Life is full of tough choices. What should I spend my REI dividend on? Ski season is over, so do I want to start a new activity, like paddling? Do I want a boat designed for day trips, touring or fishing? Add to these questions the warm sun, shimmering water, and a paddle in hand, and you have a recipe for indecision. I was lucky enough to be blissfully stuck on the fence at the recent REI Paddle Demo Day at Stan Sayres Memorial Park in Seattle.
Why does REI hold these events? Well, it’s hard to know exactly how a boat feels in the water until you launch it, and having an experienced paddling representative nearby to answer questions really unlocks the potential of a kayak, canoe or paddleboard. It’s a free event, and you don’t even have to come with a specific boat in mind. From the latest sit-on-tops to that touring boat you’ve been curious to try, these demos get you on the water in a safe, fun environment.
I attended to help decide what type of kayak to purchase for the upcoming season: a fishing kayak or a touring kayak. One offers stability that works great for tying knots, rigging gear and hauling in your catch. The other is typically speedy, sleek and designed to cover water. Could I find a kayak that might have the best qualities of both? Or would I have to choose one? What accessories should I look for? Do those kayaks come in awesome colors, like salmon and silver, or maybe even camouflage?
I was not disappointed with the number of boats I could demo. Stan Sayres Park was stuffed to the gills with watercraft from virtually all of REI’s major brands. There were reps from Delta, Necky, Old Town, Ocean Kayak, Lendal, Carlisle, Extrasport, Wilderness Systems, Perception, Dagger, Mad River Canoe, Adventure Technology, Harmony, Emotion Kayaks, Bending Branches, Stohlquist, Esquif, Hurricane Kayaks, C4 Waterman, Surftech, NRS, Kokatat, Teva, O’Neill, Pakboats, and Advanced Elements. It came off without a hitch, except, of course, the hitches from Thule. REI also had representatives from the Puget Sound Keeper Alliance and the Washington Water Trails Association.
Smiles were big, feet were wet, and families were out in full force. REI staff from local stores, including Seattle and Redmond, were on hand to help launch boats and find gear. Speaking to Andy Friedlander, the Community Outreach Coordinator at the Seattle REI, I learned that the event brought in over 400 people for the day. Of particular popularity this year was the lineup of stand up paddleboards (SUP) from C4, Surftech and Ocean Kayak. At times, it seemed like half of the attendees on the water were standing! A volunteer at the event, REI's Leland Ching, noted that ”several times during the day all of the demo SUP boards were out on the water,” and there was “intense interest” from paddlers of all ages, including adolescents. For more information about stand-up paddling, check out the REI Expert Advice paddleboarding article and video.
At the time of this posting, most of the 2010 demos held near REI stores have already passed, with the exceptions of REI Portland, Ore., and REI Huntington Beach, Calif. If you live near these areas and you’re interested in signing up, you can register by following the links for Portland REI Outdoor Fest and Huntington Beach REI Paddle Fest 2010.
So, did the demo help me decide whether to get a touring kayak or a fishing kayak? Absolutely. I loved the stability of a fishing kayak, a characteristic that I wouldn’t have experienced in the store. I tend to geek out on accessories and being in the cockpit gave me a feel for how much I could reasonably bring and keep organized. Now if I could only find a kayak that’s painted exactly like a salmon, I could effortlessly blend in with my environment … and scare the living daylights out of passing sea lions.