We may sound elitist to beginners

But, in most cases we are trying to keep you from making the mistakes we made on the equipment journey. Those cost us time, aggravation, and too many $$$.
Something may be cheap to buy, but it will cost you more than something better when you discover it is miserable.
For example, I went through 4 paddles before I found one that my body liked. First was too long and heavy ( Al and plastic) , the cheap bent shaft wasn’t my thing and neither was the wing. I have a great wider paddle that guest paddlers love but overstresses my bad shoulder. My best for me has slender blades and is light.
Try before you buy is the best advice. “Try” doesn’t be mean you sat in it or even paddled it for 5 minutes. I know that may be impossible but do your best to find something close to try.
I bought 2 boats unseen but highly rated. They now are enjoyed by others.
My best advice to a beginner is to start with a recreational boat that others brag about.
If you progress beyond that , you will have a good guest boat or in my case, a good swamp and small river boat.
When I got really interested in paddling , my first boat was a skin on frame kit. We had 3 kids at home and I got caught in a lay off. I understand very tight budgets but don’t waste your resources on something just to get started .You will regret it.


All good points. And start used, if possible. That new boat loses 50% of its value the minute your credit card is authorized.

If you do get into the sport, you’ll be selling that boat in a year (or moving it into the guest fleet).

If you don’t get into the sport, you’ll be selling that boat in a year (or giving it to your neighbor).

Either way, start used. :slight_smile:


In a similar vein, take lessons even before you buy a boat. It’s typically not an added expense, saving both frustration and money in the longer run.


You are exactly right with this advice!! It took me 16 years of paddling before my first real paddling lesson. One or two full-day lessons early on as a paddler is invaluable. Beyond that, lessons refine skills for those who want to play or paddle occasionally in more challenging conditions.

Now after 25+ years of paddling, I take at least one advanced lesson yearly. Learning from other’s experience is much cheaper and less stressful than being the subject on the 11pm local news about a kayaker incident. And the friends you make along the way open the door for some cool paddling experiences you might never have known about.

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We weren’t born snoots.
We made a lot of mistakes on our journey. Some could have been fatal.
I did have mentors ( pre Internet days)
We are just being your virtual mentors to try and save you from making really costly mistakes and sharing tips that we may wish we had learned earlier.

I guess I’m the maverick; I bought all of my boats brand new, never took any lessons, but I did a lot of experimenting and found out what works. I even watched some Youtube videos that were helpful, but in the end I taught myself.

The number one lesson I learned early on was that if you wait around for someone to go paddling with, you will mostly be waiting around. Those who I did go paddling with were either scared half out of their minds by any sizable conditions, or managed to scare me thinking they were about to become a statistic.

Maybe the biggest favor a friend of mine who used to build a very high line of kayaks told me when I asked him how to do some things. He said, “Oh, you’ll learn.”

So you’re saying we survived without GPS, cellphones , “Hey Google”, seat belts and airbags?
But with maybe some thought and with a compass and a 10 cent map.
I crisscrossed the country many times in the 60s and 70s. but then we were indestructible… :sunglasses: GH


LOL I can (vaguely) recall some long hitchiking trips, sleeping under bridges, snow storms, thawing out fingers at rest area hand dryers… a VW van (and the wrench set to go along with it), a Grumman, and a good sleeping bag made life soooo much better.
Now THAT was a step that seemed like joining the elite. Ya know, I now am rubbing elbows with folks who have a travel trailer. It’s good to be upwardly mobile.

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There is nothing “wrong” about buying cheap recreational boats (Pelican, Lifetime, SunDolphin, etc) that may have poor design, cheap fittings, limited features, limited performance, etc. as long as the buyer is aware of what they’re buying and it is appropriate for their intended use.

Since paddling gets people killed, I think it is okay to tell the straight up truth to rookies even if they do not like the sound of it.

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Especially given all the people we all seem routinely to see, paddling in the ocean, or on the Great Lakes, or on the Hudson River, etc., with open cockpits and sometimes no PFDs.


But Doggy, those same folks think ahead and have a beer holder and a paddle holder/clip.

