My First Kayaking Experience as a Plus Size Person - Joseph, Oregon

My First Kayaking Experience as a Plus Size Person - Joseph, Oregon -

I've been trying to push myself out of my comfort zone more often these past few years.  Whether it's axe-throwing, learning about herbs, cooking new recipes, trying watercolor techniques, or pushing myself to go out in public without makeup on, I've been encouraging myself to try lots of different activities and ways of being.  Plus, all of these experiences have taught me more lessons about myself and my capabilities and brought me joy in surprising ways. 

Another thing that was definitely difficult for me to do was to let my husband plan an entire vacation for us by himself, not because I thought him incompetent, but because I needed the control and structure of an itinerary to feel comfortable.

So I let him plan a road trip.

I also asked him to only tell me what I needed to know regarding it.  I knew we were doing some hiking, doing watercolor drawings of the landscapes, and kayaking.  I expressed my concerns about what I thought the limitations of kayaking might be for either of us in terms of plus-size people being thought about or welcomed in outdoor activities.  Sean listened to my concerns and found answers for all of them, along with a lovely place to rent kayaks from for our excursion.

Today I'm sharing my first experience kayaking and thoughts on what I would do differently next time.  I was overcome with anxiety before my first kayaking experience because it was really hard to find representation of fat people kayaking. I wanted to see people who looked like me out there having fun to ease my worry, but that was incredibly hard to find. So I decided that I would gather my inner strength and face the challenge head-on so that one day I could share my experience to help you feel prepared and courageous enough to get out there and kayak!

What I Wore

My First Kayaking Experience as a Plus Size Person - Joseph, Oregon -
This is AFTER kayaking, so I was soaking wet and sore; but I was also proud of myself!

(I was about a size 28 when I went on this trip, just FYI)
I wasn't quite sure what to wear for this because I had no idea what to expect.  All of the photos I found online were all over the place in terms of what other people were wearing - from bikinis to hoodies and pants. 

I decided on an activewear set and water shoes.  Water shoes were recommended by the kayaking rental company because other shoes are not permitted inside the kayak.  I was happy I didn't go barefoot because I needed the shoes to grip the notches in the kayak for better balance.  My activewear set was perfectly fine as clothing, but I wore regular underwear underneath when I should have opted for a swimwear bottom as underwear.  Your butt and legs will be wet the whole time.

In addition to my clothes, I brought a hat, a bottle of water, sunglasses, and my phone in a waterproof case that was on a lanyard around my neck.  This case allowed us to safely take photos and videos without worrying about our phones, but sometimes the photos turned out blurry because of the nature of shooting through thick, hot plastic that has water drops on it.  With the sun beating down the first hour, our phones overheated often, but we dropped the plastic bag in the water to cool the phone down and all was well.

Wallowa Lake

My First Kayaking Experience as a Plus Size Person - Joseph, Oregon -

Wallowa Lake is located in the northeastern corner of Oregon.  It's a glacial lake with clear water and a gorgeous mountain backdrop.  The lake and surrounding areas are incredibly picture-esque, as is the downtown street of Joseph, Oregon.  There is a lot to see and do nearby, especially if you love hiking and outdoor activities.  Still, even just driving around the countryside is definitely worth it, and one of our favorite things to do on vacation.

Sean chose this area because it is called the "Swiss Alps of Oregon" and the nearby Hells Canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon. (We were going to go see the canyon, but roads were closed due to forest fires in the area.)  While Sean hoped there would be some snow on the tops of the mountains by the time we arrived in late September (which I'm sure looks even more majestic), we were still captivated by the beautiful views.

Wallowa Lake has lateral moraines running along both sides.  These are formations made of rock and sediment shaped by glaciers.  The incredibly helpful and knowledgeable boat rental guide told us about these moraines excitedly and said this was the only lake in the United States with this formation.  He said it was incredibly special that we were having our first kayaking experience in such a special place.

I will also add that this area resides firmly on the land of the Nez Perce.  The town was named after Chief Joseph who led the Wallowa tribe in the late 1800s.  During this period, the Nez Perce were forcibly removed from their land by the United States government, pushed to a small area in Idaho where they continued to be pursued by white violence.

After the 1,200-mile Nez Perce War, Chief Joseph and his people were recognized as formidable warriors, though they were still pursued, lied to, and imprisoned. Chief Joseph continues to be renowned for his principles and passion.

I felt like the town of Joseph was refreshing in that it didn't seem to shy away from its Native American history, but rather seemed to celebrate and honor it (as it should) instead of whitewashing its story.  

Jo Paddle Boat Rental

My First Kayaking Experience as a Plus Size Person - Joseph, Oregon -

We rented kayaks through Jo Paddle in Joseph, Oregon.  I have been wanting to kayak for a while now, so I have looked at a lot of boat rental websites.  Typically, finding information about specific weight limits has been really hard to find, but Jo Paddle has all the info right on their website.

The company has sit-on-top kayaks (you aren't sitting down in it, but rather on a seat a little higher), glass-bottom kayaks and SUP boards, and glass-bottom kayak guided tours.  We wanted to do the glass-bottom night tour, but worried about feeling confident at kayaking for the first time, in the dark, in the cold.  Now that I've done regular kayaking, I would totally do the nighttime tour.

Jo Paddle also provides the life jackets, which Sean and I both had no problems with.

Both owners were so friendly and kind.  I'm always worried about how people will treat me in an outdoor space like this because of my size.  From the beginning of our experience, I felt nothing but kindness and support.  Joshua talked to us for a while when he came back to pick up the kayaks.  He was so knowledgeable about things to do, great hiking trails, places to eat, etc.  So even if you don't want to kayak, stop into their store to ask questions.  They have a ton of helpful suggestions for what to do around Joseph!


