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REI DEMO DAY Concluded

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Well, our participation in REI's Demo Day weekend went off without a hitch. Sat. provided us with some slight wind and rain, rain, rain, but we persevered through four long hours without a rescue or tow. Many thanks to those who stuck it out in the rain yesterday (Julia, Janice, Joan, Keith, Gillian and Ernie) to provide safety, instruction and to represent our club! For those of you who did not get your REI coupon, I do have them and I'll be at Mystic and Chebacco this week, so remind me if and when you see me.

Today turned out to be a much better day in terms of weather albeit with much more wind. The four hours went by much more quickly as several people did us a favor by falling out of their boats, or losing steering control in the wind or even losing their paddle. All in all, two "out of control" canoes, one child adrift without a paddle and two capsizes, all returned to shore with big smiles :) Our club's dedication and proficiency shown through today and left a lasting impression on many of the people trying out boats on Sunset Lake. A special thanks to Matt, Heidi, Gillian, Michael, Gay and Judy for making that possible.

All of who participated deserve a round of applause for their efforts. Thank you from the club!

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It was nice to see you guys and help out on Saturday, and to get first-hand report from Keith on his 15 minutes of fame!

Despite the 5-10knot average winds and cold rain, the Horn Pond Demo was fairly well attended. I expected to have to help rescue or tow several newbies, but luck was with them.

What DID surprise me was how unprepared the great majority of novices were sent out: inappropriately sized boats, and worse, with completely wrong length paddles, poor-fitting PFDs. I'm sure that I spent most of my time suggesting that newbies, after learning to NOT paddle upside down, perhaps feather their paddles and/or exchange them for different (usually shorter) ones, try a better-fitting 'yak, and tighten their PFD. Once these rudimentaries were accomlished, a few minutes instruction in forward stroke usually resulted in much greater satisfaction for their first experiences...meaning they actually paddled forward, fairly well, in a moderate wind!

It was unfortunate that no child-friendly kayaks were supplied for demo. I found a 10yr old out in a fat 14 footer with a 250 unfeathered! The Necky Manitou 13 was about the smallest recommendable yak I could put switch him into, with a feathered 220. (Too bad REI decided not to carry the more appropriate Manitou 12.)

Whereas I realize that some outfitters think about paddles as cheap toss-ins with first boat purchases, I think that more thought should have been gone into the process of launching prospective customers with appropriate gear. One or two minutes attention at the launch could have greatly improved the experiences of most attendees, and made our jobs on the water less tiresome.

I suggest that a training session FOR THE REI EMPLOYEES precede the demo time so that the learning curve is dramatically shortened and made safer for attendees...and probably with the expected result that more 'yaks get sold---WITH better paddles. (That should get REI's attention.) I would imagine that a couple of nspn members would be glad to show up early enough to instruct, perhaps in exchange for a bit more than a 15% coupon (they're 20% in the mail!)and a 1/2 sandwich. I realize that it's the spirit of volunteership that's important here, but I remember that it wasn't so long ago when I first demoed kayaks and gear, and how important initial instruction was to "getting it". I suspect that REI's "yield" could've been greatly improved if proper attention had been paid to setting up novices appropriately, rather than leaving it to us spotters on the water to have them return to change boats, paddles, and even PFDs. The opportunity window for attracting folks to any new sport is limited, and instructing newbies in boat choice, paddling techniques, etc., while ensuring their safety, is indeed gratifying, but our jobs should have been made easier by TRAINED staffers on the shore.

Perhaps most demos are this chaotic, and the nature of the sport requires it. I witnessed a bit of rep instruction to the REI staffers, and the feeling I got was that the process involves just tossing a few tons of plasticware out in the water with bodies in it and trusting that somehow a few sales will occur. Sheesh. (Is it like trying to sell a car to someone who's never even been IN one? I ponder.) So if my comments seem overly-analytical I apologize. I'm pretty certain that I helped a few newbies get enough positive feedback from their initial progress so that they may be able to make informed initial kayak purchases, but somehow I felt that I was fire-fighting more than contributing to a well-engineered project. I understand that I'm more of hands-on intense evaluator than a laissez-faire instructor, so maybe my perspective is limited, but I certainly don't run used Subaru demos that way. How absurdly inefficient.

But I also feel that those others who helped out (especially by carting the tons of plastic boats!) should have had their efforts rewarded by a more productive experience for the attendees as well.

Nonetheless, thanks for the opportunity to assist, and esp to Kevin for coordinating, and hope to see you all soon. Ern

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