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  Demo first ?
  Posted by: Cliffjrs on Mar-06-13 9:20 AM (EST)
   Category: unassigned 

For years I've been reading advice to demo first whenever someone asks advice on a particular purchase.

A newbie or recreational paddler has a very limited or non-existant skill set, yet the "experts" are always saying demo demo demo. I think this is some of the worst advice given. Yes it works when you have the expertise, just not when you don't.

You are new to the sport or want to upgrade, check out what the instructors and those who have been paddling 10 years or more are using.

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Messages in this Topic


  It's not about the skills
  Posted by: Celia on Mar-06-13 9:43 AM (EST)
It is about getting someone to a place where they will interact with a decent outfitter or instructor, rather than going to the nearest Dick's and getting a rec boat because it is comfortable and no one has told them how a kayak should fit.

If there is a way to fully replicate that experience via a message board, I don't know what it would be.
  Posted by: magooch on Mar-06-13 10:14 AM (EST)
Most experienced folks would probably insist on a demo before buying, but unless you get an unlimited time on the water under a variety of conditions, you aren't going to really know a boat.

For those who have limited experience, or none, I think a demo run is nearly worthless and in fact could very well do just the opposite of what was desired. In other words, a short demo might discourage a new paddler on a lot of very good boats for various reasons. But, I would never discourage trying out as many boats as possible; just keep an open mind and don't let a single short demo be conclusive.

  I Agree That It Doesn't Help as Much
  Posted by: wildernesswebb on Mar-06-13 10:54 AM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Mar-06-13 10:54 AM EST --

But, my experience with "Experts" are that the term doesn't always fit! For instance, I've seen a few folks in the past who were beginners or little more whom were encouraged to paddle boats more suited to an intermediate paddler. They were told they would "Grow into" the boat or "Get used to the feel." Same will, but some will abandon paddling all together.

So, if you have the opportunity to try out a boat, I would encourage them to. Because what's good for me, what's good for the "Expert," and what's good for Jack and Jill isn't the same. And if Jack and Jill are too terrified of the first boat they bought and tried, you will probably have two less paddlers and two more power boaters!

  Yes and no...
  Posted by: rjd9999 on Mar-06-13 11:27 AM (EST)
Before buying my first kayak, I demo'd a lot of boats. By the time I was done with the demo's, I had a bit of experience in a variety of hulls, and conditions, and was able to make a considerably better decision than if I had not done such sampling. Since I had never taken any of those boats out to play in dumping surf, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the boat I did pick initially performed under those conditions. Your point about condition variety does have some merit, but I did take demo boats out into high winds and even mild storm during my demo period.

If you are suggesting that a novice who demo's a single boat before buying can't make a reasonably informed decision, than I agree with you - you may as well buy the boat off the internet and hope it floats. But if you are implying that taking demo rides in a variety of boats doesn't improve the decision making process, I beg to differ.

When I suggest that someone demo, I mean that they should go out, test a few hull designs and then try an outing in the hulls one prefers. While rentals used to be cheaper 30 years ago, it is still a better approach than dumping money to buy a craft that doesn't meet needs, skills, and paddling style. During the demo period, you can improve skills, take some chances (since there is decent monitoring available), and generally gather the baseline information you need to make a decent decision.

  But I could get a good, cheap used boat
  Posted by: Yanoer on Mar-07-13 12:18 AM (EST)
out of that deal :)
  One should always demo if possible
  Posted by: Kocho on Mar-06-13 11:32 AM (EST)
First, fit is important and, unless one happens to be an average Jane or Joe with small feet, they should always sit in the prospective boat for fitment. Getting it on the water is also important even for a relative beginner although the conclusions such a person can draw from a short paddle are limited.

Demo does not always mean 5 minutes in shallow water though - one can borrow the kayak for a few hours or days in some cases (some local shops here allow that as do your paddling buddies).

When I was just getting into surf skis I was not a total beginner but had never put my butt in a ski - guess what: I quickly found out that I physically do not fit in some of them while I hated the fit and ergonomics of others (despite glowing reviews by others). I also very quickly found out what my [in]ability to balance a high-performance ski at that time was, if you know what I mean ;)

Without a demo how could one figure things like these out?
  Demo or rental
  Posted by: dc9mm on Mar-06-13 12:03 PM (EST)
Demo might mean just going to a kayak stores demo day and trying a kayak out for a very shot period like 10 or 15 minutes in shallow calm water. But if you rent several kayaks over a period of time and use them for several hours in a variety of conditions is far better. So I would say rent not demo as demo implies very short amount of seat time. But demo you at least see if you fit correctly in the kayak. Better than nothing for sure.
  Demo several, then rent the one that
  Posted by: Yanoer on Mar-07-13 12:21 AM (EST)
seemed most appropriate. If it doesn't appeal after a rental, try renting the next one on your list, and so on.

