Help Choosing my First WW Solo Canoe

I am a pretty decent beginner whitewater paddler, seeking help/advice before purchasing my first boat. I am a recent ACA tandem level 2 instructor…but this past spring I was able to snag a few days in a friend’s solo boat for the first time, and fell in love.

I’m looking to buy a boat (hopefully used) but am a little baffled on what I should be looking for. I am a small woman, 5’3" and 110 pounds. I have only been paddling for a year and am sticking right now with class 1s and 2s with the occasional 3, but would like a boat that I could grow with. Ideally, I want to find a boat that’s small enough that it will respond well to my smaller size, and also light enough that I’ll be able to transport it without huge hassle (although I’m not a stickler on the last part).

I would love to hear advice/suggestions from other paddlers out there.

You should at least look at the
composite ww boats at

Because you are light, you aren’t going to hit things hard enough to do serious damage. Not usually, anyway. I own two Millbrooks, and they are very light. Of the more conventional designs, Millbrook has the Rival. You could call Kaz, designer, builder, racer, and ask him what he thinks. Also, get on to tap into more open canoeists.

One other boat: the Esquif Spark is derived from a Millbrook design, and made in a light version of Royalex, the Spark is pretty durable. It will maneuver brilliantly, and if you sit up, the tail will help it track.

some considerations
I tried to respond to this earlier today on a friend’s computer but could not get past his OS (Windows 8).

Unless you go composite, realize that any whitewater boat you get is going to weigh better than 50 lbs. If that is acceptable, OK. If not, I would consider a Millbrook and based on the response of friends, I would strongly consider his relatively new Shacho or possibly the some-to-come Stinkeye. You ain’t gonna find either used, though. Kaz has molded only about 18 or so Shachos as yet, and has not yet finished the Stinkeye mold.

If you want to go with a plastic boat I would look carefully at the gunwale widths. Coming from OC-2 to OC-1 you will likely find a greater dependence on cross-strokes and carving arcs and circles by heeling the hull. I am sure you have done cross-bow draws/Duffeks paddling bow in OC-2 but effective cross-forwards and especially cross-forward sweeps pose more of an ergonomic challenge to paddlers with shorter torsos and shorter arms, especially in deeper whitewater open boats.

Some traditional appearing canoes that have narrower gunwale beams are the Mad River Outrage, the Esquif Prelude (previously made by Pyranha) and the Esquif Spark. Of these, the Spark and Prelude are rather “hotter” than the Outrage and might carry a higher learning curve. I have seen some smaller female OC-1 paddlers do extremely well in a Prelude. The Prelude is a polyethylene boat, which might prove more durable on shallow rocky runs. The others are Royalex.

Some discontinued hulls that might or might not work for you would be the Dagger Rival and Dagger Phantom. The Rival is a bit wider than the others but it is/was a hull that a lot of smaller paddlers seemed to like. It is also a little lighter than many other Royalex boats in the 12 foot category. The Phantom is narrower, shorter, and lighter still and has pretty good hull speed for a boat less than 10’ long, but many find it twitchy.

Another consideration would be the short, polyethylene OC-1s that many creekers have turned to such as the Blackfly Option (or perhaps even the Ion) or the Esquif L’Edge Light or Esquif Spanish Fly (previously made by Pyranha). Although these boats might not be that narrow amidships, since they taper towards the ends (like all canoes) and since they are so short, at the position of your paddle plant in front of your kee for forward strokes or cross-forward strokes the boat has already become pretty narrow, making it easier to maintain a more vertical paddle shaft angle. You are unlikely to find many Options or L’Edge Lights used but you might come across a Spanish Fly.

I have seen a few smaller women paddling the Esquif Zephyr and they seemed pretty happy with it. It is made of a thermoformed composite material called Twin-tex which might not stand up to hard creek boating but might do fine for the usual Class II-III whitewater run.

A few more
I agree with pblanc that gunnel width may be a primary concern as several of my smaller friends have made clear to me.

While I agree that the Outrage is a good boat to try, the gunnels on mine are some 4" wider than those on my friends Equif Zoom. The Zoom is a more demanding boat but she has stayed with it because of those lovely narrow gunnels.

The Esquif Detonator is another to consider.

One caveat on the Prelude. The polyethelene hull is heavier than royalex hulls of that size. That will only matter until the boat is on the water.

And the Spark?

Thank you!
This was a huge help

Narrow is good
I’ll agree that narrow is good for someone your size. Unfortunately, most narrow OC-1s are either racing hulls or twitchy, expert boats. Don’t buy something like a Zoom or Prelude without a test paddle in at least class 1/2 water beforehand.

Spark and Outrage are probably your best bet for a mainstream production boat. Spark will be lighter weight and snappier, but wetter and perhaps a tiny bit less forgiving. Though at your weight, I’m guessing that won’t be a big deal.

Detonator is a couple of inches wider and doesn’t have much hull speed, but it surfs like crazy and has what a friend called a “get out of jail free card” - secondary stability that will consistently keep you upright when by all rights you should be swimming.

No personal experience with it, but I’ve heard that smaller women like the old Dagger Phantom. You might be able to find one of those used/cheap.

No personal experience in a Millbrook, but every one I have seen was beautiful and very light but not flimsy.

Not intended as an immediate Get Lost!

– Last Updated: Jul-15-13 10:55 AM EST –

(LOL)...but hitting on will give you a whole forum to talk and ask questions. Also used boats pop up forsale weekly...
Boat's edges...round or more sharp...personal choice... Just wish more kayak(composites) companies would think about making maybe one OC-1/2.

I’ll throw one more out there
The Bell Prodigy (not the Prodigy X). It is pretty light and is narrow in the bow for a smaller person.

I also was going to suggest a Bell Prodigy.

Argosy is a nice boat.Even the Royalex version is pretty light.