Advice for Beginner in Puget Sound

Hi all,

I am looking for some advice on what kind of Kayak to get. I live in the Seattle area and have been dreaming of days/nights floating in all of the great lakes and waterways here.

So, first of all, what would be the best type of kayak to take on waterways such as Lake Washington and the Puget Sound? I’m open to specific products or general guidelines (sea kayaks no shorter than 12’ for example).

Second, I am looking to try to get something that is on the lighter (carbon) side. Otherwise, I can’t really imagine trying to carry and place a 60lb kayak on my roof rack after hours of paddling.

Finally, I did see the Oru folding Kayak and wondered if anyone had any opinions on it. It seems like if you rubbed it against the ground/rocks (such as when launching) that it would really take some damage. Though, it would be great to have it fold up and go into my trunk. Anyone have any experience with this?

Thanks! I haven’t been paddling in 3-4 years and even then it was just with friends and not serious/common. Looking to really make this a past time this upcoming spring, summer, fall.

You don’t have to lift your kayak all at once. Set one end on a crossbar; grab the other end and push it to where you want it.

In general…
1) Re the boat, for Puget Sound a true sea kayak. Two bulkheads and deck rigging (I mean static line around the sides, not bungies). At least a true little sea kayak like the Dagger Alchemy, or an approx’ly 16 ft boat.

2) As above, you slide not lift a kayak to the cartop. There are devices available to help make that easier but that is hard to recommend without knowing what kind of car and whether you are contemplating a third party rack. Or go with a folder.

3) It is unclear how interested you are in more protected versus Puget Sound proper. Though river mouths can be awfully tricky too… But the more open areas and channels though Puget Sound can include some very serious paddling due to tides etc. If you don’t understand what that means in terms of the skills you need to bring to the water as a paddler, your first stop should be a good outfitter to learn more and get set up properly. You have plenty of decent outfitters around there.

At least consider taking a tour or two to learn where the safer places are to paddle. I know of advanced paddlers who take tours when they go somewhere new so they can learn an area without the hassle of other responsibilities. As a tour paddler you get both seat time and lots of photo ops.

more prep needed
There are plenty of resources where you live to take lessons and book some guided outings. You need skills training and seat time before you start thinking about buying your own boat.

You might also consider a weekend trip to Vancouver. Arrange a tour of Indian Arm inlet at Deep Cove Outfitters in Deep Cove a half hour northeast of the city. This will give you a nice intro to paddling salt water inlets in good gear with supervision. They also have a well stocked shop at which you check out different models and talk to them about the different features and fit of various types of boats. Then you might want to stop ay Granville Island and visit the Ecomarine outfitter there and, if you arrange in advance, a tour of the Feathercraft folding kayak factory there. Feathercraft makes the widest range of lightweight but tough folding sea kayaks.

Of course, there are lots of great outfitters in your own city, but who doesn’t love a road trip?

So to be a little more clear, I would say I would be doing 90% of all of my kayaking in Lake Washington, Lake Union, Sammamish Lake and lakes in the cascades. I would say I would be doing another 10% in actual Pugent Sound itself, mostly in the water around downtown Seattle, around West Seattle, or Bainbridge Island.

I have a 2014 Mazda 3 sedan that I need to get the kayak onto. Happy to checkout any reasons you all have.

With this in mind, does this change how you guys feel for a proper kayak/the skill level needed? (Or, any specific recommendations?)

It sounds like no one is on board with the Oru Kayak. That’s fine. For what I am going to pay for it I can get a real kayak and a rack.

For the members recommending trips, do you mean something like an REI adventures? That is a great idea, I’ll be sure to check a couple of different shorter ones out in my area.

Thanks for all of the help!

Novices have a tendency to underestimate the risks of paddling in cold water. The water there tends to be pretty cold (45F is not uncommon) and these temperatures are quite dangerous.

My recommendation is that you find an outfitter at the places you wish to paddle and take some classes and get recommendations from them on immersion clothing. If they recommend using a dry suit, they aren’t just trying to make money, they’re trying to keep you alive.

All moving water has currents, which are a major cause of capsize. Personally, I would not be without a dry suit in these conditions, but some would do fine in a wetsuit (depending upon judgement and skills).

