This weekend I got a chance to help out at the Swift Canoe and Kayak‘s spring demo/sale at Guelph Lake. It was a chance to hang out two full days with people who know just about everything there is to know about canoes and kayaks, and hopefully learn a little from them. Specifically though, the event was going to be a chance me to help make a big decision, one that I’ve been agonizing over for quite a while now.
The spring demo is an annual tradition for Swift – they’ve been coming to Guelph for 20 years now, bringing all kinds of paddlers from far and wide to check out the boat they’ve been thinking about buying, and get out on the water to do a little test drive. As a bonus, this event is a great way to save a little money by either taking advantage of event discount, or you could also get a deal on a demo or used boat. And apparently the event doesn’t just match canoes with their owners, either. It was working at this event that Mike and Fiona of Badger Paddles fell in love years earlier. (So obviously there was a chance I might come home with more than just a new canoe.) I should mention that I do not in any way work for Swift. I just really like their canoes. Which is why I jumped at the chance to volunteer at this event.
My job was to help people get in and out of the canoes and kayaks. I was told that I would enjoy myself, but warned I’d be tired at the end of the day – and to bring extra clothes in case I had to go into the lake after a spill. It seemed like a perfect job for me. I’d get people set up with paddles and PFDs, help them into the boat and give them a little push to get them on their way. The sales guys would bring people down, we’d make bad jokes – often the same ones over and over again – and get them on their way. We’d chat about canoes, paddling, trips people were going to take, and what model would best suit their needs. The best part about this experience was to be able to try out each model, as the only way to really know how the boats feel is to get out on the water with them. It was very interesting to hear about so many people’s preferences in what made for the best canoe. Tracking, maneuverability, stability, load capacity were all qualities that varied in importance depending on the individual, but the “feel” of the boat was really the most important to people. For that you can only really know when you get a chance to try out your boat. And boy did they have a bunch of boats to try out. Canoes and Kayaks were laid out practically as far as you see, in a great mix of colours, in all shapes and sizes. You’d be hard pressed not to find a boat that was right for you.
In fact, if canoes or kayaks weren’t your thing, there were even representatives from BluWave Paddlesports giving demos on their SUPs. I didn’t try this myself, but plenty did, and they all looked like they had a blast. Also there were the guys from Hobie. They sell a line of kayaks, sailing and fishing boats that you can paddle or sail, but also by use of the foot pedals that turn blades similar to how penguins swim, making for a pretty efficient movement (more info here).
Of course the other part of my job was to carry the boats around. It would have been interesting to have counted how many boats I carried. For me, this was a great opportunity to test portage all the different types of canoes. Thankfully, they make canoes pretty light today. The boats weighed between 30 and 60 pounds, but most were nice and light. I’m not sure how quickly I’d volunteer to do this for a company that makes heavier canoes, because as I was warned, doing this all day did wind up wearing me down a little. I also confirmed that I’d hate to portage a kayak, especially a heavy one. They’re awkward to carry compared to a canoe. This I knew, but the point was really driven home after carrying a number of them. Some were so light I could just haul them around at the hip, but even then I’m not sure how often I’d want to do that over the tougher/longer carries. Sure, you’d be able to paddle faster, but I guess that just means getting to the portage quicker, which doesn’t sound as appealing. But that’s just my opinion. I’m not kayaker. Which brings me to another point.
What I also confirmed this weekend was that I know very, very little about kayaks. It seemed Friday was the day of the double blade, with most people arriving wanting to test out a new kayak model. I felt bad, because I really couldn’t help these folks out as much. Kayakers would ask me questions and I’d find my best smile and tell them I’d find them an expert. What this meant, was that it was my best opportunity to learn. When I could, I would listen to the kayak talk (kay-yak?) and try and pick up what I could. In fact at one point, one of the sales guys – Jim – gave me an impromptu kayak paddle lesson. By the end of the second day, I can honestly say that now I know a little about kayaks. I even considered getting into one and try out what I learned. Alas, I was too busy. After hauling canoes all day I was ready to go home after putting in a good day’s work.
I’m not going to say I had a hard day – I mean, how hard can it be to be out in the sun talking about paddling? I will say that I slept very well, and was a little stiff when I woke up. If you ever get a similar opportunity, make sure to use proper carrying technique. I can’t imagine how sore I’d be otherwise after the chill of the evening locks up your muscles. And speaking of being outside, I think I missed a few spots with the sunscreen, because I had a few hot spots that absolutely radiated. What was supposed to be a nice warm limbering shower felt instead like sand blasting to the back of the neck. It’s good to get the first burn over with, I think, and as I limped down the stairs like I had aged a few decades over night, I thought the best part of this experience is what good preparation this is for this year’s tripping season. (I’m either an optimist or a masochist, I can’t remember which I decided.) Contrary to how it must have appeared, I eagerly drove back for the second day.
Just as Friday seemed to be all kayaking, Saturday was canoe day. I felt a little more helpful right away, and I even met a few people I knew. In fact, there were quite a few people who were trying to find the best tripping canoe, and a lot were doing so with their dogs. Yes, you could say I finally felt I could really be of some help. I got a chance to talk to people about their trip plans, how to pack and trim the boat for the canine needs, or just simply exchanging portaging stories. This is why these events are so great for deciding on a canoe. You get to talk to other paddlers, think about what you’re going to do with your new canoe, and try out a bunch to compare how they’ll fit with your plans.
That was after all, what I was doing there. I decided last year that it was time for me to buy a new canoe. Like most people, it was a big decision for me, and I wanted to know I made the right one. I was back and forth on everything from the model to the colour to the material. After talking to Mike from Badger Paddles about it, he suggested I volunteer at this event so I can demo some boats, talk to the sales guys and get a feel for what I wanted. Needless to say, I got what I wanted out of this event. The last thing I did at the end of the day was to order my new boat.
So thanks again to Swift for letting me do this. I had a lot of fun with a great crew and learned quite a lot. Because of this experience, I can be absolutely sure my new canoe will be exactly what I want. What did I buy? Well that will have to wait for another post. Feel free to guess in the comments (choices can be found here).
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