Advice for first timer

Ladies and gentlemen, I have never been in a kayak before but live in north Georgia where there is ample opportunity to pursue this exciting hobby. I know the general advice will be to try out a bunch of kayaks and make a decision.

However, I am actually looking to go ahead and buy something used and get started now. I will start out by learning on local lakes and use it for some fun exercise but would eventually like to get into some tame whitewater and then go from there.

My question is this: Does it make sense to buy a cheap used old school boat like a Pirouette for $200 - $350 just to get into the sport? Will I be able to learn to handle a boat like this on flat water (will it track and hold speed or will I have to push it like a barge?) and then maybe test myself a little on the local rivers, something small? Or does it make sense to just save up a few hundred dollars more and pick up what I think would be a good fit for me in a Dagger Katana or LL Remix or Jackson Karma?

I’m 5’7", 200 lbs and 49 years old. I’m athletic (or used to be) so I’m not worried about picking up the basics but just want a boat that won’t make progress difficult. Thoughts? I don’t expect to do any camping or long distance ocean voyages…

P.S. I have done a LOT of research but haven’t had a conversation with a real live kayaker.

I am a real live kayaker and I own a Perception Pirouette.

In my opinion, sure, buying an old school kayak at a good price makes a lot of sense. Those older, longer, narrower whitewater kayaks are much more efficient on flat water than most modern whitewater kayaks. In fact, they are more efficient on flat water than many recreational kayaks. And they are perfectly capable on whitewater. Many first descents were made in those older boats. Many find those old displacement hull boats easier to roll than modern flat bottomed boats.

Now there are a few things to be aware of. You need to examine any boat you are thinking about buying carefully to try to be sure that the plastic has not degraded. Push down on the hull and deck all around and examine closely for cracks. You will need to be sure you can find an appropriately sized skirt to fit the cockpit. Cockpits have tended to get larger over the years so one sized for modern kayaks may well be too large.

Make sure the cockpit opening is large enough so that you can easily wet exit. The Pirouette has a pretty decent sized cockpit for its vintage, but the cockpits on some older boats were downright small. You may also need to invest some time and a little money on outfitting. Most people find the addition of a back band beneficial and many of the older kayaks did not have one. They are pretty easily added, however. Boats of the vintage of the Pirouette did not have adjustable knee hooks and hip pads like most of today’s models. You added minicell foam pads to the side walls by gluing them in with contact cement and then shaping them to fit your body.

Thank you
This is some great advice. I’m somewhat aware of what to look for when buying, but of course it’s just book knowledge at this point and I’ll be tested when I go looking at a couple kayaks this weekend. You answered many of my unasked questions. I’ve been trying to find out about outfitting options on the older boats to see how much added cost might be expected if I need to replace the seat or other padding but there isn’t a lot of information out there that I could find.

I’ve also excluded a few of the boats because of the noted “keyhole” cockpits. I assumed the longer boats would be decent on the lakes but it’s good to hear some confirmation. Thanks again for the advice. One more question: would a Perception Corsica (Overflow) be comparable to the Pirouette type of boat as far as flat water - easy to paddle, track and hold speed? I’m not expecting great performance, just something that won’t discourage me from paddling while I’m learning.

consider your use
I would consider your use. the old school whitewater and the new crossovers try to be everything for everyone (in this case, both a white water and flat water kayak), but in general don’t do either well. if you will end up more doing one or the other in the long run, you may find it better to just go and get a boat better suited for that now (a day touring boat if more flatwater, or a true whitewater boat if more white water).

That said, if you buy a used boat at a reasonable price, you can use it for a while and when/if you decide it wasn’t the right choice, sell it for about what you paid for it. So it is kind of like a free rental.

Thanks Peter
That is my dilemma. I don’t want to limit myself off the bat to touring or WW only. I don’t mind buying a boat for each style down the road once I’ve determined I’m really going to pursue it. I just want something where I can experiment a little with each and see if I have a preference or if I want to concentrate on one or the other.

I do understand that kayaks, especially in this areaof the country, are easy to get in and out of financially… a lot more so than my other hobby - motorcycles. So I probably won’t make a mistake either way. I also realize the do-it-all kayak is about the same as the do-it-all motorcycle - nonexistent. Just looking for the best compromise at this point.

Thank you for the input.


– Last Updated: Oct-04-16 9:18 PM EST –

Be careful when you talk about Perception Corsicas. The original Perception Corsica was a relatively high volume whitewater boat. Perception later came out with the Corsica S which was a lower volume version and later still came out with the Corsica Matrix, which was a somewhat flattish bottom boat.

The Corsica Overflow and the larger Overflow X (affectionately known as the "Ox") were early versions of creek boats and would not be as efficient as the Pirouette. There was also the Corsica Super Sport (later just called the Super Sport) which was somewhat of a very low volume Corsica. So there were a lot of "Corsicas".

