Not again! Which kayak to buy?

Again another thread on which kayak would be best to buy.

First a little information about me. I’m retired and live in Mexico near Lake Chapala. Last august some of us got together and started a kayak club. That’s the extent of my kayaking experience so I consider myself still a relative beginner, though I do have over 20 years rowing experience. I’m 64,6’ tall and about 185lbs, in pretty good shape.

I’m currently paddling an older WS Cape Lookout and am looking to upgrade to a newer kayak. Before anyone says go to a dealer and test them on for size that’s just not going to happen down here. I need to purchase it first then drive up and pick it up. So far I’ve been lucky on my two purchases from Craigslist, an Old Town Loon111, and the Cape Lookout.

My three choices are:

Wilderness Systems Zephyr 16’ $1599

WS Tempest 170 17’ $1599

Perception Essence 17’ $1299

Where we paddle is on Lake Chapala, the largest lake in Mexico. Usually calm but can get choppy, up to 3-4 ft. Have also taken my kayak into the ocean in Manzanillo.

I really like the comfort of my Cape Lookout with its 14" deck height. Tried an older (notice all our boats seem to be old)Boreal Muktuk with about a 12"deck height and felt really cramped. I’ve read all the reviews that I can get my hand on and these three boats seem to fit my requirements the best. The Essence with the lower price puts it at the top of the list but 300 bucks isn’t a deal breaker.

Interested in hearing what you all might have to contribute.

I’m a big fan of the Zephyr -
It is a boat that turns easily and behaves really well in rough and moving water. I find it very comfortable. It is a really fun boat and I think it will take me a good long time to outgrow it. I’m 60, out of shape, and new to Kayaks but I have a life time of paddling experience in open tripping boats in flat and white water up to class 4. I think if you are reasonably athletic and plan to paddle a lot and develop skills it is hard to go wrong with a Zephyr. I feel very comfortable in the boat and it does what I want to do. It might be a handful for a brand new paddler looking to go straight in flat calm water although even then the skeg calms it down a lot.

when you say the zephyr is a handful to go straight in flat water, what do you mean.DOes it take much correction to make it go straight? Does proper training like paddling skill and leaning make it go straighter ?

Is the Zephyr ok for long trips because of this. I too was looking at getting one, but havnt tried one yet. Im Looking at doing 5-10% weekend trips, and 90% day trips and evening paddles. From what i read its super maneuverable, which would be great for exploring certain spots on the lake and some rivers i go to, but i dont want to have to constantly fight ti keep it straight when on a point a to point b trip on the lake.

You might check out
Mayan Seas Kayaks at

Some nice fiberglass boats at poly prices made in Mexico.

The “Ken Johnson” is named after one of my paddling partners who had a lot of input into its design. They have really refined their designs and building techniques over the last few years. Rafael, the owner, is a great guy and good kayak instructor.

If you happen to be anywhere close to either of his two locations you might want to try out some of his kayaks.

Good luck

The Zephyr has a skeg
which makes it go straight with ease when deployed. Also, if your paddling skills are strong it will go straight without much difficulty even with the skeg up. It is a great boat for day paddling and weekend trips - not big enough for two weeks. Other boats are easier to paddle straight for sure. I am no expert and I have no problem with the boat and I would never go back to to a boat designed to hold a straight track. I like rough and moving water and the Zephyr is great in those environments and also excellent in flat calm water.

River Trip
So in the polyethylene model, it could handle doing class 1 and class 11 rapids ? Ive done this particular river in a royalex canoe a few times and am dying to try it in a kayak.

Essence 17 and Zephyr 160
I have both the Essence and the Zephyr. I’m a beginner with less than 1 yr experience having started with a Tsunami 140 which my daughter now has. I mostly paddle on local lakes in central NC and some larger Chesapeake Bay waters when visiting family.

I bought the Zephyr to have a more maneuverable boat that I could grow my skills with. This is a very fun boat to paddle and will certainly help improve your paddle skills. While it can be paddled without the skeg, I find that for straight line paddling a little less than 1/2 skeg calms the boat down without having to concentrate on tracking. I’m 6’1" and 214 lbs and the Zephyr 160 fits me well but I do have the foot pegs fully extended. I took a roll class this winter and found the Zephyr very easy to sweep roll.

The Essence is a very good tracking boat that doesn’t really need the skeg for routine paddling. It responds to edging nicely for small steering corrections but it is not really a nimble boat. It has more foot room with a higher deck and I have about 4 notches left in the foot peddle adjustments. It will hold more gear if you plan to camp. It is an easy boat to paddle, very comfortable, but doesn’t have the “sports car” feel the Zephyr has. I find this is the boat I take when I want to put some miles down without a lot of thought or effort. This is also a good boat to loan to friends to try. Note that the Essence is almost 10 lbs heavier than the Zephyr. The Essence feels smooth and well behaved while the Zephyr is lively and feels like it wants to play.

My wife has an Essence 16.5 and she was quickly comfortable in the boat. Both Essence models seem like a lot of boat for the money. I’m enjoying owning both the Essence and Zephyr depending on my mood when I paddle.

Less fun in a touring boat
Class 1 and class 2 in a touring boat, or a rec boat, is a straight run down the green stuff. They have too much hull speed to make it easy to turn quick to grab standing wave or scootch in and out of eddies easily. There is only so long this is fun.

Used WW boats are cheap - if you want to mess around in a kayak in something like class 2, you’ll have more fun in a boat tuned for the purpose.