If you go
• What: 22nd annual Spring Paddle Fest, hosted by Alder Creek Kayak & Canoe. Visitors can try or buy a variety of boats and paddle boards, attend demonstrations, training and clinics, and watch a kayak polo tournament from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 27.
• Where: Vancouver Lake Park, 6801 N.W. Lower River Road, Vancouver.
• When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 26-27.
• Cost: Free.
• Information: aldercreek.com/2014-spring-paddle-fest.
If you always wanted a boat but have a fear of commitment, you might want to row on over to the festivities at Vancouver Lake Park this weekend.
The Spring Paddle Fest, in its 22nd year, offers visitors a chance to try more than 100 different types of boats — for free.
The festival, hosted by Alder Creek Kayak & Canoe, started next to the company’s Jantzen Beach store as a simple way to demonstrate new boats. But it’s grown into a two-day event with classes, training, clinics and even a kayak polo tournament.
“I remember the first one having maybe a couple hundred people, because we had it here on the island,” said Suzi Elle, co-owner of the company, which has two stores in Portland. “It took us a long time to get it to a two-day event, but we got there maybe five years ago.”
The event grew in popularity over the years, and now about 2,000 people show up to check out the boats over the weekend.
“The venue’s so perfect, with the lawn and the beach,” Elle said of Vancouver Lake Park. “It’s great for the kids, too. They love trying the free boat rides.”
It might sound like just a one-company sales event, but that’s really not the case, said Larry Didier, a Vancouver kayak enthusiast who’s gone each year for the past five years.
“Is it a store thing? Oh gosh no. There are tons of vendors and classes that people can take,” Didier said. “It’s usually pretty crowded with lots of great people all interested in kayaking and canoeing.”
Several boat makers will also have booths at the event so people can get more information if they’re more serious about buying, said Paul Kuthe, the program director.
“They’ll come with a wide variety of boats, and we’ll have many of our own there as well,” Kuthe said. “We usually sell 100 boats over that weekend. It’s how we kick off our season.”
Some of the free classes include information about how to dress for paddling in cold water, proper stroking technique, introduction to boating, introduction to kayak fishing, paddling for women and kayak yoga.
“If you’ve never been kayaking before and you want to see what it’s all about, you can try everything out,” Didier said. “They have some really good kayak fishing, camping classes. It’s amazing.”
Many local boating clubs will be on hand, too, with information on organized activities.
Entry-level kayaks, canoes and paddle boards can cost in the $300 range, but the companies will also have a variety of top-quality boats on the lake so more advanced boaters can test out different models, Kuthe said.
“The most popular boat that people seem to like are the stand-up boards, because it’s a relatively new thing,” Kuthe said. “And a lot of people like the kayak water polo tournament, which we started last year.”
Those who want to join in the tournament can attend a skills class Saturday and then sign up for the Sunday event.
Visitors who want to try boats have to sign a waiver, and the company also recommends bringing a life jacket if you have one, because they sometimes run low on supplies.
“People should be ready to get wet,” Kuthe said. “They may want to bring a change of clothes, just in case.”
And after the event, visitors can enjoy more freebies at the Jantzen Beach store, which will have barbecue and live music, Kuthe said.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Kuthe said. “We have people that look forward to this every year.”
Didier said he hopes lots of people will enjoy the festivities this year.
“The first time I went I just kind of wandered around, and the people were all taking about boating,” Didier said. “Everyone was really friendly.”