There’s a difference between being informative, helpful, advising and being degrading, demeaning which sometimes occurs on this web site. People have the freedom to choose, accept/reject information, make mistakes, and learn. That should not offend anyone.


I agree with that. And when I first got here and started reading about all the safety stuff people on here said I had to learn, I was initially a bit taken aback. The impression one gets from the world at large is that you can just hop into a kayak and go wherever you want, what’s the big deal? So now, from the other side of the fence, I can accept a bit of hostility when I wrestle people to the ground and forcibly strap on a PFD. :wink:


I have a blast with my $150 Pelican “pool toy” with a good beer holder that I throw in the back of my truck and go down a local shallow river with lots of shoals and scratch the hell out of the bottom using my $30 paddle with no worries. Do that with a 17 foot composite boat and carbon paddle and you’ll be cryin at the takeout.


hey I own a canoe with cup/beer holders and like it!

I did some canoe trips as a child- my father was clueless, my scout leaders were clueless, camp couselors clueless. Then there were those horrible orange horsecollar pfds! Yet somehow I still got the bug.

I actually started learning more when the adults were left out of the equation. It forced me to start thinking for myself. I remember organizing and taking an overnight rockcastle river (ky) ww canoe trip without any adults while still in high school. I also did a mostly solo 400 mile backpack trip while still in high school. Part of the appeal was figuring it out myself.

I did get some solid advice/basic canoe tripping/ww instruction when I started working for Maine High Adventure BSA. The Paul Mason films and books were also a help.

Mostly, though I learned a lot from fellow paddlers. Sometimes you just watched them and tried to emulate. We were trying to figure things out together. I’m blessed to still have many people like that in my life. Frequently now, I go from mentoring someone to being mentored by them as they quickly accelerate beyond my abilities.

I’ve been slow to embrace formal (pay to play) instruction. In fact it wasn’t until I started getting aca instructor certification just a few years ago that I actually had any type of lessons. I was at a huge disadvantage for instructor certification because my paddling had just sort of evolved. I hadn’t been shown or told the why, explained or thought about the how, and modeling was kind of lost on me. I struggled the most on the flatwater skills- explaining and modeling strokes, rolling (some physical issues with that), and using aca terminology. After watching me struggle, I think the instructors were actually surprised when we got on ww and they saw I had a comfort level.

So I think part of the appeal is that many perceive paddling as something they can do themselves. Something in the aca manual stuck with me and to roughly paraphrase “people perceive paddle craft as simple therefore believe paddling will be simple (easy) as well.” I think most people seek advice/instruction after they realize that there is more to it than what they thought initially. I did manage to video over 400 commercial raft trips on the New and Gauley Rivers so the “do it yourself” mentality served me well for times when no one else was around (being out ahead of or behind the trip I was filming). Now a days I like boating with just a few folks that I know have my back and I have theirs as well.

I am seeking some “professional help” (Scott Fisher) for my roll and level 3 ww skills. Fat old guys with wanky knees and fake hips need a few professional cheats to get where they want to be. I will tell you that some instructors have priced themselves out of the market. One is now charging $700 a day for private instruction. That is absolutely ridiculous.

One good thing about covid is that it has kept me closer to home which means I’ve focused more on skills and paddling development (in myself and others). So I think helping others for free is a great way to payback some of the joy I’ve gotten from paddling…it’s all about good river karma…pay it forward.


Well string, I don’t know what prompted you to start this thread but I sure hope it wasn’t me and if I’ve offended anyone I apologize.

PS - I’m jealous if it only took you four paddles to find one you like.

Well Tom, it wasn’t you. It was the person that bought the very expensive pool toy just to get on the water and was regretting it. I felt for them because I’ve made some expensive mistakes.
As a boss once told me " good initiative, poor judgement".
I hope to help avoid some of that.

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I sure can identify with Magooch and tdaniel - I, too, figured it out pretty much on my own. (And by wearing out copies of the Red Cross canoeing guide.) But those were different times and circumstances. I don’t think there were any paddling clubs, summer camp instruction, ACA instructors - none of it - where and when I got started.

