Buying a canoe or kayak can and should be an involved process. Paddling can make a dramatic contribution to your lifestyle. In dealing with boat, paddle and the foreign environment of water, each of us must learn new skills unlike those normally required to make our bodies move, speed up, turn, or slow down. Most of our normal locomotion takes place on stable surfaces and our bodies have evolved to deal with this. The enticing world of rivers, lakes, and seas, is far from stable, full of motion and apparently shifting moods. To be part of this world we must use tools to enhance our ability to comfortably play and explore. Refined as these tools have become in allowing for grace of movement, they must also protect and separate us from the liquid world beneath them. Your boating equipment should help you feel safe as well as free to move as you enjoy. These are serious demands of equipment and therefore a thoughtful search makes good sense.
The foreign nature of the paddling experience contributes to its joy. When we cast off from shore it is easy to leave our everyday pressures behind. Our forward progress is dramatically limited to a much slower pace. Even the fastest of solo paddle craft can't come close to other forms of human locomotion for speed. Yet a fast boat feels incredibly fast. Our very concept of speed and therefore time is readjusted when we paddle. If ever there was a time machine it surely would take the form of canoe or kayak. If you want to feel time slow down and savor what time you have, paddling can give you this.
Canoeing and kayaking is unlike many other sports in that opportunities are limited in our culture to interact with the aquatic environment using the gear associated with paddling skill. Most of us gained whatever experience we've had at summer camps or by renting equipment on occasion. We often learned general paddling control from instructors who may have known only a little more than we did. As time passes most of us paddle one to three models other than the boat we were first introduced to and our functional knowledge of design is limited to this experience. This is one of the reasons that the same design articles can appear over and over again in magazines and catalogs. The area of knowledge called boat design is not advancing quickly.
Even though opportunities are increasing for gaining paddling experience in our culture, you still must work at it.
There is no end to the possible skill development each of us can achieve in paddling. For this and reasons of pure pleasure, paddling is a lifetime sport and passion for millions of people. We can always learn more. When you are shopping for your boat be open minded. You may learn more in one good discussion with a salesperson than you did in reading all the appropriate magazine articles or all the manufacturers' catalogs because you have the ability to interact. Reading is a one way street. A good salesperson will be able to explain the details of design, performance, and construction in terms appropriate to you and and your experience. Take your time and make sure you learn enough to know you'll be excited to own and use your new canoe or kayak.