The single most important thing to do before purchasing a kayak is to give it a spin. This may seem to be an intuitive step in the buying process but many customers settle on buying what they see on the showroom wall and neglect to explore what the kayak feels like on the water. Would you purchase a car based on its color without test driving it first? No and you shouldn’t purchase a kayak without paddling it first either!
Good kayak shops know how important a proper kayak demonstration is to the customer and have the facilities to provide for this experience. You should look for a shop with an on-the-water demonstration program and a knowledgeable dock staff that is available to answer your questions as you demo the kayaks. These programs come in many flavors. Some shops have a couple of demo days on their summer calendar where you can meet up with staff members at the beach and try an assortment of kayaks all at once. Other shops are lucky enough to have docks on site to provide for daily demonstrations. These demonstrations may be free or for a small fee. The format of the demonstration is not nearly as important as the goal: to paddle a select handful of kayaks within the class (recreational, light-touring, or touring) that you have settled on.
The staff of the kayak shop has a few key responsibilities during the kayak demonstration. First, they should discuss your needs with you in detail before you demonstrate any kayaks. This allows them to use their knowledge to select a few kayaks in the appropriate class in order to streamline the process and prevent confusion. Second, the staff should remain present while you are on the water. During this time they are looking out for your safety and paying attention to your paddling style. They may make some suggestions when you return to the dock if they notice anything about the fit or performance that could be adjusted. Finally, the staff should listen to your feedback and adapt their thought process to your experience. Remember that the ultimate decision on which kayak to purchase is yours!
You have the most important responsibilities when it comes to having a successful kayak demonstration. The idiom “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” rings very true. Here are some tips that you can use to get the most out of your demo and make an informed purchase:
- Try a few kayaks (3-5) back-to-back so that you can better compare them.
- Never settle on the first kayak that you try.
- Don’t be afraid to go back to try a kayak for a second time if you need to.
- Take your time. You should spend at least 10-15 minutes in each boat to get a good feel.
- Schedule your demo on a day with conditions like those that you will be paddling in. Kayaks may behave very differently on flat clam as compared to windy days.
- Test all aspects of the kayak: tracking, primary stability, secondary stability, maneuverability.
- Think about how the kayak feels and what could be better about the performance or the fit. Verbalize this to the staff and ask for suggestions.
- Use your own PDF and paddle if you have them.
- Dress for the event. Wear your usual paddling clothes to get the most accurate feel.
- Don’t be shy. The demo staff is there to help!
Think of your demo day as a learning experience and a time for you to iron out what you really want in a kayak. You don’t have to buy the first boat that you try or even on the first day of demoing. There have been customers that we have worked with over the course of an entire summer in order to get them into the right kayak. That’s what great kayaks shops are there for!