Around here, there are neither demos or rentals available.
  Agree with this approach
  Posted by: lalleluia on Mar-07-13 2:59 PM (EST)
I rented for a season, then outgrew the rental skillwise, rented another season with a skinnier boat that I could control better with my hips. I took a rescue and a rolling class with this boat, then bought it. I also forged some good relationships with an outfitter and some instructors.

  I also can agree...
  Posted by: Peter-CA on Mar-06-13 12:07 PM (EST)
I also can agree that an absolute newbie may not get much value from a demo alone (besides getting a feel for whether the seat is comfortable). But the demo process is also time on water a and time when they will be learning about boats.

I do agree with Celia that demoing involves starting to form a relationship with a (hopefully) knowledgeable shop who will also help guide the newbie towards a boat that meets their needs and desires. Plus one of the ways to demo is to take classes, which will help the newbie move out of the newbie category and get a better feel for what to buy.

But, I would not say a newbie should jump into what the local experts are paddling. I know one area where Greenland style boats and rolling are very popular - a newbie would not do well going out and buying one of these low volume, small cockpit, straight leg beasts.

Plus, many newbies are looking for something to float on local ponds, where the 10 year experts generally do much more. So where a newbie may be looking for a recreational category boat (yes, there are times and places where rec boats are the right boat), you won't see any of the experts using them.
  I completely disagree
  Posted by: jackl on Mar-06-13 1:42 PM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Mar-06-13 7:41 PM EST --

Unless you want to be an "intermediate" before you are a beginner, and I am only speaking from my own experience.
I got my first kayak which was a little nine foot long rec. Keowee, because I demoed one, and realized it wasn't tippy. It was nice and comfortable and I could have a lot of fun in it. When I decided to up grade, to a sea kayak, I went to a demo and was glad I did since the boat that I had in mind (Necky Looksha) was just too tippy for me. I tried several others, and finally found one that once again felt very comfortable, even though it was much narrower. From there, quite a few years later I realized after trying many kayaks I could paddle any skinny sea kayak on the market and settled for a QCC-700.
I now have demoed surf skis, and realize I have no problem with them, but have no desire to own one since they are not pratical for touring or exploring.

So... I strongly advise any newbie to try before you buy, unless you want to be an intermediate before you are a beginner!

Jack L

  demo to rule out major problems
  Posted by: jcbikeski on Mar-06-13 1:49 PM (EST)
even if you have more experience demoing has limitations as you may not have the option to take it into the conditions you intend. So when I bought my boats I read a lot to limit to a few models then tried them in protected waters as that was my only option. I tried them out more to learn if there was some key fit or other issue that reviewers missed or that only apply to me. But I used the reviews to have an idea of performance in condtions. If I was lucky enough to be able to test in real conditions I would have.
  New or want to upgrade
  Posted by: LeeG on Mar-06-13 2:03 PM (EST)
Two different situations that are not met by simply copying others.

How about, demo, rent, demo?
  I have never demoed a boat before
  Posted by: ezwater on Mar-06-13 3:06 PM (EST)
buying, partly because I seldom fit in them without modifications.

And of about 14 boats I've bought, I would count only one as an absolute mistake.

I have seldom found interactions with retailers helpful, unless they paddle the same sort of boats that I do.

Newbies and less experienced paddlers are seldom able to make skilled and sound judgements about what they're trying.

But then, most of you aren't capable of duplicating the decision process I go through before plunking money down on a boat. So go try a few, and then congratulate yourselves that you really knew what you were doing when you purchased.

I'm damn tired of "demo demo demo" and the lame justifications people make for it.
  I used similar reasoning
  Posted by: guideboatguy on Mar-06-13 3:19 PM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Mar-06-13 5:25 PM EST --

Of course, canoes are more forgiving because making them "fit" isn't such an issue as with kayaks. Anyway, each boat I have bought was chosen based on my best interpretation of what the boat was designed to do. Also, in most cases, I wasn't looking for "the best" boat in a given category, but one that was "close enough", and therefore I never considered models made by the top-end, lesser-known brands (and those boats can't be test-paddled anyway, at least by 99.999 percent of us). One thing I was quite sure of at the time I bought my first solo canoe was that I wouldn't be able to paddle it properly until at least two years after purchase. In spite of lots of practice, that expectation turned out to be correct, so really, there'd have been no way to figure much out via a "test paddle". That boat felt slow and cumbersome for a really long time, but eventually "the boat learned to behave better" and in the end it turned out to be a pretty good choice for me as a one-canoe owner. Once I reached the point of having four solo canoes, that first boat was not only redundant, but it became second-best in two of my three specialty categories, so I sold it.

