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What you Need to Know About Kayaking in the Polar Regions

5 min read

There’s nothing quite like climbing into a sea kayak and paddling the pristine waters around towering icebergs off the coast of Antarctica, or along the shores of Greenland past quaint Greenland fishing village.

In fact, Greenland is the birthplace of the kayak, and it's possible, depending on schedules and availability, for Quark Expeditions' Arctic guests to be treated to a traditional kayaking demonstration in Sisimiut on the Davis Strait.

Arctic sea kayaking is an immensely popular adventure for Quark Expeditions passengers. We provide the equipment and training necessary for a paddling excursion in the Arctic ocean water to views of the landscape and local wildlife from your unique vantage point just atop the surface of clear waters.

kayaking through icebergs in Antarctica

We spoke with Quark Expeditions’ kayak guide Valerie Lubrick about this optional program – she truly is an expert with a tremendous passion for what she does, and we’re proud she’s part of our team!

Learn all you need to know about our paddling excursion (on sit-on-top kayaks) in the Arctic.

How long have you been Arctic kayaking?

Valerie: “I first paddled a canoe when I was 6 and bought my first kayak when I was 17. I started in Antarctica in 2008 and I've been fortunate to have spent many seasons with Quark Expeditions! Wahoo! I am a lucky girl!”

Quark Expeditions Val Lubrick

What does your job entail as Quark Expeditions' kayak guide?

Valerie: “I have the privilege of taking guests on adventures in some of the most magical places on the planet. We use our kayaks to explore immense wilderness areas, to paddle through ice alleys, to get up close to wildlife. We let the serenity and peacefulness of these soul-expanding places rest our bones.

I run the kayak program on board Quark Expeditions ships, but like all staff my job description includes ‘all other duties as required.' For me, this means driving Zodiac cruises (I’m a biologist with specialty education in Polar Regions so my Quark Expeditions work is like being in a candy shop!), leading hikes, and providing interpretive information about the biology, history, and geology of the places we visit. I also love to laugh and have fun so I like organizing events on board.”

Quark Expeditions Dave Riordan and Val Lubrick

The joys of kayaking

Are kayak excursions a popular activity among Quark Expedtions’ guests?

Valerie: “There are a limited number of spaces for kayakers on Quark Expedition ships, and the program is usually full with many people asking and hoping that a spot will open up. I encourage guests to sign up when they book their voyage, and make sure they have confirmation of their spot in the program.”

Kayaking in the Arctic

What makes kayaking such a special adventure in the Polar Regions?

Valerie: “The Polar Regions are unspoiled wilderness. The silence is profound, lacking city hums or other people. The wildlife of Antarctica is astounding and the kayaks give paddlers front-seat views of animals interacting, oblivious to our presence.

The immense landscape of the Polar Regions can be overwhelming, especially when you sit in your little kayak and soak it all in. And ice . . . ice is incredible in all its forms from massive glaciers to tiny bits of brash that scrape along the kayaks as we paddle through sea ice pools.

The magnitude of ice and the fact that kayakers can be amongst it sets the Polar Regions apart.”

Some experience recommended

Is kayaking an activity for novices, or should guests have some level of training?

Valerie: “Paddlers need to be comfortable kayaking a single kayak, tipping their boat over, pulling off the kayak skirt, and exiting the boat. I don’t anticipate everyone falling out of his or her boat, however if you practice the worst-case scenario then everything else seems to flow. 

Kayak Briefing with Valerie on deck

Weekend kayak courses are available around the world and are great for a tune-up if you haven’t been in a boat for a while. Instructors will offer stroke advice, support you while you flip out of your boat, and make you paddle in a bit of wind to get yourself sorted!”

Kayaking clothing and gear

What should a guest wear, and how should a guest dress while kayaking?

Valerie: “I get cold easily so I tend to wear lots of clothes under my kayak dry suit. For me, this starts with 2 pairs of thin (or 1 pair of thick) socks, 2 pairs of pants and at least 2 tops. Usually my layers are one thin and one thick. I wear a lot of polypropylene (long johns/thermal underwear), merino wool, silk and fleece.

It’s important to avoid cotton, as this fabric absorbs sweat then keeps you cold. Warm hats and warm mitts are important for kayaking, as well.”

Quark supplies all kayaking gear

What gear, if any, does Quark Expeditions supply for this activity?

Valerie: “Quark Expeditions supplies all the gear. Everything from the support Zodiac with safety equipment, kayaks, skirts and paddles. For paddlers, Quark Expedition provides individual top-of-the-line dry suits, PFDs, booties, and small dry bags for your gear.

Passengers need to bring their sense of adventure and a camera and off we go!”

How much time should guests allot for kayaking trips? Is it a full-day activity?

Valerie: “Kayaking runs at the same time as other excursions from the ship, so the excursions tend to be a few hours approximately. As kayakers and paddlers, we often try to get off the ship ahead of other guests to maximize our time on the water.

A longer paddle might be 2.5 to 3 hours, though sometimes we may only paddle for 1.5 hours and then join the rest of the Quark Expedition guests on shore. It all depends on the respective site, weather and weather conditions, and what the group wants to do.”


Favorite kayaking moments

What reactions do you get from guests after they’ve gone kayaking with you?

Valerie: “For many guests, kayaking is the highlight of their expedition, and rates as a highlight in their lives. The remoteness of our areas, the pristineness of the landscapes, the scope of the wildlife and the camaraderie of the group add up to magic.

Some people are quiet, some people can’t stop talking and pointing, while others cry with tears of joy. It depends on how much you let the place in to your being.”


Do you have any personal favorite kayaking locations?

Valerie: “Any day I sit in my kayak is a great day. I’ve had so many amazing experiences as a Quark Expeditions kayak guide I struggle to pinpoint one time or one location as a favorite. I am truly blessed, and a very lucky girl!”

The sea kayaking program is just one of many enjoyable adventure options found on our Arctic expeditions such as our Spitsbergen Explorer: Wildlife Capital of the Arctic expedition to Svalbard.

It's an excellent way to get to encounter wildlife and breathtaking scenery of the high arctic from a new angle.


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