ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL)- When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, people rushed to find an activity that kept them out of the house, and away from others. A few months later, kayaks were all but impossible to find; sold out on every website and in every retailer.

The easy-going water sport has gained a lot of popularity over the past year. However, even though it looks safe and easy, there are many things people need to know, including rules that are set by the TWRA.

One great organization that helps teach you the skills you need is the Nolichucky Outdoor Learning Institute. Offering a variety of classes for a variety of skill levels, there’s something for everyone. Trail Team 11 chose to learn the basics of kayaking from a NOLI Instructor.

Debbie Brisco is a Flat Water Kayak, Safety & Rescue Instructor for NOLI and says the number one thing that people need to have is a life jacket, and they need to have it easily accessible. “If you’ve tried to get a life jacket on in the water, while you’re treading water, you know it’s very, very difficult. People think they can do it, but it’s floating; you’re not,” explains Brisco.

Remember, it’s required by TWRA that every person have a personal flotation device easily accessible on the boat. For those 12 and under, they have to have to be wearing that life jacket and anyone under 5 will have to wear one at all times as well, even within a certain distance from the shore, depending on where you are.

Before you hit the water, there are some things that you need to prepare for. Remember to wear water-wicking clothes, wet shoes, a hat, and don’t forget your bug spray and sunscreen. Also, don’t forget a dry bag. This will help keep all of your essentials, like your keys, phone and wallet safe. However, make sure to keep your water out and in the kayak, so you can access it at all times.

Kayakers are also encouraged to bring a map of the lake they’re on. While it may not seem like it, it can be easy to get turned around on the water.

Once you’re on the water, you’re going to have to get around, Debbie says you need to get your knuckles aligned on the top of the paddle first then, “you want to be able to make a goal.” See her full examples in the full Trail Team video above.

Debbie also demonstrates many other maneuvers that you need to know on the water as well, including a forward stroke, a sweep stroke, stopping motion, a backward stroke and a side drawn, all shown in the full video above.

While on the water, it’s important to always be aware of where you’re going and the other boats around you. As a kayaker on a lake like Watauga, you’re usually the smallest boat on the water, which means you have to be careful. To stay safe, kayakers are told to stay close to shore and avoid the middle channel where other speed boats and pontoons are passing through.

Brisco says, “It’s really important to stay near the edges of the lake, don’t be near the middle of the channel unless you’re making a crossing. If you’re making a crossing and you happen to flip over, you might want to blow your whistle, and that means help. Blow three long whistles, three long toots, and that means help come to me.”

Remember, having a sound device is required by the TWRA. Many kayakers use whistles, but there are other options. “You can use an air horn if you really want something loud, but the whistle is really for kayakers, that’s all they need,” said Brisco.

However, while you’re told to ride the lake along the edge, you need to be aware of downed trees in the water. “Don’t get too close to the edge of the lake, because there’s lots of downfall along the edge and you don’t want to get tangled up in that,” Brisco said.

No matter what you’re doing though, it’s sure to help keep you in shape for a long time.

“It’s been really good for my body, I’m not that young anymore, without revealing my age,” said Brisco. “And it keeps me in shape, it keeps my abs in shape, it keeps my shoulders and it keeps my knees and legs in shape.”

If you would like to rent a kayak and bring it to Watauga Lake, there are plenty of places to do so. Check out the list below, and give the companies a call if you have any questions.

Kayak Rentals:

  • Fish Springs Marina- https://www.fishspringsmarina.com/
  • Watauga Kayak- https://www.wataugakayak.com/
  • Boots Off- https://www.bootsoff.camp/