  And of about 14 you bought
  Posted by: Kocho on Mar-06-13 4:13 PM (EST)
How many you would not have bought had you demoed enough? -;)

Perhaps you're just not picky enough too...
  A quick review.........
  Posted by: on Mar-06-13 6:55 PM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Mar-06-13 7:04 PM EST --

A quick review:

If you go to a dealer, they may allow you to test paddle a boat that you think you are interested in buying. But that's a demo!

If you take a class, and there are boats that are similiar to the boat you think you are interested in buying; you may be allowed to test paddle that boat. But that's a demo!

If you have a friend that has a boat similiar to what you think you are interested in buying; the friend may allow you to paddle their boat. But that's a demo!

You may be able to rent a boat similiar to what you think you are interested in buying. But that's a demo!

Screw all those demos!
Learning by osmosis is the way to go!


  agree, but a lot of IFs
  Posted by: jcbikeski on Mar-06-13 7:09 PM (EST)
Not everyone will have those opportunities where a shop, lesson, friend, etc. has boats available that are similar to ones one may want. And secondly such demoing while great isn't generally sufficient because of the limited conditions when doing the demo. So I doubt many consider demoing first bad as much as they think it's not always pratical for everyone and not always sufficient to make a decision.
  I'm still waiting...............
  Posted by: on Mar-06-13 7:32 PM (EST)
I'm still waiting for the "correct" answer to how a rookie finds out if this, or that boat is the boat they want, and need?

If the rookie can't find their holy grail boat through a friend, a rental place, a boating class, or an outfitter; where, when, and how will they find it?

All I'm hearing is what won't work; not a solution to the problem.

  in my case
  Posted by: jcbikeski on Mar-06-13 7:40 PM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Mar-06-13 7:41 PM EST --

for my first boat I read reviews then sat in the boat at a shop but didn't have the option of demoing. The reviews told me it was likely suitable for my needs and the sit in let me know the fit.

If you had to order from a remote shop, etc. you might do like I did but instead sit in a similar kayak for sizing then note the differences in size vs what you want.

Far from perfect but very often good enough when no better options exist.

For my second kayak I could demo but not in conditions so it was just a bit better than sitting in the kayak in a shop for a fit test.

  jump in and find out if the thing brings
  Posted by: kayamedic on Mar-06-13 9:31 PM (EST)
a smile on. I know a demo got me into kayaking and kayaking got me into solo canoeing. Had I never gone to Newport for a boat show in 1989, I would never have gotten in a little kayak and gone off solo.

It was a Keowee. It led to lots more other boats all of which were right at different times. Buying a boat is not the end of the world. Any boat.

Yes that is kind of another "no " answer. But I would never have even THOUGHT of paddling anything other than tandem if I hadn't demoed.
  Well, if you want to make it impossible
  Posted by: Celia on Mar-07-13 8:30 AM (EST)
Anyone I personally know who has actually done all of what you mention - tried out friends' boat(s), gone to class and spent some time in boats with an outfitter - has been able to settle on at least a satisfactory first boat.

We know of a couple of people who have gone thru that and more and are still looking for the perfect boat. But the problem is not the process or the boats they find - these are individuals who will never be happy with the boat they have. They still provide value though - folks who can't make up their minds are an excellent source of used boats for the rest of us.
  Some of the boats I've bought had
  Posted by: ezwater on Mar-07-13 2:27 AM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Mar-07-13 2:28 AM EST --

received favorable reviews before I considered them. That includes:

Hahn c-1
Necky Looksha Sport
Perception Corsica
Dagger Animas
Mad River Guide Solo
Mad River Synergy
Bluewater Chippewa
Dagger Zealot c-1
Old Town Tripper

Boats that I bought even though info on them was mixed at best:

Perception Dancer XT (fast but rotten handling)
Noah Lava/Magma ($100 bucks, all Kevlar, fast, brilliant for attainments, eat your heart out)
Perception Sage (worse handling than Hahn)
Phoenix c-1 (cheap, durable, mediocre)

Bought based on low price and/or word of mouth

Millbrook Wide Ride c-1 Pretty good boat
Millbrook Big Boy OC-1 Good handling, dry, blows around
Moore Voyageur Fast, dry, heavy
Mad River Compatriot Too small for me

If that's more than 14, I've sold or cut up some.

I believe I'm a much better than average judge of hulls and how they perform. With 2 or 3 exceptions, I think I've actually seen the hulls before I handed over the money.

  Would love it................
  Posted by: on Mar-07-13 9:11 AM (EST)
Would love to watch a gaggle of rookies test paddling a Hahn C1 for the first time, after buying it based on "favorable reviews".

