Beginner/intermediate wanting kayak

I’m currently looking to buy a kayak. I’ve used a friends probably 10 times or so. He’s got a Wilderness Systems Pungo 120. I like it, but I’d like a boat that I can carry camping gear as well as cover more ground. I live in the midwest region so I’d like to have the flexibility to take it on Lake Superior/Michigan. I could get a Current Designs Oracle fo $900, but that’s a used one and it’s 17’ long. I also like the idea of being able to do some light fishing out of one.

Thanks for any help.

for big lakes
For paddling the big lakes and carrying gear you’ll want a kayak with front and rear bulkheads for safety.

You can fish out of any kayak if you’re careful. Fishermen tend to prefer more stable boats, touring paddlers prefer to trade some stability for speed. you’ll have to decide what feels good to you.

Demo day season is starting. Go try different boats and see what feels good.

A sea kayak class might be a good idea. You’ll learn paddling and self-rescue skills, and be in a better position to make a good decision.

a few resources:

Second Angstrom
You are talking big water with those lakes, and full out sea kayaking. And with all due respect there is no way that 10 times in a Pungo gives you intermediate sea kayaking skills.

Start with the sea kayaking outfits he recommends to get help both in how to select a boat and how to ready yourself. The Oracle may be a good first choice, if it fits you well as a smaller paddler, but you still have to handle it.

what kayak to choose
I’m 6ft tall, would the oracle be too small? I’d mainly be doing small lakes and rivers. I’d like to have the flexibility to take it out on the great lakes or in bays in the ocean. Maybe there isn’t one kayak for all. I’ve heard the learning curve for kayaking is quite fast so if I get a beginner kayak like the pungo I may feel like I’ll want to upgreade after a few months.

kayak use
I’d be using the kayak mainly on small lakes and rivers. Maybe once a year I’d like to use it on the great lakes and as a camping overnight thing.

Size for Oracle and learning
You really need to get to one of the places that angstorm mentioned. Don’t think that you can’t get in a heap of trouble going out to camp just twice a year - all it takes is one surprise storm and we’ve seen them come up on the Great Lakes. Frankly, the one we saw at a wedding on a lovely summer day at a shoreline hotel made anything we’ve seen in Maine bays look downright tame.

As to the Oracle - I expect at 6 ft tall you are way too big for the boat. That could make it quite unstable for you, in addition to issues like numbness. One reason to get to someplace for an intro is to understand and get guidance on the size/volume of boat you need. There are lots.

Learning - what you don’t understand yet is that it is not possible to learn good sea kayaking skills, which is really what you need for solo kayaking on the Great Lakes, in a rec boat like the Pungo. It isn’t equipped or designed to handle it. You need to understand the features in a boat that make it a touring or a sea kayak rather than a rec boat. Your friend with the Pungo likely doesn’t know either. They are good boats for their purpose and I’ve recommended them to friends who wanted to puddle around in ponds, but that is not what you are talking about.

The analogy in terms of skills might be riding. I could take tourist trail rides on babysitter horses every summer for years and probably develop a decent looking seat. But I would have never learned to actually ride the horse - that is handle a problem or control the animal fully by myself. To do that I had to risk an unplanned dismount a few times (and did), because I had to push myself and take some risks. Replace falling off with capsizing and you have the correct analogy for sitting in a kayak versus learning to handle situations, rescue yourself and be really safe in the boat.

The person selling the oracle says they’re over 6ft tall and it’s fine.


– Last Updated: May-31-12 9:13 AM EST –

OK. If the Great Lakes are going to be a once-a-year trip, it makes more sense to focus on the paddling you'll do most often. You can always rent a boat for the occasional big trip.

One important question is: what are your goals? If you want to build big-water skills -- self-rescue, bracing, rolling, surf landing, etc -- that requires a boat that has a good cockpit fit and will accept a good spray skirt. If you're happy with staying in calm or protected waters, an open-cockpit design might be a better choice for fishing.

