There's been a lot of talk lately about the ill that is cheap kayaks in the paddle-sports market. People are walking into their local big box store and scooping up cheap plastic kayaks, alongside toilet paper and kiddie pools. The reigning push-back from the outdoor industry has focused on the manufacturing and the benefit of paying for better quality. Which is fair enough. I like quality gear. I learned that lesson as a rock climber.
Most rebuttals to this view focus on the affordability of these cheap kayaks and how they still get folks into the activity. Here at Appomattox River Company we can attest to this happening. Most of the people who buy big box store kayaks eventually come to us for an upgrade. And it usually happens within a few months. Cruise the forums and Facebook groups and you'll find a wealth of paddlers discussing how they wished they'd just saved up and bought their second kayak first. Why? Because it would have gotten them to their third kayak faster. You see, when you buy quality, the kayaks retain value and are more easily resold. Then that money is available for your upgrade.
But that's not why i wanted to write this piece. The real issue is the one of experience. And that subject is two-fold, as I'm referring to both your experience in the store and the experience of the people in the store. Here at Appomattox River Company we have over 200+ years of paddling experience. We have decades upon decades of experience selling kayaks. We know what you need and where it will perform the best. And we are dedicated to making sure your experience in the shop is almost as fun as being out on the water. Which brings me to the latest breaking news:
It seems a couple is suing a big box store over a kayak purchase. As I've watched folks post the story, the comments have predictably blasted the people for buying a cheap kayak, and for choosing to take it on a certain river. The couple bought two cheap kayaks from the store. This was their first kayak purchase. The employee that helped them bragged on being a very experienced paddler. When the couple asked about a foam piece attached to the interior of the kayak's cockpit, the employee informed them it was unnecessary and removed it. The employee suggested the foam was packaging material and proceeded to remove it with a knife and screwdriver. The couple then took the kayaks down a river that they most likely had no business being on, and definitely not with those kayaks. The kayaks sank. The couple suffered some injuries trying to save their gear and kayaks while tumbling through some rapids. They are currently suing for over $400,000 to pay medical bills, etc. The merits of the lawsuit are neither here nor there for me. The real issue is that they probably shouldn't have been on that river.
What did I take away from this story? It's not the cheap kayaks that are the biggest problem in this industry. It's the lack of experience in big box stores. I've seen it first hand on many occasion. I've heard about it on the phone with many of our customers who've come to us after spending money on a cheap kayak. The problem is the employees at these stores. And let me clarify, it is no fault of those employees. Unless of course they lie. But they did not sign up to sell this kind of equipment. Water is a fluid and deceptively strong medium. Experienced paddlers have learned this lesson. At small, specialty paddling shops across this country you will find employees who have learned these lessons. They are there because they love the sport, the activity, the lifestyle and they want to live it and share it. They know not to remove important flotation from certain kayaks. They know to suggest additional flotation for other kayaks. They can quickly deduce from your answers whether or not you should paddle certain rivers, and what kayak you would want to do it in after you've received a little instruction. And most importantly they know that if they're unsure about an answer, they should find one of their co-workers who can supply it with learned knowledge. In short, an experienced staff of paddle-sports enthusiasts can help keep you safe.
The biggest problem with buying cheap kayaks is not the lack of quality in the manufacturing (though that is a legit concern). The true problem is the lack of knowledge, the lack of experience in those who are selling them.
Be safe y'all.