Kayak for 11 year old

-- Last Updated: Mar-23-15 12:54 PM EST --

I'm buying a kayak for my 11 year old son. He went to kayak camp last year and has some skills already. I'm hoping to buy something that will work now as a starter, but will stay useful for him as long as possible (within reason). We live at the south end of Puget Sound, where the boat will see most of its use, and sometimes go to the San Juan Islands. This boat will primarily be used for a few hours to a full day at a time, in good weather, on calm water, but our weather is famously fickle so the boat should be handleable by a small paddler in less than ideal conditions.

I'm trying to decide between the Wilderness Systems Pungo 120, and the Elie Straight 120. I'd be interested to hear a general comparison between the boats, and also any particular considerations for my son's situation. I have looked for comparisons online, but have only found individual reviews, which make it hard to compare.

Thanks for any insight!

Not the Pungo

– Last Updated: Mar-23-15 1:37 PM EST –

NOT the Pungo. It is a recreational style boat and has an oversized cockpit and no bow bulkhead. Unsuitable for open water since it will sink if swamped and can't support a good sprayskirt so it will let in water. It is also 29" wide, way too big for him -- he will swim in it and that will make it hard to control (and he will bang his knuckles on the gunwales while paddling). And it's too wide and flat bottomed to handle well in waves.

With the Strait, you should only be looking at the XE model as the standard Strait 120 only has a stern bulkhead -- same problem as the Pungo. At 25 1/2" it is still fairly wide. He could also outgrow it quickly.

The Strait 140 (either that or the 140XE) are the same width as the 120's but the longer length would make it easier to keep up with you and take him into adulthood (unless he shoots up to basketball player or linebacker size in his teens.)

There are low volume boats that might suit him well. If you have any P & H/Pyranha dealers in your area I understand the factory is offering discounts to them on the discontinued Venture Easky 15LV, which is a low volume 22 1/2" wide touring kayak for smaller folks. I have had one for 5 years and love it -- it is a boat I would trust in any conditions you would encounter (have paddled it in the Great Lakes and Atlantic Coast). An east coast dealer in my state is selling them for $650, about half price. The company replaced the model with their Islay 14LV which would also be a good one to consider for him.

In your area, the Venture site shows Cascade Canoe & kayak, Yeager's and Olympic Canoe all are dealers for their boats.

In fact, Yeager's has listed a used Wilderness Systems Tsumani 140 for $750, (regularly $1400). At 14' and 24" beam and very seaworthy it would be a good choice for his size too.


No rec boats

– Last Updated: Mar-23-15 1:30 PM EST –

Same as willowleaf. No rec boats which the Pungo is. Probably also too big for him but that is not its worst issue, it is that it is absolutely not properly equipped to be safe if you are trying to cross to the San Juans. If you read Wilderness System's own site they do not recommend that boat for open ocean bays.

If you don't realize this is an issue, I strongly advise against your taking your son out to the islands until you have learned how to do an on-water rescue. Or yourself, but as an adult you have the latitude of making more of your own choices.

For the trips you contemplate you should both be in boats that have at least the following features: two sealed bulkheads, full perimeter rigging and a tight enough cockpit fit that it takes relatively little work for the paddler to make a change in the heeling angle of the boat. You should also be thinking about skirts that will withstand having waves dumped on them if things ramp up - a cockpit full of water makes for an extremely unstable boat.

Or stay close to shore in fully protected bays, in that case the Pungo might still not be your son's fave boat but it would not be unsafe.


– Last Updated: Mar-23-15 1:56 PM EST –

I presume since you say he went to "kayak camp" that he got some instruction in dressing for cold water, and that you are also aware of it if you are already kayakers in that area. Kids lose heat far faster than adults due to larger skin area for their mass and you know Puget Sound is always too cold to paddle without cold water protective clothing, particularly for ambitious trips like paddling between the San Juans.

Puget Sound water temperature is in the mid-40's now and only goes up to around 59 at the peak of Summer. Wet suits or dry suits are suggested for adults below 55 degrees and 60 for children. Drysuits are a must below 45 degrees for adults and probably closer to 50 for kids.

There's a Kokatat size small goretex drysuit on Seattle Craigslist for $550:


great deal but far away from you
In the website classifieds there’s a Wilderness systems Piccolo for sale for $300 in FL. Great kids boat, 145# capacity, not too wide. You could probably get it shipped for another $250.

