Kayak and SUP demo days are a blast-- you have a chance to try before you buy, and get in and on a wide assortment of models. What could be better? To get the most out of your experience, we’ve compiled some tips from our years of making it easy for folks to get on the water.

Before the demo

1. Be honest with yourself about your expectations

Are you going for your first paddling experience, specifically to learn whether or not paddle sports are for you? Are you going to test-paddle the nicest hulls or boards available, just to feel what they’re like? Or, are you looking to make a buying decision between a couple models? Our demo days will help you in all three scenarios, but knowing what you expect will help you get the most out of it.

2. Narrow your selection to no more than 3 models

When we have more than three items to choose from, we are unable to make a decision, so step one is to narrow the options. To begin, spend some time in the store and online winnowing the models to a few designed for your needs and size. Then, ask questions of the store staff to verify you are moving in the right direction and considering the best options, as they may have personal experience with the boat or board you’re considering.

3. Dress for success

Wear shoes and clothing appropriate for the demo location, the weather, and the water conditions. Nothing is more demoralizing than not getting to test-paddle a new board because you sliced your bare foot, or fell off a SUP and were too embarrassed or cold to continue. So, wear the outfit you will paddle in, including your own PFD and paddle if you have them.

If you are new to paddling, bring sandals, booties, or water shoes that will not slip off easily, swim shorts, a swim top or rash guard, a pullover or jacket, and a sun hat, plus a towel and change of clothes in case you swim. Additionally, pack some water and possibly a snack, too, so you are not distracted by thirst or hunger.

On the water

Ideally, demo day locations and conditions match the water you will visit most often. Realistically, however, this rarely happens. So, stack the odds in your favor by truly comparing each model by repeating with each one the same routine. Knowing which to compare, paddle them back to back, spending 10 to 15 minutes in or on each.

4. Get a sense of how it fits

Get comfortable in the paddling position. Move around on the board or in the cockpit, making sure the fit and trim are adjusted to you, and that you are comfortable with the side-to-side and front-to-back stability. If you’re having difficulty, ask our demo event staff to make any adjustments with you.

5. Run it through its paces

Once you’re comfortable aboard, drive it up to cruising speed to see how quickly and easily it accelerates from a stop and travels in the direction you intend. Then, bring it to a stop. From here, spin in a circle in place with sweep strokes, paddle backwards and stop, and note any twitchiness or tippiness. After, paddle forward in a figure eight to sense how it turns to each side. Once you’re done, paddle back to shore, and before dismounting, bake into your memory exactly how using the craft felt, how it responded to your efforts, any discomfort or oddity, and any exhilaration about finding the best fit.

6. Repeat

Now do the same with your remaining models, as quickly as you can, without being tempted to test one not on your list – this will just add noise. Especially if the first craft felt great, try the others on your list to confirm your decision. Pulling the trigger after testing only one is like leaving a multi-course gourmet meal after the salad; you owe it to yourself to sample the rest of the menu! But stick to the plan: the models on your list first, before dallying into the dessert offerings.

7. Ask for insights

After developing your thoughts about how the tested models compare, ask our demo event staff questions about what could make the fit or performance better. We are there to help you. You may learn a handling tip that increases your skills and allows you to be confident in or on a craft that felt twitchy at first, turning it into the best choice because you will not outgrow it. Do not be afraid to take a final test run in the model you believe to be the one.

8. Sample the rest

Now that you have the knowledge you need to buy the right board or boat, treat yourself to a unique chance to paddle something you normally would never have the opportunity to – for instance, the latest crossover boat or racing board. Just please respect other folks’ expectations to test-paddle the same craft in their efforts to find the next right one.

Off the water

9. Go get it, and get on the water!

By now, your demo was a success, and you were able to pick the best next craft for yourself, so go get it! If this is your first boat or board, remember there a few additional fundamentals beyond the obvious PFD and paddle. You also need a way to transport it home, store it, care for it, and possibly pack your gear in or on it. So, please make use of our knowledgeable staff and other resources to help you equip yourself best for years of enjoyment on and off the water!