In addition to the Pirouette I also own a so-called crossover kayak, the Pyranha Fusion, generally considered one of the more efficient of that category. The Pirouette is significantly more efficient.

As for not being whitewater capable, I would not pay much attention to anyone who claims that of a boat like the Pirouette. They have likely not paddled one. Pirouettes have won the Green River Narrows race several times. The Green River Narrows is Class V water.

More modern kayaks have evolved largely to be more suitable for steep creeking and acrobatic maneuvers. Short, flat-bottomed playboats are better for flat spins, loops, and surfing steep waves without pearling, whereas those older boats excelled at vertical enders and pirouettes. You need not worry about all that since you won't be doing anything like that anytime soon, if ever.

Creek boats have developed to make running steep drops safer with blunt ends and a lot of buoyancy.

For starting out in whitewater you want a general river runner and something like a Pirouette will do just fine for that.

I would pass on any old boat that has a broken seat pan, side walls or knee hooks. You will not be able to find new parts. On the other hand, adjustable foot pegs on tracks are easily replaced if need be.

A good way to try out some older boats is often to join a local paddling club. Most whitewater kayakers that have been around for awhile have one or more old boats hanging in their garage or barn. The Georgia Canoe Association is a huge club with a distinguished history. Other options are the Tennessee Valley Canoe Club centered in the Chattanooga area and the Carolina Canoe Club.

I’ve owned a Pirouette and a Corsica in the distant past, and many other boats, older and newer. Both are great classic boats if you find one in good condition. Not the best or fastest on flat water, but certainly manageable. If you plan on learning to roll ( I hope! ), the old-school round-bottoms are effortless to roll compared to the new-school flat-bottom boats. As suggested above, fit is important, but especially for rolling. You need to be snug enough that the boat moves when you do, but not so snug that it cuts off circulation and makes your legs and feet go to sleep. Mini-cell foam can provide a custom fit, look for a fit-kit on internet. I fasten it in place with velcro tape at first so I can move and adjust it, and when I figure out the right combination I glue it. Good luck, let us know what you get!

Take some lessons, rent a bunch of different kayaks, try various paddles, then think about buying something. Tim

Renting not much of an option for many

– Last Updated: Oct-04-16 9:56 PM EST –

I've often seen advice posted here to rent many different kinds of kayaks as a way of learning what characteristics you need before buying one, and I always wonder where these people live who think this is good advice for everyone. I've paddled and traveled a fair bit of the Midwest and have seen hundreds of rental kayaks from dozens of rental shops, and have yet to see a single boat among them that any paddler here would suggest paying money for (I haven't see any of the shops on the Great Lakes, and that location might be an exception). Maybe the OP has the option of renting kayak models in north Georgia that would be worth owning, but it would surprise me.

I haven’t exhausted my resources as far as demo’s are concerned but so far the only kayaks I’ve been able to find for rent are rec’s and SOT’s. I probably need to cast a wider net. I would like to obtain some of the basic skills before I go in for any lessons. I know that sounds counter-intuitive but it’s how I function.

So for now I just want to get started without going all in on a comparatively expensive boat, since there are so many freaking options out there. I would prefer to get my feet wet (figuratively) and then next summer go for a new boat when I’ve had some general experience. I do think it’s sound advice to put money into good gear now and a good boat maybe next year after I’ve gained a little experience.

I appreciate all of the advice. Some of it I had not considered before. I think I will look at the Georgia Canoeing Assoc to get some local help/advice and maybe join a beginners’ outing or two and definitely lessons before moving on to bigger and better. With the Ocoee, Nantahala, Chatooga, etc in my backyard it only makes sense to get into the sport. Thanks, everyone. I look forward to getting going.

yourself a high quality inflatable and enjoy the performance. Here in N Cal, many of us ww lovers have added a inflatable to our herd and a few have sold their hard shells. Spend time on the various ww forums for more info. I went inflatable 3 years ago after 20 years with hard shells. At the very least, test paddle. A few to consider: Aire Tomcat and Lynx, NRS Outlaw and Bandit, and my favorite, the Rocky Mountain Animas.

Yes. Pirouette and Rolling.
Everyone scrambled to get to the Pirouette when I was in a rolling class. It was the boat that everyone got their first roll in. Much easier than the flat-bottomed boats.

I’m thinking a bigger boat
like a creek boat would ease the learning curve in the whitewater. They would however be a dog to paddle in the flats. I think at 200 pounds a pirouette might be a little aggressive but you seem motivated so I say go for it anyway- assuming you don’t have to spend much extra to get a skirt for it.

Just know if you find yourself trying ww and spending a lot of time with “out of boat experiences” that there are more forgiving options.

