Entry Level Kayak


I’ve been researching kayaks for a couple weeks now and I’m not going to lie, my head is spinning. I live in New England and want an entry level kayak primarily for paddling around in coves, fishing and going further out when its calm. My main concern is stability. My plan is too buy something somewhat affordable for this summer, and upgrade next year if I decide too stick with it.

I think I have whittled it down too 3 kayaks.

Current Designs Kestrel 120

Wilderness Systems Pungo 120

And the less expensive Future Beach Trophy 126

Any advice on these kayaks would be great thanks.

Any boat that gets you
out on the water is better than none. Given your choices, I’d pick the CD Kestrel, as it has more deck rigging (the ropes around the surface of the deck)it’s 4" narrower and a sweet Swede form. I’m thinking it would be a faster, more responsive hull. If you can, paddle them first and see how they feel. CD and Wilderness Systems offer pretty darn comfortable seats.

Just my two cents,


You didn’t say, but it if you don’t have, you might try a guided trip, then renting, maybe even a lesson or two. Then you will be in a better position to know what you want. If you have experience, never mind.

Buy the CD
Or the WS in second place

Don’t over think it, similar boats will handle similarly

Realize the limitations of beginner rec kayaks, just because they can go somewhere doesn’t mean they should.

Spend over $100 on a decent paddle and get a comfortable kayak PFD.

Going further out…
As in from the mainland on salty water? The only one that is even close is the Kestrel, as long as it is the one with perimeter lines. Too big a cockpit to want to be out in anything real messy but it is better than the other two.

Suggest you practice dumping and try to get back in sooner rather than later, even if it is someone else’s boat. You need to get by that if you want to go further out.

hold your horses
I disagree with the “any boat that gets you out on the water will do”. That’s like saying a 3 speed Walmart bicycle is a suitable “entry level” vehicle for driving on the Autobahn. There is no “entry level kayak” if you plan to paddle in the ocean. You need a boat suited to the location.

The cold Atlantic off New England should not be taken lightly. Forget the Future Beach (a discount store pool toy that has no place in coastal waters). Even the Pungo and Kestrel are questionable . Both are classified as “recreational” boats (meaning for mild and shallow inland water use) and are too short, have oversized cockpits that cannot be securely sealed against waves and the “stability” you are imagining you need will not be achieved in ocean waves with these designs. Broad flat hulls are stable in flat water, but get tossed around and can even capsize when things get rough. This is why sea kayaks have modified vee or u-shaped hulls.

You also did not mention your physical size nor your experience level. You size matters, as does your fitness and skill.

Personally, I would not take any kayak shorter than 14 feet in North Atlantic coastal waters. Even sheltered coves have tides and can have strong reflected waves and treacherous storm conditions that blow up quickly. The manufacturers are pretty specific about what these models you are looking at are designed for and it is NOT open sea. Saying you will only go offshore “when it is calm” is a fool’s errand. Coastal conditions are never wholly predictable and none of these boats has the features that make a safe craft for the conditions you could encounter. This isn’t Florida, and a capsize could rapidly become a desperate situation .

I agree that you ought to seek some instruction and make your first outings supervised ones, preferably in rented boats so you can see what a sea kayak does and why it is designed the way it is. Also read up on cold water immersion so you understand the importance of being aware of conditions and dressing for safety in them.

Reading up on kayaks isn’t going to be enough. Seek out a paddling club or a competent outfitter and talk to them about your planned usage and budget and have them help you find the right gear. Doesn’t have to cost a fortune but it will be time and money well spent.

I have to agree with “the any boat …
that gets you out on the water is good” .

My wife and I started with little el cheapo nine foot long Keowees.

I would take mine several miles off shore in the Atlantic many times

My only advice would be try before you buy! and pay attention to the weather reports before heading out

Jack L

I have the Kestrel and love it. The Pungo is nice but really wide and the cockpit is huge and probably will mean getting extra wet. But it might be better for fishing.The Kestrel in a great rec boat, but I do wish I picked up the 140 instead of the 120, so try them both out if you have the chance. The price difference if not that bad.

^^^ Right on
I agree with everything to stated above. We have two Kestrel 120 Rotos in our fleet. I’m blown away at just how nicely they paddle for a “rec” boat.

Thanks for the replies everyone.

@Willowleaf - I’m 5’10 or 11, 190 pounds and in pretty good shape. I lift weights so I should have decent upper body strength for paddling. I only have minimal experience, but have felt pretty comfortable every time out there. I grew up on the water and know how unpredictable the Atlantic can be. I will never forget as a kid, racing in a regatta a few miles off the coast in a puny optimist. Getting swamped over and over! Almost quit sailing because of that one!

Good news. A local kayak place might have a used Kestrel, so I will go take a look in the near future.