What percentage of rookies do you think could even keep it upright?

  I wasn't an absolute rookie when I
  Posted by: ezwater on Mar-07-13 10:44 PM (EST)
bought one in '75. Actually, the Hahn firms up pretty quickly as it tilts, and isn't as easily stripped out from under you as, say, my Dagger Zealot. C-1s are boats where you have to learn and anticipate what currents will do to you, as soon as possible.

Recently, though, I happened on shots taken of me in my Zealot, from behind, and it is hard to believe anyone so tall could sit in the thing without falling over. Like watching the circus bear riding the tiny motorcycle.
  At first, it's 80% boat and 20% paddler
  Posted by: suntan on Mar-07-13 8:50 AM (EST)
As you learn, it becomes 80% paddler and 20% boat.
  All but one.
  Posted by: magooch on Mar-07-13 10:00 AM (EST)
Before I bought any of my boats, I read all of the reviews right here on Naturally there are going to be some reviewers who have mixed comments, but if you average it out it is about right. I don't mean to ignore the critical comments, though.

I didn't have the luxury of demoing all of my boats before buying, but what I do know is that the most I learned about the boats I did demo was that they fit right. Luckily, all of the boats turned out to be absolutely spectacular. Heck, I'm still discovering things about these boats that sometimes amaze me. What I know for sure is that they are all better than I will ever be, but they do make me look good.
  ive never bought
  Posted by: radiomix on Mar-07-13 9:39 AM (EST)
A boat that I paddled first. It's worked out. I wish there were things different about even my favorite boats, I guess that's why I keep wanting to buy more. I don't see how demoing them would have changed anything. I can look at specs and see if I can fit in it, and then just go from there.

I prefer the approach of learning with a boat. I guess after one moves deeper in the sport, demoing can be more worthwhile. I feel like I've paddled enough boats at this point to pretty much predict what a boat is generally going to do. Of course the finner points and behaviors of each boat will be learned, usually after said demo is over anyway.

Ryan L.
  benefit is at ends of abilities
  Posted by: slushpaddler on Mar-07-13 10:17 AM (EST)
Either a beginner trying to simply tell if the boat fits and is comfortable, to an expert comparing similar boats to find the one best suited for the paddler and use.

I admit the second case is pretty uncommon, particularly if the vendor doesn't carry both brands.
  It's like buying shoes
  Posted by: Jaybabina on Mar-07-13 10:15 AM (EST)
Try before you buy.
If it doesn't fit well and hurts then all the opinions are worthless.
  can't agree
  Posted by: slushpaddler on Mar-07-13 10:15 AM (EST)
Demo with someone who knows what they're talking about. There's no substitute for seat time.
  re:demo, demo, demo
  Posted by: on Mar-07-13 11:47 AM (EST)
The need to demo is very plain to me, but perhaps escapes others or does not apply at an equal importance. The reasonong why part of my advice on a boat purchase is always to demo is as follows:

1)To purchase blindly is igmorant.
2)To purchase purely on the faith of another's recommendation does not account for personal preference of the actual user.
3)Whom ever is spending the money has to accept the consequence of the choice, I don't want any of it.
4)Through the process of doing demos, there is an opportunity of education and putting others opinions into actual context for the individual at their current skill.

Anyone who is offended by this reasoning can obstain from reading my comments.

'nuff said,
  Others' "recommendation" ...
  Posted by: guideboatguy on Mar-07-13 12:22 PM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Mar-07-13 12:52 PM EST --

... is not the only option when seeing what other people think of a boat. The prospective buyer can and should look for objective statements about the boat's design and purpose, and if reading an individual's "recommendation", it only makes sense to do so in the context of that person's personal preferences. To demo or not to demo need not be as black and white as you imply.

I still wonder what the demo-demo-demo people think a person should do if they live in a place where the boats they are considering aren't available for test-paddling, or what the average person who wants one of those niche-builder boats I mentioned in my earlier post is supposed to do, or what a beginning solo-canoer should do who won't have the skills to evaluate the boat until much later?

Last year there was a guy from South Dakota who wanted to get his family into canoeing, and someone totally unfamiliar with the Great-Plains states said he really needed to test paddle several models before making a decision. There was helpful advice too, because several people here did their best to figure out what the person's needs would be and suggested a number of different boats, in each case describing their various pluses and minuses. When it was all done, no one had any doubt that the person made a really good choice of boat for his particular paddling plans, but any of the other options being considered would have been fine as well.

By the way, your closing remark makes me suspect that you won't recognize the potential that a less-constrained view of the topic might sometimes have merit, so let me make it clear that I'm not "taking offense" at what you said. I'm only trying to expand the parameters.

