Why it's important to try before you buy

This past weekend hubby and I took a few kayaks to the lake for some folks to try out before they put down money on some for themselves.

One gal tried our Necky Manitou 14 and then the OT Castine. She found, due to her hip shape, the Castine was a much better fit and more comfortable for her. Her husband paddles a different brand 12 footer, which she also says doesn’t fit her body type.

This is why experienced paddlers recommend you TRY BEFORE YOU BUY, if possible.

I am not a canoeist, though we have an old aluminum Grumman, so I can’t say if the same is true for that type of boat. Canoeists would have to chime in on this topic for fit.

Fit is just for starters.
Whether, or not one can fit into a kayak is the first priority, but there’s so much more to consider. To me, kayaks are no different than a lot of things (cars, trucks, motorcycles, bikes, etc.), so I would amend that to say that a boat must look right to me before it would even get the fit test. Even after looks and fit are satisfied, you’re just getting started.

you’ve obviously never driven a Saab
(you can’t see the ugly from the inside!)

There is only so much room
Each boat has unique configurations and while some of it

can be “padded out” with closed cell foam for fit,

many other items have no simple fix or adjustment.

SOME experienced paddlers say that.
Others, like me (40 years paddling, 15 boats purchased without paddling even one beforehand) say that, at most, a trial fitting on dry land may be enough.

Newbie paddlers can’t judge boat handling by demos. They are better off relying on judgement borrowed from experienced paddlers. So, get an experienced (and hopefully intelligent) paddler to come along and demo your boat for you.

I’ve owned about half a dozen open boats, five decked c-1s, and five kayaks, one a touring kayak. For every single one, serious outfitting was needed before I could give it a meaningful trial. Fortunately, I have experience judging boat behavior from visual inspection, and I am very, very good at boat mods to make a boat fit.

So, I have purchased boats where I felt I knew how their hulls would perform, and I’ve only been wrong twice. And I’ve been able to judge in advance whether a boat could be cut to fit.

Being able to demo would be great, but I would have missed out on a bunch of great hulls because demos were out of the question.

I fear for those who rely on demos, because often their initial impression will be wrong. But if you can at least sit in a boat for fit, that’s smart.

agreed, take them for what they’re worth
If one understands that a demo in controlled conditions only provides feedback for those conditions and that duration of time, one has the correct understanding. It can still be helpful but beyond that I agree with your suggestion.

Even then, two experienced paddlers’ impressions of the very same boat may differ a bit.

Some of my boats had already been
vetted by both experienced paddlers and the unwashed masses. Some had been reviewed in Canoe and Kayak. One I bought from the Olympic paddler who had designed it.

As examples, I tried a Perception Dancer XT. The fit was marginal and the handling was mediocre. I traded up to a Perception Corsica, which in '93 had already been praised by a lot of big paddlers like me. I had to modify the cockpit, but on the water it was a dependable ride, much better than the XT. I bought a used Dagger Animas, based on many favorable reviews. Again I had to modify the seat and thigh braces, but while a bit small for my 215 pounds, it has great resistance to being upset from any direction.

When one reads an internet or magazine review, one has to be able to rate the objectivity and relevance of the reviewer’s comments as well as what the reviewer is saying about the boat. I’m a psychologist. I can do that. Many others can too.

Judging hulls and predicting behavior is partly a right brain skill. I’ve managed OK so far. I see lots of folks on pnet who can do it.

Because of wide set hip joints, I’ve had
to cut windows in the sides of kayak seats. This doesn’t seem to weaken seats much.

A short cockpit is very hard to deal with, unless it is canted up significantly so that a tall paddler can “shoot” his legs forward into the boat. Of course, rec kayaks rarely have short cockpits.

Once, trying on a Prijon Athlete, a slalom style ww kayak, I had to remove every speck of padding and outfitting. Then I was able to get in, and my lower body and thighs were OK, but my large feet had to be pointed forward in the nose of the boat, like feet of a ballet dancer, to fit. I decided that was not a viable way to paddle the boat.

my two cents
I think trying is extremely important, even if you are a newbie and don’t really know enough to judge. I tried out the WS Tempest 165 pro and then the CD Suka. The Tempest was great, though I could tell the fit was still a little loose. Measurement wise, they are very similar. The Tempest is more often fine for beginners than the Suka, which has been reviewed in a number of places as “not a beginner boat”. If I hadn’t tested them, and had just sat in them, I might have been intimidated by the Suka.

But I DID test the Suka, and it really blew the Tempest out of the water for me. I haven’t done a lot of paddling, and I have no problem whatsoever handling the Suka. In fact, in my case, I’m in better control of the Suka than the Tempest because that tiny bit of fit difference and cockpit shape changed everything.

