Kayaking ... a Sport for Fat Ladies

For all you plus size women out there that are sick of looking at the bikini-clad girls on the beach swatting the volleyball, and you chunky girls who can't keep up with the trim chics jogging, the cyclists whizzing by, the yoga freaks bending, the pilate divas focus on their "core," ... finally there is a low-impact sport that does not involve walking. Walking? Why is that always our exercise of choice? Probably because too much would "jiggle" uncontrollably if we tried anything more physically stressful.  I like a good walk just as much as the next girl, but it does get boring.  I get tired of seeing the same things.

Kayaking is something a fat lady can do.... as long as you can fit in the kayak. Let's start by understanding that I'm referring to "flat water" kayaking, not sea kayaking or white-water kayaking. There are plenty of kayaks out there with open or very wide pilot areas that are safe and easy to maneuver on flat water.  Kayaking gives you a great upper-body workout with the benefit of actually getting to see something, and it can be different every time.  When you get tired, just coast for awhile.

I have a mango colored Heritage Featherlite kayak with padded seat, storage in front and back and a removable drainage plug. It has an open pilot area (big girls can fit) and storage capacity for a bag to carry a camera, a journal, hat, sunglasses, gloves, water .... and SNACKS!  These kayaks are ideal for all day trips and light enough for the average healthy woman to easily load on the car top - we use the Yakima J-Racks which fit nicely on our Subaru Forester.

The kayak is about 50 lbs.  I also throw the "Skinny Minny" Step Stool  (really, this isn't a joke - that's what it's called) in the back of the Forester with my paddle, carrying bag and lifejacket.  With the assistance of the step-stool I can load and unload the kayak by myself and go wherever I want, whenever I want.

There's something liberating about having your own watercraft and the freedom to paddle around and see the sites not accessible to any of the skinny girls jogging on the road.  I've seen otter, bald eagles, wild ponies (Assateague National Seashore), scads of waterfowl, terrapins and some of the most breathtaking scenery in the Mid and North Atlantic region.  My favorite kayaking jaunt is still the Great Pocomoke River in Worcester / Somerset Counties on Maryland's Lower Eastern Shore.  The swamps, bald cypress trees, wildlife and untouched landscape is to die for.  I recommend Dividing Creek and Corkers Creek - both off the Pocomoke.  Second best kayaking spot?... Stonington Maine on Deer Isle, one of the largest archipelagos in the North Atlantic. I paddled the trail from Stonington to McGlathery Island.

On the Chesapeake I've kayaked the Nassawango Creek, Barren Creek, Blackwater Wildlife Refuge, The Upper Choptank, Marshy Hope Creek, Tuckahoe River,  The Big and Little Annemessex Rivers, Ape's Hole Creek, Jenkins Creek, Tred Avon River, Fishing Bay, Manokin River, Sinepuxent Bay, Chincoteague Bay, Tom's Cove, the Wicomico and Nanticoke Rivers.  I'm anxious to try the water trail in Talbot County, Maryland  near Tilghman Island that weaves through Back Creek and Eastern Bay.   I'd also like to explore some trails in the northern part of the Bay region and Delaware.

Suggestions are welcome.

Here's a good guide for exploring Maryland's water trails.

  1. Do not go alone until you've gone with someone else several times and mastered the art of paddling in a strong current, turning and stopping.  These are easy skills to pick up, but vital in an emergency.  
  2. Pick a lake or creek for your first few trips.  Paddling will be easy and your skills will develop quicker. Strong currents can be daunting.
  3. Be sure to tell someone (not on the trip) where you intend to kayak and what time you expect to be back.
  4. Wear you life jacket.
  5. Take a camera.  I store mine in a zip lock bag stashed in a canvas bag behind the pilot area until I'm ready to use it. This keeps the moisture off.
  6. Don't go out in extreme heat.  Save that for when you're a pro ... same with cold temps below 40 degrees.
  7. Take a journal or digital recorder.  Write down what you see, how the landscape looks, what the surroundings cause you to think about.  This makes for great reading later.
  8. Take a cell phone.  I've ruined or damaged two cell phones kayaking, but I'd still never be out on the water without one.  Have the phone number for the local marine authority already plugged into the phone, in case you need assistance. A cell phone is a crucial tool if you experience any difficulty while kayaking.
  9. Take a compass and chart (map) of the region.  It's easy to lose your bearings, especially in flat water regions.  NEVER follow the shore line as a guide.  Shorelines twist and turn.  Keep your chart handy so you know where you're going and how to return.
  10. Consider your launch spot .... it's usually easy to get in your kayak and scoot INTO the water.  But consider how you're going to get OUT of the water.  Launching at a marsh edge can be easy .. but try to get that kayak up against the same edge and then get out of the kayak without having to get in the water... you may not even know the depth.  When beginning, you may want to choose a paved boat ramp.
Happy kayaking my chubby friends!  Please let me know about the fun you have. Here are a few kayak pics from my collection.
A great blue heron landing on a loblolly pine tree.  Monie Creek.  Somerset County, MD.  This creek is very near my home and quite secluded.  Wildlife abounds and the water is almost always flat and serene. 