New ww boats have bigger cockpits (easier to wet exit), rounder ends (less likely to pin), more tie on points for rescue, and better wall construction so they tend to be safer than the older ww boats.

When you hook up with other paddlers you’ll find more options.

"Not long distance ocean"
Does this mean some ocean time, just not long distances? Or is any salt water an in-the-future thing?

There is an argument for something like the old school WW boats to have around for cheapo price and learning some skills, like paddling straight in a boat that is not too interested in that. But they are not boats that you want to be out in alone on bigger more open water. For that you want some features like perimeter lines and a bit of protective volume that that are not useful aspects of any whitewater boat.

Where would you be paddling this boat when you start?

Other gear
Thinking about PFD’s and paddles. A comfortable well fitting PFD will make a difference in your enjoyment of a day on the water as will a good paddle. I don’t know how WW paddlers feel as I do more touring/distance paddling but anything under $75 is going to lead to sore joints and $50 more will buy a paddle 10 times better.

Of course the boat you finally choose plays a role in choosing paddle length and sometimes you score some nice gear when buying used boats but don’t forget to include them in your budget and if you do get something decent it transfers from boat to boat.

Pirouette is pretty big
The full-size Perception Pirouette is a pretty big boat, 11’ 2" in length with a volume of 69 gallons and a suggested paddler weight range of 150-250 lbs.

The Pirouette S is smaller.

yeah 69 gallons

– Last Updated: Oct-05-16 12:09 PM EST –

is a fair amount and it is a well designed boat but I just don't think it is the easiest boat to start with. I used to think that the current crop of river runners- like mambas, remixes were good beginner boats.

After watching some folks struggle, especially folks at or above 200 pounds, I've concluded the creekers are easier to learn in (but harder to roll). 200 pounds is my cut off for suggesting river runners and going into creekers or "big boy boats"

Pirouette has a bit less volume in the stern, just a little slicey as well, which can work to your advantage if you know what your doing but if you don't then the stern can pose a challenge. The pirouette reminds me of a "softened" or more rounded slalom racing boat. It is quick but yet not as edgy as a Reflex or Slasher (c1). At 200 pounds, without a good back-band, I believe the Pirouette's stern will let you know where the eddy-lines are, especially if you are slumping back a bit. It is a boat that requires good posture or you'll feel the "catch" or edge of the stern but not as much as some other boats.

I know some really good paddlers who love pirouettes- I just don't picture it as the ideal beginner boat. It's not terribly unforgiving but neither is it totally benign.

I'll stick with my assertion of trying it out for a good price (including skirt) but I just believe the learning curve will be a bit more steep in the ww. The OP seems motivated so go for it. Just know there are other boats as well if you find yourself getting frustrated.

Understood about the gear. I don’t plan on scrimping on it as I hope to use it for a long time. The boat, I understand, will be sort of trial and error in the beginning and I may swap out of a few until I find the one that works best for me, which is why the original question was posed.

I plan to start learning on small lakes around the area - Allatoona, Blue Ridge, Chatugue and then progress to Class I and II. I doubt I’ll be ready for anything more than that before I’m ready to upgrade on the boat, at which time I’ll hopefully have a better first-hand understanding of some of the subtleties you guys are mentioning, like eddies and boat volume. I don’t plan on dropping any 15’ waterfalls or such. I think I’m the type who would prefer to, while I’m in the very green stage, just run down a fairly tame river with an occasional break if a wave shows up. But I’m probably not into flips and tricks and such. I’m still learning the difference between creek and river boats, planing and displacement and how they might benefit or hurt me in my search. For now I just want to get started on a limited budget.

The flatwater performance is a consideration more for exercise/practice and to build up the core muscles (kayak muscles), as well as occasionally just getting out and touring the lakes for a couple of hours after work. I don’t think I’m too interested in sea kayaking, but that could change. Options are wide open at this time. I plan on getting started this weekend hopefully and getting some much-needed seat time. Thanks to all for expanding my awareness. It can get overwhelming.

For what you describe…
It is hard to beat the value against purchase price of a boat like the Pirouette. You won’t love how it tracks on flat water at first, but once you figure out how to paddle it straight you will find that it is fast enough to get you started and give you a useful workout for an hour or two. We have a local paddler who regularly brought his Pirouette out on after work paddles on local flat rivers because it was much easier to haul thn his sea kayak and was fast enough for the purpose.

And darned it rolls nice. The Piedra under my rear deck is the only boat I know that is easier. Maybe the Nordkapp LV as well, but you find that out because the Nordlow gives plenty of opportunities.

Guideboatguy has never rented from Rutabaga, or Chequamegon Adventure Co, or Carl’s paddlin, all in Wisconsin, even though he has traveled a fair bit in the midwest. I have no idea what’s in Georgia, but they have water, and I’m sure some reputable kayak shops. Tim