You Should Own a Kayak (and Craigslist Economics)

If you know us personally, chances are you’ve probably heard Kendall and I drone on about all of the good times we’ve spent navigating various San Diego waterways on our favorite little piece of molded polyethylene. Kayaking should be an easy sell – after all, where else can you soak up the sun, enjoy the peacefulness that floating on the water brings, and get a good workout while not even thinking about it? Apparently kayaks don’t universally symbolize such greatness, as we recently found out by bringing a few of my out-of-town friends down to Mission Bay for their first kayaking experience.

Kendall enjoying our kayak in Mission Bay

Kendall enjoying our kayak in Mission Bay

After the paddle, they admitted they weren’t expecting such bliss. They came into the experience not knowing what to think, other than it might be cold, soggy, tiring, and generally un-enjoyable. This reaction actually makes sense. Who wouldn’t initially be a little skeptical of climbing into a boat that weighs less than they themselves do? In fact, I defy anyone to climb into a kayak for their first time without verbally questioning the ease with which it will tip over – by my observation it is physically impossible.

So why does every person we take kayaking instantly fall in love with it? The friends mentioned above were already debating the details of kayak ownership on the car ride home. When you get off a kayak, you don’t just think “that was pretty neat, now on with my life”. You instantly want one. You’ll covet them, as I had since I first saw kayakers pulling up to the Ivars Salmon House on Lake Union in Seattle as a first grader, seemingly mocking all of us who were so boring and unadventurous as to arrive in a wheeled vehicle. Why is this? I propose the following:

  1. They’re just awesome (see above)
  2. It is one of the ultimate sources of cheap, repeatable fun

Those of you who have kayaked before will nod along with item 1, but I predict 2 might cause some head-scratching. “Aha!”, you’ll say. “I payed $36 for two hours last time I rented a kayak in San Diego*! That isn’t exactly cheap”. Correct you are, but if you live near the water and you’re renting, you are doing it wrong!

Joe in a rented kayak exploring the rivers of Kauai, Hawaii. If you are traveling far from home, then you have an excuse!

Me in a rented kayak exploring the rivers of Kauai, Hawaii. If you are traveling far from home, then you have an excuse to rent!

We took a slightly different approach, and according to my calculations we’re paying about $7.70 an hour for kayaking currently, a number that is falling rapidly every time we take the boat out. Industrious readers might have already looked up the $882 new price of our Kayak on Amazon and are now wondering how we could have already spent over 100 hours out on our kayak to get that sort of hourly rate.  The truth is, we haven’t (yet!) been able to spend that much quality time in our kayak. Instead, we relied on Craigslist and the second-hand kayak market to get our cost so low.

A quick survey of craigslist finds tandem kayaks for sale in the $400 to $900 range, with the vast majority right around the $500 mark, with accessories. We lucked out and scored our Kayak for $450 with paddles and seats. Adding another $100 for better paddles, a roof rack, and replacement drain plug, we were $550 all in. If I were to turn around and decide to sell the kayak tomorrow, I believe I could sell it for the $500 average Craigslist price. However, in order to give renting a chance, let’s say I could only unload all of our gear for $400, giving me a net loss of $150. Let’s add $50 to that seeing as how one day, the kayak will wear out and need to be replaced (I’m estimating after 10 years, I would have to buy another $500 kayak). Dividing this $200 loss by 13 trips at an average of 2 hours a piece, we arrive at $7.70 an hour. If we can keep going out 10 times a year for the next 10 years (an easy feat, it only takes us about 10 minutes to load up the kayak and 5 to launch it), we’ll have paid a little over $2 an hour**.  At that price, how can you live in San Diego and NOT own a kayak?


*This is what you’d pay for two hours if you rented a tandem kayak from the first Google hit for “San Diego Kayak Rental”. If you do want to go the renting route to try it out, I’d recommend these guys, who are cheaper and have better quality kayaks. They also have a frequent renter discount program if you really have no room for your own kayak, plus they are good supporters of the local kayak community.

**Of course, this calculation ignores all of the additional benefits of owning your own kayak – the biggest being the freedom to launch when and where you want. There are several beautiful kayaking destinations in San Diego where renting isn’t possible.

2 comments to You Should Own a Kayak (and Craigslist Economics)

  1. […] I’d recommend waiting for a Groupon to check this one out – don’t pay the full price. For the Groupon amount, it’s one of the cheapest ways to get on the water short of buying a kayak. […]

  2. […] I like to explore that. Sometimes this earns some well deserved eye rolls, when I do things like calculate how much it costs per hour to own a kayak. Of course, we all know that people can be all over the spectrum when it comes to this sort of […]

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