Tips for dealing with fear on the water for kayak enthusiasts

Stef Zisovska
Kayaking in a double on Lake Union in Seattle, Washington, United States

Fear is a normal thing that affects paddlers of all kinds, no matter their experience on the water. Sometimes the fear can be healthy and positive, but most of the times, it doesn’t result in anything good. You may be a beginner or a kayaking veteran and still don’t know how to deal with that unpleasant feeling that makes you think you’re about to drown. A little beat of fear is helpful to paddlers because it keeps them cautious and away from danger. But, if the fear paralyzes your whole body you must be able to recognize it and control it. Respecting the power of the river doesn’t mean being petrified of it.

Find the root of your fear

Kayaking is a great way to see the outdoors from a different viewpoint

First of all, you need to identify where the fear is coming from and ask yourself questions. Do I feel comfortable in this situation? Do I know where am I going? Is there a rapid in front of me and I don’t know about it? Am I the slowest one in the group? Are my skills good enough for this task? It’s important to find where the fear comes from and deal with it.


Taking few deep breaths is the best thing you can do to gain confidence again and reconnect your mind and your body. The fear installs itself in the gaps where we have lack of focus, and we’re not sure what we’re doing.

Observe the situation

If you get blocked by fear, don’t push yourself into something you’re not sure about. Take a few minutes to think if the fear is rational or irrational and try to resolve the issue. You won’t lose anything if you stop for a moment and observe the situation.

Walk, don’t run! 

Even the best get scared sometimes, so don’t panic. Remember that there are days when it’s better to walk and not run. If there is a rapid coming up and you don’t feel like today is the day, don’t do it. There is nothing wrong with making a decision opposite of what you were expecting from yourself. There are times when you’re fearless, but also there are days when you feel you’re not in the best shape, so it’s best to back off.

Only tackle difficult water if you feel ready – kayaking is about having fun at the level that’s right for you

Find a good crew 

Go paddling with people that move at your pace and make you feel protected and safe. Find a crew that understands your comfort level and will help you progress little by little.

Admit you’re scared

Everybody gets scared and nervous on the water. Don’t panic if you start feeling fear. Acknowledge it, let your fellows know how you feel, take a deep breath and accept the fear as the part of the process.

Head out in a group who will support you and travel at a similar pace

Move step by step

If you’re not sure you can a rapid on your own, ask someone to lead the way down before you try it on your own. If you are still scared of rapids and don’t think the time has come, practice some individual moves, improve your paddling technique and get more familiar with the river you’re paddling on.

Find a mantra

Think positive and enjoy the trip

Find a mantra or a positive saying that works for you and that will help you focus on erasing the fear from your mind. Think of whatever positive thought that usually relaxes you and, try to stay calm.

Don’t forget to laugh

Most people tense up when scared or nervous. Try to giggle and laugh and beat the fear. Don’t lose your ability to react to the water, no matter what happens. In the end, we love kayaking because it’s fun, not because it makes us feel bad. Good luck!

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