Renting to try?

Just curious, I see comments like “rent a few times and see what you like.” Where the heck can you do that? I can canoe/kayak all over western PA here, but they are just going to have a basic canoe or basic solo or tandem plastic kayak.

I don’t know if I’m interested in a canoe or kayak. From there, I don’t know what to buy here in the future.

Took the kids up to the lake to the annual regatta they have. My 12 yr old got in a small around 8’ kayak and had a ball. Took the 9 yr old in a tandem. Since I’m not a 12 year old, I spent most of the time just easing around since they didn’t give us much room and there were a lot of people in the water also trying it out. It was neat and I want something, but it didn’t give you much to figure anything out.

We are heading up to the river (pretty shallow) and renting a kayak and a canoe this Saturday. It’s about an hour and a half, maybe 2 hour trip. My oldest will be in a kayak herself and Wifey, youngest, and I will be in a canoe. With this, I’ll get to see how I like a canoe.

I’m more interested in just paddling around the lake. You rent by the hour at the lake and where the rental is, it is all open water. It would take too long to get to the ends where the little fingers of the lake extend out which is what I want to do. Going just myself and the girls it would be too expensive to rent 3 kayaks to just try out kayaks (Wifey wouldn’t be with us much as she works evenings and most weekends.) I know I don’t want to tandem a kayak, I would want a longer and better boat than I would get for the 12 year old, and only have so much cash to dish out probably next spring for a couple of boats.

How far can you go on a lake near the shoreline in an hour or 2? The rent on the river is by trip mile, just have to have the boat back by 6 pm. If I want to try some stuff out, though it would be just a basic kayak, I want to do it on the lake, but don’t want to stay right in the main open water section. Just not sure if I would be able to travel the shore out from the open area in time to make it back.

For info as some of you would probably know the area, the lake would be Lake Arthur, Moraine State Park in western PA. Boat rental is at the south shore which is pretty much in the middle of the lake and not near any of the “interesting” places to paddle.

Biggest problem though is that you don’t get a choice of different styles of boats. You either rent a basic canoe or a basic small 8 or 10 foot kayak.

call around and find a trial day
look around for dealers with a wide selection, and call them up. Many dealers will have a trial day at the beginning of the season where they bring a wide selection to the water for people to try.

getting butt time
Issue 8 of California Kayaker Magazine had a whole article on getting butt time (can be read online for free at Holds true for canoes as well as kayaks.

Most of the better specialty retailers around me have the rent to own plans. Some will not just use their demo fleet, but sometimes also allow you to put a brand new, meant for sale boat on the water (with appropriate cautions about making sure you take care of it). This doesn’t happen at big box stores or REI, just specialty retailers.

If you are looking for a pretty common boat, you can also sometimes find it in rental fleets of rental or tour outfitters.

You are right

– Last Updated: Aug-09-13 1:44 PM EST –

I agree it is not always easy to find places to try -- I am in eastern PA. I ended up buying my first after having similar issues like you -- rentals low quality, limited areas you can go. Trying to find something that fit me used was almost impossible. I just bought based on looking and sitting in kayaks at a REI. Overall I was happy with that kayak -- Dagger Blackwater 10.5 but if I knew what I did now I would have at least bought the 12.0. Of course now I am up to 3 kayaks with a 4th free inflatable showing up soon...

Around here the lake rental places seems to either have Pungo/Pamilico (that is the nice rental place) or sit on top Ocean Kayaks. The few river or canal outfitters seems to mainly offer Old Town Loons or kayaks with no names that look like a Loon circa 1980...

People that paddle more are usually associated with other paddlers via a club or larger paddling networks and can usually try out others kayaks. I also think that those that buy used frequently buy without trying and just resell those kayaks they don't like.

You really have to drive and search for ways to get some good butt time. It is not always easy to do so, especially around the normal busy life.

1. Try to find a local paddling club -- Meetup is a good place as well as here. Just post on their message boards that you are new, don't have a kayak but want to buy one. You will find that lots of people have extra and will be willing to let you borrow and take you out. Paddlers like company... Around here we have an very old club that has a boat house and does lessons as well as kayaks you can try out. We also have many meetup groups that are very active.

2. My local EMS rents kayaks. I believe it probably some of the same stock they sell and they do have a number of good kayaks. Doesn't seem to be well advertised beyond the store.

3. Really look for local paddling shops. Not all of them are really active on the web. There is one place near by me that is just a lot with a bunch of kayaks but they will bring rentals or demos to the lake a few mins away to try out. I was kayaking for years before I even knew the place existed even with many trips to that lake -- just never drove down the road they were on. Some paddling shops require a drive but any real shop will give you the ability to demo. Try to trust the sales staff in their kayak recos.

