Boat for small paddler

-- Last Updated: Jan-22-07 6:14 PM EST --


I'm currently shopping for a kayak for my g/f. She is quite small at 5'1" and about 105 lbs. Since budget is a concern, I'm looking at used boats at this time. I'm leaning towards a WS Tempest 165, but am also considering a Valley Pintail and a WS Tchaika among others. A little background - she is a beginner but athletic and we are planning on a few lessons for her. So we hope to improve her skills to about an advanced-beginner (if there is such a category) or intermediate level.

We paddle a variety of locations including: open water (ocean), bays/lakes, and a variety of rivers (some large, some spring-fed with pretty decent flow-rates, and some very tight/twisty).

Materials aren't that important but if given a choice, we'd probably lean towards plastic due to the occasional encounters with boat ramps, oyster beds, etc. Also, the boat can be a SOT. The weather down here in FL support year round paddling on those.

Volume isn't a big concern as I can carry a bit in my Prijon Kodiak or even my WS Freedom. But, I'd like at least one bulkhead/hatch for stowage.

We are currently entertaining the thought of a WS Tsunami 140 Duralite, but from reading posts on the site, we are a bit concerned that she might outgrow this boat quickly.

Any advice/recommendations would be greatly appreciated.



[Edit] Forgot to add, we'd like the boat to either have a skeg or rudder...thanks. [/edit]

Impex Mystic
Easily available, comes in plastic, is in all respects a real boat and is available used - likely other ideas out there but as I try to get ready for work that’s the only one I can think of that may fit all your criteria. At her size, 3 inches shorter than me, if skills development (hence cockpit fit and a good match on volume) are goals you are going to be looking at a pretty short list.

Oh - and two other ideas if you can find them. Betsy Bay makes one that may be a match - I forget the model name but you can check their website. And the Sparrow Hawk (older boat for small people). Could be tough to find used, but you should take a drive if you see one wthin reach.


– Last Updated: Jan-22-07 9:03 AM EST –

My 5'0" wife has a Tchaika Pro(with skeg)that she's very happy with. It's the first kayak she's had that fits properly, and it's made a huge difference in her paddling comfort. She's faster and more comfortable in it than she was in her previous 16' boat. Being able to carry it herself is also a big win.

The big disadvantage is the lack of a forward bulkhead. I put in an oversized float bag, but plan to have a local shop put in a custom bulkhead that can also be a footrest. That'll keep cockpit volume to a minumum to ease emptying. Since we're not planning on camping I'll just put a Beckson deckplate in the bulkhead for access.

A minicel foam bulkhead would be easy and watertight, but couldn't be used as a footbrace.

I have the same issue with being a cyclist and a paddler and keep mixing them up. But they are such great compliments to each other! Have her put the Hurricane Tampico S on the list. My wife Maggie is 5 ft 1 and keeps up with longer boats easily. It’s a very efficient hull and beginners warm to it right off. I think it’s 39-40 lbs and has front and rear bulkheads for safety.

my wife
is 5’2" 110 lbs. and we have been lookng at boats for her, she fits quite well in my tempest 165 and we are leaning at getting one for her.


Small paddler
For a small paddler who wants to learn and increase skills, fit is a huge part of the equation. It will make or break a person’s interest in and enjoyment of paddling. The practice has been to take a smallish boat and pad it out to make a snug fit in the cockpit. A lot of people have become accustomed to this and made it work because there was nothing else available. That is changing. My experience (being the same size as your g/f) is that a pintail (although loved) is too big. A Tempest is too big. I don’t know about the others you mention. I do know that a woman can paddle a narrower beamed boat because of a lower center of gravity. Lower overall volume and a low deck make handling much easier, and allows a small paddler to roll easier. A smaller cockpit is much preferred. Her elbows should not hit the coaming when she sits in it, and she should be able to easily lay back in it. She should paddle a number of different boats and have the feeling, “Oh, this feels good.” And regardless of what is chosen, as you learn and experience new conditions, taste and preference in what feels good changes. It’s a natural progression of learning. But for a small paddler, fit is the most important factor in boat choice.

The Wilderness Systems Piccolo is a great boat for a small paddler (up to 120#). My daughter had one and had no problem keeping up with the longer boats. It is much narrower than many other shorter kayaks, making for a nice fit for a small women. There is one for sale in Maine on Craig’s list. I see them for sale every now and then.

A Klepper
Hey, it works for Dr Ruth!! :+)

another thread, Island Kayaks was mentioned…everyone keeps talking about the boat that is sized about the same as the Anas Acuta…but look at the Newt…looks like a much more starved market for this size boat…bulkheads, glass, keyhole cockpit…

18 1/2 inches wide 14 ft 7 1/2 inches long

I would think that this is a kayak people should be looking at when they weigh in around 100 pounds

Best Wishes


Nigel Foster Rumor?
If it fits? Not available in plastic yet, but Seaward is getting into Thermoforming.

