Once people realize that you're a kayaker, this question tends to pop up frequently. Usually I tell people that the first kayak they buy should be the wrong kind. By that I mean the first boat that anyone purchases usually serves to make them aware of the things that they should have been looking for and thinking about before they plunked down their money. Then, if they are serious about the sport and want to take that next step, they can sell the boat to the next guy that just wants to get on the water. The market economy at its finest. That, of course, is exactly how got into this sport.
A dozen years or so ago, No1 son had graduated from high school and we took the father/son week up north. We mountain biked, canoed the Namakagan River, fished for panfish, drank some beer, and ate too much. Mid week we decided to give this sea kayaking thing a try and headed to Bayfield and the Trek & Trail intro class. Long story short, that fall I bought a used CD Storm from their rental fleet, as well as a Lendal one piece paddle with enormous spoon blades and an extreme built in feather. I was stylin' for sure. Slowly but surely the need for speed and a bit more efficiency grabbed me and I traded the Storm at the now defunct Boathouse in St Paul for a demo Solstice GTS High Volume. I got my first Greenland stick at the same time and that insidious bug was planted in my brain.
My neighbor casually asked me about kayaks when I was loading my boat one day and about a week later she came home with a Cabela's $350 plastic 8' something or another kayak. For exercise and fitness paddles I guess it works just fine, although she described the difficulties in making it go straight. Three more folks asked me about kayaks this spring and here's the little secret if you're in the Twin Cities area this week and weekend. Go down to Lake Nokomis on Thursday and paddle every boat that you're interested in. Its Midwest Mountaineering's Spring Expo and they have a ton of boats for people to paddle. Our paddle club provides safety boaters so you may even meet legendary blog characters like the RonO, BessemerConvivialist, VOR, ManFromSnowyLegs, BemidjiIntelOfficer, MrEngineerGear, or BjornDahlieOfMahtomedi, especially if you accidentally become inverted. Once a style of boat and hull design are zeroed in, there are two routes to go. The first would be to wheel and deal with Peter, Jerome, Guy, or any of the boat guys on the very craft that was paddled. The second is to head down to the auction on Saturday morning and see if there are any similar boats in the mix. The thrill of the auction is addictive and there are both bargains to be had and the risk of paying too much. What I've seen is the weather can determine if its a buyers or sellers market. Sellers are going to bring their boats no matter what. Buyers don't generally like standing in horizontal sleet, like last year, waiting for the boat they are interested in hit the auction block. That's how I managed to nab GalwayGuys P&H Capella at a very good price.
If you wanna buy a boat, decide what you will use it for most of the time and paddle a bunch of em'. Thats my advice. If you buy the 'wrong' boat or your skills progress (or someone puts one of those skinny wood paddles in your hands) and you need an upgrade, go for it. It all just part of the fun. I hope to see you on Thursday; I can taste that post safety boating beer already.