Kayak suggestions for beginners

My wife and I are looking to purchased new kayaks within the next few weeks, but are having trouble finding many to choose from. Where we live the majority are whitewater only, but we are wanting recreational kayaks to use on local lakes and slow rivers. Our only choices locally are the Dagger Zydeco and Old Town Otter, Otter XT, and Rush. We have ruled out the Otter since it does not have foot braces, but are unsure of the others. Also, our options for trying them out are limited. The closest shop does not even offer demos until late in May and the other option is about a 3 hour drive away. Any recommendations about which would be the better choice? We are both fairly small so we will be nowhere near the max capacity of any of them.

Kind of Paddling?
What kind of distances are you thinking about, wehat kind of water? It’d help if you filled that stuff in.

Three hour drive ?
Get some good CDs and hit the road. If you start kayaking a lot the 6 hours you spend driving back and forth to visit a better dealer will seem like it was well worth it. Make sure if you are going to take a long trip to buy the boat that there is more than one dealer in the area and they have good selections and reputations, pick out two or three models you are interested in and then go check them out.

What about buying a used boat ? There are lots and lots of rec boats for sell. Check the classifieds here (post a boat wanted classified too) check on www.craigslist.org locally and ebay and your local newspaper. Call a kayak club or ask your local dealer if they know of any used boats. Chances are you could resell a Rec boat for about what you will pay for it used. After you learn a bit then you can buy a more expensive boat.

Always best to try the boat out in the water. So sometimes waiting a few months is not a bad idea.

Additional info

– Last Updated: Feb-18-06 11:36 AM EST –

I have checked for used boats, but have not found anything but whitewater boats. Seen a couple on ebay, but the shipping charges outweigh the savings. We just live in a rural area and the options are somewhat limited.

I agree with seadart

– Last Updated: Feb-18-06 11:38 AM EST –

Having just gone through the experience you find out quickly that this can be a lifestyle thing or just a casual thing. If you have been renting often and understand the effort it can take at times to find the time slot, pack, load and drive to get out on the water then buying a used boat might be the best next step. Keep in mind you need to unload and clean everything when you return home and this takes time as well.

If you get a used boat and find yourself getting real value out of it because both of you enjoy the experience and are using them then it would be safe to upgrade to a new boat because you know kayaking has become part of your lifestyle and not just a casual thing.

Keep in mind beyond the purchase of the kayak there are other things you will need and want. Saving a bit on the boat purchase will give you some cash for the other items. I know you have some challenges because of the location relative to dealers but the more boats you demo the more likely you will be happy with the purchase either used or new.

Type of paddling
This was in my original post. We are looking for something to use on local small lakes and slow rivers, probably 3 - 4 hours at a time.

Boat reviews
Thanks for the suggestions so far. Does anyone have any experience with any of the boats that I listed? I have read through the reviews on these boats and have not found a negative review. I have always been leary of any product that receives all positive or all negative reviews. I am just trying to obtain all possible information before we start making long trips to try out boats.

Try before you buy
Take a few moments and a drive. Find someone who has them and demo or rent them. While some boats are pretty and someone says they 're great it may not work for you. Don’t rush into something that will only wind up taking up room in the garage. Many dealers or outfitters will demo them for a small fee at best, and many will give you that back off a boat you buy. Think of it this way…would you buy a car you didn’t try ?

Try, Try, Try

– Last Updated: Feb-18-06 1:40 PM EST –

Several replies have emphasized 'try before you buy' and I agree completely. Before you spend your money on a boat, you should spend some time in that boat - on the water. Suggestion: The East Coast Canoe and Kayak Festival in Charleston, SC, in April. Lots of kayaks to try, some of them used, and lots of classes to attend.

Try, Try, Try
I never had any intention of not trying boats out before making a purchase. I am 150 mile per week cyclist and know the importance of trying out equipment before purchasing. The more informed you show up to the shop the better, correct? Also, I’ve seen many bike shop employees over the years try and take advantage of beginners, instead of fitting the correct bike they just try and move what inventory is in stock, and know that this can happen in any and all sports. Thanks for the help.

