Best Kayak Option for Getting Started ?

-- Last Updated: Dec-17-07 2:16 AM EST --

Our family has just begun ocean kayaking. We live (and plan to do most of our kayaking) in Southern California. We're overwhelmed with all the options for what type/brand/material/size of kayak to purchase. One issue is whether to get an inflatable or solid hulled boat. I'm about 6'0" and 195 lbs. My daughter is an adult, but very small (4'11" and 90 lbs.). We are never going on long or overnight trips, generally just doing one-day lake, ocean and cave kayaking. We are beginners, and don’t ever anticipate becoming experts; we want stable and comfortable boats. We think we may prefer sit-on-tops to allow for easy in and out and re-entry in the event of capsizing. We also want kayaks that work well for individual paddlers on calm waters, which is going to be the bulk of our outings. Any suggestions on where to go for help making the decision? Thanks!

More details
You can find good general direction here, but the experts may want to know a little more, like:

How many boats are you thinking about buying?

All solo boats? Or are you thinking tandems?

How old are the kiddos? Will they have separate boats?

How will you carry the boats to/from the lake?

Sounds like you plan to go for short casual paddles – not long 15 to 20 mile day trips. Also sounds like you don’t plan to do surfing.

SOTs in the 12 to 14 foot range would probably fit the bill for the adults. Boats wider than about 26 inches (beam) will generally be pretty stable. Poly boats are less expensive, but heavier than fiberglass or heaven forbid, kevlar. By the time you get boats, paddles, PFDs, etc, you are probably talking $800 to $1500 a person for new equipment (assumes poly boats). Kids will probably get slightly smaller boats that will be a little less expensive.

Then you need a rack system or a trailer which can be another $500 to $1000.

You can go way outside those ranges on both ends depending on your budget and creativity. The inflatable route is probably cheaper, but I’ll leave it to someone else to help there.


Simplest way is lessons first

– Last Updated: Dec-17-07 7:41 AM EST –

If you were talking quiet ponds inland what the heck - get a couple of rec boats and wait for warm water and get going. But the ocean is another matter, and ESPECIALLY if you are talking about caves there really is no way to go at that safely without some amount of basics in recognizing the conditions you are in and being ready to handle some surprises. Even very simple things, like you start out on a perfectly calm day and encounter offshore breezes coming home that could leave your daughter unable to paddle back in without help from you. You may have to tow her, which can be fairly dangerous for you if you haven't drilled on how to do it safely. A sit inside may be a better choice for that eventuality.

Also, with your daughter being so small you will have to learn to do your own re-entry, which I have seen larger guys be unable to perform without prior practice and work even in a SOT. The last one I knew of personally was a guy about your size whose wife ended up towing the SOT with him hanging onto the end back in with her Swifty from half a mile offshore. They were lucky and conditions were mild, a small change could have made a big diff.

Overall, I really advise against deciding on a boat until you have had some lessons in the basics for ocean paddling around you and have that info in hand to pick the right boat. Right off the rip, for example, if you are going to be responsible for your daughter my personal inclination would be to say a minimum of floatation in both ends and perimeter lines and rigging on both boats. But without having had some practice in trying to re-enter these things, you wouldn't have much of a sense of why I am saying that. Or you may take some lessons and look at where you want to paddle in more detail and focus on places where SOT's will do you well.

You guys can have a lot of fun - but don't mistake learning how to do rescues and recognizing ocean conditions with being an expert. These are absolute basics.

Also, your daughter is going to be tough to fit. Most SOTs and sit insides will be way too big for her to handle. There are some boats out there that might work though - like the Necky Eliza or the newer CD boat for really small paddlers - that she could give a good try to once she has the feel of what she is doing. Without a little time spent learning how to paddle properly, it'll be very hard for someone her size to distinguish between a boat that works and is just one big barge. Stability will hardly be an issue for her - at her size and being female she'd probably be fine on a 2 by 4.

Southern California

– Last Updated: Dec-17-07 9:58 AM EST –

For the kind of kayaking you are talking about you will probably end up buying some sit on top kayaks. You did not say where you are in Southern California.

My advice would be to take a class from Aqua-Adventures ( Mission Bay in San Diego, or if you are further north from Southwind Kayaks in the Irvine area on the basics of paddling on the ocean. You will get exposed to different brands of kayaks and can get an idea of what you want.

This discussion board is often pretty poor for information about sit-on-top kayaking.
Post similar request at

Also Carlsbad Paddle Sports in Oceanside does a very simple introductory paddle class where you can try out different brands of kayaks..