The cool glass-bottom boats (that also light up!!) have a max weight limit of 420 pounds, or 220 per seat.  With this one, you do have to sit down in it, so there's less wiggle room than the sit-on-top.

The sit-on-top kayaks generally have a larger weight capacity.  Those numbers may vary by brand of kayak.  The ones at Jo Paddle had a weight limit of 440 for single kayaks, and 540 for tandem kayaks.
I found the kayak to be pretty comfortable and was happy to have the seatback to lean on from time to time.  Foot notches also helped a lot in helping me find my balance.

My Experience

My First Kayaking Experience as a Plus Size Person - Joseph, Oregon -

We met the owners at the lake, got suited up in our life vests, helped into the kayaks, and given hands-on paddle instruction and safety tips.  Getting into the kayak was pretty easy.  They held my hands and I eased myself from the boat ramp into the kayak.

We were released into the lake to spend three hours roaming around to our heart's content.  I spent the first thirty minutes getting acclimated to paddling and keeping my balance, trying to find just the right way to sit or lean to be the most comfortable and make paddling easier.  (The life vest is poofy, so it can make things a little more cumbersome.)  My preferred way was to brace my legs, sit up straight, lean forward slightly, and row like the wind!

Sean and I spent the entirety of those three hours paddling almost the entire length of the lake and back, which I think was about six miles.  The sun beat down on us for the first hour, which overheated our phones that were in plastic cases (dropping them in the water helped cool them down) and gave me specifically placed sunburns between the straps of my water shoes and behind the mesh insets of my leggings.  A year later, I still have the tan lines on my ankles and feet (granted, my thyroid medication seems to make me more prone to sunburns), so wear sunscreen ALL over!!

It was so much fun to feel the wind in my hair when I got to paddling fast!  The water is crystal clear, but leaning over to look down made me disoriented at times (it's mesmerizing) and also threw me off balance a little, so be cautious!

At the end of our time, getting out of the kayak was way less graceful.  I was incredibly worried about falling in and looking stupid.  I had no idea what getting out was going to look like because we couldn't just paddle back to land and the kayak couldn't scrape the concrete boat ramp.

My legs felt like jelly from helping me hold my balance, so not only did they not have the strength, in the moment, to push me out of the kayak, but I couldn't even get my feet under me to push myself up and out.  In the end, I did fall into the water and was helped up by Sean and the boat rental guide.  Maybe I did look dorky, but I bet you most people fall in at some point.  Even though I was a little embarrassed, I laughed it off and went about my day.

I was incredibly tired and sore by the end, but I had a blast and would definitely do it again!

My First Kayaking Experience as a Plus Size Person - Joseph, Oregon -

My First Kayaking Experience as a Plus Size Person - Joseph, Oregon -

My First Kayaking Experience as a Plus Size Person - Joseph, Oregon -

My First Kayaking Experience as a Plus Size Person - Joseph, Oregon -

My First Kayaking Experience as a Plus Size Person - Joseph, Oregon -

What I Would Do Differently
Knowing what to do is as important to me as knowing what NOT to do.  Please learn from my mistakes and take these thoughts into consideration as you prepare:
  • I wouldn't wear regular underwear next time.  I would know that my butt and legs are going to be wet the entire time and would wear some kind of swim bottoms as underwear.
  • Wear sunscreen all over your body, on any visible parts of your body, no matter what you think the sun might do or not do to you.
  • Personally, I feel like 3 hours was a long time for a first-time kayaking experience.  If there is a shorter amount of time available, try that if you have doubts.  Otherwise, take more frequent paddling breaks if you can.
  • Also, if you do have a 3+ hour excursion, bring a snack.  We really needed some kind of Power Up in the middle of our time.
  • You will be sore. Take your painkiller of choice beforehand. (I prefer Advil Dual Action.)  Even better if you can take a hot bath or soak in a hot tub afterward to help those aches and pains.
  • I didn't bring any kind of gloves because I didn't know I would need them.  If you can get a grippy fingerless paddling glove, DO.  I will definitely be getting some before I kayak again.  Between my hands being wet, the heat, and the constant friction of the paddle handle in my hands, I got some pretty gnarly blisters that were very painful.
  • You will probably fall in the water. Don't worry about it. Accept it. It's a water-based activity. So what? You're okay. It'll be fine. No big deal.

My First Kayaking Experience as a Plus Size Person - Joseph, Oregon -

My First Kayaking Experience as a Plus Size Person - Joseph, Oregon -
I loved paddling at a good speed and then leaning back to feel the breeze as I dipped my hand into the water.  Serenity!

My First Kayaking Experience as a Plus Size Person - Joseph, Oregon -
I'm famous with Sean for being super nervous about an activity, taking baby steps to do it,
and then taking off on my own within minutes! I did the same thing when I snorkeled for the first time.

My First Kayaking Experience as a Plus Size Person - Joseph, Oregon -

My First Kayaking Experience as a Plus Size Person - Joseph, Oregon -

My First Kayaking Experience as a Plus Size Person - Joseph, Oregon -

My First Kayaking Experience as a Plus Size Person - Joseph, Oregon -
The sharp burn to tan lines because I forgot to SPF my legs and feet since they were covered in leggings and water shoes. 
A year later, these lines are still on my feet, though thankfully more pale.

Have you been kayaking?  Do you have some helpful tips to add for beginners?

No comments