10 Best Reasons To Learn How To Paddle a Kayak or Paddleboard

10 Best Reasons To Learn How To Paddle a Kayak or Paddleboard


I have paddled my whole life in wonderful places throughout the world. This includes; Halfway Around Australia, Alaska, Patagonia, The Galapagos Islands, British Virgin Islands, San Juan Islands, Scotland, Maine, SF Bay, Florida Keys, Bahamas, Kauai Hawaii, Costa Rica,Brittany France, Bavaria Germany. Then, there are the thousands of miles in the New York Metropolitan area, Upstate, and Long Island.

However, whenever I have been asked: Where is your favorite place to paddle? I always say, “in the boat or on the board”. I have always loved the “connection” to the water through my paddle, body, boat, or board and  search for rhythm, harmony, the glide and grace of motion.  It’s a Waltz ,Tango, a dance with the water. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I am always merging with the FLOW.


What is Flow? Well, the more you research it, the more you will find out how and why Flow just might be the Elixir of Life itself . Moreover, the bottle of this Elixir is INSIDE every one of you.

What is Flow?

A Dr. Mllhaly Csikszentmihalyi (prounounced Me-high, Chick-sent-me-high (no kidding), literally wrote the book on FLOW.

A quick definition is: In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

I have read Mihaly’s book, but it is Steven Kotler, who has taken the Flow and has turned a lake into an ocean of understanding in his book The Rise of The Superman.

One of my most dedicated students for the last decade and half, Peter Collins, a former high-speed motorcycle track racer, expert skier, ultra endurance runner, adventure racer, downhill rollerblader, advanced Kayak and SUP paddler, and most importantly; a warm, generous and very chipper chap, gave this book to me for my birthday. Within two pages, I felt a symphony of illumination and a chorus of ah-ha moments.

On page 106— the full wave landed on my head as Doug Ammons, one of the best whitewater kayakers in the world and a rare 21st century renaissance man stated:

“Action and adventure sports demand deep embodiment, …especially kayaking. Big Rivers accelerate you in every direction at once. This puts your vestibular system into overdrive, this isn’t just your mind paying more attention-suddenly your entire body is paying attention. What happens is outside your conscious capabilities. There are no words. Our language becomes that of the river. All the features of the river speak to you  and you to them through motion.  There is tension, threat, there is joy and release , and overall a deep, deep sense of flow. You are literally part of the flow of the world.”

Doug Ammons did the vast majority of his big river paddling well before the age of YouTube. Luckily a modern paddler of Doug’s pedigree named Steve Fisher can show you what Doug is referring to here:

Kotler says: “Ammon’s desire for river intimacy is rooted in an even bigger desire: the deep ache to participate in the fundamental components of creation: elemental powers, eons of time.”


I like to call this desire: Primal, and I believe it is rooted in all of us. This is why I Kayak, SUP, and Surfski, and why I believe you should too,  Paddle sports easily provide the three strongest ‘external triggers” to enter flow : 1. RISK/HIGH CONSEQUENCES, 2. RICH ENVIRONMENT and 3. DEEP EMBODIMENT. Moreover, they are sports that can keep on giving as you progress. Higher Risks, richer environments, and deeper embodiment, ad infinitum.

It can be seen in the very present moment, in the super focused flow of whitewater, surf, downwind, or paddling in confused seas. This Flow lives on the Fun/Survival edge. it can also be the Flow of long distance, hypnotic, super-rhythmic paddling, perhaps into and through the night. This is paddling at a cadence that joins with your heartbeat, changes the perception of time, and seems like it can go forever. This is better know to most as “the runners high” and its what got Tony Brown and I across the Gulf of Carpenteria with no sleep for 5 nights many moons ago.`


To put this in perspective, for the beginner, just showing up for your first paddling class often checks the Risk box. The new boat or board and body of water you will be on, checks off the Rich Environment box. Then, your whole body will be adjusting to this new activity…which is Deep Embodiment aplenty.

There is better than a coin toss chance you will enter a mild flow state in this first class. The key is that the instructors give you clear goals, immediate feedback, and keep the challenge/skill ratio right at the cusp of your capabilities.  The chances for flow to happen get higher with each of the following classes or workshops.


