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I recently reached out to a well known kayaker about helping in one of my instructional videos for Send School (–BCCi8XoOtNWOw). Her response was simply, “…I don’t believe you can learn kayaking from YouTube.” Is that true? Do you really have to learn slowly and only from the people available to you in your area? Unfortunately, not everyone gets to kayak every day or lives in an area where they could. Even fewer, have access to paddlers with the skills to truly jump start their progression.

While it is true that you must actually kayak to become a better kayaker and there is no true substitute for quality paid instruction, there are numerous studies that show learning happens faster with visual aids, including videos. The reality is that if you want to progress quickly, you have to learn good technique from somewhere.

When I was kid learning to kayak, I learned more from watching instructional videos and action videos on repeat and playing with sticks and foamies in a creek than from any instructor I had access to. In fact, most of the instructors I had access to rarely paddled above class III and didn’t really have or understand the updated skills I was trying to learn.

After studying the form, techniques, and lines from the pros of the time, I was able to begin progressing more quickly. I could take what I learned and apply it in practice when I was finally able to kayak. Did I mention I lived 4-5 hours from the closest whitewater? If I had only tried to progress my kayaking when I could get to a river, I likely never would have progressed at all. Instead, using video analysis and engaging with any water I could, I was able to pick up my first sponsors at 16 while living 8 hours from where I normally paddled.

Videos alone may be useless, but it’s a well studied fact that videos are helpful to learning. You can, in fact, learn from videos and video review. The challenge is that very few true experts make ‘how to’ videos, at least detailed ones, or even offer instruction. If you’re willing to do some searching and sorting, you can likely find some good ones though. I started my own channel, to make the lesser known techniques, tips, and techniques more accessible to the everyday paddler so they, you, can enjoy the time on the water as much as I do.

Some experts like to scoff at entry level paddlers with GoPros, but the truth is, there are lots of ways to use that video to learn too. POV video provides a great picture of decision making during river running, stroke placement, etc. Trading GoPro video with your friends is an excellent way to analyze your paddling from a third person perspective. Comparing and contrasting those videos with the instructional content you find online or with videos of the pros you see online, is a great way see where you’re making mistakes or to find a direction for improvement.

Of course there is no substitute for actual kayaking experience or in person instruction from a quality instructor or school. You can, however, use videos and video instruction to boost your growth as a paddler much more than you could without it. So yes, you can learn kayaking from videos, just not from videos alone.