beginner in need of help choosing kayak

-- Last Updated: Jun-11-16 1:07 AM EST --

Brand new to kayaking and I was hoping someone can help me out with a little advice on choosing a first recreational kayak. I've rented and gone out on the river (columbia), and have decided this is something I want to do a lot more of. I live in Portland, OR. I'm 6'-1", male and weigh 200 pounds.
I suppose initially I'll start with a lot more flat water, river and creek kayaking but would like something I can have on the lake or do some light white water. Im looking at (4) different kayaks that are in the $300 dollar range and really I want something to beat up and learn on this summer. When I have more experience and a better understanding of what I want from a kayak I'll invest more.
The first option is a brand new Pelican Odyssey 100x, the second is a used Eskimo Diablo posted on craigslist ( (hopefully I don't regret that, I apologize if I'm breaking any forum rules by posting a link)), the third is a used dagger nomad 8.1 posted on cragslist ( (or that)) and finally a used Perception Corsica also posted on craigslist ( I've read positive reviews on both the Eskimo and the Pelican, but don't know much about the others. If one of you more experienced kayakers wouldn't mind imparting some of your wisdom on which kayak to consider as well as what I should be aware of when inspecting one of the used kayaks before purchase I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you for reading

none of them

– Last Updated: Jun-11-16 1:21 PM EST –

First off, ditch the Pelican 100 idea. That boat is too small for you and is also barely a step above a pool toy. Cheapo rec boats like that are for lily-dipping and bird-watching in farm bonds or floating slow shallow creeks. They do not have the handling nor safety features like bulkheads and deck lines for the Columbia River or for any kind of white water.

Of the 3 used boats you listed , I'm fairly certain the 8.1 is too small for you (somebody your size would take the 8.5) and the other two, the Eskimo and Corsica, would have to be at least 15 and perhaps even over 20 years old and are old-school creek boats, meaning they are meant for whitewater, which makes them unsuitable for flatwater river, large lakes and coastal touring. Actually, a better deal if you just want a cheap whitewater kayak is this Perception Dancer for $150, it still will not track all that well in whitewater but its length makes it a little better for that than the others you are looking at. It is cheap enough that you could save more money towards buying a better boat once you get some seat time and know what you want:

Once you study up a bit on kayak design you will understand that there are no boats that can handle both flatwater conditions and whitewater conditions equally well. There are some "hybrids" like the Dagger Axis 12, which are supposed to be good for both, but at best they are a tradeoff. For wide flat deep open water, with wind and currents, like the Columbia or any coastal areas or large lakes, you want a kayak that is longer and narrower, probably sit inside in your state due to colder water, and the cockpit should be snug enough to allow use of a sprayskirt (which the Pelican and other rec boats can't do because they are too large.) You also want a boat that has a steeper cross section, not a flat bottom. These design specs enable a kayaker to track well and paddle more easily in a straight line, even for extended distances. The hull shape also make them more stable in rough water, though the initial feeling for a beginning paddler is that they are "tippy". Kayaks for whitewater rapids are shorter, wider, and flat bottomed so they can be planed on a wave and turned quickly, they flip easily but rapid water paddlers learn to roll them back up.

Though you could, of course, buy the Diablo or the Corsica and probably have some fun with them on white water PROVIDED YOU GET PROPER INSTRUCTION in technique, river reading and safety, and you go out with experienced ww paddlers. But don't expect either boat to be a great choice to cruise large rivers or paddle lakes or the ocean. If you end up paddling with other people who are using touring or sea kayaks you will not be able to keep up with them.

People who like to do both whitewater and flatwater usually keep two different boats that are specific for the two activities. Starting out, you need to think about what you MOST want to do and seek a boat that will allow you to develop skills for that kind of paddling.

And I would be very cautious about buying such old boats -- inspect the plastic for looking dry, brittle or cracked and look at the hull to make sure it isn't caved in (oil-canning). Those defects are common on old boats and are not fixable.

It is possible to find decent touring kayaks used for around $300 to $800 if you are patient, and they often come with a PFD, paddle and skirt (items you will need.) Here are a few current listings in the Portland CL that would be your size and suitable for open water:
(the one above is way overpriced -- it is probably 25 years old or more. Offer them $300, $350 only if in extremely clean shape. The fact that they describe it as coming with "oars" shows they don't know a danged thing about kayaks anyway and have no clue how little old ones are worth.)

