BlogSpot # 1: Canoe Demo, 6/5/08
T. Fielder Valone

“There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats,” the River Rat observed in The Wind in the Willows. On the afternoon and early evening of Thursday, June 5, Great Outdoor Provision Co. staff and customers were in agreement.
Paddling is, by its very nature, a fun affair. But to suggest that this demo, held on the first Thursday of each month, was but a front for “adult recess” would be unfair. These events are not intended to be a venue for “free boat rides,” as Bittu Ali, Paddlesports Product Manager at Great Outdoor Provision Co., explains. Instead, these boating demonstrations provide an important opportunity for prospective buyers to test the products where the hull meets the water – but it sure is a fun process. As Tom Foote of Current Designs related shortly before the event began, “I am personally against someone buying a [high-end] boat without first putting it in the water.” Just as no one should purchase a car without first sitting behind the wheel, it is similarly wise to experience a boat’s nuances and handling benefits before making a decision.

And there is certainly no shortage of product to test. Plastic, Kevlar, and carbon-fiber kayaks stretch along the sand at the water’s edge. Dozens of styles and models are represented, ranging from beginner’s kayaks (referred to as “recreational” boats) to sea kayaks – those long and slender paragons of open-water boating capable of long-distance trips in open seas. Each kayak is carefully selected days beforehand, per request via individual customers. “This is really about helping our customers to make well-informed decisions,” Bittu says. “So we’re really serious about bringing out specific boats that our customers have an interest in.”

Informed by advertisements to arrive between four and seven pm, the crowds demonstrate their enthusiasm by arriving a full half-hour early. Well before the advertised start-time, composite kayaks have already begun angling across the small bay. Standing from the shore and squinting through the shimmering sunlight, one marvels at the elegance of the vessels on open water. Performance, aesthetics, motion pleasure all while just “messin’ around.”

Shortly before the customers arrived, I had the opportunity to slide into the cockpits of several kayaks, beginning with a basic recreational model – which Bittu likens to a “bike with the training wheels still attached.” With an eye toward running the gamut of kayaking models, I progressed to the Manitou 13 – a hybrid kayak that embodies the easy handling of a recreational model but also includes a taste of the efficiency characteristic of sea kayaks. The sensation of switching among various models is empowering. In a single afternoon, one could theoretically paddle the boating equivalents of both an SUV and a Ferrari.

With the sun at last relinquishing its command over the day, the crowd begins to dissipate, the numbers gradually dwindling into single digits. All said and done, the demo was a success, fulfilling its mission of providing the customer with an opportunity to experience the pros and cons of various boat models in a hands-on fashion and under expert supervision. And, the event evoked that unique delight experienced by the River Rat; quite a few folks are now set for a summer of “messing about in boats” that perform the way they want them to.