Shopping for your first kayak?

Doing lots of research, reading lots of reviews, and watching lots of videos? Stuck inside while the snow blows outside your window, browsing the endless details on the web?
Can I give you a piece of advice? Stop. That’s right. Just stop.

You can literally drive yourself crazy with all of the information out there. And you know what? Most of it doesn’t matter, especially to the first-time buyer.

I say that, because in my experience until you have paddled for a while, you don’t really know what you’re looking for. Sure, it’s important to buy a kayak that suits your intended purpose (you wouldn’t buy a fibreglass sea kayak to run whitewater rivers) and it’s important to get a boat that physically fits you properly and will be comfortable for the length of time you’re planning to paddle each time you go out. But….that’s basically it. Really.

We’ve been selling kayaks for almost 10 years, and in that decade we’ve had every customer you can imagine, from the anal-retentive, specification-memorizing, constantly-comparing perfectionist who will NEVER find a boat they are truly satisfied with – to the “I don’t care, I just wanna paddle” folks. Frankly, the latter are the best customers. Not because they’re easy to sell a boat to, per se. Mostly because they just want to get out on the water and experience kayaking. They know that they don’t know what they’re looking for.

And that’s what it’s all about. You have to start somewhere, and if you overthink it, you might not ever get started. If you’re buying your second (or third) kayak and have some hours in the seat, you’re in a better position to judge the things that work for you, and have an idea of the things that don’t. New paddlers don’t have that luxury.
I’m not suggesting you sell yourself short, either. This is where the guidance and expertise of a good paddle shop comes in. We can help you make sense of some of the noise.

Don’t know the difference between a skeg and a rudder? Do terms like “chine, rocker, cross section” leave you baffled? Not sure whether plastic or composite is best? What’s the best length of kayak?
These things will be dictated by your intended use of the kayak, and I firmly believe that unless your first boat is intended to be a high-performance touring boat to be used in fairly demanding conditions, most of those design features are beside the point.

The 3 most important considerations to help staff guide you to the right selection of kayaks are:
1) Where, when and how often do you plan to paddle
2) Your physical height, weight, shoe size, leg length, etc
3) Your budget

Keep in mind that comfort (like aesthetics)is a subjective thing, but most boats will have some physical limitations, and although some of those limitations can be deciphered from the specifications, there is NO SUBSTITUTE for actually sitting in a kayak, and test paddling, to verify whether it will be comfortable for the individual paddling it. Remember, when you read that a boat is designed for “small paddlers” or “large paddlers” these are, in most cases, generalizations. I have seen large paddlers squeeze into boats I would not necessarily have thought to recommend, and paddle off as happy as you please. There are no hard and fact rules.

Do your homework, but don’t get hung up on the numbers. Know what type of paddling you are planning to do, at least to start. Don’t think that just because all you’re interested in right now is floating around at the cottage and watching the birds, that your interests won’t necessarily change or grow as you gain more experience. When I think back on the first kayak I ever owned, it’s hard to believe that it would have ever kept up to the kind of paddling I do now. Who knows, you might find that you need more than one kayak to enjoy multiple aspects of the sports.

The important thing is to get out there and get started. A good quality, good value, comfortable kayak that suits your needs and fits well will be the biggest favour you can do yourself. Sometimes, the decision gets made based on the look and design of a kayak. There’s nothing wrong with that, provided that the kayak also meets the 3 criteria above. The best looking kayak in the world is nothing more than an expensive roof rack ornament, or garage wall decorations, if you’re not happy paddling it.

Caller: Hi, I’m looking for a kayak
Me: Sure. How can I help you? What are you looking for?
Caller: Do you have anything red?

As Spring 2020 gets rolling, and paddling season is upon us – Happy Kayak Hunting!
Let us know if we can do anything to help you in your search!

Ed & Tanya Sullivan
Grand River Kayak