  The web has made us neurotics
  Posted by: Jaybabina on Mar-07-13 2:28 PM (EST)
If a boat is not available for water trial, sit in one to at least see how it feels as far as fit.

I bought my first Necky Arluk III used with no trial and no experience and no web with millions of opinions and experts. A kayak store had it from their rental fleet and said it's a good boat. I liked it, changed the seat but had a lot of good experiences and learned a lot.

As long as people know the difference between a recreational boat and a real kayak with bulkheads and thigh braces etc. I think they will be OK if its stable enough for them.
  I take exception...
  Posted by: on Mar-07-13 6:40 PM (EST)
  Getting "the right one," first shot
  Posted by: pikabike on Mar-08-13 2:25 PM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Mar-08-13 2:32 PM EST --

Good luck with that one! My experience was similar to yours: the boat wasn't a great fit, but it was serviceable enough for me to start learning in and get hooked on the sport.

I wonder if the people who insist that they can find the "right boat" so soon also have the same expectations for girlfriends or boyfriends. Sometimes you have to get your feet wet and figure it out as you go.

That said, always demo or rent where it's possible to do so. At the very least, the person can rule out some boats.

  Cliffjrs' original post not refuted.
  Posted by: ezwater on Mar-07-13 11:23 PM (EST)
It remains true that the less experienced you are, the less you can learn from a demo.

And, seeing what more experienced paddlers are using is a very good way to narrow your selection range.

Many here are glossing over the difficulty of jumping in a boat and doing a meaningful evaluation; disregarding the need to outfit a boat for oneself before a demo; and not properly treating the case where one is going to buy a boat that is specialized and differs markedly from what one normally paddles.
  Ha !
  Posted by: jackl on Mar-08-13 6:19 AM (EST)
You can learn from a Demo that you will stay upright or capsize, and to me that is the first and most important thing that I want to know.
I strongly advise any newbies to demo if you possibly can before you buy a boat.

Jack L
  Yeah it was contested
  Posted by: Celia on Mar-08-13 10:20 AM (EST)
It appears you didn't like the responses that did that.
  I disagree
  Posted by: davbart on Mar-08-13 8:06 AM (EST)
While a "newbie's" skill set/experience will limit what they can learn from a demo, they will learn something. Perhaps it won't help them identify the boat they want/need once their skills develop it will help them identify what works right now.

All that said, good luck finding a canoe to demo in some areas such as my local area.
  Good Post
  Posted by: guideboatguy on Mar-08-13 9:28 AM (EST)
I've gone on record here as disagreeing with those who think every person's boat-buying decision needs to be done with scientific precision, and I REALLY dislike the implied corollary of the demo-demo-demo rule that says anyone who doesn't live near a paddling shop, club, or an outfitter, and especially canoe-buyers in many parts of the country, are just S.O.L. This thread has me very surprised at how many people talk as if most people have sources like that within reasonable driving distance (it's just not the case across much of the country, unless you include places like Dick's Sporting Goods).

I DO agree that if a person has the chance to try boats, it's definitely a good thing, even if beginners in that situation lack the skills to figure out the things they could after they've been at it a while. Like you say, even at worst, they will benefit in ways they couldn't if lacking the chance to demo.
  Living near an outfitter
  Posted by: Celia on Mar-08-13 10:29 AM (EST)
My husband and I demo'd a bunch of boats which did not have a dealer anywhere near us. We did it by looking around where we traveled, and taking the opportunity if we saw one go by.

So we demo'd at the only P&H dealer - then - in all of downstate NY by allocating time for it on a trip to visit my husband's parents, 5 hours away. The dealer was about an hour further east of where they were on LI. We demo'd a bunch of other boats by finding a dealer an hour from we vacation each summer, and took a few day trips to go down there. Where we vacation is an 8 hour drive. We checked out boats in a shop near where my sister and brother-in-law live when visiting them, in the mountains three hours north.

I am not saying everyone can have family so conveniently located. But I suspect that many people could get more seat time and enjoy the experience as well by looking more than 40 miles from their front door.
  That "40 miles from front door" sounds..
  Posted by: guideboatguy on Mar-08-13 11:12 AM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Mar-08-13 11:32 AM EST --

... sarcastic to me, since I really haven't heard of a serious buyer unwilling to drive an hour, or even several. You are right that some people can do what you describe but a lot certainly can't (I myself don't even get extended vacations during paddling season except when the economy sucks, like right now). And none of this addresses the demo needs of canoe-buyers. I live less than two miles from one of the largest paddle shops in the country, but they only carry a few brands and the odds are slim that they'll have the particular model you want to demo (of the four canoes I have purchased, not one of them would have been available to demo, unless a "demo" includes the option of purchasing the boat knowing that when it arrives three months later, you could return it if you don't like it). I bet that paddle shops that, unlike this one, aren't almost in the heart of "canoe country", offer even fewer demo options for canoes. And if you want a canoe or similar boat from a smaller manufacturer, what then? You don't try it out - you simply buy it based on what you know about its design.