The hull shapes are different, and I would never have understood how they FEEL different unless I paddled them myself. You aren’t giving newbies enough credit if you say they can’t judge a boat for themselves from a demo. Sure, their feelings are going to change and they may grow out of the boat they choose. But if I had gone on “experienced paddlers” opinions(long time paddlers who own and work in my local paddle shop), they would have said the Suka was too much for me to handle, and said the Tempest was a better bet and a more universal favorite.

No one can judge how a individuals level of fitness, natural sense of balance, and intuitive skill will play out in the cockpit until they are in the kayak. One that feels tipsy and scary to one will feel responsive and exciting to another. You won’t know until you paddle it. I had made my decision within 5 minutes of paddling the Suka, and after long days of paddling it this past long weekend, I know I made the right choice. She’s perfect…for me.

see katie’s last paragraph
Without challenging what you said it’s easy to imagine how different styles, condition preferences, heck - different understanding of terms or phrases, such as “this hull is loose” can vary between people. Then we get into the physical differences.

I’d agree that a given group of experienced paddlers should generally concur on a boat, but it’s been my experience that they may vary a bit.

Suka too much to handle?

– Last Updated: Sep-05-13 7:40 PM EST –

I am a somewhat experienced paddler, and have spent a bit to decent time in both the Suka and the Tempest 165.

In a million years I would never argue that the Suka was too much for anyone to handle, among sea kayaks. There are boats that are not prime for a beginner trying to gain confidence, but the ones I can think of would end up on a lot of peoples' list. The Suka is not among them. It is a reasonably reassuring sea kayak for its target paddler.

Yeah, it'd be pretty unstable if one of our 6'4" friends could stuff themselves into it. Of course it would also be a submarine.

I agree with all of the above about the importance of spending time in boats to make a good choice. But I really have to wonder about people who end up being called "experienced paddlers" when I hear things like the Suka is a tough boat.

I think their point
may have been that they don’t feel it is a reassuring-feeling kayak. Apparently the beginners they have dealt with like a “safe”, stable feeling boat. With the Suka’s v-hull and hard chines, it likes being on an edge and some novices don’t like that feeling(this is what I’m assuming they are thinking). I do like that feel, and so I would definitely challenge their assertion that it is too lively for a beginner. So I agree with you! But I have encountered this brand of “experienced opinion” before…they think everything has to be dumbed down/made easier, instead of having the novice paddler test their limits.

Just like I’ve been told that beginners “need” to use a paddle float to re-enter after a wet exit, because other re-entries are too difficult. I hate paddle floats. Getting back into the Suka in fairly rough, big lake water was no problem for me and achieved first try cowboy scramble style. These types of experiences lead me to think that sometimes beginners are coddled by experienced paddlers into thinking they are less capable than they are, or that they need a huge skill-set before they try things on their own.

And that’s why I think novices can tell if a boat is good for them or not - not as thoroughly as an experienced paddler, but well enough to make a huge difference in what kayak they settle on - they just need to be encouraged to try as many things as possible in the boat while they are in it. Even if it is calm water, you can still judge how your body feels in it and how the kayak reacts to your body.

The way I think of it, as a horse person, is: I would never, ever buy a broke horse without riding it first.(I’ve bought yearlings without riding them, obviously, but they are a blank slate) Some horses, for whatever intangible reason, just don’t feel “right”. And you can analyze everything about the horse on the ground, ask for expert opinions, and still never know what they are really like until you are on their back.

Still shaking my head

– Last Updated: Sep-06-13 1:13 AM EST –

I think you need to find a more skilled batch of "experienced paddlers". Sorry, but most of the above advice is off base.

The last number of months is probably the first run of that long a time in years where my husband and I haven't taken someone out and worked with them to do a wet exit and cover re-entry options in a sea kayak. I have never espoused crap like what someone has apparently told you. I have been out with more than one person who had the balance and agility to manage the Cowboy as a first self-rescue option.

Yes, there are plenty of people who have to start with the amount of support afforded by using the paddle float. And there are plenty who first get into a sea kayak and decide that the more active hull is not their cup of tea. But many of these are also people for whom a sea kayak is just not a prime choice at that point in their paddling.

For someone who is already gravitated towards a full out sea kayak with more aggressive paddling goals, anyone with some decent skills time should know to throw such assumptions out the window and instead see what the new paddler is bringing to the table. What you are reporting here is a reflection of the inexperience of the "experienced kayakers", not a universal point of view.