I would also suggest you consider a Greenland style paddle for him. Lots of makers of them in your neck of the woods and these are ideal for younger kids who can paddle more easily and with a higher cadence than with a broad bladed “Euro” style paddle, especially when things get windy. Size will depend on which kayak you buy for him.

Elie Strait
I’m pretty sure neither version has a bulkhead up front. My 11 year old son has a Pelican Storm 120 which is the same boat as the Elie. We put some float bags up front if we are going into deep water. My son is quite light so it rides a little high in the water, but it works pretty well. I like how light it is, and the seat is terrific.

Exactly the kind of input I was looking for. Thanks!

Thanks for the warning. I should clarify, though. We do not go to the San Juans by kayak. We take the ferry. I am clear on the need for bulkheads, and flotation, and the necessity of various rescues.

For the moment we will be hugging the shore, on calm days. But we do appreciate the longer view.

Cool idea
Hadn’t occurred to me, but that’s a good suggestion.

By ferry changes a bit
You have to realize that most people reading this, including myself, figured that you meant doing the crossing in the kayaks.

That said, what a lot of people don’t realize is that the wave action which could swamp a boat like the Pungo is going to be the messiest and highest near the shore, and those are some rocky shores too. I paddle in Maine each summer and have been saved from a capsize merely by good balance a few times when I looked too long and the neat totem someone made on land and too short at the water coming in behind me.

But my other concern is that for a 12 year old, gifted with balance and responses that the rest of us only remember, the Pungo may not near as fun as one narrower with a smaller cockpit. The Pungo is a great rec boat, for my overweight 50 and 60 yr old friends who just puddle along. It is not unable to be capsized, as they have proven. But they have to make an effort and paddle pretty badly to manage it. But this is also in truly flat, no waves water.

I appreciate I was wrong about the crossing part, but I still think you should put fun and responsive very high up the list of characteristics for your son’s boat.

As a 60-plus (and only slightly overweight!) paddler who frequently likes to just puddle along, I too think the Pungo 120 is a terrific boat. My wife and I had two for a season but we quickly learned that they are just not designed for anything approaching rough conditions. We did put float bags in the fronts but we got to a point where we thought that by keeping the Pungos we were severely limiting our skill development and so we moved on to longer, skinnier, better equipped and more capable kayaks.

I don’t regret buying the Pungos but I fairly quickly became aware of their limitations.

Makes sense to me. As soon as I saw your reply I realized I was unclear. And I agree on the fun-factor. The Pungo is totally of the list.

I was a little surprised to see suggestions of 14’ boats. I assumed that, all else being equal, a shorter boat would be better for a shorter and lighter person. And no, my kid is not going to be a giant. He’s slim, and a bit short for his age.

Could he really handle a W.S. Tsunami 140?

Kayak sizing
It is about overall hull shape and fit. So for someone with a more athletic disposition, like an active 12 yr old, the boat gets skinnier for more speed and performance so also to grow a little length to preserve the right volume.

After that the discussion can really get into the weeds, with talk about Swede or fish form and chines or round and fullness in the bow… don’t worry about that stuff. Make sure your son has good fit in the cockpit, and if he is on the cusp between sizes go smaller rather than larger on to get more spritely behavior from the boat.

I don’t know if the Tsunami 140 would be a fit for your son. The best way to tell is have him sit in boats and see if he has good contact with thigh braces, things like that. But don’t assume anything about length other than making sure you can fit it in the garage if that’s where it’ll be stored.

What happened to Yostwerks?
I was going to send you a link to the Yostwerks website with Tom Yost’s plans for homebuilt skin on frame kayaks which include several models he designed scaled for kids. But it appears the site has disappeared!

Perhaps not something you would want to do, but it did have some shots of kids using Greenland paddles that were made for them to use with their skin kayaks.

looks great
Love the idea. And it is exactly the sort of thing I would like to do, though I don’t want to miss a year of paddling with my son in building a boat.

Strange that the site has vanished.

Riot Edge 14.5
I have tentatively settled on the Riot Edge 14.5, on sale from REI Outlet for $800 plus tax, but no shipping charge.

I’m a little nervous about a plastic rudder. Should I be?

Riot Edge
The plastic rudder is not the issue.