This Easky linked below is identical to the kayak my ex boyfriend (close to your size) had and loved (I own the smaller version of it and it's a fun and versatile boat that even beginners like to paddle). We mostly did rivers and lakes with ours, but even some class 1 and 2 rapids, but it was best for touring. It's worth about $600 used:

This last one is an incredible kayak, probably one of the best designs ever made and at a very cheap price, but it's a bit unusual and probably not best for a newbie (it requires solid skills and flotation bags in the hull) :

Like Willowleaf said

– Last Updated: Jun-11-16 7:18 AM EST –

What you are talking about doing is multiple boats, only right now you don't know why. I see you are in the Portland area, finding used boats once you understand what you need should not be a big problem.

Get to Alder Creek ( or Portland Kayak Company ( They both do lessons and handle a range of kayaks. Take basics lessons, then you will have a better idea of what boat.

If you must get a boat, the Dancer is hard to argue about. It is be of those old school boats that does a lot of things OK. And very cheap.

Don’t even think about it.
I know it most likely is not in your plan, but whatever you do, heed the advice given above. By all means, get yourself to Hayden Island (Alder Creek Kayaks) and you will also want to visit Portland Kayak Company on the Willamette and Next Adventure Kayaks at 624 7th AVE. in Portland. I would also suggest a visit to the Next Adventure shop at Scappose Bay.

I’ve been paddling on the Columbia for many, many years and believe me, the only way you want to be out there is in a very good boat unless you are going to stay within 10 feet of shore. The Columbia is probably one of the best places in the country to paddle, but not in a pool toy.

You might get really lucky and find a decent boat for five, or six hundred dollars, but first you need to get educated on what constitutes a decent boat. Then there are the accessories; don’t count on going cheap there either–especially on a paddle and pfd.

Don’t let any of this discourage you–it’s not meant to. We only hope to save you money in the long run and hopefully make your initial paddling experiences the great adventures they should be.

Hope to see you out there someday. I’ll be the one in the long white boat.

great advice!
Willowleaf, thank you very much for all the advice, I really appreciate it. I had read up on the differences between recreational, touring, sea and whitewater kayaks and made the assumption that if I found a kayak kind of mid size (between 10 and 12 feet) I would have something more multi purpose then purposeful. While the columbia and willamette rivers are the most easily accessible to me and where I plan to spend a lot of time, I had also hoped to have something I can take along the many smaller rivers and creeks in Oregon. I wanted to go cheap at first so I can experiment a bit and find out what I enjoy most without having to rent everytime I want to go out (which has been every weekend recently). I will continue to do more research and heed the advice of those who have been there. I think in the short term I really just want to get some seat time and try a couple different environments. I’ll take a closer look at the dancer and a couple of the other options you listed. I don’t want to purchase a kayak I’m going to use for years in haste and would prefer to invest more heavily in a couple months time (or longer) after becoming more knowledgeable. the more I think about it the more the dancer appeals to me in the interim. Thanks again for all the advice, I absolutely plan on attending a couple classes and ventures with more experienced paddlers soon and before I make a long term decision.

Will do

– Last Updated: Jun-11-16 3:44 PM EST –

Celia, thanks for the tips and yes after spending quite a bit more time online its becoming clear that there is no catch-all when it comes to kayaking. It seems the shorter and flatter kayaks allow for more maneuverability than the longer skinnier but are not as fast and don't track as well? it also seems the flatter the better for shallow water and quicker turning, while the deeper maintains its position better in turbulent water. Im sure there is a lot more nuances than I can grasp at the moment, and I learn best by doing. I will definitely be visiting alder creek and portland kayak company soon. especially when I make a more long term decision about which direction I want to pursue further.

Great tips

– Last Updated: Jun-11-16 3:48 PM EST –

Magooch, thanks for the tips. I'll check out next adventure kayaks as well. I certainly don't plan to go cheap when I have a little more experience and purchase something for the long term. I've read on here the best boat is one that gets you out on the water and am simply looking to do that for now. I've really enjoyed my kayaking experiences so far and have a feeling this something Im gonna wanna do for a while. I definitely don't want to jump straight into the deep end on my first purchase. appreciate the kind words, hope to see you out there as well

what is a pfd?

