Kayak suggestion for a newbie

Hey now!

I have kayaked before, but never with my own kayak or with someone who wasn’t very experienced. I want to buy a kayak to take on lakes, slow rivers and maybe calm seas…any suggestions on where to start my research? Also, any books I should read first? I did a search of the archives, but didn’t see anything.


More Info

– Last Updated: May-11-06 5:13 PM EST –

would probably help regarding your size, past history with sports (do you excel quickly, like to upgrade quick?), what you envision paddling most in the future -- lake, river, or ocean. Big open water paddling requires more specialized equipment (as does white water) and more skills development, etc.

My recommendation is to really spent some time with an outfitters on some combination of trips/skills building.

Personally, I got interested in kayaking when watching white water folks go over my favorite flyfishing river. However, since I live near the ocean, I ended up with seakayaks. Then, with more skills development, I actually got more into surf kayaking and white water kayaking (back to where my interest was piqued). These days I rarely just go to paddle the ocean tho' it's only 15 minutes from where I live. The surf has to be up, or I would much rather travel some hours to run white water.

I think if I had spent some time early on trying different venues and renting, I would have known earlier what parts of the sport would attract me more.


In your neck of the woods.

– Last Updated: May-11-06 5:52 PM EST –


What kind of kayaks have you paddled?

I have a bit of a bias towards sea kayaks (outside of whitewater (WW) kayaks). I use my sea kayak everywhere except on WW. If you like to paddle Lake Champlain, a sea kayak is very appropriate.

I'd suggest going to a store and looking at kayaks that are about 17 feet long and about 22 inches wide. Sit inside a few of them and see how they feel. Go out on a tour in such a boat. This is a place to start regardless of what boat you end up with!

I think people tend to believe they have to start with a "beginner" boat (something really wide) first. This isn't true!

Check out the "Guidelines" on this site.

Calm Seas?

– Last Updated: May-11-06 7:03 PM EST –

That usually ends up being an oxymoron...

Seriously, I see Lake Champlain on your profile as a favorite paddling spot. That lake has a huge long fetch (distance that wind can travel unimpeded so creates waves) and I have experienced seas going from two feet to four plus feet in the time it took to make a half mile crossing when the wind blows straight out of the south or the north. Which happens a lot. Great sailing lake because of that very reliable behavior, but if you plan to go on Lake Champlain you should get a true sea kayak and lessons to learn those skills.

And whatever you expect - you will be out there is bigger stuff than you thought was going to happen based on the weather report. Happens to everyone - so that's what you need to plan around.

Sea kayaks for women are problematical because the majority of them out there are simply too big to fit an average sized woman well enough to make it reasonable to learn skills. There is little or no contact in the cockpit in most of the good boats out there for someone my size (5'4" and 135 pounds), so the pool of well-suited boats is smaller than for an average sized guy.

For starters, how tall are you and what do you weigh?

And are you interested in getting really good lessons and training? SUNY University of Plattsburgh runs a program out of Burlington, on Lake Champlain, which is open to non-students and is led by one of the handful of 5 star BCU coaches in the world, Steve Maynard. They have a deep staff in their kayaking program, and if you are at all within an easy reach of them this'd be a perfect time to try and get into some of their basic courses. It'll make it easier for you to judge what boat you want too, which will be very helpful. For what you will likely end up wanting, a 16 ft plus sea kayak, you'll probably end up going used unless you have pretty deep pockets.

Or, you can do what I and many others do
Go down to your local dealer, let him talk you into a kayak. You’ll live with it for a while, bless it and curse it, then go buy another, this time, based partly on your own experiences. In my case, I’d at least owned a canoe for over 20 years and played around with motor craft too, but, hey, sometimes, just doing it is better than bumping it aroung your brain.

What Celia said

– Last Updated: May-11-06 7:24 PM EST –

What Celia said.

Note that I'm not suggesting you go out and buy a boat. Looking at and sitting in some boats will give you a basis for asking further questions and understanding what people are talking about.

Oh, it looks like you are in TX not VT.

Some merit

– Last Updated: May-11-06 7:19 PM EST –

While there is some merit in just going out and buying a boat, a little bit of preparation will help in getting at least closer to the right boat.

It's pretty typical for people to buy a "beginner" boat and find out fairly quickly that they've out grown it.

I bought my first boat, a "real" sea kayak, 6 years ago and have no real need to buy something different.

On the other hand, one can spend "forever" trying to figure out the "perfect" boat. You'll learn more having a boat than looking for the "perfect" boat.

It's common for people new to sea kayaks to feel that they are "way too tippy" at first. Usually, after a half-hour or so, they don't seem very tippy at all. That's one benefit of taking a tour.

