Advice for beginner

I’m a member at MTBR and was directed this way by a fellow poster. He told me this is to kayaking as MTBR is to mountain biking, so I felt pretty good about the advice.

I’ll be making my first kayak purchase tomorrow. I’ve found a wholesaler a couple hours away (worth the savings for the drive).

Profile- I’m 5’11" and weigh 220. I’m pretty well built, but have a little to get rid of (not a personal ad I promise- figure the more info the better). My purpose will highly skewed towards exercise on lakes with the occasional fun day at the river (slow with small rapids).

Here is what I’m considering




So, first off, is there anything I should look for between the three? Any suggestions regarding likes, dislikes for those of you that own or have paddled these.

Secondly, any advice on paddle based on the boats I’m looking at, my size, and the intended use.

Finally, any reason not to go to Wal-Mart for the PFD? Are there “special” (fit, etc) jackets for kayaking?

Thanks in advance for any help!!!

The most important feature is that it be comfortable enough that you’ll wear it. Put it on in the store, sit down, and make paddling motions. If it rubs, binds, or chafes, try something else.

If you’re buying a kayak with a high seatback, there are PFDs designed for that.

Any USCG-approved PFD should provide adequate flotation.

say about the others but I have a Prodigy 10. It was my first kayak. Shorter and wider than what you are looking at. The 12 is the widest you have listed. I have to think the 12 would be just as stable a boat as the 10 that I have. Still one of my favorite boats. All listed are rec boats and will serve a lot of purposes. At least sit in all them but try them out if at all possible. Welcome to the wonderful world of water.

I’ll be paddling each boat and then making the choice based on feel. The problem is, I’m not really sure what to look for- other than comfort and tracking. Thanks for the replies thus far!

misc stuff
I would take a lesson before deciding on a boat. learn the basics of how to paddle, what the parts are called, how to get yourself back into a boat when you end up out of it, etc. The lesson would likely also cover things like what type of boats are out there and advantages/disadvantages of different types/shapes of boats.

I second the PFD fitting mention. Get one made specifically for kayaking (more open shoulders, etc.), as they are more likely to work well when paddling.

Don’t go cheap on the paddle. You will be holding this thing in the air the whole time you are paddling, so light is good. You are better off with a cheap/used boat and a great paddle than a great boat and a cheap paddle.

test paddle
Peter-CA made some great points. I agree completely.

  1. Please consider lessons before buying.

  2. Fit and comfort are most important with a PFD. One made specifically for paddling will probably be worth the extra dough.

  3. Don’t go cheap on your paddle.

    Lessons should give you knowledge and experience. Without those two things, how will you know what you want to buy? You’ll find out what you like and what you don’t. You’ll probably get a chance to try out several different boats, paddles and PFD’s. A few hours on the water during a lesson is a lot better than a few minutes on the water during a typical test paddle.

    My advice:

  4. Always test paddle before buying.

  5. Listen to all the advice with an open mind, consider it carefully, and then make your own decision.

  6. Join a paddling club.

    A couple of links that might help:

    Tips on Selecting a Canoe or Kayak

    Helping Your Advisor

Thanks for the responses. The gentleman I’m planning on buying from is an outfitter for nonprofit groups(river trips, etc). He says he has to buy in large numbers to get a good price and then wholesale the leftovers. He said we could take as much time as needed going over the boats and paddling. Of the 3 I’m looking at, he actually recommended the least expensive (based on what I told him I wanted to do with it). Although it won’t be lessons, I feel pretty comfortable that he’ll steer me in the right direction.

There haven’t been many responses regarding paddles. Anyone with some useful info to share.

Thanks again- looking forward to getting on the water!!

Prodigy 12
I bought a Prodigy 12 after test paddling a few rec. Kayaks. I usually use a sea kayak, but the Prodigy kayak is nice for loaning out, starting new folks out, and for ease of handling off the water, for camping trips and leisurely or short-term paddles. That is the same price I bought mine for - which is a good price nowadays.

I think if I had the Blackwater as an option I might have spent the extra dough. It’s narrower and likely a little quicker through the water, plus the skeg might be handy if you end up dealing with a lot of wind on some trip.

If you can take classes and test paddle ahead of time, that will help you form a better opinion - for your uses.

If you aren’t located where classes or test paddles are readily available - then you probably can’t go too wrong with any of them. There’s a lot of subtle points about kayaking that you don’t grasp or understand until you have done it a lot, so advice without experience to weigh it against will only take you so far.

Why recommend the cheapest…

– Last Updated: Apr-29-09 12:48 PM EST –

It is possible that the guy who you are planning to buy from is recommending the cheapest option because he knows the same thing as most who have been paddling a while. It is likely that whatever you buy now will be unsatisfactory by sometime in August, by which time you'll be looking for more boat. It is a normal thing if someone just goes out and buys a boat without having experience.

Also, something that caught my eye, what are the rated class of these small rapids? Boats like these, with large capacity even with float bags in them, are often donated to the river gods because they fill up with water and can't be gotten out of there until/if the water goes way down.

As to paddle, you'll want one that is as light as you can get. The thing to avoid is getting one that is too long, in order to get around the width of these boats.

There is nothing wrong with these boats for the right purpose. But your long term purpose is likely to change, and these boats may not follow you there.

The recommendations to get a couple of basic lessons are spot on - it'll help you make a much better and more lasting decision.