All of us, when beginners, first have to “Struggle”. There are no two ways about it. This is really about taking one step backwards to go two, three, or more steps forward. This is the natural “fear of the unknown”, with its its chemical bodyguard named cortisol. It says, “fight or flee”, it has a cousin called adrenalin. We need to sneak past them to get past fear and find our flow’s “ON” button. If we do this right, we can convince cortisol and adrenalin to give us a quick boost to so we can get there sooner.

Once discovered, it can unleash the most potent combination of chemicals the human body has to offer: norepinephrine, nitric oxide, dopamine, anandamide, serotonin, and oxytocin.  Flow is a multi-trillion dollar pharmaceutical industry already inside of you. Frankly, it’s how we humans have gotten here. Without it, our species would have withered on the vine of evolution long ago. Some call it magic.

In order to achieve flow on a consistent basis, you will need to have some skills and and keep developing them over time. Then you you start tapping into “Peak Performance” and unleash more Flow, and so on.


Wow, that sounds like a lot of work! I thought Kayaking and Paddle boarding were supposed to be Easy and Fun?

Most Top 10 Reason Lists for why you should kayak or SUP will often include these words: because its’ easy, fun, and anyone can do it.

Here are a couple to peruse:  10 Reasons to SUP (Stand Up Paddle) and 10 Reasons Why We Love Kayaking


All these reasons to paddle Kayaks and SUP are quite time tested and true! Often, basic flow states are achieved by just being out of the office, on a a beautiful patch of water, in nature, on a calm sunny day, with no place to be. Then, add some paddling, or maybe casting towards the Lily Pads with your favorite fishing rod. For many, this is just what the doctor and/or your soul ordered.  A simple activity, yet a true blessing. For most people, this pure “recreational” paddling is just right to help balance a busy life.

Moreover, just being near or on water has proven to be its own wonder drug in all the recent studies. Check out: Wallace Nichols Book called Blue MInd.

When Interviewed by a writer for New York Magazine many years ago, I said that: ” I believe that teaching New Yorkers how to Kayak could dramatically reduce Prozac prescriptions.”

These days I would probably say “Xanax” but I would also say that learning how to ply the NYC waters in a paddling craft is more important for more people than ever. The digital world, with all its apps and screens, is fritzing our nervous systems. It is mostly keeping us in Flows diametrically opposed state – a hyperactive Beta state. This is often felt as anxiety, with the potential to merge into depression. Think of the  “Bad Angel” constantly streaming in front of your eyes, instead of whispering in your ear.

This contrast of plying an ancient waterway, the Hudson, under ones’ own power, past the most dramatic manmade collection of buildings in the world, fosters some real Hiawatha-meets-Ayn Rand moments.


Here’s the rub–for many people, and certainly many New Yorkers ( aka Type A’s), Flow is a slippery slope. Ig you are a quick learner, high achiever, and big goal setter, then you will need to have more skills to both enter and stay in the game of Flow. Recreational paddling simply won’t do the trick. You may then find yourself going to another activity like kick boxing or climbing. Chances are, just as you are getting pretty good at those, you may also get bored; “Been there, done that…next!”.  Flow is fleeting and not too deep on this path.

Now I know it’s a tall order to become a MASTER at something and even expert is a big reach, too. However, to learn something deeper than face value, to get to its core, to know its language and then to go further, to make it a permanent part of your muscle memory –  is to go past dabbling to become really good at it. Something you can tap into for your whole life in environments like oceans, rivers, lakes, islands, forests and mountains. This is really and truly worth giving it “the proper go”, as my English friend would say.

It all starts with learning the technique. In nearly all paddle sports, the “proper” technique is counter intuitive.  This means it is quite rare that you will teach yourself the best way to do it by simply getting in a kayak, or on a SUP with a paddle, and going for it. Sure, you may get pretty strong and fit, you may be able to beat the rest of your buddies across the lake every time until one day, somebody half your size with great technique cruises by , smiles and waves goodbye.  You go back on watch three hours of YouTube, go back to the lake,  and the same result.