Oops - Texas?
Is the dallas email where you live or a leftover of some sort? Sorry if I over-focused on the Lake Champlain part.

The part about how much boat is true though, if for example you plan to go out into the Gulf of Mexico.

weight really matters when you choose
From what I’ve learned small people in big yaks have problems and big people in yaks not designed for their weight have serious problems.

Don’t depend on the specs you read on the manufactures web sites to be accurate for your needs.

Thanks so much for this information

I’m 5’6" and weight 137 pounds. I would prefer a more “relaxed” type of kayaking situation in that I’m definitely not interested in white water, but would prefer smooth surfaces. I’ve kayaked on Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont, and loved it!

Again, thanks for your suggestions!

Sea Kayak
Yes, I would much rather get a sea kayak. So are you saying that the wider the body the slower, right? A longer, thinner boat is ideal for places like Lake Champlain?

Great Info
Wow, this is GREAT information! Nice to hear from an experienced woman kayaker!

I’m 5’5" 137 and do prefer calmer environments. Never thought of used, but that’s a great idea. I definitely agree that I need lessons! Thanks so much!

I just moved from Vermont and am staying in Texas. I used the Lake Champlain as the example of a perfect place that I have enjoyed kayaking.

So, you think that the “tippy” feeling goes away fairly quickly? And of course the thinner/longer the boat the more tippy, correct? Especially if I’m looking for a sea kayak.


So is it best to just take a few out and get a feel for it with weight/height issues?

demo several boats
If it’s at all possible in your area to demo several boats through a store’s “demo days”, I’d recommend it as a way to start to figure out what you might like. I’d also suggest renting a few that catch your fancy, if that’s an option. I find that renting sea kayaks is generally easier than renting river and lake boats, just because many sea kayak rental places have several models to choose from, whereas most lake and river places only offer the same boring selection of a couple popular designs.

When you start to narrow down your choices, you might want to keep an eye on the classifieds here, and your local classifieds, including Craigslist, if you have one for your area. I’ve found it pretty easy in some cases to buy gear, (not all paddle related), used on Craigslist, and then sell it right back there for almost what I paid, after I get bored with it in a few months, or decide it’s not exactly what I’d wanted etc.

“Tippy” Feeling
It’s not an exact science - as a smaller person a given skinnier boat will feel less “tippy” to you than it would to a larger guy with the same experience level. You just aren’t going to be rocking the boat around as much and have a lower center of gravity. And some equally skinny boats are quite active, some tend to more just sit there. This is among the mysteries of hull design.

This is fairly crude analysis, but at this point in your paddling it works. As you look at boats that will perform better in waves, swells and surf, you’ll find that they tend to feel more “tippy” (or active) in flat water. It’s a misnomer really, because new paddlers mistake the tendency to rock from side to side with a likelihood that the boat is going to fully capsize. That’s not exactly true - the boat will stop at a certain point unless the paddler leans out or overreacts in some other way.

And this is exactly the kind of thing that you can learn how to handle and judge better in lessons. Yes, you can try to get into boats and figure it out the hard way. But if you are contemplating buying a boat, a good couple or few basic lessons can save you a lot of headaches deciding and misspent dollars. You’ll likely find that you adapt to a certain level of that tippy feling fairly quickly, and will be in a much netter position to find a boat that’ll serve you well.

Besides, good paddle shops should be supported. They are a hard business to be in, and paddlers need them to be around.

A seakayak is not the ideal Dallas boat
If you live in the Dallas area, most of your paddling is going to be on small to medium sized lakes and some rivers and east Texas bayous, in mild weather conditions. A seakayak is overkill for this kind of paddling. It will be a pain in the neck to cartop and unload, and it will be way more boat than you need for the places you’re going most of the time. Your first boat should be something shorter, and easier for you to cartop. I’d recommend something 12-14 foot range, with a 23-24 inch beam. A 23-24 inch beam is narrow enough that you can learn proper paddling technique. If you can afford composite or glass, you’ll get a lighter boat. Otherwise, go for rotomolded or thermoformed.

BTW, I listened to KNON in the early years, before the evil Baptists stole their frequency. Glad to hear its still going.


– Last Updated: May-19-06 2:43 PM EST –

If one is a little bit athletically inclined, you get used to the "tippiness" fairly quickly (1/2 hour). It's analogous to riding a bicycle (but easier): once you get used to it, you really think about it.

There are really tippy sea kayak but they are fairly specialized (and I'm not recommending you start out in any of these).

Definitely, try some boats out.

A little experience will go a long way.

Try some boats out.