My options are pretty limited

– Last Updated: Sep-06-13 12:21 AM EST –

in Saskatchewan Canada. What the paddling stores around here sell the most of are rec kayaks and maybe some of the easy, entry-level sea kayaks. Almost nothing 21 inches and narrower. In fact, if I hadn't totally lucked out on a Suka coming up used, I most certainly would have had to buy it new..they don't even stock boats like that around here. The simply aren't in demand, and few buy them. Besides, I wasn't just in the market for a new kayak, or an upgrade on my rec kayak. I've never owned a boat before the Suka, and I had only ever paddled a small, wide, rec boat(and very infrequently at that) before I tested the Tempest and bought the Suka.

So I guess in their defense(they aren't my buddies; I don't paddle with them, so don't worry about me being offended! I'm not), they would recommend a Tempest or a Necky Eliza over a Suka, because their typical clientele ISN'T a serious paddler, and has no intention of becoming one. So for them, when considering their typical customer, the Suka does seem like too "serious" of a boat for a beginner. It isn't often one sees a sea kayak around here. Aren't you glad you live in a more paddling-oriented area?!

Anyway, the whole point of my bringing this up is that you can't trust what someone else says about what will work for you. And I think telling a newbie that they should just trust what a experienced paddler tells them they should be paddling is bad advice. Listen to their advice, and then try out those boats yourself!

Salespeople versus instructor/coach
A lot of what you mention above wanders into the territory of what a decent instructor would be covering, especially things like re-entry techniques and how to understand/use stability changes. You have an athletic background so were able to understand much of this intuitively, and even better had the confidence to go with your instincts.

But the folks who gave you this dreadful advice were probably doing the right thing as salespeople based on the numbers. As you say, the majority of the people who walked into the store would have likely been been happier long term with a more rec’y boat. This generates overall good ratings for the business, and everyone still has a job to pay the rent and it is a good thing.

I get lambasted on this board for recommending that people spend their money first on basic lessons, but your story is why. Had you listened to their advice, you would probably have realized you had spent a bunch of money on a boat you weren’t totally happy with about 30 minutes into your first time of serious training.

I don’t know where you can get skills work given your description of your area, but when that time comes I suggest that you check out the web sites of a couple of organizations to see if there is a coach listed near you. The people who were trying to sell you the boat don’t seem to be a match for your more aggressive goals. The ACA or the Canadian guides organization may have someone within reach. “Within reach” may mean an overnight stay somewhere, probably next spring, but it’d be worth it to get a couple of days of the right work.


– Last Updated: Sep-06-13 8:46 AM EST –

I want to take a few classes next year, I want to learn to roll sooner rather than later(among many other things!), but they are done offering classes for this summer. There are instructors around here that won't have a sales-aim, but they are just few and far between!

But even if it had been instructors giving me the advice about which kayak to choose, I still would take their advice with a grain of salt. Everything about choosing a kayak, in my opinion, is sort of in the eye of the beholder.

Frankly, there is just oodles of apparently bad advice out there. I researched the Suka as much as I could before I actually tested it, and probably 50% of what I read mentioned it being on the twitchy side. I find it so hard to believe now..but that information is out there. So is the nonsense that a ladder or cowboy re-entry can only really be done in calm water.

Look for winter pool sessions
You will want to get goggle or goggles/nose clip to keep the chlorine from bothering your eyes and stinging when it comes up your nose, unless you have a very high tolerance for that. But you should check for winter pool sessions, especially for the rolling. Warm water is a nice way to start, and starting this work in the winter leaves you ready to go right out of the gate come spring.

A lot of well-meaning people forget that there can be huge differences in “beginner” attitudes and ability.

In my case, I was a kayak beginner, but had a lot of time on Sunfish and sailboards and other wet tippy things in wind and waves, plus being very comfortable in the water. I started with a couple of sea kayak classes, and my “beginner boat” was an Avocet.

For somebody with a different background and goals, that approach could have been scary, frustrating, dangerous, or all of the above.

It’s not just water experience that makes a difference. Folks who have good balance and coordination from other activities have a head start. Attitude and goals are also a huge part of it – do you want to sneak up on wildlife in ponds, or surf breakers? Both are fine, but take you down very different paths. Good advice for one would be bad for the other.

Most folks that give advice mean well, but tend to be biased by their own experience.

Exactly, I really identify with all that.

OK, Katie, it may be that you have
more difficulty spotting experienced paddlers than you do trying out boats. Don’t assume the sales people are “experienced” in any useful way. I can squeeze info out of such people, but I have to use oblique or even trick questions.

Remember that I said I can’t try out boats without buying and outfitting them. That’s how I learned I did not have to demo boats, as long as I could assess expert opinion and judge hull characteristics.

You may be better at demoing boats than most, but I still insist, most newbies are not capable of fully assessing boats in a demo session. They don’t have the knowledge, and they don’t have the feel.