the rudder by pulling on small ropes/lines on the deck of the kayak. The rudder drops into the water and can then be maneuvered by the paddler’s foot pedals.
Sculling Draw: A stroke in the form of a figure eight that draws the kayak sideways through the water.
Shortie: A short sleeve paddle jacket.
Side Draw: A stroke used to draw the kayak sideways in the water.
Skeg: A steering device much like a rudder except the skeg is static and cannot be maneuvered with the feet. Used to help the kayak stay straight.
Spray skirt: A nylon or neoprene skirt that’s worn by the kayaker and seals off the cockpit of the kayak so that no water can enter the kayak while he/she paddles. Also protects paddlers’ legs from the sun, wind or rain.
Stackers: Rack accessories that assist in stacking and tying down multiple kayaks on the roof of a car.
Straight shaft paddle: A paddle that has a straight shaft.
Strainer: Refers to a tree or tree branches in the current that allow for the water to flow through but that trap a kayak. Works just like a spaghetti strainer. Paddlers should avoid strainers.
Stern: The back of the kayak.
Sweep Stroke: The most basic turning stroke.
Tandem kayak: A longer kayak with two cockpits and seats for two paddlers to paddle together. A great boat for sharing kayaking with friends and family.
Thigh Braces: Plastic pieces just below the cockpit of the kayak that keep the paddlers’ thighs in the proper positioning. Mostly seen in whitewater or sea kayaks.
Tow leash: A long piece of webbing packed and secured in a small bag that can be attached to the padders’ waist or rescue harness. Used by kayak instructors to pull kayaks to shore in a rescue situation. Can also be used to tow paddlers who are too fatigued to continue paddling.
Upstream: The opposite direction in which the current is flowing.
Water sandals: Sandals that are made especially for watersports like kayaking and rafting.
Wave: Is a feature formed when the gradient increases, when the river constricts or when the current flows over rocks and other debris on the riverbed.
Wet Exit: The act of swimming out of your kayak.
White water: White water is formed when flowing water mixes with air forming aerated water. On rivers white water is formed when water flows over obstacles such as rocks in the riverbed or when the gradient of a river increases, quickening the flow and creating turbulence.