Newby Buying Advice Please (sorry long)

I’d like some advice please. I’m just getting into serious kayaking. We have a couple ‘play’ kayaks we use to explore local river headlands we take on the big boat (small old cruiser) and drop overboard and just use on the smallest and shallowest sections of river. We use a Pelican 14T tandem and I also have an Otter XT. Like I said they are just play boats we take out on the big boat during the summer.

Ok so anyway I’ve long wanted a serious kayak. I’m between 5’6" and 5’7" and currently am about 130 lbs. By summer I’ll be around 120 lbs. In my mid 40’s. I have long legs and arms and am very short waisted. Basically my thumb fits between the crest of my hip and last rib. If you know anatomy that is pretty short waisted.

Two years ago as a present to myself I went to the local shop and tried out kayaks all day with the intent to buy. Not knowing much but being completely comfortable in and on water helped. I had also researched and read a lot. The young guy at the shop was wonderful in helping me first find boats that seemed to fit on dry land and also gave me instruction on a proper basic paddle stroke. Then off I went down the river for try outs. Two boats stood out. I finally decided on one of them and ordered it. 3 months later and still no boat so I finally cancelled the order in October and won’t deal with that shop again because of the owners lack of attention to the matter. The employee was fabulous though and I told another shop about him and I think that manager was going to try to steal him away from his current shop! Anyway, so I didn’t get my nice boat and then another summer passed (last year using the play kayaks) and now I’m ready again to get out there in a nice kayak this summer!

Ok, so anyway, (why yes, I am always long winded!) ;-), I actually got to talk to an excellent experienced kayaker that day I spent trying boats (actually I tried them 2 days because I went back to compare my favorites a second time) as I waited upon some paperwork and he was very interested in how I made my decision on what boat when I hadn’t had any formal instruction or classes yet. I explained how the kid at the shop helped on proper entry and paddle stroke and that I paddled up the river and I actually had the forethought to take the boat to a nice shallow sandy area at a beaching spot and generally played with laying the boat to the side to feel how I felt leaning and when I felt the boat was going to tip and what not. I just used the paddle blade in the sand to keep me from going all the way over. I played a little with turning and leaning and again was right there where I could just stop any rolling by sticking the paddle in the sand.

So the two boats I loved were the CD Willow and a CD Slipstream. I have to tell you when I got in the cockpit I FINALLY understood what serious kayakers talk about fit. I slid my long legs in and slipped into the seat. The store guy told me how to adjust the foot pegs. I gently parted my thighs and my thighs, knees and legs slid into position along the inside and the hair stood up on the back of my neck as I felt transformed into a sea nymph of some sort. I felt I was wearing, no I became one with, that boat. The front was my mermaid’s leg and I guess the back was some kind of tail. (well ok mermaids don’t have two tails.) Ok, so anyway, I didn’t get that feeling on land or water with any other boats and that poor guy put me in just about every boat they had that was plausible for my size. I’m pretty sure I tried the Necky Eliza too and it was just not comfortable for me.

Sooooo anyway I ultimately had picked the Willow because it just seamed to have more secondary stability. The Slipstream just felt ‘tippy’ to me (I quickly figured out how to put my paddle out as an outrigger to stabilize when a boat wake made me feel I’d tip.) and I’ve read that it is a tippier and twitchier boat. But it also seems to be considered faster and more maneuverable? I’ve seen a couple comments that the Willow is actually a tad slow and not very maneuverable. But compared to what? This is the root of my indecision. Am I picking a boat I will quickly grow out of if I take the Willow or really is the Slipstream always going to feel a bit tippy even as my skill improves? I’m still leaning towards the Willow but there is the tiniest seed in my mind that says ‘ask experienced paddlers for advice’.

I have found both boats available. I can get a great deal on a Kevlar Willow demo or I can get a reasonable Willow or Slipstream both in fg. All three are in my price range (not cheap but not mfsr) but they also will require a full day at least to go get and drive home. A good 5 to 8 hour car ride each way. The demo is in a different state than the two fg boats are.

Is there any smaller woman out there that has paddled both boats that can give an honest summation of their handling for an experience paddler?

I’ll be using the boat mostly around the Chesapeake Bay area. I’m by Baltimore but I think I’d like to join a local group and do some overnight trips around the northern and southern Chesapeake area as well as the eastern shore. And yes, I do understand I won’t be able to pack as much in a smaller boat. But I really don’t want a boat that is too big for me. I think most of my paddling will be day trips with minimal extra gear and weight.

I’m anxious to get my boat kitted up and me kitted up so I can get some proper instruction when the water is warm enough. I already have a nice graphite paddle and PFD purchased when I originally ordered a boat. I thought it was funny to get in the Otter and have my paddle and pfd cost more than the boat! I will get a jane and water proof top. I’m an avid diver so have no problem knowing what to look for to get a good fitting wetsuit. Gods how many wetsuits can one woman own? I’m also looking forward to learning to roll and how to do wet exits (as a diver I think I’ll excel at this one) and all the good safety stuff.

So any thoughts or comments would be appreciated! Uhm and sorry to be so long winded! :wink:

Boats in CD Line

– Last Updated: Apr-08-09 12:51 PM EST –

First, I think you should at least try out the Suka. It has a one inch shorter depth, 12 inches rather than the 13 inches in the Willow, and I think it'd be worth a sit for you.

I can't find the Slipstream on CD's current site to get specs, so am unable to check that depth. Have they discontinued this boat?

The Slipstream is not a heavily rockered boat to be turny, but then again neither is anything else you are considering. I will say that I have seen the Slipstream in use along the coast of Maine by very experienced paddlers, and they seem to have found that it's worth getting used to it. Yes it does feel twitchier than some of their others at first, but I think you'd have to talk to some owners to assess whether it was too much so. I suspect it is faster than the Willow.

As to assessing secondary stability, I suspect that you didn't go fully to it in either boat. I'm not sure they are so different if you go right to the edge and sit there.

It sounds like you are planning to get instruction and up the ante on your paddling, so my totally unfounded guess would be that a boat with the feeling of the Slipstream is one that you can expect to grow into.

Not confined to one boat.
As you’ve already experienced with the other kayaks, when most people get into the sport, they don’t just have one boat, they collect all sorts of boats, smaller ones for streams and rivers, the highly rockered “play” boats, the long flat mile eating boats, and some just because they liked that particular model. For me i would rather have a boat i’m comfortable in to grow with than something i have to grow into. If you outgrow your current boat, you can always upgrade, such as you are doing now. Also the fact that you’re getting something in a glass or kevlar, and it’s more of a touring boat, you should be fine for classes and exploring. The other thing to consider is if you’re more comfortable in the boat, you’ll use it more. As for the difference in secondary stability you felt between the boats, i don’t know the specs on the slipstream, but if it is slightly bigger, it may be that you are not quite enough paddler for it, boats handle differently depending on the load in them. Some work great loaded down with camping gear, but weathercock and track badly with just the paddler, it’s just too much volume.

Do visit CPA
Since you are “local”, if you have not done that yet, visit the web site. Go to the Paddling Forums area and read on the “Pirates” area and specifically the Baltimore Pirates. They (as all pirates at the CPA) are very friendly and will let you try their boats.

Plus, CPA has some nice free or nearly free classess and many outings to use as learning experience.

No idea about your boats of choice as I’m way over your size…

My wife did not like the Slipstream both times she tried it. It does look like it has been discontinued. If she were looking for a new boat I would have her try the Suka and the Willow in that order. The Suka is a smaller version of the Caribou and my wife can handle my Caribou even though it is too big for her. She has not seen or paddled the Willow.

Initial stability counts
I have a woman friend who bought a Slipstream last year and now she is very active taking lessons so she can learn to be comfortable in it. Meanwhile her instructors have Romany’s that you can stand up in. She too fell in love with the cockpit fit for her. Don’t underestimate initial stability, it’s importance is reflected by the most popular vote in Sea Kayaker magazine for the Romany and Explorer that are extremely stable. Also don’t forget, you can pad your boat a bit with closed cell foam and make it fit like a glove. It’s unfortunate that women and smaller people don’t have all the options that medium to large males have. I can paddle well and I find the slipstream a bit twichy and not necessary for the small speed gain. You should be comfortable in your kayak now and don’t assume that because you have no skills that this is something you should grow into.

In my opinion, the woman I mentioned, won’t be totally happy until she gets another more stable boat and I don’t want to disappoint her by mentioning it.

My first “real” kayak was a Slipstream as was my husband’s. Let us just say that I learned to paddle but it wasn’t a particularly pleasant nor easy learning experience for me and I got rid of the boat as soon as I felt I honestly could.

It was a very twitchy boat and, as I’ve subsequently been told, was a bit too large for both my husband and me. According to Derek Hutchinson, it should be paddled fully loaded, which always beggered the question How? as there wasn’t a whole lotta room in the hatches.

I’m not familiar with CDs line now, but I wouldn’t recommend a Slipstream for a beginner, or even an advanced beginner. You can use the old “you’ll grow into it” line, but this particular boat can be frustrating. I often wonder if I would have moved up the learning curve faster if I’d been in a boat with a bit more stability from the get go.

Right now I paddle a RomanyLV which I worship as it fits me perfectly and I feel I could go through the currents of hell and back in it. I also have an ExplorerLV, which also works well for me although I’m in the Romany 99% of the time.

I don’t want to be negative about the Slipstream as I know people love it as it is fast and manueverable, but it may not work well for some peoples’ build or learning abilities.

Revision re Slipstream
As may be apparent, it’s been a while since I sat in a Slipstream. Whatever my initial response to the boat, there is a preponderance of thumbs down posts here from people who have very good judgement. If you are hearing from folks like these that the Slipstream ain’t a great first choice, take it to heart.

The limited storage space mentioned by dcm is also an issue - in fact it was one reason that I didn’t spend much time trying to see if I could swap my Squall out for one after I demo’d it. Much as the boat interested me, it would have been much too great a change in storage capacity considering that we occasionally do camp out of these boats.

my kind of topic :smiley:

– Last Updated: Apr-15-09 11:57 PM EST –

cuz I generally chime in on the small female paddler posts. I qualify being 117 lbs, 5'3" & short waisted w. relatively long arms and legs (tho not as long as yours)

Got my first seakayak 4 months after I started paddling.

It is 15'11" so lengthwise it's between the Willow and the Suka. It's 20" wide so it's 1" narrower than the Suka and 2" narrower than the Willow and lower volume than either. Took to her right away and went on a lot of Great Lakes paddling and large lakes as well. She really hyped up my learning. I'm going into my third full season so that compares w. you as well.

People sized like us can often easily paddle boats that bigger/taller people consider too tippy.

So trust your own sense of balance and pick a boat you can love because it is NOT easy at first. If you really love the sport and are serious about skills, pick a boat that will push the curve and will be beyond the stability you felt in your first boat.

I've paddled both the Willow & the Suka. Both are newer designs from CD - nicely thought out and friendly to handle. You are not going to make a bad mistake w. either one.

That being said, IMO the Willow's handling is more for the beginner going into novice while the Suka is pointed at the intermediate paddler and beyond.

As a matter of fact, I spoke about the Suka's design at length in April 2008 w. Bill Kueper, who was then part of the design team for the Suka, and he said that the team designed the Suka for the intermediate paddler and beyond. They refused to compromise it for mass market appeal. They WANT it to be a niche boat.

Knowing that I think (MO only) the Willow was designed for that compromise. It is more stable and "friendly" as far as staying upright (primary stability). Because of this I didn't find it as quick off the mark and a bit of a waddler in calm water w. a lot of unnecessary wake. It is a steady boat with a moderate speed. As to fit, more loose than I would want. Sure I could pad it, but it still be 22" wide and I'd be stuck w. that.

If you are going to guess I liked the Suka a LOT more, you are right. The fit was superb, unmodified.More acceleration, more aggressive leans and turns. The Suka is very sleek, low and handles wind well. It is a full foot longer than the Willow, nice for packing, gliding & wave spanning. Not gonna say some dumb thing like the extra 12 inches make it de facto a faster boat. no. I'll only say I could settle into a great efficient groove. I don't bother w. GPS. I bother with staying up w. the people, mostly men, that I paddle with.

The motor you supply determines that. Get a technically great forward stroke, a paddle length 205-210 cm as light as you can afford, and I believe you will get great production from the Suka.

In short the Suka felt to me like a boat that would take a little more attention but be much more rewarding - a boat you could have a rapport with.
The Willow will forgive any stupid stuff you do right away, but it's not a boat to thrill and provoke you to learn more.

The Willow is the nice horse in the riding stable that anyone can saddle for an easy trot down the lane. The Suka is the jittery thoroughbred who responds to the bell and breaks out of the gate. You do your part and that boat will respond. That's the best way I can put it.

If this makes you a little leary of the Suka and you still want to try her, that's a GOOD sign! Paddle them both and go w. what your heart and butt tell you.

Try the CD Squamish
In kevlar. My wife 130 pounds 5’ 4" loves it. She can easily keep up with me in my CD Solstice. Hers tracks strait and turns easily.

Does it have to be CD?

– Last Updated: Apr-09-09 8:25 PM EST –

I'm 5'2" and about 120lbs and short waisted and love my P&H Capella 160. Fits me like a glove and it's very stable. It's designed for smaller people/women. There is also the new Scorpio LV as well as their composite boats. Check it out and keep your options open.


– Last Updated: Apr-09-09 9:53 PM EST –

the Valley Avocet LV...or maybe a Betsy Bay Valkyrie.....or maybe the new Idun

something that fits like a good running shoe would , instead of just buying a size 12 shoe and start adding pairs of socks.

Best Wishes

Another Suggestion
I work as a kayak guide for a company that sells CD, Eddyline and Necky kayaks. All good kayaks but one that I would recommend you try is the Necky Eliza. This kayak was designed specifically for women and I know several women in your size range who have bought this boat. I have put ‘fit’ beginners in this boat on tours and they do well in it. It is a boat that you can grow with (i.e. develop your paddling skills). The boat comes in either composite or plastic.

Good luck with your search.


Great post ff
That was nicely done. When my wife looked at the Slipstream the first time, she was paddling a CD Squall. Stability was not an issue for her. She just did not like the boat. A few years later she tried it again and still did not like it. I dont think she would like the Willow either after seeing your input. She is currently paddling a Guillemot that has been fitted to her. We are sort of remote so it is hard to try out kayaks but I really would like her to try a Suka if I could pry her out of her boat.

Another line to look at would be Impex.

thank you
Impex boats are definitely worth demoing. Every one I’ve personally seen has excellent build quality inside and out.

Besides the CAT 3 (which I liked extremely well during two demos) the British classicly styled Montauk would also be appealing for the OP. And the Mystic is a wonderfully agile & efficient 14 foot seakayak that all petite paddlers should try.

From a very expereinced paddler

– Last Updated: Apr-10-09 6:01 PM EST –

Aled Williams notes "’s all about having a reserve, a performance margin and a comfort zone."

You will paddle a boat less if it makes you uncomfortable. There are a number of reasons so many coaches use Romanys for instruction. Among the reasons is that it is, while being very capable, a very reassuring boat.

I think the Romany was one of the first boats to show that a boat does not have to be demanding (such as a Pintail or Nordkapp) to be responsive and fully capable.

The Willow looks to be a good boat. For comparison you might get into a Romany or Romany LV and see how it feels. The Romany/Explorer hulls are a frequent common point of reference when demoing boats.

BTW: Aled is a very experienced paddler,coach and designer of the Romany as well as the Rockpool and TideRace boats. I'm simply an intermediate paddler.

Romany LV

I have a used Romany LV Elite you may be interested in. It’s my wife’s personal boat, purple over white, in great condition. She’s shorter than you, but I’m 5’8" and able to paddle it, although it’s a bit snug at the cockpit – it could be a good option.

We’re not too far, depending on where you are in Maryland, and I’m happy to have you demo the boat if you’re interested. I’m in Chesapeake, VA.


Virginia Sea Kayak Center.

You should
check out the used Romany from kayak_tom at Virginia Sea Kayak Center. These guys know their boats, are good people, and only deal in the highest quality products. They will get you in the right boat for sure.

OP tried Eliza
The original poster said she tried the Eliza and it didn’t feel right. I’m curious though, was it the composite or the poly model? I have a composite and absolutely love it. If fits perfectly with no padding - I’,m 5’6" and 150 lbs, but with narrow hips. The poly Eliza has slightly different dimensions and would feel different. I believe it’s wider. I have a small friend with a Romany LV, and when she tried my Eliza she really liked it - said it rolled very well. It’s got good initial stability - it’s easy to do a cowboy entry. Just my two cents - try the composite Eliza if you had only tried the poly version. I think the Necky foam seats are the best thing ever!


Second that
There is a reason that people tend to hang onto their Romanys even when they add other boats - DEFINATELY go check out this offer.