Rumour is made by Current Designs, not Seaward

Best Wishes


You are correct. Thanks

Rumour Fit
The weight range is OK, though she is probably at the low end of the weight range. It does have a shorter cockpit, but still one that would require that thigh braces be built in and back for someone my height (5’4"). It could easily require some building back for someone 3 inches shorter than me.

It’s a neat boat for sure - also one that should be demo’d. It feels uncomfortably unstable to many, others get in and like it so well they don’t care - it is really a boat that has to be tried out to get a handle on how they feel about it.

LOL Bike!
Devotees of both sports have so much in common.

Let me second the Tampico 135S. I am a beginner and 5’3" (115 lbs) and enjoy the nice fit in the seat and thigh braces. This is also important for feeling confident & controlling the kayak.

It was - and is - the kayak I did my first skills on. Can be rolled, fast, easy to turn & light. The Tampico will take you everywhere except big water. Plus it comes w. not 1 but 2 sealed bulkheads and hatches, a step up from many rec kayaks.

Tempest 165 will work

– Last Updated: Jan-22-07 1:57 PM EST –

I'm 5'2" and under 110 lbs. The Tempest 165 works well for me, both day paddles and camping trips. I did as flatpick suggested and glued in 1/2" minicell foam under the seat cover. I tried it in stock form first, which felt good but not quite right. Adding the foam made it fit very well, and it gave me the height and leverage I like (matches what's in my wood kayak, that I had already experimented with in seat height and fore-aft placement). The T165 is easy to paddle, roll, scull, do PF re-entry with, etc etc. Handling is sweetly predictable--I never feel like I am working against this boat.

If the kayak has to be plastic, that rules out both the Pintail and the Tchaika. The Pintail will feel too big in the cockpit anyway. I rented one and was swimming inside it (keyhole cockpit). Tchaika only has one bulkhead, too.

I've rented a Piccolo, which was discontinued several years ago. Your wife would probably outgrow this one, if she's athletic. It's a fun boat and gives immediate gratification from being short and easy to accelerate. However, because it is so short it easily "bottoms out" speedwise. I rented one after owning a CD Squall (16'6") and noticed the Piccolo's lack of higher speed once we got out of cruising-around mode. If she's happy paddling at 3.5 to 4 mph the Piccolo will feel great. If she wants to push for more, it'll lose ground not far above that. If she has the power (being a cyclist, she will), get a longer kayak than the Piccolo. At least 15 ft long.

Since I mentioned the Squall, I may as well recommend against it for her. It has a very tall deck, esp. the foredeck. On me, it always felt like I was sitting inside a barrel. I added LOTS of padding to the thigh braces so I could learn to roll in it. It is a forgiving boat and good for a newbie in tha sense. But fitwise and handling-wise, you can find better.

Valley Avocet is available in plastic and may fit, with some added padding. I rented a composite one and thought the thigh braces were barely adequate. I have heard they are changing this model somewhat, though. Worth looking into, though it felt slower compared with the Tempest 165.

Hi Joe, Ever come out this way ?
Mermaid is sitting here ready to try.

Keeping in mind that your friend is a beginner, you may not want to put her into the narrowest boat on the market you can find.

You need to strike a balance between fit and stability. The Rumour is a very edgy kayak…its hard-chined with seems to want to sit on one of two edges: “not quite enough” and “way too much.”

In the interest of keeping that girlfriend, find something on the smallish side that performs well, but has some stability. And remember, you can always outfit the boat to make a tighter fit in the cockpit. Take a look at the P&H Vela and Capella 161. The Cap 161 is new last year, so the used market may be limited. Where are you located?


Re the Vela
I have that as my short boat - and I don’t think it is in quite the same grouping as the Capella 161 via feelings of stability. It is a bit more lively, and I have been told by a real qualified kayaker that they didn’t feel the 161 was even quite it yet for really small paddlers. A little sticky on the roll, that kind of thing. They were hoping for more from the 160, due to be out this year. I’ve only been in the 163, which I managed to roll but would rate as pretty cavernous in the cockpit.

That said, the Vela could be an interesting choice. The foredeck is really too high - would take some real padding down. But it’s pretty solid for a boat that only has a 19 inch width at its intended waterline.

Fit and stability for a

– Last Updated: Jan-22-07 5:13 PM EST –

...smaller "beginner"...

Hi Mark,

You wrote:

"Keeping in mind that your friend is a beginner, you may not want to put her into the narrowest boat on the market you can find."

Hmmm...I'll save my "beginner's boat" rant for another time. :-) For now though...