On face value the boat has all the stuff that we’ve been talking about, and I like its low profile. Not the high seat back, since you are talking about paddling where a skirt is not going to be optional and the high seat backs can make the fit difficult. But I have known people who got around that with a nylon skirt that has an adjustable bungie, so they just have some extra material behind them.

But a kayak also has to fit - the paddler has to be in contact with the pedals, the seat and thigh braces in a relatively normal seated position. That is where I get concerned about the Edge - the cockpit is ginormous for a kid (36 inches long and about 19 inches wide). It is very possible that the foot pegs could not be shortened enough for your son and extremely unlikely his thighs find the thigh braces. The clip I saw talking from someone who really liked this boat was an adult guy, probably 5’10" or so.

If you were talking about a calm pond fit is not all that important. It IS when you are talking about taking the boat into open water and for a kid who will likely want to push his own skills. He has to be able to easily put the boat up on edge or otherwise maneuver it, and this is not going to happen without those three contact points.

I am going to repeat what has been said above - get your son to some place where he can sit in boats and you can properly assess fit. Then choose a boat.

a different opinion
I’ve seen people say “no rec boats”. But the fact is there are few if any choices for touring or sea kayaks that fit an 11 year-old. The CD Raven is an option but you’ll pay full price. Chances are, unless you’re willing to either ship or travel to acquire a used and discontinued model such as the piccolo or the episea - both true kids touring boats - you’re going to settle on a recreational kayak. That is, unless you consider the build it yourself option.

So you have a choice: travel to get a true kids touring kayak, build one, or get a recreational kayak that best fits your child.

There is no reason to automatically ban rec kayaks from the list of considerations. Anecdotally speaking, my nephew paddled for two years in an Ocean Kayak ‘Play’. Was it ideal for him? Absolutely not. Did he enjoy it and learn from it? Yes. He’s still paddling today. But we had to adjust our expectations and back off a bit on the threshold of conditions we were willing to paddle. This merely meant sticking to calm days and closer to shore when at a great lakes beach, sticking to inland lakes or not paddling at all when conditions became an issue. But the thing is, an novice child will not know how to paddle in conditions no matter what boat you put them in.

If you get your child a recreational kayak, you’ll be starting him at the bottom of the learning curve with a boat that will only take him so far up that curve.

If you get your child a child’s touring kayak, you’ll be starting him at the bottom of the learning curve with a boat that will take him farther up that curve. But it’s not going to make him a rock star the moment you plunk him into it.

Given that kids grow, I’m not sure I’d sweat getting to the top of the learning curve before he’s grown a bit and ready to move to a more readily available touring kayak for small adults.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with recreational kayaks although they’re disparaged out-of-hand in these forums. Many of us started out in rec kayaks. Some of us still have one or two. What’s wrong is expecting a recreational kayak to perform like a touring kayak (or ww kayak, or surfski).

Given all that, as an experienced paddler, if I had a son and was unwilling or unable to travel, ship or build to get a child’s touring kayak, I’d adjust my expectations and instructional approach and get him a recreational kayak that fits as well as possible.

In the end it’s critical to get your child into the seat of any kayak you decide to purchase for him, BEFORE you make the purchase. Perception Prodigy XS is one such rec boat I wouldn’t cross off the list automatically.

Just my $0.02.


– Last Updated: Mar-24-15 10:45 AM EST –

If you notice, the OP lives on Puget Sound and talks about going to the San Juans. We are still not entirely clear which "good weather, calm water" specific places this boat is going to be used. If the OP lived in Iowa, we would be able to presume ponds and slow rivers, but based on information thus far provided we have to assume this kid is going to be paddling in NW Pacific coastal waters. I reiterate -- not the place for a yawning cockpit rec boat with no bulkheads.

It would be helpful to this discussion if the OP would be more clear about EXACTLY what waters they plan to paddle. If you are going to stay in inland waters like lakes and far upstream on rivers (away from tidal races), then this is a different matter. But you have to understand that all you have mentioned is some of the most challenging open water in the lower 48 -- the cold and windy Pacific.

Just last week we heard about this tragedy, about a trip that started close to the Pacific shore on a nice warm "calm" day. And this was an experienced paddler in a touring kayak.


Even here out east where the waters are warmer, a father and young son drowned in Lake Erie a few years ago after launching on a calm day to paddle near shore in rec boats, which apparently were swamped by waves and sank.