Shop biases
Also note that in different shops around the country you’ll get strong biases. Employees are sold on what they carry, or what the boss likes. They may not know much about other options. Also, some are very entrenched in incorrect industry dogma without really understanding much about design. Hate to sound so down, and know there are great kayak sales people out there. I think they are the minority though. The best advice I think would come from a specialty shop that carries several brands.

Look left …
at the Events Calendar under Features of this website. Look for a symposium or demo event in your state or neighboring states. There are several within a 3 to 4 hr. drive from where I live. Some of these events run 2-3 days and provide an opportunity to test paddle more than 50 different kayaks, if one only had enough time. Consider staying overnight to make a trip worthwhile. I think this approach would be better than visitng a single dealer and only being able to test paddle the stock boats on hand at the time.

Also, it might help to include in your post the area in which you live. It is likely that you could find other pnetters on this board that may be able to advise about the quality of any events within reasonable traveling distance.

You are wise to view the reviews on this (and any other site) with some trepidation. Kayaks are like clothes, some fit you and some do not. The reviews are not very helpful unless you have test paddled the specific boat and are already considering it because it fit you well for your intended purpose. Then it’s nice to know what others liked and disliked about a particular model.

Good luck!


I have…
I have a Dagger Zydeco. To be honest, there is probably not much difference between the different boats you are considering. (Looking at the Old Town site, is the difference between their kayaks primarily the deck rigging and foot pedals?) They are all short and wide. Very stable in flat water, fairly light, affordable, and easy for just about anyone to paddle and control. You won’t win any races in them, but if you are looking for leisurely paddling around calm waters, you will probably be happy with any of them. I have another kayak, so the Zydeco is often used when I am on my local lake with my son, or someone who wants to come along, and doesn’t have their own boat. It is great for that purpose, you can just hop in, feel comfortable, and start paddling. If you are a serious athlete, who tends to spend a lot of time and energy on your sports, you might not be happy with this style of kayak. If you want to relax and enjoy the scenery, take a few pictures etc, you will probably like this inexpensive entry to the water. I assume you are in a warm area if you are looking to buy now instead of May or June. Lucky you!

I went to my local shop today and spoke with them again and they said that they will let us demo boats earlier if we want. They did ask if we would wait until the weather was a little warmer though. So hopefully by middle or late March we can demo some boats. They said their first demo weekend is normally not until later in May, but would take us out sooner. Thanks for the help and suggestions from everyone.

one thing to keep in mind…

– Last Updated: Feb-20-06 2:23 PM EST –

the title of the thread mentions the notion of "beginners." Anytime someone mentions that they're looking for "beginner boats", I ask them if they'd ever go shopping for a "beginners" bicycle if it meant that the training wheels were permanantly welded on to the frame. Invariably the answer is 'no', and for all the same reasons that I ask them to think twice before investing in a boat that's primarily designed for first time or occasional paddlers only.

Once you're past the need for a ton of initial stability (about 6 minutes into your first paddle), you may wish you had something a little longer and a little sleeker than an entry-level rec boat. As long as you're trying out boats, get yourself into a couple boats slighty bigger than the Otter/Zydeco/Swifty/Sundance 9.5 range. I'd recommend that you give something like the Manitou Sport or the Current Designs Kestrel 120 a shot, since they're both relatively beamy (compared to touring boats), but not as wide (and much more efficient and seaworthy) than the 9 footers. You may still want to go short, but at least you'll have an informed opinion on the matter and know what you're getting into.

OT Rush
I went with the Rush for my first kayak and it served me well. I went to a Bass Pro demo day last spring and tried the Otter, Otter XT, and the Rush (the only 3 yaks on hand). I liked the Rush for its extra deck bungees and better lines than the Otter. My main grump with the Rush was the difficulty getting gear in/out from behind the seat. As I paddled more I got more into fishing and wanted a boat with a bigger cockpit and a bit more storage - OT Loon 111. I have no experience with the Dagger so I can’t compare it, but I’d definitely recommend the Rush over the other OT choices.