4. Kayak schools -- the whitewater schools near me all use current models for their classes. Most of them also sell kayaks as well both new and used. The line between schools and stores are pretty thin as most seem offer both kayaks for sale as well as classes -- guess it depends which they offer more is what you call them.

5. Take a chance and buy used. It seems you can probably resell kayaks you don't like for the same price you paid for them. I did have a hard time finding kayaks I liked used and when they did show up were gone before I could call.

When I started out kayaking 10+ years ago all I knew about were the big box stores, REI/EMS, and the few big stores in Jersey that are a 2 hour drive. Since then I have learned of lots of smaller places that sell, demo, rent better kayaks, and offer classes that I never knew about. The smaller local places are usually a good bet as they may have smaller selections but mostly offer kayaks that are best for your local waters.

You’re in luck
My shop, Exkursion Outfitters in Monroeville, is having another kayak demo day on August 17th at Keystone State Park from 12-4. We take all of our kayaks to the lake for a free demo where you can try a bunch of recreational, touring, sea kayaks, and SUPs. We do sell canoes also, but we don’t stock much. However our WeNoNah Canoe rep may make the trip with his fleet of demo canoes!

Great way to get a feel for different styles.

Shoot me an email if you have any questions:



Addl Opportunities
The Exkursion option mentioned above is a good one.

Alternatively, if you are willing to cover a little distance to do your test, Oak Orchard near Buffalo and Blue Mountain Outfitters near Harrisburg have nice inventories and they are on the water.

I support Exkursions … good people and good products! But, if their test paddle date isn’t convenient for you, check out the web pages for Oak Orchard and Blue Mountain. In both cases, their proximity to the water makes them worth the trip.

Thanks for that heads up!

– Last Updated: Aug-09-13 8:34 PM EST –

That's great. I don't venture down to Pittsburgh too often, my neck of the woods is more from Butler, Pa and north, more of the Emlenton to Franklin and over to Clarion or Cooks Forest area (was going to go to Cooks Forest to rent and paddle tomorrow but something came up.)

I'll definitely keep August 17th in mind, again, thanks for the heads up. Bummer I don't see bikes on the website. I'm in the market for one of those as well. Getting up there in age and time to start taking care of myself, LOL.

The girls want to go shopping, school is starting in a few weeks. I might pack up the bike and head out to Moraine State Park on my own for the bike trail and maybe give myself an hour or 2 rental to cruise around the lake.

As for shops, I found one in Franklin, PA but that's about all I've found "local" to me.

Try this:

– Last Updated: Aug-09-13 9:36 PM EST –

It is not quite what you had in mind, tho...
There are several River Sojourns in June, which is Nat'l River Month. There are events later in the year too.
Rent a boat from the organizers to knock around in, and there will be many folks who own their own boats and some will be happy to let you try out their boat and paddles for little time. At least I always do.

Here's another similar opportunity/resource:
attend one of their events...

missed the regatta
Too bad you missed the regatta at Lake Arthur last weekend – the outfitter in Franklin brings a wide range of demo kayaks plus there are lots of folks I’ve found who don’t mind letting you test their personal boats.

I give another vote for Exkursion – best outfitter in the area and they are easy to get to (Monroeville just a couple blocks from the Turnpike exit) though Keystone Lake is a bit farther. Jesse, do you guys still offer demos from the Millvale launch site on the Allegheny?

Yeah, Weigel on the Water in Franklin is a good shop. They’ll have some nice options for you and I think they do demos right on the Allegheny there. Just downstream a few doors is a rental operation called O.A.R.S. Nice folks there who will run shuttle on the Allegheny and French Creek, which is very pretty.

I’ll take demos wherever it’s convenient for the customer, within reason. We’ve also been doing classes upstream from Millvale at the Sharpsburg riverfront park. Nice facility there.

Private demos are $25 and that is refunded if the customer purchases a boat.

Lake Arthur
Yup,waas at the regatta at Moraine. All I saw though was the gov agency (can’t remember the acronym) letting folks just try out kayaking. My 12 yr old daughter went out in an 8 foot and I took the 9 yr old out tandem. It wasn’t a demo though as much as it was just going out and floating around because they kept 15 or 20 boats confined to a very small footprint. Could barely paddle. 2 strokes and you either ran someone else over or had to stop and turn the boat.

No idea what the boats were either. Just cheapies from what I could tell. Molded-in seats with backrests of 8 foot, maybe 10 foot, and a tandem.

Didn’t see any actual vendors, at least at the south shore where we were. It was just to allow folks to get out in the water and try. I think I might head up to Moraine tomorrow by myself and rent and paddle for an hour or so.