Kayaking with the Eastern Shore TADD (Tourism, Arts, and Downtown Development) group on the Choptank River in Cambridge.  The Choptank is a beautiful river with several protected launch sites.  Cambridge is a great town to spend a day.

Sunrise paddle on Passamaquoddy Bay near Eastport, Maine.  Our campsite overlooked this area.  We launched a few feet from from our camper.  The water in this region is famous for the undercurrents and whirlpools.  Dan and I both got sucked into one and were nearly carried to Cananda before we got out of it.  That was a looooong paddle back to the campsite.  After that, we stowed our kayaks for the rest of the trip.

Deer Isle Harbor near Stonington, Maine.  This water was a little rough, but beautiful scenery throughout the archipelago.  I got the sh#t scared out of me when a seal popped up out of the water just behind me, splashed, dove and swam under the kayak only to rise and splash me in the face when he surfaced.

Still one of my all time favorites - Assateague National Seashore where the wild ponies roam the beaches.  This photo was taken on the Virginia side.  There's a great little sheltered cove for paddlers (Tom's Cove).  Just over the dunes is the roaring Atlantic.  You can hear the waves crashing, as you paddle in serene shelter of the cove on flat water. The ponies are almost always visible from this cove.


  1. Great post. My husband kayaks, but I'm too chicken. I can't swim, so kayaking might be out of my league.

  2. I came across your page while looking for a kayak with a wide enough cockpit for my big rump. I will have to look into the Heritage featherlite. I currently use an inflatable kayak and hit the rivers, but they require a bit more paddling when trying to keep up with the reg kayakers. Whitewater/rivers is what I enjoy the most and think this may work for me. Thanks for your input. Sandie

  3. I went kayaking about 10 years ago and had a great time right up until we pulled up to the dock and I couldn't get out of the kayak. It wasn't because of the fit but because of the strenth it took to lift myself out of the kayak while keeping balanced. I did have a life jacket but I live in Alaska and really didn't want to end up in the water. What I would like to find is some help on exiting the craft. Or perhaps I just need to do some strenthening excercises for the lower body. Denise

    1. Anonymous9:42 PM

      Getting out of the kayak is the most difficult and awkward part of the trip for most paddlers. Even the more experienced kayakers can have a little trouble here as they get older and a little less flexible.

      I've seen newbies do better than the experienced just because they're younger, thinner and more agile.

    2. Getting in and getting out is the most difficult part. The age factor is significant. I found it helpful to practice a little at home with the kayak on the ground. If you can get to know your own body in that craft before you have to get in or out when the kayak is in the water it's a little more comforting.

      Also, having a friend who can give you a hand is helpful. I still think the feeling of paddling at your own pace in a beautiful environment is worth the inconvenience of managing the getting in and getting out.

  4. Anonymous9:54 PM

    Where can I buy a kayak to fit a 300lb women that is forgood lake or calm rivers and has a storage space in the front or at least cupholders and a place to statch a lunchbag.

    1. Any Kayak / Canoe Outfitter can help you with choosing the best kayak for you. Most kayaks suited for flatwater can accommodate up to 300 Lbs.

      Also, I use the Yakuzzi drink holder (link below). My kayak didn't come with one and I love this little attachment. Please let us know how it turned out for you. http://amzn.to/1a4XZqS

    2. Anonymous8:14 PM

      i have a field and stream eagle talon 12 am 56 years young and just started ;ast year / I am going out tomarrow and cant wait.

    3. Anonymous5:52 PM

      I am a 307lb women age 44 with fibomayagia and I kayak rivers. I have a open 12 foot bought at Walmart for 400 dollars.

  5. This is a GREAT blog, please keep it up! I am 189# and 57 years old and I am working on all of this!

  6. My first kayak was a Pathfinder 100 (Potomac), it is friendly and easy. Just find something and play for about a year, research, listen and find the perfect thing for you!

    1. Great advice Deborah. Did you kayak much this past summer?

  7. Anonymous12:21 PM

    We recently went kayaking in calm waters with a larger lady and she capsized. Then (due to her weight) was unable to get back in the boat, prompting a professional rescue. Also, rather embarrasingly for the young lady, the rescuers were unable to drag her into their boat, again due to her size. So is kayaking for everyone - yes absolutely! But, please be aware that when one member of the group becomes in danger, all members are in danger so think carefully before pursuing your chosen sport.

    1. I don't know of too many people - fat or not so fat who can get back into a kayak from the water after capsizing. I wouldn't even try.