PFD is Personal Flotation Device, also known as a life vest. This is as necessary a piece of equipment as the paddle and should always be worn when kayaking (in some cases it is required by law, but is always required by common sense). In fact, if you are able to buy that $150 Dancer that I sent you the link for (that both Celia and I recommended as a starter boat) you would have enough cash to buy a good paddle and a PFD, both of which will add to your comfort and enjoyment of kayaking.

Keep the design compromises in perspective when you consider kayaks. While it’s true that longer and skinner means better tracking and therefore less maneuverability, keep in mind your intended use. On the lakes, bays and large rivers that I paddle on I spend probably 95% of my time going pretty much straight. Anyone who knows just a few paddle strokes can spin a longer kayak through 360 degrees quite easily, but try keeping a really short whitewater kayak going at a decent speed and in a straight line on a calm lake; it takes a surprising amount of technique to do so. And that’s not putting whitewater kayaks down, they do what they do very well allowing you to twist and turn through rocks and rapids. They are horrible at touring though.

Too Bad It’s In The Middle of Summer
But if I lived in Portland, I’d jump on my bicycle and head on up for this week long paddling event: and observe all the paddling craft in action on the Gorge. Maybe this might be what you’re interested in, but don’t know it yet? Paddling instruction is available too.

Don’t commit to anything, until you check out this event.

Hull design more complex than that
The most turbulent water you will find is whitewater. But those hulls are very flat. The boats however are also short and wide and have very little hull speed compared to longer skinnier touring boats. The latter can have a very deep V hull or a pretty flat one, and variations between, combined with the rest of the hull shape it all works.

Hull design is a many-faceted thing, you are best getting it by finding the boat and feel that works best for you. Worry about the science on why afterwards.

PFDs and paddles
you’re quickly becoming a hero of mine. Yeah, I’ve always been familiar with term life-vest. Are there as many different shapes and sizes for paddles (each with a specific purpose?) as there are for kayaks? any tips on what to look for in a good paddle? I have a 74" reach (fingertip to fingertip) and about 29" long arms (armpit to fingertip) if that helps. I’ve attempted to contact the owner of the dancer and am awaiting a response. I do like hearing the opinions of those who aren’t trying to sell me something a bit before I talk to those who are (however knowledgeable they may be).

since I do live in Portland
I will definitely attend the event. This sounds like a great way to get exposure to a number of different paddling types. Thanks for passing that along!


– Last Updated: Jun-12-16 2:21 PM EST –

Yes, paddles are different too. Paddles for whitewater have short fat blades, the shafts are shorter than you would use for touring and the blades are set at an angle to each other. Flatwater paddles usually have the blades at the same angle, though the two part ones can be offset about 30 degrees. Size depends not just on the height and arm length of the paddler themselves, but also the type of boat including it's width and hull depth. So it would be wise to wait until you have a boat to settle on the paddle. Werner brand paddles are the most common, but Harmony, Bending Branches and Carlisle are also good brands with decent reasonably priced models that you can get from between $100 and $140. Look for one with a fiberglass shaft (not metal) and medium sized blades. The paddle and you are the "engine" of the boat and you want as light a paddle as you can afford. You don't need big blades (in fact they can be tiring). Many of us even use what are called Greenland paddles, which barely have a blade at all, just a long tapering width to the ends.

And for PFD's, stick with the type that are designed for canoeing and kayaking. Astral is a good brand name (and I think the most comfortable), as are Extrasport and Stohlquist. Vests made for waterskiing or sailing are not as comfortable for paddling and can ride up and get in the way.

I’m a canoe guy myself, so I can’t offer any kayak advice, but you’re in good hands with these folks.

However, as someone in the Portland area, a couple of paddling spots I recommend checking out are Vancouver Lake, and the Columbia Slough. They don’t have the commercial and motorized traffic of the Willamette and Columbia. The lake can get a little windy later in the day, so it’s probably best to go early. The slough runs from Gresham out to N. Portland and joins at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia. There are several put in locations along the way, some of which have had docks installed. ( Also Cook park on the Tualatin is a nice area on the south side of town.

I know Alder Creek at Jantzen Beach offers test/demo paddles off their back dock. I believe the same is true of Next Adventure in Scappoose and Portland Kayak on Macadam. I know they all do rentals.

Alder Creek hosts a paddle fest the last weekend of April at Vancouver Lake and Next Adventure has one usually mid-late May at Oaks park. These are great opportunities to try out many different brands and models at one time. Obviously this year’s events have passed, but keep them in mind for next year.

Have fun with your new hobby.