As recreational-style boats go, the Pungo 140 is surprisingly fast, can carry a lot of gear, and is roomy and stable. The downside is that the huge cockpit opening is vulnerable to waves and makes self-rescue almost impossible.

The next step toward a more open-water boat would be something like a Carolina or Tsunami.

You should also consider how much maneuvering you'll want to do on the rivers you'll paddle. Boats like the Pungo are generally designed for straight tracking, and aren't good at quick turns. A more maneuverable choice would be something like the Alchemy, which is also a good open-water boat.

Don't be afraid to buy something used.

Can you paddle a rec kayak on the big lakes? Sure you can, IF you have the discipline and judgement to stay close to shore and respect the weather. But it's easy to get lulled into feeling safe, and the big lakes are deceptive. A couple paddling off Wisconsin were killed because they were caught in a rising offshore wind and blown several miles offshore. There are miles of the Superior coast that have no safe place to land. It's no place for the unwary or unprepared.

I may have misread

– Last Updated: May-31-12 10:12 AM EST –

And I just rechecked the specs - it is not a tiny person's boat either. But fit is personal and you would need to sit in it. We have a local guy who is bigger than me who will comfortably squeeze into boats that I would not. And trying to judge the fit of a narrower sea kayak like the Oracle coming straight from a Pungo - it's not even apples and oranges. More like apples and goldfish.

I just saw angstrom's post below and his point is well taken - if you are willing to reserve a boat like the Pungo to only its intended use - and open water in the Great Lakes isn't it - you could get a boat just to do the flat, calm stuff in more limited water bodies. The problem is usually that people don't do that. They are lured by the bigger water and try to move a recreational boat and set of skills into the bigger water because it is just so tempting. We've had many unplanned rescues of people who got into that fix in even smaller water bodies among local paddlers, let alone on bigger water.

There is also the issue of paddling with others to think about. There are some very solid paddling groups on the Great Lakes who you may wish to join at some point. But if you show up for an open water paddle on one of these lakes to go visit offshore islands with a Pungo.... it is not going to work out well. It'd be fine if you reserve your search for groups to people who stay in more quiet water to float and fish.

I still suspect that you don't know enough about this area to make a good long term first choice. By the time you get a paddle, PFD and even a used boat you'll have spent some money. It'd be well worth your while to spend a bit of it first at a good outfitter to learn some basics, also try going on a tour or something in a solo sea kayak to get a feel for the diff between that and the rec boats.

two articles
There are two articles in California Kayaker Magazine that you may want to read.

In the Summer 2011 issue starting on page 22 is an article on choosing a recreational kayak. The Pungo falls into this class. The article talks about some of the limitations of recreational boats.

In the Spring 2012 issue on page 6, there is a article on Getting Butt Time. Talks about why you want to get out and paddle all sorts of bats, and how to get the opportunity cost effectively, before buying a boat.

All issues can be read online for free at

can I learn on a sea kayak?
So maybe what I should do is buy more of a recreational kayak. Can a beginner use a sea kayak to learn on? Or should a person start off on a recrational kayak like the pungo? Like another poster said I can always just rent a kayak if I want to do an overnight camping trip. I’d like to do overnight camping on flat water too. It seems like the tsunami’s would be a good middle in terms of having storage but still being recreational.

learn on almost anything

– Last Updated: May-31-12 11:56 PM EST –

You can learn on most anything. It is easy enough to learn on a sea kayak. And even within sea kayaks, there are some that are more beginner friendly, and some that are made for more advanced paddlers.

Keep in mind that "recreational kayak" is just a term, and often are not appropriate for people who paddle recreationalally. Whether you want a kayak that you will use from time to time (i.e. recreationally) or more often, you should choose a kayak that does what you want and has attributes you want, whether it is a "recreational" category boat or a sea kayak (or something else). Don't get caught up in terms.

Why the emphasis on recreational?
You still seem confused about kayaks, the reason you should start by getting to an outfitter rather than trying to decide by info from this board. Sea kayaks are no less beginner boats than rec kayaks, they are just designed for different purposes. There are not really beginner boats, just beginner paddlers.

