Man… we could be kayaking twins.
Other than the fact I’m a little bigger, I’m a new-er kayaker (2yrs), and have gone up from a 10, to 12, to just now purchased my 14.5’ kayak.
Just like you, been a rec kayaker in lakes and slow rivers and looking to get better, faster, go farther and start learning To roll etc. Going to take a couple courses this summer including my L1 and I’ve signed up for a weekend symposium that’s Put on by pros coming in from across Canada.
I had a 12’ Current Designs Kestrel 120, liked it, but I’m 6’1”, 225 and it was great, but my size 12 feet were a tight fit.
All fall and Winter I read reviews, watched videos etc. Narrowed it down to 4, was able to sit in two at a dealer (Jackson Journey and Perception Carolina 14), didn’t like either… the last two in the list were the Dagger Stratos 14.5L and the Wilderness Tsunami 145.
One is a more playful boat that will continue to grow with me, or something with more volume, better for packing gear etc.
It came down to sitting in them which I was able to do at another store. Dagger, hands down won.
The Stratos has a back band instead of a seat, easier for re-entry. I thought the seat was better too. I like the idea of the skeg more than a rudder.
Reviews are glowing on both, but a couple do mention that they moved from the Tsunami to the Stratos and loved the difference.
Bought one 3 weeks ago on a wicked sale from 2019 stock and I’m itching to get her out.
Good luck, but do some digging on the Stratos. I think you’re a good candidate on the 14.5S (smaller volume version).