I agree with Celia that a true sea kayak (or canoe) is a better option than a smaller recreational boat. You will be dryer, more comfortable, and will quickly develop the handling skills in the conditions you will typically see there.

My experience with the region is that the weather is capricious. Small quick showers seemed to be an almost daily event in the few months I lived up there. The sun, when it came out, gave the waters spectacular beauty. It looks placid and safe, but don’t be deceived, but that cold water is a killer. Prepare for it.

There is a tremendous amount of world class kayaking in the region and most who go there eventually want to see the wildlife in their boat at some point (seals, whales, orca, dolphins - other mammals, birds, and wildlife one can see makes for a rich paddling experience). For this reason, a smaller playboat one will quickly outgrow is likely to be inadequate for those type of experiences.

If you insist on an open boat, a surfski may be a viable option (but they are long, skinny, fast, and tend to be tippy, but they’re quite seaworthy in the hands of a good paddler. I’ve seen them used by (experienced) paddlers in full storm, and the paddlers were having a great time.

Be safe, learn your skills, and practice them (including wet and self-rescue skills). I assure you, the area will give you lots of time to practice.


More on lifting
Kudzu is right, and if that sounds like it won’t work in your situation, rest assured that there are simple devices you can employ which make just as easy as what he says. Companies like Thule and Yakima make such loading aids, but they can easily be improvised from scratch too. Ask about it if still curious. There’s no need to worry about loading difficulties.


– Last Updated: Jan-18-15 1:26 PM EST –

Not sure that REI adventures is the way to go. To go on one of those kayak trips abroad, you should probably already know how to kayak to truly enjoy it.

I think the posters here mean something more like the Kayak Academy or the NW Outdoor Center, which teach paddling skills from the ground up:

PS Lake Washington may be a lake, but it's so big that it isn't much tamer than the Sound on a windy day. I capsized many a tadpole on the lake when I was a kid.

Lake Washington
I have been kayaking for two years, and live about five minutes from the north end of Lake Washington. I have endless miles biking along the Sammamish river trail, and finally decided I wanted a small kayak to use on the slough/river. I started with a Tsunami 125 (12.5’), which is a miniature, but real sea kayak in that is is equipped the same as their bigger boats. I successfully took a paddle float self-rescue class in that boat. But it is limited to about a 4 knot max speed. This is easily the speed most group paddles go. I wanted just bit more.

So I upgraded to the Tempest 170 (17’). I also got a drysuit. It takes a while to come to grips with the expense. But by the end of September, I won’t go without it. I have pretty good balance, at the end of September last year I got flipped out of the boat for the first time, getting caught off guard around dusk by a big boat wake coming in at a angle from behind. I was lucky the water was still warm, not wearing the drysuit yet. I now, really think about the real possibility of getting dumped and what I am wearing every time I get in the boat.

So as others have said, I suggest maybe 14-16’ real sea kayak in the 23-24"width range and some lessons. By the way, the north end of the lake and the Sammamish river is great place to paddle. There is a boat launch under the bridge in Kenmore on 68th right at the water’s edge.

Recently moved to WA
I started kayaking while in Colorado and later needed (yeah, needed) to be where there was better paddling, as well as still having mountains nearby. So now I live on the Olympic Peninsula.

You’re wise to start in lakes and protected salt water areas. Take some lessons (BEFORE buying a kayak), rent different sea kayaks, then practice your basic skills that are not specific to a particular venue, making sure to wear real paddling clothing designed for immersion (not general sports wear). The perpetually-cold water makes this last one crucial.

Depending where in/around Seattle you are, you have a lot of good instruction available. One I can personally recommend is Body Boat Blade (in Eastsound, Orcas Island). They have a range of classes from beginner to advanced; LOTS of fun as well as useful tips if you’re willing to listen and work hard. The basic skills are learned on a lake, and they take it to the sea when material to be taught requires it. Right on the mainland there’s George Gronseth’s Sea Kayak Academy, which I have not taken lessons with but have heard good things about. The latter is also a great source of information about drysuits, and he does rent them.