  Supporting example
  Posted by: davbart on Mar-08-13 11:32 AM (EST)
I would like to purchase a large, solo tripper, e.g. Swift Shearwater. The closest Swift dealer to me is a 7 hour drive, and according to their website they don't even have one let alone one for demo.
  Posted by: Celia on Mar-08-13 5:57 PM (EST)
On the sarcasm part, but at best mildly so. It likely reads more so than I meant.

Many of the longer time folks on this board have stretched to try out a boat in which they are interested, whether it be by checking out boat dealers along the route on a vacation or deciding to take a weekend/overnight trip to get to a dealer. It isn't unusual for true boat whores, but it does seem like an awful lot of work to folks just considering getting into the sport.

I suspect it is mostly due to people not realizing just how specialized and small some of these manufacturers are. Even a "big" kayak or canoe manufacturer is small by the standards of many industries, and the number of places where they can offer some real contact with their products reflects that. It may be that the success of the Dick's type big box stores is less in what they offer and more in peoples' expectations that there should be a source of a good long term boat at such easy reach. And if they were trying to buy many sports toys, that would be true. It's just not so easy for canoes and kayaks.
  my two best boats
  Posted by: radiomix on Mar-08-13 2:51 PM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Mar-08-13 3:34 PM EST --

Came from 7 or 8 hours away, at least. Both next to nothing I want to vacation to.

Ryan L.

  This is some of the worse advise ever
  Posted by: underhills on Mar-08-13 9:50 AM (EST)
This is some of the worse advise ever! Both my wife and I didn't have much experience in boats and demoed multiple boats before we bought. We both found boats we never would have picked out in a shop and never regretted our decision. I demoed a Greenland boat before they were "cool" and would never have bought one if I hadn't paddled it first. At a demo day you can generally try more boats than any retailer can keep in stock. You might just find the boat you love and it isn't a regularly stocked item.
After selling boats for 11 years I had many customers that after getting information from me made their final decision at a demo day. No matter what an "expert" tells you sometimes you just find the one that feels right and you can only do that by trying it.
You are different than a guide or instructor and have different goals than they do so make your own decision. I've heard to many "guide/instructors" on here recommend something because that is what they own, or they've drank one particular manufactures Kool aid. That is utter crap, you need to get a variety of opinion and don't discount a sales person, most people in small shops enjoy what they do and enjoy making sure you have a good experience, that's how they stay in business so don't count their opinion out either.
  A few of us are just real smart.
  Posted by: ezwater on Mar-08-13 6:51 PM (EST)
  My B.I.L. is going to get into WW kayak
  Posted by: clarion on Mar-08-13 10:29 AM (EST)
He has some ocean SOT experience. But when it comes to river whitewater, he's as green as green can get.

So which would be better for him: Trying 3 or 4 WW kayaks, or having really experienced WW paddlers tell him what he should buy?

The answer's not even a close call.
  Fit in Whitewater Boat
  Posted by: seadart on Mar-08-13 6:14 PM (EST)
How the boat fits is pretty important in whitewater boats, so what may be comfortable for one person 5'10 and 200 lbs, may not work for somebody else. Nice to take guidance from experts, but get in the boat before you buy and see how it feels and paddles with your weight.

As chuck says below with more experience you can make a guess about how well you might fit and if it is an easy boat to flip and sell it's fine to buy without getting in.
  I may be lucky...
  Posted by: rjd9999 on Mar-08-13 10:46 AM (EST)
to live in the SF bay area. Between here and Monterey, there are several shops and a few clubs which will allow you to demo boats. I bought the first boats in Monterey (60 miles south of where I lived) because I mostly paddled in Monterey and the shop owner earned my business.

I don't buy any large purchases (being seriously frugal means I that virtually anything now qualifies as a large purchase) without a long period of consideration. It was several months between my decision to buy boats and the actual purchase and in that time, I went from novice to low intermediate in ability and I never would have purchased the boats I did buy if I hadn't taken several models out on the water and read Sea Kayaker, Foster, and Dowd beforehand (the magazines and books did a pretty good job of describing what to look for).

If I were not able to do this research ahead of time, I probably would have deferred the purchase or not made one at all, since that is how conservative I can be with money. Any outfitter that didn't allow me to test several boats I refused to do business with and let them know it. Usually, they responded with, "well, ok, you can take one out..."

