How not to get into a canoe5 min read

It’s been a dream of mine for years to own a high-end canoe, ultra light in weight, sleek, and fast on the open water. That dream was finally realized when I received my brand new Placid Boatworks RapidFire canoe last week.

I learned very quickly, the hard way, that there’s going to be a learning curve.

Most of the canoes I’ve owned over the years have been big, wide Old Town plastic boats. They are cheap, they are rugged… and most of them are very heavy. That problem has only gotten worse since Royalex became unavailable and, in doing so, almost sunk the entire canoe industry.

While the Old Town boats mostly failed completely at weight control, they were remarkably rugged and stable canoes. I can just plop right into my Old Town Camper (which was Royalex, but unusually heavy for a Royalex boat). It’s not going to go over unless I try very hard.

My Old Town Pack hits closer to the mark for me. It’s pretty light in weight. It’s stable. It’s resilient. The sitting position is mostly sort of like a canoe, but it wants to be paddled with a double blade like a kayak. There’s no back support, no foot rests. And it’s pretty stable. But that stability comes at a cost; it’s quite wide, and that width makes it pretty slow.

The Pack was light weight in part because it was short, in part because it was made from a thin Royalex layup. But when Royalex went away, it was impossible to make the boat anymore. They tried following up with the Next, and I was fool enough to buy one. The Next looked like everything the Pack wanted to be. It was small, meant to be paddled solo. It had the most comfortable seat I’d ever paddled from. And it had adjustable foot pegs. What could possibly be wrong with it?

The Next was heavy as hell. It shouldn’t take two people to easily move a solo canoe around, and somehow the Next was heavy enough to require just that. As comfortable as I was inside of the boat, I ultimately rarely used it. It was so heavy that getting it on and off the car, and portaging it, was courting injuries. And that mass made it quite slow in the water compared to lighter boats. It’s so heavy, in fact, that the manufacturer won’t even tell you how much it weighs; they will only tell you how much the incomplete plastic hull weighs without important things like the seat.

I sold my Next. I put the money towards a better boat.

I also owned a classic Wenonah Advantage for about a season. I could barely get into the boat without falling out when I first got it. But then I put on a few pounds and I couldn’t keep it upright anymore. The high seat and narrow beam, combined with my large size, put a very high center of gravity on a very narrow balancing point. I probably could have cut the factory seat out of the boat and replaced it with a low pack-style seat and back band, but it seemed wrong somehow to cut into the Wenonah. But it was fast, and it was so light in weight that I wanted to paddle it more.

I sold it and put that money towards a better boat, too.

That finally led to the RapidFire. It’s long (at 15 feet), but not too long. It’s light enough to be a joy to load & unload, but not so light as to feel like I’m paddling a fragile eggshell. The seat is lower. There are foot pegs. How would it fare?

Well, it’s not exactly love at first paddle. This is a beautiful boat, and exceedingly well-made. Anybody who thinks we don’t make nice stuff in America anymore really needs to see these. I got something really decent for my big investment.

But I’m still a big dude. I tried getting into this as correctly as I could, based on experience with smaller boats like the Next. And as you can see from my action cam footage, it went right over.

Similarly, exiting the boat was precarious (but unfortunately not caught on video).

Once I got it upright and pumped out the water I took on, it handled a bit better. It still felt quite tippy. I didn’t feel at all safe reaching behind my back to pull up a light pack I’d stowed back there with my lunch in it.

My knees were quite sore by the time I was done, having rested against the hard inwales. I’ll likely need to get some padding in there for comfort.

I think falling in love with this boat is going to take time. It’ll take time for me to learn how to get in and out with my dignity intact (and dry). It’ll take time for me to feel at ease that I’m not going to go over if I sneeze too hard to one side. And it’s going to take awhile to figure out how to keep my knees feeling good and not have my feet and calves fall asleep.

There’s some part of me that worries that a guy my size may never quite fit. I hope I’m wrong about that.