We have all posted that iconic newbie question on forums before,"New to kayaking, what should I get"? Then its a barrage of everyones opinions and why the kayak they paddle is better than all the others. Its almost like a right of passage to post that on a forum because everyone does it. You can listen to opinions, read reviews, and watch You Tube videos all day long, but in the end it will not have one ounce of impact on how that kayak feels under your butt.
My first kayak was a freebie, sit inside plastic shell with nothing rigged for fishing. I played around with several DIY projects and made that plastic tube a pretty decent fishing kayak. I knew that it was only temporary until I could save some funds for my first new kayak purchase. My limited experience told me that a kayak is a kayak and as long as it was new, it was good enough for me. I had seen one in particular on a forum and then went straight to their website. Wow, all the different color combos and built in gadgets and gizmos. This is it! This is the one I'm getting, my mind is made up. I only needed to save up about $300 more and she was mine. Then the voice of reason (the wife) chimed in and told me that I could get whatever one I wanted but before I spend that much money I should at least demo it first. But honey, did you see that color? Like a good husband I obliged and set up a demo, just a formality in my mind to please her.
My first demo was a pretty windy day with a little chop on the water and I thought, good, this will be a good practice run. As I started to paddle this machine I was a little wary of the biofeedback my body was giving me. It's just that I'm not used to sitting this high up, all I need is a few minutes to get used to it, I told myself. As the day progressed I still wasn't "used to it", and I started to get a little worried that I may need to go back re consider a few other options. As I left that demo I called my wife and told her that It wasn't what I thought, and maybe I need to demo a few other options.
I set up a few other demo opportunities and this time I made sure I did it right. I took a fishing rod with me and treated my demo as a short fishing trip. I practiced casting, standing, re entry, paddling, and every other possible scenario that I might find myself in. After extensive demos on three kayaks I finally made my decision. I was extremely proud of myself for not rushing my purchase just get on the water as soon as possible. I slowed down, demoed properly and made a choice that I was very happy with.
I spoke with Chris Payne of Chris Payne Outdoor Media about this topic. I know that Chris has owned several different kayaks in the last few years and I wanted to get his perspective. He said that a few of his purchases were just trying them out for review purposes but admitted that a couple of them were rushed buys because he listened to hype and purchased quickly with out proper demoing. "I wont do it again" Chris said. I asked Chris his thoughts on proper demoing practices and this is what he said,
"I think a 20 minute demo is often more useful to exclude a kayak than to buy one. I know pretty quickly if I dislike the glide, layout or overall feel of a kayak. I demoed an Old Town Predator for 20 minutes right after they first came out. I was non-committal about a purchase. Just last week I had one at my disposal for five hours and really got to know the ins and outs of it. It moved from an ok kayak to a pretty impressive and recommendable kayak after I ran it through the paces. Longer exposure time will always be better for the decision making process. 20 minutes is better than no demo but expect a couple of surprises if you purchase shortly thereafter. A day on the water (though it often isn't possible) will usually cement a decision based in seat knowledge leading to a better fit long term."
If you're like me, a thousand dollars is a big purchase and I want to make sure that I take my time to spend it wisely. You can look all around you at kayak anglers that have made these mistakes and we have the opportunity to learn from them. Do your due diligence and research the kayaks and try and find non-biased reviews, like the ones Chris Payne writes. There are several opportunities at local kayak shops to demo, contact your local store and set one up. See you on the water!