  More important for novices than
  Posted by: tsunamichuck1 on Mar-08-13 11:23 AM (EST)
experienced. Of the 7 boats I own only 1 was demoed before purchase. Sometimes you just jump on a good deal and with used boats they can be resold for very close to what you paid or sometimes more, especially with cult boats. Some have desirable features such as folding or sectional boats and demoing can be difficult.
  Experts aren't always
  Posted by: pikabike on Mar-08-13 2:20 PM (EST)
One of my bugaboos was people who underestimated the difference between a truly small/light paddler and one who is merely "below the size and weight of an average man." Some dealers will push you to buying what they have in stock rather than referring you to something that fits better, especially if that something is available from a competitor.

Also, there is a big range of personal preference for high-deck-dry-ride vs. lower volume boats.

Then there's the question of how willing the new paddler is to changing boats within a few years. Somebody might be adamant about "never having to buy another boat again" (hah). If that person demos (or better yet, rents several of them over a longer period), at least they'll rule out the ones they really don't care for.

Caveat emptor, ALWAYS.
  its fun messing around ....
  Posted by: tdaniel on Mar-08-13 6:30 PM (EST)
in boats. Sometimes it requires a committed relationship- you know how the boat responds and derive pleasure from that. Other times you go try something new just to spice things up. Demoing is a lot like premarital sex without the jealousy!
  2 out of 8 boats I've purchased...
  Posted by: johnysmoke on Mar-09-13 1:08 AM (EST)
-- Last Updated: Mar-09-13 1:41 AM EST --

I have actually demoed...

I figure so long as I fit in a boat, whoever designed the boat has FAR more paddling experience than I ever will, and there is something I can learn from the boat. But I do agree it takes at least a season to get to know a boat. I thought this true of motorcycles as well when I was brave enough to ride those...

I sell lots of rec boats to newbies, and it seems the most important thing to them is the amount of cup holders. Some of the rec boats go straight (Pungo) all the others are more "maneuverable" but still have at least one cup holder. More importantly, all the boats play into how easily people can transport and store the boat, and most importantly afford the boat. At least 50% of my customers have "paddled before," even though they don't know they're holding the paddle up-side-down...

I sell 1 boat over 14 feet (if I'm lucky) for every 25 crappy rec boats I sell. And if I can persuade about 1 in 40 people to sign up and take a lesson, I'm doing pretty well. Maybe I'm just a bad salesperson, but I think it's more my well-to-do suburban demographic, working in a somewhat more informed box-store (big in the northeast...) that plays into all this. A lot of the time the boats are just mere lawn ornaments, and the racks are the real determinants of social status (You'd be surprised by the amount of people who don't know how to work a cam strap!!?)

Most people are satisfied to just sit in the boat in the store while I tell them how to adjust the seat and foot-pegs and where all the cup holders are. If you put a paddle in their hands while they are sitting in the boat, then you're pretty much guaranteed a sale, even though I don't make commission. But if I sell one of these pieces of crap, it means one more person paddling instead of sailing\power-boating\jet-skiing or god forbid cycling. It means one more person who might in another year be interested enough to go to a real shop and learn how to sea kayak. Or sets up some freak who paddles their weird little rec boat year round and experiences being on the water for more than a three hour drinking binge. Because that's all that really matters; that people can break out of their normal routine and get out of themselves, even if it's only a few times a summer in their crappy little boats, or becomes a weekly thing when the season permits, or turns into Nigel the hardcore paddler, even if only for a weekend at a time.

And please, don't even get me started on paddleboards...

  Good point
  Posted by: old_user on Mar-09-13 7:07 AM (EST)
I think the OP makes a good point in many ways. I have somewhat thought that myself in the past.

What "feels good" to you as a total beginner probably is going to be something that will limit your growth potential. You will end up choosing a Pongo over an Explorer probably, but I can't say that is necessarily a good decision in the long run if you have any aspiration of paddling in water bigger than a pond. Thats an extreme example, but you get the point.

Maybe paddling it to see if it fits is a good idea though.

I think it's kind of like running or biking on a cold day. If you start out feeling comfortably warm you will roast later on. Newbies will always do that b/c they go with what feels good to them vs. what the more experienced person tells them too...and they pay. Same goes with newbies and backpacking--they take too much.

Finally, I am going to say what I have said many times before. You actually can tell VERY LITTLE from a test paddle. If you think you are going to understand how you are going to like the boat based on 60 minutes of paddling on one particular day on flat water, then you are probably wrong.

I have owned over 20 kayaks and an equal number of canoes. You don't really know what your long term impression of the boat will be until after you have paddled it many times in various conditions.

A boat that feels great on flat water may suck in the wind, or suck in the surf, etc. You won't know until you paddle it in various conditions for a long enough time to figure out what actually is going on with the boat.