Good technique is 70% of paddling capacity. It easily outweighs strength and endurance in the long run.  It is the ultimate game changer when the paddling conditions get more challenging and complicated. It is best achieved in the presence of a good instructor who can teach and en-courage. A teacher who can provide some basic goals and provides immediate feedback, yet knows when to let you practice on your own. Just one good lesson can change the paradigm. Then even the YouTube videos will make more sense.


Manhattan Kayak + SUP can get you to your ONFLOW button. It starts with getting you good technique. Then adding some fitness and experience, then more technique and so on.

We have found that this learning is best not rushed. Take a class , absorb, sleep on it, practice, take the next class, etc, etc. We get people 0 to ONFlOW in 4 lessons called:

Kayak 1-2-3-4 and SUP 1-2-3-4

And yes, more often thern not, it’s best to go slow to Flow.  Taking one class at a time and practicing those skills through rentals, or a coached mid-week practice sessions.

Then, take another class. Let the skills bake in, let the body adapt, and then challenge it again. Some very fit people with a background in paddle sports, surf, or swimming may be able to go a bit faster ( i.e. take SUP 1 and 2 on same day), but then, slow the baking down to truly anchor the skills in your body for life.

The 4th class is your intro to the power of the Hudson river, and the FLOWGAMES begin in earnest. If this was a bit much, downshift and practice some more, and try again. Once you are on your way, then we keep you FLOWING with a menu of progressive tours from shorter and calmer to longer and harder, as you see fit.


After 30 years of teaching paddlers and then paddling with them far and wide, I would change my answer. The answer to the question where is your favorite place to paddle? The most fun and the most flow comes from being in my boat, or on my board, sharing it all with others. In hindsight, this was always the case. It just happens that Flow Science can prove it now.

I cherish the memories of taking my early childhood friends Mark Sevasta and Warren Newman to the Delaware river with my dad. I will never forget the first one-week kayak/camping expedition with my dad, at age 12 in the Adirondacks. The,  it was the semi epic one-week dash with my High School and college buddies covering the whole Chesapeake Bay. The term FLOW as applied to positive psychology, was barely born, and Dr. Mlihaly was just starting to change his diapers.

For most of you of adult vintage, you will find flow easier with a tribe of approximately equal paddlers who can blend their egos harmoniously. Others  with higher skills will love (and find flow) teaching family, friends, and colleagues. Universally, it is optimal ONFLOW when a group of very capable paddlers are applying their skills and teamwork in a challenging, and perhaps risky, environment. This is a full FLOW to GO Gametime dynamic. The nature of adventure, exploring the boundaries of a new environment, and  just as importantly, yourselves.


We find that our Statue Of Liberty Journey Quest, usually fills the bill for many of our advanced students, while the Epic Manhattan Circumnavigation, never disappoints.

For advanced SUP Enthusiasts there is the annual awesome SEA PADDLE around Manhattan.

The Bottom Line

We all can use a lot more FLOW in our lives and learning how to Kayak or SUP well can provide the ONFLOW button more often than not. When combined with the meditative potency of being on the water, plus the cardiovascular strength and benefits of self propulsion, you have a potent prescription for much better health, happiness, and joy.

For those of you who have taken our Kayak or SUP Basics 1-2-3 , or 1-2-3-4 Series (or equivalent), please consider any and all of our paddling clinics and keep your FLOW …ON for whenever and wherever you paddle.



2 Responses to 10 Best Reasons To Learn How To Paddle a Kayak or Paddleboard

  1. This article is great! It came at a time when I was wondering why exactly I’ve become passionate about paddling, even though I’m an eternal beginner. I do believe I enter the Flow, even at this level. I’ve been kayaking (with incorrect technique) on a sit-on-top for years, I didn’t always love it. Then I fell in love with paddle boarding at the age of 60. I took your SUP 4 basics course last summer. I started the Kayak 4 basics class this summer, with the thought I’d have a better chance of graduating to taking a trip across the river on a kayak than on the board. Learning proper technique makes such a huge difference! Your instructors and other staff are enthusiastic and very helpful. Thank you!

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