Beginers advice
From one beginer to another. Last summer I researched online and by visiting kayak dealers to gather information on what I wanted in a boat. I could have easily saved myself some frustration by attending a paddlefest event. Until you actually get in the boat; tip it over on purpose, to see how it and you react to a wet exit you are blindly purchasing a kayak.

We purchased a WS Pungo 120 after a test paddle on a breezy cool day. I never attemted a wet exit in it before purchasing it. Someone had shared with us that the Pungo 120 is a great beginner kayak. Now after having taken some pool - kayak classes this winter, the Pungo 120 while being a good rec. boat is not what I was seeking. With only a rear bulkhead it fills with an large amount of water. Luckily I was able to sell it for what I paid for it, and purchased a kayak I can grow into(WS Tsunami 145 touring kayak).

One of the local dealers Rich Macha owns Adirondack Paddle-n-Pole said it best " If your looking for a beginner kayak, how long do you wish to stay a beginner?

Seriously take some lessons, keep reading the posts on, rent a few boats, do some wet exits and self rescues to get a boat you can grow into and keep for a while. Good Luck and welcome to a great hobby.

beginners advice.

– Last Updated: Apr-29-09 10:30 AM EST –

One of the firefighters in our house, was looking at kayaks and just picked upo a Hurricane Santee. Very nice boat: lightweight, a fore and aft bulkhead, looks expensive like a kevlar boat, but costs less!

Cheaper is not always better. He paid the same amount for his Santee that I paid for one of the Pungos. So looking around does pay off!

Use a rental or test paddle, to try the things you hope to accomplish when you finally purchase a boat of your own. None of us plan to fall out of our kayaks, but hey it is a water sport, so eventually we all wind up in the water. Just make sure you like how it and you act together on a wet exit/self rescue before you part with your cash.

As for paddles and PFD's: buy from a reputable local dealer, that can give you service should you have any problems. They have a vested interest in keeping you happy more than the cheaper big box retailers! A cheaper paddle sounds like a bargain; until you remember that for every mile of travel, you will have flipped it some 1,000 times or so. So buy what is comfortable.

My 2 cents
What they all said about demoing and a class, but the reality is that lots of folks buy without those options. Think about the used boat market - another great option to get a better boat for similar $$.

If I had to pick from the three, I’d go with the Blackwater because it will support more skill development in the coming year. It is somewhat narrower, has a smaller cockpit opening which means more skirt possibilities and as the write ups say, it is designed to be more maneuverable and handle moving water better. My first boat was a Blackwater design, but have also paddled boats similar to the other two designs you are considering.

If the paddling bug bites, you will likely end up with a different/additional boat within a year or two anyway.

Beware the tracking bug
A first boat that you like on a test paddle because it tracks well may be a boat that bores the heck out of you in two weeks. I’d err on a boat that is more challenging to make go straight, but responds to turning strokes and a little edging - even early on.

Any of the three will get you on the water which is the most important first step.

Mt biking to kayaking
Yes, you have found the MTBR of the kayaking world. Curious what type of mt biker you are - what type of trails do you ride and what bike(s) do you ride? I find that my mt biking preferences are comparable to my kayaking preferences - where and what I paddle and my skill development.

Best wishes in your search and keep posting questions here.


Thanks for the great advice from everyone. I ended up buying a new Dagger Blackwater (12’) for $600. It retails at $795, so I think I got a pretty good deal. I found an outfitter that works with nonprofit organizations, so he buys and sales wholesale as a means to provide the boats for the groups.

I spent 2.5 hrs on the river with him today testing 7 different boats. He also said that if I “outgrow” this one to bring it back and he’ll apply it towards a different model.

What really impressed me (in addition to the time he spent with me on the river today) was that he said I could set up an appt anytime for free a 5 mile lesson!! He said there is a bit of everything in the route he uses and that he’d be teaching me along the way. Pretty stoked about it. Overall I felt like I had a great experience and bought the right way.

Anyone in the area(he’s is in Buffalo, MO) can check him out- Older gentleman, retired, and lives on the river.

Good choice
Sorry I did not get a reply in before your purchase. I have several friends who have purchased the Blackwater and really like it. The skeg feature really allows you to have a manuverable river kayak and yet have a good open water boat that still handles well in the wind.

One point about the skeg. It is an all or nothing type skeg. The Blackwater will most likely weathercock (turn into the wind) on windy days if you are not using the skeg. When you lower the skeg, it is possible that the kayak will start to leecock (bow turns away from the wind). If it does this it means there is too much skeg in the water. By tying a knot in the release cord, you can set it such that less than the full amount of skeg goes into the water. It is not something easily done while paddling, but after a few tries you can arrive at a knot position so that the skeg will give you a good balance in almost all conditions.

You might be lucky and find that dropping the full skeg is just exactly what you need and no adjustment is necessary. You will most likely need to be in 15 mph winds before you will need to even consider the effect of adjusting the skeg to a different drop amount.

Good luck.


Cate- I peddle a Specialized FSR XC Expert. It’s absolutely perfect for what I ride. Singletrack with lots of up and downs (although the downs feel less frequent :slight_smile: ), some midlevel tech areas, and small drops (2-3ft). So, I’m more in it for the opportunity to be outdoors in the woods and exercise than the adrenaline rush. That said, same principle applied in finding a kayak.

Mark- Thanks for the first hand advice on the Blackwater. Of the boats I tried yesterday it was the only one with a skeg, and to be honest I barely used it. It was a calm day though, and I imagine it’ll come in handy when it get windy