Monday, November 29, 2010

Make Kayaking Affordable

It's come to mind that a lot of what we talk about on Kayak Yak -- our boats -- can be described as expensive toys. Well, compared to a basketball or to a baseball glove, yeah, a kayak is a pretty expensive piece of sports equipment.
I'm not talking about the ultra-high quality kayaks that are meant for professionals and specialty paddlers. Of course those are expensive, and cost more than three times the price of the kayaks we paddle. I'm also not talking about the little short rec kayaks sold in Canadian Tire or Wal-Mart for $100 -- the ones we call "drowning boats" because they have no flotation or bulkheads. (There are some in the Christmas flyers this week... Please, please do NOT buy a cheap plastic bubble and let your kids play in it unsupervised. Those cheap things are just enough like a boat to get a beginner into trouble REAL fast. You should always get a beginner lesson when you buy a kayak! Safety means wearing life jackets or PFDs, having ropes and pumps, and practicing wet exits and recoveries with friends in safe conditions. End of rant.)
Nope, the high-end and low-end prices aren't what I'm talking about. An ordinary kayak sells for somewhere between $500 and $2500. You can buy a lot of Frisbee throwing disks or soccer balls or running shoes for that kind of money.
But it might be more fair to compare the cost of a kayak to a year's gym membership. Or maybe to the cost of hockey equipment (pads, stick, skates, helmet) and the fees for playing in a league. Don't forget to add in the cost of getting to the gym or arena, by car or bus! Now, the price of a kayak seems more like the cost of many athletic activities.
There are ways of bringing the cost of kayaking into the affordable range. We use several of these alternatives. Maybe one will work for you.
1. Buy a second-hand boat.
This is a sensible alternative to buying a new boat. Of course you'll need to inspect the boat first. Many people sell a used kayak for half or two-thirds the price originally paid. My Necky Eliza was used for a summer by Ocean River as a rental boat, then sold at a discount after only four months -- and it was in terrific condition. Check with local kayak & canoe stores to see what price they put on rental boats.
2. Carpool.
There's a reason for buying good roof racks -- they can hold two boats instead of one. (The person always getting the ride should remember it's good manners to give the driver gas money or snacks or useful gear like a good Thermos flask.)
3. Keep a boat at the beach or within a short walk of the beach, maybe at a friend's house.
This works, but is usually good only for launching at one beach. I'm lucky that there are two beaches within a short walk of my place. I also keep an inflatable at my friends' house, for paddling on The Gorge.
4. Make your own boat.
There are many designs available! Making a kayak can be simple, or complicated. It can be a way to afford owning a beautiful, hand-made and specialized design. It can also be a way to afford owning a simple, hand-made recreational kayak to use in quiet, safe conditions.
Bernie made a terrific kayak. If you look back through Kayak Yak photos, when you see him with a yellow kayak, that's his 17' Chesapeake Light Craft.
There are simple and cheap alternatives, too. I love to go looking for them online. Look at this link to see a kayak made from green willow branches and a blue tarp. It cost about $25 and took four hours to make. There's lots of twigs that blew out of the big willow tree this week and are laying all over the front yard... I think I'll make a little model kayak, like the designer suggests, to try this method.

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