All of these stores mentioned above are good places to start. You can usually find workable boats on Craigslist for not much money. at Santa Clara point sells Cobra Kayaks, the brand is good, the store is not one of the better places to buy, you will get gouged on the seats, thighstraps paddles etc. So it may pay to buy your boat there and haggle on the price of a package or buy the other stuff on-line. Carlsbad paddle sports has excellent prices. Aqua-adventures has the best trained staff for taking lessons.

Join a club or get a lesson
That is the cheapest way to find out what best suits your needs.

4’11’ 90 lb

here is my son 5’3 100 lb or less

It’s a year or so old and he has grown. the boat is a 16’6" Orion

He managed this an about 5 minutes. The posting is from Tony Lee a local paddle friend.

You will likely be happy in what ever you get. I have never paddled a SOT so have no experience in that end.

If you look at he conditions and environment you will be paddling in, let this group know what your main interests are (Sea, lakes, ponds, occasional paddling, lifestyle choice,) the people close to you will be able to help.

Here I would say get a good sea kayak 15’6" or more for your daughter and 16’6" or more for you with appropriate capacity. Get a good PFD and paddle, thermal protection as needed and required safety gear. Here that is a tow rope, PFD, Paddle, sounding device (whistle) a bailer (PUMP)

Here you would be shelling about $2,500.00 per boat for decent new stuff. Buying a good used boat and gear you may drop that to $1,600.00 + -

California: Perhaps you don’t need a wet suit (My son and I are in dry suits now) and perhaps you don’t need a 16’ boat with a spray deck:

Local knowledge is valuable.

perhaps a rec boat is exactly what you need.

There are people here (quite experienced) with small fat sea kayaks and gear that would not work well here. Where they are my 17’8" glass thing would be awkward and a waste of space.

Welcome to the greatest sport in the world.

All the best

Alex in Newfoundland Canada

Rent them first
Shouldn’t be hard to find SOTs to rent in southern CA (or sit-inside kayaks, for that matter).

When we visited San Diego, there were at least two shops on Mission Bay that rented SOTs: AquaAdventures (which seadart already mentioned) and a place that rented mainly powerboats–I forget the name but it had a small general store there also…might have “Mission Bay” in its name. AA rents sit-insides as well, so you may want to go on some rental sprees. They will let you do brief demos for free, too. But you’ll need a longer session with whatever boats you like best.

One nice thing about SOTs is that, though most are quite wide, the fit isn’t as critical. Your very small daughter will at least be able to paddle them, though many will still feel too big.

I really, really liked the Ocean Kayak Scupper. It has a fairly small seat well, among its other niceties. I think it has been discontinued but there should be some used ones for sale.

kayaks for your daughter

– Last Updated: Dec-17-07 4:42 PM EST –

Some boat suggestions for your daughter

Ocean Kayak Kea
Wilderness Systems Tsunami Sp

I'm a bit bigger than your daughter (5ft and 110 lbs) and these boats fit me perfectly. The Kea and is very stable and a lot of fun at the beach. Also if you're looking at a shorter sit in, the Tsunami Sp is great. It's stable, comfortable, and paddles great. Both of these boats are more narrow than most other kayaks in their category but your daughter paddling a slightly more narrow kayak would be the same as a larger person paddling a wider kayak. One thing that has worked well for me is to look for any gear that is marketed as kids(both of these kayaks are). Kids stuff usually fits me better and is a lot cheaper. For example, wetsuits, paddles, sprayskirts, etc.

welcome to the world

– Last Updated: Dec-17-07 9:22 PM EST –

of kayaking. Not to fieghten you, but to be honest, their may be more Kayak models on the market than their are car models. It sounds like you want stability and capability. But you may also want a decent tracker, and you'll have to sacrifise a little stability. But if you do get an SOT, stability isnt so much an issue since if you flip, just flip the kayak upright and climb back in. No flooding, no paddle float, no bilge pump. Its much easier.I suggest maybe a 12-15' long SOT entry-level kayak, witch may cost around 580-1000 dollars. Rigid kayaks are going to track better than inflatibles. check out these brands bellow, witch offer safe, well-designed name brand SOT-kayaks:

(Just google these to get to the website)

Cobra Kayaks
Hobbie Kayaks
Ocean Kayak
Wilderness systems
Perception kayaks
Heritage kayaks
Native watercraft


Sea eagle
Advanced Elements

Good luck :)