When I first got into kayaking in 2002, I made the mistake that many beginners do: I walked into a retail store and bought a brand new boat, helmet, PFD, spray skirt, paddle, and other miscellaneous accessories. All told, I spent over $1,500, and that was buying the cheapest equipment they had. Little did I know that in less than two years I would stop paddling that boat, sell it for less than half of what I had bought it, and upgrade to a different paddle. Needless to say, I didn’t make the wisest of decisions right out of the gate.
When it comes to buying gear- boats especially- it’s a lot like buying a car. When you buy a new car, as soon as your drive it off the lot, it looses approximately 11% of its value… 11% for driving it less than one mile! If you trade that car in a year or two later, it has already lost a significant amount of its value while retaining a ton of life. But if you keep the car until it ‘dies,’ then you’re actually getting your money’s worth out of your purchase.
Can you see the resemblance between my first kayak purchase and a new car purchase? I still kick myself for not knowing that I could buy anything used when I first started kayaking. But by the end of 2004, I had wised up and purchased a season-old Dagger Kingpin Icon for $500. I paddled the heck out of that thing for the next seven years before I sold it for a whopping $300. Talk about getting your money’s worth!
Today, when I talk to my students about buying his/her first boat and gear, I always tell them, “Buy a USED boat, paddle, and spray skirt, but get a NEW helmet and PFD and here’s why…”
Nine times out of ten, when you are a new kayaker, you have no clue what kind of boat you’re going to end up gravitating toward, meaning: your boating style will develop over time and influence what types of kayak designs you prefer. Whether it’s a creek boat from brand X, a playboat from brand Y, or a crossover from brand Z, odds are you’re not sure what you like yet. So it only makes sense to buy a good used boat, play around in it for a year or so, then sell it and get what you have discovered you really like.
As far as the paddle and spray skirt goes, when you’re a beginner you are more likely to be hard on this gear as you are learning skills and general gear maintenance, and you are less likely to appreciate the features of any higher quality equipment. Since there are many used but quality paddles and skirts out there for cheap (I just sold an old beat up paddle of mine that still has some life left in it to a student I’ve been working with for $30), it makes sense to beat up something cheap first and then invest in something better down the road.
Now, the bit about buying a new helmet and PFD is entirely my opinion. The way I see it is these are your two essential pieces of safety equipment and you do not want to run the risk of them being compromised in any way. PFD flotation breaks down over time due to UV exposure and it is possible for just one hit to compromise the integrity of a helmet, so don’t risk it! The only exception to my rule of this is you can buy a used PFD and/or helmet from someone who you know you can trust and therefore can take his/her word on the condition of the equipment.
Let’s face it: kayaks and gear are not cheap so don’t blow all of your hard earned money right from the get-go on something you will not want in a year and will abuse while you have it!
Some of you are probably thinking “Ok, ok, I know all about that beginner stuff but I’ve been paddling for a few years now and I know exactly what I want/need… but does it make sense for me to spend all the money to get it new or should I shop around and try and find it used?’
And the answer is . . . it depends!
Think back to the car example that I gave earlier. If you buy the new car, and then drive it until the wheels fall off, you have most likely gotten your money’s worth out of it. The same thing holds true if you buy a new boat or drysuit or paddle or whatever. If you use it until it is no longer usable, then you have most likely gotten your money’s worth out of it. And, if it happens to break before it should, new gear items often come with some sort of warranty that you can cash in on, essentially giving you a safety blanket. In fact, most of the extra money that you pay when you buy something new is for the warranty!
But if you also think back to my example from when I bought the Kingpin, I got it used for about half of retail, paddled it for a long time, and then sold it for only $200 less than which I had originally paid; you can see that by buying used, you can easily save yourself some money and still get a ton of use out of it.
However, going this route does require diligence, a keen eye, and sometimes a bit of luck. Most gear, when properly taken care of, is designed to function for a long time. So when you’re looking to buy something used, one of the most important things you can do is to make sure that it has been well cared for so that you get the greatest chance of it lasting for as long as it’s supposed to.
- Check the used gear market for boats, paddles, sprayskirts, & layers, especially when you are first starting out.
- Your two lifelines in kayaking- the helmet & PFD- are best bought new unless you know and trust the source; even still, discretion is a must when buying your life saving equipment second-hand.
- Get familiar with the warranty, repair, & replacement policies of the companies from which you buy your gear new. It will come in handy!
- Take good care of your equipment to ensure it retains value if and when you go to resell it later on.
- Check out popular paddling festivals to find the best deals on both new and used gear, year round!
There is a lot of used gear out there that is in great condition at all kinds of price points… but there is also a ton of trash-worthy gear at very tempting prices. Ultimately, it comes down to your judgment and whether or not you’re comfortable purchasing something without a warranty. Sometimes buying used won’t work in your favor but more often than not- if you’re careful- it should.
There are plenty of places to pick up some gently, and sometimes heavily, used gear but here are some of the favorites for here in the Southeast:
Nantahala Outdoor Center’s Guest Appreciation Festival (GAF) – End of September in Bryson City, NC
Gauley Fest – Third Saturday of September in Summersville, WV
Boatertalk.com’s GearSwap Forum – All year!
Craigslist – Honestly, works anywhere, anytime.
Geartrade.com – Little known but sometimes you can score big!