Active Outdoors: Why go to a paddlesports demo?

Last modified: 5/19/2013 12:18:11 AM
Why go to a paddlesports demo? Three good reasons: 1) it’s fun; 2) you’ll learn a lot; 3) you may just find the right boat or paddleboard for you.

Back in the olden days, the Inuits, who invented kayaks for hunting seals, whales and walrus among the ice floes of Arctic North America and Greenland, made each wood-framed, skin-covered kayak especially to fit the individual who would be paddling it. Their very survival in frigid Arctic waters depended on the kayak fitting the paddler; an Inuit hunter had to become part of his boat – and the boat part of him.

Today, of course, we paddle for fun and most kayaks are mass-produced in molds. It’s the difference between having your clothes hand-made and buying something off the rack. When you buy something that’s mass-produced, you can make some minor modifications, but it’s better if it fits pretty well to begin with. So, you have to try it on and wear it for awhile.

The same is true (to some degree) with canoes and stand-up paddleboards. Specific models are made for specific purposes and it’s best if you start with one that suits your needs and “fits” you. But since kayaks are still the most popular way to get on the water with a paddle, that’s what I’ll focus on.

Many people start kayaking in borrowed boats; they paddle what’s available to them without giving any thought to it. Sometimes they get lucky, sometimes they don’t.

Worse yet, some people purchase a “dime-store” kayak because it’s cheap and, after all, how different can one kayak be from another? They all float, right? Sadly, based on these experiences, too many people never find out how much fun it can be to paddle a quality kayak that really fits them, and they quit paddling.

That’s what a paddlesports demo is for. It lets you get on the water in a lot of different boats, one right after the other, and see which ones feel best for you. You can try everything from little peapods that are perfect for photographing the sunset from a tiny pond, to long, sleek sea-going kayaks, and everything in between. You can try light boats, fast boats, responsive boats, stable boats.

You’ll be amazed at how different the different kayaks feel and respond to your paddle. Once you start to understand why some kayaks are labeled “recreational,” “touring” or “expedition,” you’ll begin to see what each category offers you. If you are interested in a specific style of boat, such as sit-on-top (which is easier to get into and out of than a sit-in), or a category of boat, you can compare numbers of boats within that style or category.

Trust me, you’ll quickly discover that a kayak isn’t just a kayak. Every one is different. And some will be more fun to paddle than others. You may not fall in love with one kayak, but you’ll get a lot closer to knowing what you want. It’s the same for paddleboards. Some are longer, sleeker and faster; others are wider, slower and more stable. It’s all a matter of what you want.

One thing you won’t get at a busy demo is a lot of one-on-one instruction. Yes, you’ll get some help carrying the boat to the water, and someone to fit your PFD and hand you the correctly sized paddle, but don’t expect a lot of teaching. If you want to learn how to paddle better, take a lesson. Or, at least, spend more time on the water with people who know what they are doing.

So ... the weather is looking good for this weekend, and there are three different paddlesports demos going on. What are you waiting for?

Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

This weekend’s options

∎ Today through Sunday, Adirondack Paddlefest, Mountainman Outdoor Supply Company (, Old Forge, N.Y. (one of the largest events in the country and a wonderful excuse to visit the Adirondacks).

∎ Tomorrow, Demo/Sale Kittery Trading Post (, Kittery, Maine. (The demo is actually at Spring Hill in South Berwick, Maine, about 20 minutes from the store.)

∎ Sunday, Demo/Sale, Contoocook River Canoe Company (, Concord. This well-organized demo with over 200 boats available is on a lovely, quiet stretch of river.

Future options

∎ From June 4-29, EMS has a traveling kayak demo at different locations throughout New England. For the complete list, go to and type “kayak demo” in the search box, or call your local EMS store.

∎ June 7-9, Paddle Fest, LL Bean ( in Freeport, Maine.

∎ June 21-23, Demofest 2010 Zoar Outdoors ( in Charlemont, Mass. (Note: This is for whitewater kayaks and is aimed toward experienced paddlers. If you are a novice, take one of their intro-whitewater clinics before the Demofest.)

Tick tip

It’s tick season again – time to check yourself immediately after you return from any outdoor adventure. If you can, it’s best to take clothes off outside the house (or just inside the door) to keep ticks out.

Here’s another tip a reader passed along. As soon as you come in from outside, throw your clothes in the dryer and tumble them on the hottest setting for 15 or 20 minutes, which will desiccate ticks and kill them much more effectively than washing, even in hot water.

Ticks are now a fact of life even in northern New England. Be smart, but don’t let them keep you prisoner.

(Tim Jones can be reached at

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