That is a fact. So given that, I would argue that a test paddle is ceremonial. Not to mention that you already have preconceived notions about how you will feel about the boat and your test paddle will just be an exercise in confirmation bias in many instances.

  i really like
  Posted by: radiomix on Mar-09-13 9:14 AM (EST)
Your first paragraph. I used to feel the same way about paddleboards until I raced next to a few.

Ryan L.
  Posted by: on Mar-09-13 7:40 AM (EST)
The old saying, "the only thing two "experts" can agree on is that the third one is wrong, is proof enough for me to continue advising folks to "demo, demo, demo" as part of any kayak selection.

Anyone doing enough research to read multiple reviews, designer description, vendor propaganda and then ask on a web site like this should by all means possible demo first if at all possible; so as to put some of that info into a meaningful for them context.

IMO, there is no one here giving such foolproof advice that would render a demo counterproductive for any person capable of their own thoughts.

I'm sure there are at least two eXPERTS that can agree I'm wrong.
  You're wrong
  Posted by: pblanc on Mar-09-13 8:46 AM (EST)
Do I hear a second?
  There is some merit in both viewpoints
  Posted by: pblanc on Mar-09-13 8:59 AM (EST)
Demos can be misleading and are probably more likely to be so for those who don't have much paddling experience.

I remember an open boat whitewater clinic I took at NOC back around 1993 when they still had Mohawk boats in their instructional fleet and the Viper had just been introduced. I wasn't used to a boat with that much edge and the first day I paddled it I hated it. On the advice of one of the instructors I stuck with it and the second day I started to figure it out. By the end of the clinic I decided to buy one.

I also recall the first time I jumped in someone's Ocoee on the Ocoee and if anything I liked it even less than the Viper the first time I paddled it, but it later became another of my favorite designs.

On the other hand, especially with kayaks, if one is terribly physically uncomfortable the first time one gets in a particular boat, that might not improve. Different people also have different builds, not only different weights but different weight distributions. Some men are rather top-heavy and a narrow canoe or kayak that might suit an "expert" of a different build very well might be like peddling a unicycle for that person, such that they can never relax and be comfortable in it.
  many ways
  Posted by: radiomix on Mar-09-13 9:31 AM (EST)
To do the same thing, but we can still judge the results.

I think we all want people to have the same experience we had, we want people to do things the way we did. But really we all experience things differently. Some start in 9 ft boats and move up, some jump right in to good equipment and take off, and many more no matter where they start they end up quitting. Some demo, some don't, some have good paddles right away, some don't. This topic alone proves we all perceive problems differently.

Some people really need a demo, or just feel like they will be more at ease. I don't feel that way, but I know people who do. I'm sure we all know that person who is a serial returner of items. That kind of person needs a demo. Others live with decisions and adapt.

Ryan L.
  Don't think I can agree with you
  Posted by: Waterbird on Mar-09-13 1:20 PM (EST)
To be honest, I don't care too much "what the instructors and those who have been paddling 10 years or more are using."

Even if you're a beginner, if you go to a demo day and you try 5 or 6 kayaks each one will feel different to you and you will start to understand how things like width, length, and hull shape relate to speed, maneuverability, etc. The comfort differences should be evident fairly quickly as well.

Seems a bit of an exaggeration to say demoing is "the worst advice ever given," as if demoing is going to do some kind of damage.

If you read the reviews here at pnet you will get a sense of how individual psychological factors influence kayak ratings. Even in the professional reviews you see how the individual's preferences enter into the rating. Those biases are confusing to inexperienced paddlers when they're hidden.

It's all good: talk to people who paddle, talk to shops, read the reviews, demo. All those strategies help in one way or another. If you CAN'T demo, do everything else to learn about kayaks.

   I some times have to demo a kayak...
  Posted by: jaws on Mar-09-13 2:14 PM (EST)
for years to decide if it is really worth keeping. Or at least that is what I tell my wife! Right now I am in the process of demoing 9 kayaks and as I have explained to my wife when I have picked a favorite I will sell the others.
  Good point. One of my c-1s was
  Posted by: ezwater on Mar-09-13 3:44 PM (EST)
scary at first, then it helped me advance my technique and improve for several years. But finally I realized its design was holding me back and (like many early designs) was holding my development on a plateau. I would not have been able to demo the boat, because c-1s usually require individual outfitting. But a demo would not have predicted its long usefulness, or its eventual limits. At most, a demo would have simply scared me off.

That's why, in deciding about a boat, I like to talk, not to salesmen or sponsored paddlers, but to ordinary folks who have paddled the boat for a while. Comparing several such views, plus a careful look at the hull, can reveal a lot.


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