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Introduction to Kayaking in Sri Lanka

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man


You will never run the same river twice! That’s what we all kayakers say. And that’s true! But that’s not what I want to share with you today! (Maybe later) I’m here to convince you (which I would) that kayaking in Sri Lanka is the best outdoor activity you can do even on your own! But I’ll do it in a series of blogs so you’ll have to stick with me like a paddle to your KAYAK.

Who am I to talk about kayaking ?

If you read this blog you’ll wonder what is kayaking. Who is it for? Is it safe?(the most important question) but First of all who is this guy trying to convince you that kayaking in Sri Lanka is a wonderful hobby that opens you up to a whole new dimension? So let me in few words introduce myself.

I’m Sameera LIyan AKA SAM as most would know me. I am the CEO of EcoGrip an adventure-based (Obviously most of them are kayak/Canoe trips) activity provider in Sri Lanka for the last 10 years.

kayaking on mahaweli lake in sri lanka
This is me. People call me SAM

I have been kayaking Sri Lankan waters for more than 16 years and I would say that I never ever regret that I made the decision to grab a paddle and hit the water. Later, I managed to get an international qualification from a world reputed body (British Canoeing Association). So, you could be rest assured I know what I talk about (about Kayaking/Canoeing of Course).

I fell in love with this beautiful hobby and I was wondering why it is not so popular or why people don’t take up kayaking in Sri Lanka. And out of my experience, I know the most common questions about kayaking that I’d love to address. So this series of blogs will take you through what is kayaking from a Sri Lankans perspective.

The topics I’d share with you in a nutshell would be,

  • Benefits and disadvantages of kayaking in Sri Lanka
  • Why Kayaking is the best way to experience Sri Lanka
  • Safety equipment and accessories,
  • Basic types of kayaks/Canoes and its uses,
  • How to choose a kayak based on your need,
  • Basic rules of kayaking,
  • Types of water, how to read water (Local Waters)
  • What to take when canoeing and kayaking
  • Best places to start kayaking in Sri Lanka
  • A detailed guide about Kayaking routes with loads of memories and photos!

At the end of this series I’m confident that you will be graduated to a master paddler in theory of kayaking waterways of Sri Lanka.

view on mahaweli river taken while kayaking
Views that you get <3 when Kayaking in Sri Lanka

History of Kayaking

So everyone will want to know what is kayaking. but wait a minute! Let’s dig out some history of KAYAKING. Interestingly you’d be amazed that if I tell you that kayaking is 4000 years old! The first folks to build and use kayaks were Inuit, Aleut, and Yup’ik people. Wait a minute, are they called “Eskimos”? Yea! They are called Eskimos and they live in modern day Greenland, Canada, and Alaska. These folks made their kayaks by stitching animal’s skins together often from seals (There were no animal right
groups unfortunately during that period) and stretching this material over a frame made from wood or whalebone skeletons (Yes the biggest mammal). The water proofing was done obviously with animal fat (The bad cholesterol)

The “KAYAK” means the hunter’s boat. It was well suited as it served that purpose since kayaks were very quiet, making them ideal for hunting and stalking prey from a close distance thanks to the “quietness”. Ok enough of that history stuff! Let’s see what’s in it for you!

Kayaking in Sri Lanka, WHY ?

You may ask why kayaking is the best way to experience Sri Lanka, the answer is simple! There are over 16 rivers that extends over 100kms and end number of streams and canals and with gifted natural beauty and wait I forgot so many tanks, Sri Lanka is a country made for kayaking.

If you ask me why kayaking is a good sport to choose in Sri Lanka I could discuss that with you while we are kayaking through the Mahaweli river over 4 days! But that’s for a latter post. I’ll just mention few to get you interested. But I’ll break them down to physical and psychological.

The physical advantages of kayaking/Canoeing

  • Improved cardiovascular and aerobic fitness
  • Increased muscle strength, particularly in the back, arms, shoulders and chest, from moving the paddle
  • Increased torso and leg strength, as the strength to power a canoe or kayak comes mainly from rotating the torso and applying pressure with your legs
  • Reduced risk of wear-and-tear on joints and tissues, since paddling is a low impact activity.
  • Flexibility (yea you could bend it like a Russian gymnast)

The psychological advantages of kayaking/Canoeing

  • Improved reflexes (improves decision making)
  • Promotes inner peace
  • Relieves stress and anxiety
  • Peaceful, meditative and exhilarating

So now I got enough attention, let me take you through the disadvantages of Kayaking/Canoeing in Sri Lanka! A must-read as I must be honest and true to you. Just as the yin yang, Batman and Joker, there’s good and bad and let’s not deny it.

Why people are afraid of Kayaking?

The key issue is the social barrier or the psychological dilemma about the fear of water. Yes your wife, mom or girlfriend will tell you it’s a dangerous hobby! (If you’re a girl simply adapt the situation and add your dad too) Well they don’t know what kayaking is but all they know is people getting drowned in local canoes overloaded with people and no safety equipment so the blame is on the rivers and tanks. So you have to be gentle with them. There will be me and some die hard kayakers to convince you against whole society so let’s not weigh the two sides of that scale.

Kayaking is done with a lot of training self-discipline and knowledge that will help you to be a pro and also with a number of safety equipment to avoid injuries.

The other issue is lack of places to learn it, try it or lack of inputs and pool of people to help each other.

It is a costly sport, we are trying to make it accessible!

Kayaking is comparatively expensive (relative to hiking, swimming) and you don’t know where to start.

But it’s always debatable about the cost vs. the unique experience that presents, just imagine that you paddle through a quiet river and the landscapes are unique and only you can see it from that perspective. Or if you are an adrenalin junkie you could choose a white water kayaking stretch (you would know more about this later but white water means fast flowing water with obstacles and rapids) that will take your level of satisfaction to another level with lot of calculations and decisions made in quick time. If you take whitewater kayaking you’ll also spend some time in water and training will be totally different from idle kayaking (Flat water kayaking).

Unique Experience

You will come face to face with best of wildlife and sometimes very unique moments where a white-bellied sea eagle will catch its prey and fly over your head with fish still alive trying to grasp the last breath. Or a crocodile who gets scared by the sound of your paddle will shy away to water without letting you see him for an extra moment.

A wild elephant will cross your kayak in few hundred feet and he’d not even care to look at you.

All these events will question you about the movies you have watched your whole life, where you’ll see a crock who’s tipping your boat and grab you alive or a killer elephant that’ll pick you up and smash you in the ground.

This is an actual photo taken during our Mahaweli Expedition

It is a new dimension in Sri Lanka

Kayaking in Sri Lanka will help you to admire the village life and get influenced by simple things like a frugal meal, a simple dress, basic equipment to manage day to day life as you paddle through the remote parts in Sri Lanka. And most of all sometimes lack of mobile signals will let you have your own space in total isolation. Yes that time you get for yourself can be highly addicted and that you’ll crave for more of it, just like morphine.

And if you’re in to archeology you’ll see some sites archeological sites in Sri Lanka that’s only accessible by a kayak or a Canoe making it a trophy in your collection of exclusive places you’ve been.

OK so by now you would’ve decided if it’s for me or not? Well if it’s for you let me tell you that you are one of the luckiest folks who can open your world to a total new dimension.

Kayaking in Sri Lanka is a gift you shouldn’t refuse and with the right help and resources you could be a professional and responsible kayaker in Sri Lanka. Don’t forget to contact me for any help and see you soon on next blog where we discuss about types of kayaks and how to choose a kayak to suite your need. Until then happy paddling!

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