First BoatBuy or Rent?
By Tamia Nelson
You've decided that you want to give paddlesport a try. You've got your hand on your wallet, and you're ready to take the plunge. Now for the next big questionbuy or rent?
Hold on a minute! There's a third way, and it could be the best way of all to get started. Don't buy. Don't rent. Borrow. And don't just borrow a boat. Do you have a friend who paddles? You do? Great! Does he (or she) have a tandem canoe or a spare kayak? He does? Wonderful! Just ask your friend to take you out on the water someday soon. Chances are good that he'll say yes. Most paddlers are happy to evangelize. Just be sure that your friend doesn't throw you in at the deep end. You don't want to spend your first few hours in a canoe (or kayak) in Class IV water, after all.
So start smart. Pick a warm, sunny day. Bring a life jacket that fitsand then wear it, even if you're a good swimmer. Explore the margins of a nearby lake. Visit a beaver pond. Take along a picnic lunch. (But leave the beer at home.) Relax and have fun. If your friend is a good teacher, there's no better way to get your feet wet.
What's that? None of your friends is a paddler? No problem. Just make some new friends. Chances are good there's a paddling club near you. Ask around at outfitters, sporting-goods stores, and local colleges. And don't forget the local chapters of statewide or national organizations. In the northeastern US, both the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club have busy trip schedules and frequent workshops. Some chapters even offer formal courses of instruction. These are always worth considering. The company is good, the cost is low, and there's almost always an empty space in somebody's boat.
Can't find a club? Then check out nearby colleges' non-credit schedules. Many offer canoeing and kayaking courses in spring and summer. You'll have to pay tuition, of course, but the college should provide all the equipment you'll need. (Be sure to ask first!) This, too, is a good way to get started.
Still no joy? OK. Renting's the way to go. See if you can find a local outfitter who rents boats by the day. Most who do also include a short course of instruction as part of the package. This won't make you an expert, but at least you'll be able to get across the pond and back again, particularly if you've done a little homework first. You'll find suggestions for preliminary reading in my "Paddler's Booklist."
Want to venture farther afield than the shores of Golden Pond? Some outfitters offer escorted trips to all four corners of the globein their boats. Others give formal courses of instruction in everything from sea-kayaking to river rescue. If you have the time and the money, these can all be excellent ways to see new places and try different canoes and kayaks. But even if you never plan to leave Golden Pond, be sure you rent a variety of boats. There's no better way to find out what works best for you. Some boaters rent for years before buying. It's hard to make room for a 17' canoe in a city apartment, after all. There are alternatives to hardshell boats, of courseinflatables and folding kayaks, for examplebut as good as these are, they aren't for everyone.
Unless you're one of those folks living in a fourteenth-floor studio apartment, however, sooner or later you'll want to buy a boat of your own. When that day comes, you'll be glad that you took your time and paddled a lot of other people's boats. Borrow before you rent. Rent before you buy. It's good advice. 'Nuff said.
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