      Secondly, the kind of kayak one operates is important. A wide, long kayak suitable for flatwater is best. Sometimes the shorter ones or the very narrow (racing style) kayaks are much more prone to tipping. I've been in a kayak well over 100 times in all sorts of weather and in tidal waters where whitecaps were breaking over my kayak, but I have never felt like I was going to capsize.

      However, I've seen inexperienced kayakers get into racing kayaks and wobble all over the water.

      So I will still affirm that in the proper kayak, a heavy person can still enjoy kayaking on flat water without fear of capsizing.

      Thanks so much for your comments and for stopping by the blog.

    2. Anonymous10:37 AM

      I'm pretty heavy (5ft, 4in, 250 lbs) and not in great shape, but getting into a kayak from the water is possible with the right gear. I use a rescue strap. It's basically just a strap that you wrap around the cowling on the cockpit of the kayak and it hangs down like a stirrup, making it easier to get back it. If there's nobody to counterbalance the kayak while you're getting in you can also use a paddle float as an outrigger. It can be done and it helps to practice, even if you feel awkward. I feel a lot safer knowing I can do it if I have to.

    3. Fabulous piece of advice. Thanks for sharing it. Never heard of that technique but will look into it next Spring and perhaps share it in a blog post.

  8. Anonymous11:53 PM

    Thank you for posting all of this! I have wanted to Kayak forever but thought I would need to lose a bunch of weight to do it. Year after year I have put off kayaking. I feel with some practice (and thank you for posting about wider kayaks and the rescue strap!) I feel like I might have a chance to do it!

  9. I do plan to do this for fun and exercise, along with biking and walking at other time. I am trying to tone up my body and drop a few pounds but an not overweight, just heavier than I personally and happy with. My enthusiasm was slightly dampered at finding and reading this artilce, though I did laugh and decide I didn't care that it is for fat ladies in your opinion. I would enjoy the more fast paced kayaking and canoeing as well as white water rafting ( I have done this only twice) but will be doing the flat water kayaking as that is what is mostly available to where I live.

  10. Hi Mindie.

    I came across, and enjoyed your blog, when I was trying to find a flotation vest for kayaking (flat water on the East River in NYC of all places) that would appropriately, unobtrusively, and -- dare I hope- unludicrously, fit my 50 yo 5'3" 180lb 38DDDD+ body.

    I was curious to know which vest you use and whether or not you would recommend it or have tried some that you would specifically recommend avoiding.

    As an aside, I too am adopted and was touched by your post on the subject. I turned 50 just a few weeks ago and thought a great deal about my 18yo birth mother and her traumatic experience of my arrival into the world.

    Thanks in advance for any guidance you might provide!

    1. hey there. I don't have a preference for life jackets and am not big-busted so the women's large typically fits me. But I checked with a friend who is big busted and she recommends the Moxie Life Jacket for women. http://amzn.to/1qb4OBn

      It comes in XXX sizes and is cut to fit a woman's body with adjustable pads. Have a look. Thanks so much for stopping by the blog and commenting. Wishing you many happy kayaking experiences.

    2. Anonymous11:01 AM

      You could use a fishing pfd-they usually have a mesh upper half with most of the flotation padding around the midsection. they also have lower and wider arm opening so those lovely 'bat-flaps' on ur upper arms can fit without ending up with chafed armpits. plus you can get them in mens sizes which works very very well for taller women as the womens vests are typically built for the small framed 'average' woman. (average my hind end!). I think also that you would be able to re-enter the kayak after capsizing by floating on your belly lengthwise next to the kayak then sliding yourself back onto the deck/over the cockpit so that you end up laying on top as you would on a surfboard. You could then maneuver yourself back into the cockpit by slidding in on one side, leg first and rolling until your butt hit the seat again. You might have a fair bit of water to bail out of the kayak, but you would be inside again...one last thing-if the people that 'rescued'the heavy woman from the water couldn't pull her out of the water, what would they have done with a man, with average 'healthy' weights nearing the 200 mark and heavier or taller men? I don't think they knew what they were doing, if they did she would have been able to at least re enter some variety of boat again. poor woman!

    3. Very thoughtful comments ....I love the description of how to get into a kayak from the water. Also, you're so right about the life-jacket sizes. I'll check out the fishing pfds. Thanks!

  11. Anonymous10:31 PM

    As a 'full-sized woman' (nearly as wide as I am tall) I had my doubts, but I really wanted to try kayaking. I also have MS so am unsteady on my feet and hoped that I'd regain some sense of balance on my well-endowed rear. The cottage I had rented with friends had a couple of sea kayaks, in which one sits above the level of the water. Everyone else could do it with no problem; I capsized numerous times (in shallow calm water) before giving up. Do you suppose the problem is my lack of balance, or the fact that my weight was above the water line? It was so frustrating to watch my friends enjoying a new adventure while I stood by feeling like a complete failure. I gave myself a point for trying.