For someone that small (5'1", 105 lbs.), a very narrow boat--by already inflated standards, for the most part--may well be the only type of boat with a decent cockpit fit and comfortable paddle stroke clearance. Remember also, that beam is just as relative a matter here as any other dimension; so again, for the smaller paddler, what may seem like a "very narrow" beam to average/larger sized paddlers could be just the right fit. Cockpit and deck height is also a concern, as many relatively "standard sized" boats already have cockpit and deck heights that are really too high for even the larger paddlers they're designed for.

The 11" forward cockpit height of my CLC Arctic Hawk still feels pretty high for me (I'm 5'8", by the way), so I made very thick thigh/knee braces to make the fit a bit better. When I finally get around to building my first SOF boat, its dimensions will be quite a bit smaller than the AH (especially in terms of cockpit/deck height and beam), but the "medium volume" AH is meant to be my multi-day touring boat, so I don't mind the bit of extra volume. I'm tall enough so that the deck height and 22" beam--pretty wide as far as I'm concerned--don't really bother me too much in terms of getting around them for comfortable paddle strokes (though I must admit, an even narrower beam would indeed be more comfortable for me in this regard).

Then, you went on to write:

"You need to strike a balance between fit and stability. The Rumour is a very edgy kayak...its hard-chined with seems to want to sit on one of two edges: "not quite enough" and "way too much.""

Remember also, that even a smaller woman has a different weight distribution than that of a man (for paddling in particular, a more advantageous "ballast distribution", as it were), so what may feel like "very edgy" stability to a larger, taller paddler (especially a male paddler with a longer torso) could be much more comfortable, even right away, to a woman. In any event, I do feel that, excepting perhaps the extremes of "lack of initial stability", like that of racing surf skis, "initial stability" is overrated (or at least obsessed over a bit too much), as it usually takes just a matter of minutes for someone to begin "getting the feel" of most boats...including the Rumour.

A good variety of boat choices for "relatively smaller"--yet already full grown--paddlers has been slow in coming. Perhaps inspired by the growing interest in custom, self-built anthropometrically sized SOF boats, commercial boat designers are finally beginning to see a market for reasonably sized boats for the smaller paddler, and this is great to see.


Romany LV
I’m taller (5’5") than your GF, but have had the 'small boat" issue since I started paddling. My first boat was a CD Slipstream which was too big for me (and my husband, who’s 5’9" but slender). Presently I own two NDKs (an Explorer LV and a Romany LV) and a P&H Vela. My husband has a FG Tempest165 and a Pintail.

Of all the boats, past and present, we’ve owned, the one that has fit me the best is the NDK Romany LV. The Explorer LV also fits me well but has proven to be a lot of boat to horse around in surf (of course, if I went to the gym and worked out instead of sitting on the computer,my strength would probably improve somewhat). Both my NDKs have been professionally fitted out by a knowledgable dealer/guide/instructor and I can’t stress enough the importance of this, especially when you’re beginning to paddle.

While I am fond of my Vela, I also have had some issues with its longer and larger almost oval cockpit (as opposed to the narrower keyhole on the NDKs – which sold me on the boats after my vow that I’d never paddle a Nigel Dennis boat)and its high foredeck. Unfortunately, none of these boats is available in plastic.

I am very comfortable also in my husband’s Tempest165, a boat I like very much for its handling and manueverability. While the Pintail is a bit too big for me in the cockpit – and wouldn’t be a boat I’d recommend for your GF (I was told it was too big for me, which to some degree is true) – I truly love this boat and am thinking of ways to beg, borrow or steal my way into getting one of my very own. I also like the Anas Acuta as it fits me well and is fun to paddle, but this is not really a beginner’s boat. While you don’t want her paddling around in something that is going to turn into a toad five lesssons down the road, you don’t want her starting out in something for a more advanced paddler that will result in a lot of frustration and slowed down progress up the learning curve.

Fan of P&H that I am, I’ve not paddled a Capella 161. The Vela might be a bit much for her at first, although it was my first “happy” (as opposed to the Slipstream which was not fun at times – but I did learn to paddle) boat. There are those that say a hard chine is harder to learn in etc and admittedly it does have its ways, but I never had problems with the design and actually preferred hard chine for a time over a “softer” boat.

As far as moving onto advanced techniques and the attainment of the Holy Grail of rolling, the Tempest and both NDKs are easy to make progress in. I can roll, balance brace and scull in all my (and the husband’s) boats, although it admittedly took me a donkey’s age to roll – but that was me and probably will have no bearing on your GF’s progress.

With this in mind, I’d suggest going with the plastic Tempest165, unless she wants FG from the get go in which case I’d go over to Sweetwater and try out a RomanyLV, a Vela and a Capella 161.

Have fun – that’s what is most important – and demo as many boats as you can that fit her before you buy.