Demo first ?

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.

It’s not about the skills
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.

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

– 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…
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.


One should always demo if possible
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 :wink:

Without a demo how could one figure things like these out?

Demo or rental
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.

I also can agree…
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

– 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
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
Two different situations that are not met by simply copying others.

How about, demo, rent, demo?

I have never demoed a boat before
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

– 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
How many you would not have bought had you demoed enough? -:wink:

Perhaps you’re just not picky enough too…

A quick review…

– 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
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…
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

– 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
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.

But I could get a good, cheap used boat
out of that deal :slight_smile: