Need help choosing first kayak

-- Last Updated: Sep-18-11 10:25 PM EST --

I am a new kayaker wanting to take advantage of end of season sales. I paddle mostly on rivers, but I'm getting into sea kayaking on Lake Michigan also. I am 5'2" 120 pounds and most kayaks, even LV kayaks, seem big to me. Also, since I'm small, I have trouble keeping up with the "pack" so I want something fast/efficient. I need help choosing a first kayak. I think plastic might be best because the rivers around here are often pretty shallow.

Thinking about a Scorpio LV- I can get one used. Is it a good/fast boat? I'm pretty slow in it but I'm wondering if that's the boat or my inexperience. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Is fiberglass out of the picture?
If it is just a matter of worrying about scrapes, that’s what the gel coat is for. It’s a sacrificial layer that you can add back. If you are thinking about surfing the intentionally light layups like kevlar are probably not the best idea.

I am asking because there are boats like the Avocet LV that’d likely work for you, but I don’t think they come in plastic. You might also want to see if you can sit in a composite Necky Eliza, which is a slightly different critter than the plastic version. I am not sure how that fit would do for you but if one is around it’d be worth a shot.

The NDSK Pilgrim would fit you - one person who I know paddles it and likes it is your height and weight within 5 pounds. It’s got a somewhat fast hull according to tests. Just not an easy boat to trip over since it is newer, and it is composite.

The Scorpio LV is neither a fast nor a slow boat as I recall. But you are correct that, overall, speed is more about the paddler than the boat as long as the boats in question are roughly comparable.

another that…
…might work is the Impex Mystic. If you can, try the used market first. It’s pretty rare that your first boat will turn out to be the right boat and once you’ve gotten your “feet wet”, you will probably be able to trade/sell it without taking (much of) a wash.

Happy hunting


that’s the biggest problem. I remember a friends 100lb wife struggle to keep up on leisurely paddles in a 60lb Perception Shadow. Once she got into the 13’ s&p Pygmy kayak I made that weighs 27lbs she had no problem. For average speeds of 3mph a 13-14’ kayak is long enough, the biggest improvement you’ll find is getting something light.

plastic vs. fiberglass
I’ve heard fiberglass is faster - there is a used Explorer LV in fiberglass here too that I could get. How worried should I be about damaging it if it scrapes over a shallow river bottom?

Also - do I need a drysuit? I want to kayak all winter long, but in a sedate manner with minimal immersion (only if accidental)!

Thanks for helping me!

Comments on Explorer LV
I have that boat. She is a lovely thing and was the only expedition length sea kayak with a cockpit fit that was good for smaller paddlers in its first launch… but the volume is way too big and you will kill yourself pushing it. You can do better now, get something that is actually tuned for your size. This is the reason that NDK launched the Pilgrim series, to have a purported low volume boat that really was. The Pilgrim Expedition is the boat of choice for the paddler I know who is almost exactly your size.

For the Explorer LV all they did was change the cockpit fit - the hull volume is the same as for a 190 pound 6 foot guy. Like I said, it was more than most others were doing for smaller paddlers, but since that things have greatly improved.

Re the drysuit - is your security in making it home safe worth several hundred dollars? You are in the frozen north, and especially if paddling alone have very little time before dangerous hypothermia sets in if the unexpected happens on a winter day. The problem is not how long it takes to kill you, but how long cold takes to rob you of your ability to use your hands, think clearly and otherwise help yourself. That’s a very short time in 38 degree water.

Most people I know who paddle in that kind of cold figure that it’s more than worth waiting for sales and cruising EBay for a dry suit so they make it home safe.


– Last Updated: Sep-19-11 1:43 PM EST –

Just to reinterate what Celia posted (she got there before me:)):

At your height and weight, the ExplorerLV is going to be a fairly "big" boat for you. You'd be pushing a lot of fiberglass around, which would definitely slow you down. As your experience increases and you develop a good forward stroke, the boat might work, but you'll be a lot happier (and probably increase your skill level as you will be able to manage the boat) in something smaller and more in tune with your height and weight. It's not that the ExplorerLV would be too "advanced" for you, just the opposite as it's a very user friendly, very comforting boat, sort of the Golden Retriever of kayaks, as a friend has said, it's just its size is too much for 5'2"/120 lb you, even with considerable padding and outfitting.

I'd recommend an AvocetLV (what I paddle and I'm in the smaller paddler class), which is still only manufactured in fiberglass but becoming more available on the used market. The Mystic is a fine little boat and it may come in a plastic version although under another name; I don't know a lot about Impex boats as they've never fit me.

I also would recommend the regular (a bit under 16') as opposed to the expedition SKUK (Sea Kayak UK, the newer name for Nigel Dennis Kayak (NDK) Pilgrim. It's a fine boat for a person your size, as Celia has said. I was torn between this kayak and my AvocetLV but went with the latter as I wanted something more playful. The Pilgrim has been out for almost two years and should gradually become available used, but it won't be cheap nor will the AvocetLV.

There are no doubt RomanyLV's out there, too, but they are just a "cut down" version of the regular sized Romany, whereas the Pilgrim and AvocetLV are truly designed for the small person. I loved my RomanyLV but I'm much happier with my AvocetLV's performance and fit.

As for composite vs plastic and rocks and sandy bottoms: Celia's right about gel coat being, essentially, a sacrificial layer. I've been aggressively paddling FG boats in rocks for more than a few years, as has my husband, and I've managed to only scratch up the hull. The husband's full-size Avocet got its first need-gel-coat repair ding recently, and he's been paddling it for 4 years amongst the rocks on the New England coast.

All said, try the boats before you buy for fit and feel. The ScorpioLV is a nice boat, although it might be a bit big.

…you definitely should consider a dry suit, especially if you’re considering anything resembling the Great Lakes.

Geneva Kayak

– Last Updated: Sep-19-11 3:01 PM EST –

I'll echo suggestions to try Avocet LV, and Pilgrim.
I believe Geneva Kayak out of Chicago,, carry both.
If they don't, hook up with Chicago'ans Bloyd-Peshkins,

He paddles Pilgrim (even though the boat is called Romany LV), she has Avocet LV

Edit - TideRace ( ) x-cite-s might suit you well.

be on the lookout for a used QCC 10x

something fast/efficient
First, I’d like to support those suggested you look at used fiberglass Composite boats are tough - especially many of the British boats. Composite usually weighs less and is easier to repair if needed. A used glass boat will also hold its value. If you keep paddling this boat will not be your only purchase.

Pilgrims and Avocet LVs are both very good boats, though recent models and maybe hard to find used at a good price. You might consider a Vela. It is the boat Celia paddles the most. It is designed to be a quick boat for smaller paddlers. Celia finds it easier to throw around than her Explorer LV and a lot more fun.

Try the Tiderace X-CiteS. I haven’t, but it might work for you.

I did try a friend’s TideRace Xplore-S this weekend and I felt like I was pushing a barge. It works for her as she’s considerably taller than my 5’4", but it’d be too big and bulky for you.

There are others that’ll work–rent 1st

– Last Updated: Sep-21-11 4:32 PM EST –

I paddled a plastic Tempest 165 for years. It is stable enough for a reasonably fit beginner, yet it's not something you'd get bored with since you can learn all the skills you want with it. It is also easy to roll, if you ever want to learn. The adjustable outfitting will fit you, since it fit me (105 lbs, just under 5'3"), though you may want to add 1/2" minicell foam under the fabric seat cover as I did. (Try it without that first.) Should be fairly easy to find used ones.

Later on I bought an Explorer LV, which I still have. The cockpit fit is very much to my liking (my favorite of all tried), but when loaded with camping gear the kayak actually feels TOO stable for me. Normally it is easy enough to edge. The extra weight of camping gear keeping it upright turned out to be something I noticed even more than with other kayaks (they have all felt harder to edge when loaded).

While I had paddled the regular (15'9") Pilgrim and was impressed, by that time I had come to like having something longer than 16.5' long. Frankly, I thought the Pilgrim didn't give me back in effort what the Explorer LV did when I put the pedal to the metal. It was a case of easy acceleration and cruising (Pilgrim regular) vs. better top speed when called upon (Explorer LV). And I knew the regular Pilgrim would not enough have cargo room for longer camping trips.

I kept wishing that my Explorer LV was just a little shorter, like 17' long, and narrower, maybe with more rocker. Well, guess what. A year after I bought the Explorer LV, I found out that NDK was going to issue a longer version of the Pilgrim, called the Pilgrim Expedition. Same cockpit, same dimensions as the Pilgrim EXCEPT that it would be 17' long.

I bought one when it became available in the U.S. Love this boat!

However, since it is a recent model you'll have a hard time finding one used. Also, personally I would not take long composite kayaks on narrow, rocky whitewater rivers. Why do that when there are shorter, plastic boats intended for river use?

The other however is, since you are new to kayaking, even the skinny 17' long P-Ex might still be a lot to propel.

If you have not rented any sea kayaks, that'd be be a good start. You will be able to rule out ones that clearly don't fit, and you might get an idea of what length would fit your needs best.

Darned near everybody picks a favorite kayak that is not their first one! It's like bikes; at first, you don't know enough yet to get real picky about the boat. Just find one that physically fits well enough, is comfortable to paddle for hours, doesn't scare you every minute, and allows you to develop your skills.

Just as important, take some lessons. Getting a good forward stroke will do more for speed than worrying over plastic vs. composite, or small differences in specs. Many people, including me, developed bad habits by teaching ourselves at first. Then you have to unlearn them, which takes a lot of time (but still worth doing).

Eddyline Samba
Would be worth checking out. Shorter than the Scorpio LV, but 12 lbs. lighter, very durable and very high quality. You’ll be pushing less weight and displacing less water, so you will likely find it fast without having to work as hard. Fully featured as a sea kayak. Skeg lets you dial in the amount of maneuverability vs. straight tracking. Love mine!

Re the Drysuit
If you wouldn’t willingly swim in water that’s at your winter water temperature, you need a drysuit. There’s nothing ‘minimal’ about sudden immersion in cold water - there are all sorts of physiological reactions that you can’t control and they can quickly lead to life-threatening problems.

This past summer, we had a fatality here when a couple of visiting paddlers went for what was planned as a routine paddle. One boat flipped; the paddler’s friend got him back in his boat several times, but he became so hypothermic that he could not remain upright. Finally, after repeated re-entries and capsizes, the second paddler was forced to abandon his helpless friend, and made it alive to an uninhabited island. Proper thermal protection could have made all the difference.

BTW - if your winter waters are really cold, you’ll need more than a drysuit - think warm underlayers, good protective gloves and a cold water hood, for starters. When you think you’ve got what you need, put the whole kit on, including your PFD, and go for a good swim in it in a safe location in really cold water. In my book, that’s the only way you’ll know for sure just how good your thermal protection is…

One more note re dry suit

– Last Updated: Sep-20-11 5:21 PM EST –

Just a comment I forgot earlier - our smaller pod has a rule that once the water hits winter temps, even if open, we don't invite people to paddle unless they have a dry suit and good winter gloves , all the stuff. I am talking upstate New York and even the open water is well under 40 degrees farenheit.

This is for a group where at least half of us can get to a boat fast and execute an assisted rescue in a few minutes even adding the penalty of slippery boats and a swimmer who may need a second boat to help them back in.

You may find, as your paddling goes along, that the folks you want to paddle with operate by similar criteria. You are certainly not in any warmer climate.

Used kevlar Perception Shadow 16.5
or Perception Shadow 14.5 might be good options for you, also.

I just sold one of my kevlar Shadow 16.5s last week, but you’re welcome to try the one that I still have.

Is the 14.5 Shadow…
…the “new” name for the old Perception Sole?

One of our first plastic boats was a Sole. Nice little boat that is really fun in surf. We sold ours a few years ago and it’s still plying the waters of RI.

I’m not familiar with the Sole, so I
don’t have the answer to your question.

Old Perception kayak…
The Sole was a 14’(+)/22"W kayak that was Perception’s answer for the needs of the smaller paddler. I think they may have stopped production of it – and supposedly renamed it the Shadow 14.5 – in 2002 or 2003 (ours was a 2000).

It wasn’t skegged but had a rudder, which the previous owner, a guide at a local outfitter, of course removed. Not the fastest boat in the fleet, it also had a strong tendency to weathercock. However, it “fit” smaller people and was used, along with the WS Alto and Piccolo, for kids.