The few others I encountered who paddled back then, unless they were quite wealthy, paddled Alumacraft, Michicraft, or Grumman canoes. Those were, despite their weight and arguably barge-like handling properties, eminently safe. I know of no modern boats that have as much flotation out-of-the-box as they did. These rec boats that are being sold at prices that make them almost impulse buys are a different animal entirely and not nearly as safe. True enough, if that’s all a person wants and they’re informed about the limitations and usages of such craft, it’s all fine. But that isn’t in the nature of “almost impulse buys”. If it leads to folks venturing into dangerous conditions unaware and without adequate safety precautions its a very dangerous situation that they’ve been set up for; and set up for thoughtlessly and for profit. (Would it really raise the price that much to glue a bit more Styrofoam in those things?) Big water, cold water, unsettled weather, white water, improper attire, not wearing a PFD and cheap rec boats in combination are simply an accident waiting to happen.

Instruction and/or club paddling experiences can make up for some of those dangerous shortcomings. Its a good thing if someone learns enough to look at the situation while still at the landing; wind, waves, water temps, hazards and then to exercise some good judgement and poor initiative. Better to just sit it out and read a book.
It can also eventually lead a paddler to buy something more suitable to their evolving desires down the line, rendering the initial purchase as some wasted money. I applaud string for trying to help new comers to the sport to avoid such unnecessary expense. We should all do likewise if we can.

If, I guess its about 50 years ago now, I had had opportunities for formal instruction or club paddling with more experienced paddlers it would have greatly enhanced my enjoyment and expanded my possibilities over all those years. For most of my paddling life I practiced such “good judgement”, having learned from a few close calls and lots of unnecessary effort, that I never ventured into white water (marginally navigable, I then called it). I laboriously carried around what I might have enjoyed running. I considered myself “weather bound” when I needn’t have, and I deprived myself of going places and seeing things I might otherwise have enjoyed. I used to be proud to say I hadn’t capsized in twenty years. Now I feel somewhat ashamed that I didn’t push the envelope a bit more than that. We don’t improve by endlessly doing what we’re already pretty good at.

And when I did finally take a whitewater instruction course, I spent half of it trying to unlearn stuff that was very very thoroughly ingrained - I can still near the instructor yelling at me to quit C-stroking; cut out that sculling draw stuff; don’t J so much, stern pry; don’t switch hands, paddle off-side. And still I did it instinctively. It would have been better if I’d practiced alternatives earlier. (And if I’d ever lived near any whitewater to practice it on…)

But beginners now have many more opportunities to learn formally or informally in groups. There are more clubs now (and decent used boats at rec boat prices that come along with clubs), and more formal paddling instructors. Let us hope that these advantages out weigh the hazards that come along with inexpensive and marginally safe boats that are now seemingly for sale everywhere.


…“If it leads to folks venturing into dangerous conditions unaware and without adequate safety precautions its a very dangerous situation that they’ve been set up for;”…

That brings up something that happened during a GL workshop last month. We were out on a reservoir. I was off to the side working on sculling while the coach worked on basics with a newbie to GL paddles when a rec boater paddled by. I complemented him on having a PFD both on himself and his little dog ‘Peanut’ perched confidently on the bow. “Safety first!” he cheerfully replied. He then chatted for a while about what we were doing, asked about our ‘funny paddles’ and said he wished there were classes for his type of kayak. I suggested checking out Meetup but he said all the paddles require 14’ kayaks w/ bulkheads, etc. The only other thing we could offer was maybe REI, since around the Chesapeake at least, actual kayak shops are few. As you said these boats are often impulse buys, coming from Dick’s, Costco, or on-line, which leaves a gap in training opportunities.

There’s even a gap with sea kayak training. There’s classes/clubs for beginners - basic strokes and braces, safety gear, flat water - but then classes seem to jump to L3 level rough water/surfing. Long, exploratory paddles stay pretty much at the flat water/leisurely pace level. Some will never be interested in anything more, but what about the paddlers who want just a bit more? I’ve harped on this with my local instructors for the last couple of years.

Unless you keep paddlers engaged with something in-between ‘here’s the forward stroke’ and ‘let’s hit those 3’ breaking waves!’ they will drift away from the sport because they do see a somewhat elitist arc.