As above, there are sea kayaking skills that cannot be learned, except worth a crap, in a open cockpit boat like the Pungo. You need a tighter cockpit and closer fit for them. The transitional boats offer a compromise but fit still matters.

The problem is that you don’t know what those skills are, or how much you might be in environments where they’d come in handy. You really are not in a good position to choose a boat, at least one with a long hold time, until you get some more education to sort this out.

try out some boats and take some lessons
What feels good changes rapidly for most people as they get seat time and learn some skills. Even a weekend long lesson will change your opinion of what feels ‘tippy’ and what kind of boat you want.

If you want to go on Lake Superior, a sea kayak with bulkheads is the ONLY way to go. Pungos and other rec boats are inappropriate for anything more than a warm, waist deep pond.

I came to the rescue of a guy in a Pungo just last Saturday. He was swimming it into the beach with a Completely submerged boat wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Water temp was 50F, Air temp the same. Don’t be this guy.

Just my 2 cents.
Buy used!!! Why? Because many times people will throw in a paddle, spray skirt, pfd or some other kayaking related piece that you would end up buying any ways. So buying used saves you money. The other plus is that if you decide to change to a different kayak you can sell your used kayak for not much less than what you bought it for. I have bought and paddled used kayaks for years and then sold them for what I bought it for or not much less.

If you want a decent kayak for rivers and the great lakes look for a used 14.5 Carolina. Every year I consider selling mine and then after paddling it just to be sure it is the one out of my eight kayaks I want to get rid of I end up keeping it. Nothing about it stands out but nothing about it is a deal breaker either. Good luck and have fun, JAWS

more ?'s
I know a pungo or any other open cockpit is a bad choice for any rough water. I’m just not sure if I should go with a sea kayak because I’d mostly be using it for calm and smaller lakes. Once in a great while it would be nice to take one near the shores of Lake Superior/Michigan. I’ve stopped in at a local outfitter and have test rode numerous kayaks. From the Pungo up to the tsunami 14ft. I guess at this point I like the flexibility of the sea kayaks more because I could use those on smaller lakes and bigger lakes if I wanted. I wouldn’t go too far from shore on the bigger lakes. I like that the longer boats are faster, even though they turn harder because most of the time I’d be going straight and I’d like more storage for camping overnight.

Would the Current Designs Oracle be a good enough choice for someone that could fit into it combortably? Is $900 a decent deal for that kayak? Looks to be in good shape. Do people ask people to test ride them even if they’re used?

the average sea kayaker…
The average sea kayaker never takes their kayak in the sea, in waves, or anything like that. Sea kayak is just a term for a certain type of kayak, not a requirement that the kayak e paddled in seas or similar conditions.

I’d try the next size or two boat up from the Tsunami 14 you tried. I suspect you may end up with a transitional sea kayak (something in the 14 foot range), but you should try some full on sea kayaks fist and make that decision yourself.

Very Few Paddlers Complain About…
…having too much kayak under them.

A decent used sea kayak will do everything you want to do now, and give you a lot of room to grow as a paddler. The only place where the size of the kayak ever bothered me was in loading and unloading it from the roof rack, and there are ways around that.

A good poly boat will also, as pointed out already, hold its value if you should decide there is another kayak you like better. And I’d certainly expect that the seller could arrange for me to paddle the boat before I make a decision on whether nor not I want to buy it, unless it was a long-distance deal and I already knew just how well I fit the kayak, and it my paddling plans.

Contact Bryan Hansel
Bryan lives, eats, sleeps and

Paddles/Instructs on Lake Superior

He can tell you exactly what works and doesn’t work

for paddling the BIG water you want to experience.

Bryan is an ACA kayaking instructor and guide.

doing some research online…
and found one video that mentioned that you should buy the longest kayak you can afford. Is this true? I know the width of the boat is related to the stability. Will a couple of inches thinner make a big difference as far as stability goes?