Thank again.

More thoughts
FWIW, your dilema is very typical. You don’t want to spend a bunch of money on an activity that might not be a long term keeper… but your offshore desires mean that figuring that out needs a boat that will give you some decent feeling for what paddling open water needs.

And it appears you are talking solo - when I and my husband made silly trips in Swifties it was two of us in case there was a problem.

So you really have to decide - if the offshore spots are where you really want to go, you need a boat that will support somewhat learning the things you need for open water. Otherwise you risk getting only partway into the season and regretting that shiny new boat you got. I don’t love the Kestrel for this use but it is the best boat on your list.

If you look around used - and you have good options for boats within driving range thanks to Northeast Paddler’s network or North Shore paddlers - you can get a boat well suited for open water.

All that said - if the quiet pond type poking around is where your heart lies, you are not going to outrun something like the Pungo in a season and it is a very comfortable boat. It can be capsized - I have friends who have each managed to capsize a Pungo 12 on flat water - but in fairness to the boat they had to really make en effort at bad paddling to do it. You are not going to find anything more stable.

As much as I like the Pungo for what it is, the Kestrel is the better boat for what you want mainly because it has bulkheads front and back and has safety rigging - if you do end up with a Pungo, put a flotation bag in the bow if you’re thinking of paddling far from shore.

Don’t obsess over stability. While the 28" Pungo and 26" Kestrel are both ultra stable, you’ll get used to a longer, skinnier boat in no time. That would be my main concern here, that if you get into kayaking you’ll soon outgrow a short fat boat. You may well find that starting out with something like a 24" 14’-15’ transitional design is a lot more fun to paddle.

Different kestrels
Is the Kestrel a composite or a rotomold?

The rotomold 120 is 25", and does not have a front bulkhead or hatch. It does have a foam floatation pillar in the bow. The composite 120s have both bow and stern hatches with bulkheads and are 26". Find the 140 kestrel R. It’s 13’6" and 25" at the beam, 2 hatches, 2 bulkheads. Again, just trying to help you avoid my past mistakes of buying the 120 and outgrowing it quickly.

I was looking at the rotomold, but if this list from the kayak shop is up to date, it looks like they do have a couple 140’s for $714.

Thanks for the link to North Shore Paddlers, looks interesting.

good deal
is that price new or used? and where is the dealer? I’m interested in checking out trading my 120 for a 140.

with all due respect

– Last Updated: Apr-10-15 11:23 PM EST –

The water is a lot colder and the shores are much rockier off Maine and Massachusetts than off the Carolinas, where JackL resides and paddles. I know, I grew up in New England.

In fact, 20 to 25 degrees colder on average for any given month including Summer (look at the actual readings per NOAA records: http://www.currentresults.com/Oceans/Temperature/maine-new-hampshire-average-water-temperature.php).

The difference between begin able to recover from capsizing or being swamped in 55 degree water versus 80 degree water is huge.

I’ll let you know if I can get a hold of them. They aren’t open until memorial day and the list doesn’t seem up to date.

Hey Folks.

So I’ve been thinking and doing a little more research this week and I’m still leaning towards the Kestrel 140, however I contacted another local kayak shop and they have the Wilderness Systems Tsunami line available. Is it worth the couple hundred bucks extra? I was looking at the 140 and 145 btw. Thanks for being patient with me.

not the 145

– Last Updated: Apr-15-15 3:26 PM EST –

The Tsunami 145 is a big guy higher volume boat and you are average size -- I would not suggest it.

One of my best friends has a Tsunami 140. Decent boat that you can take just about anywhere even the ocean (with proper training). It is 2" narrower than the Kestrel 140 (which is good) but 10 pounds heavier (not so good.) Well respected model that even some schools use for sea kayak instruction.

Personally I find the model a little sluggish compared to my own kayaks but it is probably one of the most popular touring kayaks around. They definitely hold their value and you would have no trouble selling for a good price if you decide to get something else in later years.

I have the 140 and the 145
At 5’11 and #250 the 145 was a relaxed fit. Now at 220 it’s a tad loose. I used to Not fit in the 140, I haven’t tried it lately. My son is 5’8 #180 powerlifter build and he paddles the 140 sometimes. I think it would fit you fine.

The big difference is the deck in the 145 is higher in front of the cockpit than the 140. Harder to do an “Eskimo roll”, heavier, other negatives all to make room for plus size paddlers. You don’t want it if you don’t need it.

I love the tsunami. Yes, put it next to a composite or ABS hull and you will work a little harder to keep up but you will leave everything 12’ and under behind you. I’ve bad it out in a little but of rougher big water and it’s good for winding small rivers also. I can spend hours in that seat comfortably.

Get a skirt (Seal 1.7) and decent paddle and PFD and you’ll be set for awhile.