Get a real sea kayak (with two or three sealed bulkheads, decklines, probably 15 to 17 ft long), one that you feel comfortable enough to keep using but not one that will be difficult to edge. You WILL need to use edging both by itself and in combination with other skills, to use a kayak well.

The only commercial “trip” I did was well after I started paddling on my own, and even that one didn’t really have a leader so much as another paddler who knew the area. However, the Body Boat Blade 5-day class I took included an overnight self-supported camping trip that students planned themselves. The important thing to realize is that the trip’s purpose was to put together the elements already studied, not only to sightsee, as “guided tours” emphasize.

You might also benefit from joining a local club. Depends on how much you need other people to “jump start” you, how much you enjoy social paddles, and what kinds of paddling the club does. But in general, joining a club is a good way to learn about paddling in your area as well as meeting other paddlers. You can find out more about a club from its website, but how much varies hugely. Some of them basically hide any useful information, such as “How often do they paddle?”

budget, budget.

Rack’s going to set you back around $400, and gear will set you back another $300 ($200 paddle, $100 pfd). A carbon or “lite” glass layup is going to cost $4,000+ new, maybe $2,000 used. If you want a drysuit, we’re talking $500-1,500 new or used.

How much you looking to throw down?

Seakayking on a budget
Watch Craigs list for a decent poly used boat (not carbon) $600-$1200 (they may throw in a paddle, PFD and other gear).

Decent Onno Paddle $250

Wet suit to fit the water temps $160

Surfboard pad roof rack $40

Go paddling.

OP says that weight is definitely a factor to him, and when you look in the range of $500-1,000 poly boats on CL, you’re looking at heavy, 45-50# tubs.

Not to mention that more than likely, whatever they throw in with it will be junk (and if it isn’t, the deal won’t be cheap like $1,000).

Wetsuits make for a slow and entertaining way to die, if you’re alone. If you’re with someone who can rescue you, you might be able to make it out of the water and back into your boat, only to be whipped by wind while soaking wet.

Finally, the rack for $400 is again due to OP’s problems with weight, that’s the price of a set of Yakima holy rollers, the most common way to get a kayak on a high roof.

wag wag wag …
yeah wetsuits are an entertaining ay to die.

Your handle differs from…
…the venues you list as wanting to paddle in.

Besides renting kayaks at first, maybe add folding kayaks to your candidate list. Although fairly expensive, they’re light and can be disassembled right at the beach and transported in any vehicle, no rack needed. Feathercraft Wisper is a good example of one suitable for where you want to paddle.

You are in luck…
…with that Mazda 3 as it has fitting on the roof for screwing in a roof rack. Check out the Thule 887Xt. You load the kayak on from the rear and it’s really easy. Just watch out for that little fake spoiler on the trunk as it’s easy to scrape it up with the keel of your (future) kayak while loading.

There are also anchor points under the car for bow and stern lines.

As someone else mentioned, you might want to seek out the Kayak Academy. I’m in Ohio but order stuff via the KA as they provide great service and know their stuff. They also have an excellent line of kayaks.

Happy hunting.

Big water
Instead of picking a design, perhaps some things to find in a boat. If the ends are short (doesn’t have long overhangs rather a more plumb, vertical, bow and stern) a 14 footer will be ok, otherwise something like a 16 - 17 foot boat will be better. Look for one with bulkheads on each end best with hatches. If you end up in the water, and eventually you will, trying to empty a 16’ boat completely end to end full of water won’t be fun and is potentially life threatening. The smaller area between the bulkheads holds considerably less water, and the ends float, makes it much easier to empty.

Bill H.

on. Met paddlers on the water in this mode. Read Randy Washburnes guide book to the San Juans.

A full wetsuit is mandatory. Try Campmor: Booties, helmet, gloves.

So you’re looking for a $4500+ kayak.

If you do not have basic self-rescue skills or know how to roll

may I suggest you budget $750 in instruction THEN solicit opinions on the boat to get.

Get thee to
Leon and Shawna at Body Boat Blade (Orcas Island). They are among the best coaches in the U.S., if not the world.

Even if you have no greater ambitions then puttering around in mellow water, there’s no substitute for learning the necessary skills correctly at the outset. Plus, they can give you advice about gear/etc. personalized to your individual skill set and paddling goals.