Ocean Kayak for very small build

I’m a novice looking to purchase first kayak with rudder system to be used primarily in unprotected coastal waters. I am very small, 5’3" 105 lbs. and would love suggestions advice… Thanks!


– Last Updated: Aug-01-09 1:02 PM EST –

If you're set on a rudder, the QCC Q10x might be a good choice.

What boats have you paddled?
Any other constraints, such as budget or transportation?

For unprotected coastal waters conventional wisdom is that you should have a boat with watertight bulkheads and perimeter lines to help with self-rescue. I don't know of many ruddered kayaks like that for someone your size.

The Tsunami 135 is sold for smaller folks, but I was comfortable in it at 5'9", 160.

The poly Necky Eliza has a rudder, but it'd also be a bit big on you:

If you like to build things, there are also choices, such as this one, that can be built with a rudder:

If you're open to trying boats without rudders, there are many more options.

There are small-blade and small-shaft paddles. A "standard" paddle will probably feel awkward. Getting a paddle that fits you will make a huge difference in paddling comfort.

First purchase should be comfortable PFD.

Thanks for the input! I prefer the rudder to help in moderate conditions. I have a feeling this will take some time…


– Last Updated: Aug-01-09 1:28 PM EST –

If you don't already know, rudder vs. skeg vs. none is one of the great ongoing debates in kayaking. There are good boats in each style. Read with an open mind, paddle as many boats as you can, and decide for yourself.

You may have had bad experiences trying to control kayaks that were too big. A rudder can be a huge help in that case. When you're in a boat designed for your weight control in wind and waves becomes much easier.

My wife is 5'0", and had problems getting blown around until she found a boat that fit.

Good cockpit fit is important because being able to edge and lean when you want to is vital to good boat control. If you're sliding around in the cockpit it's hard to feel relaxed and confident. If the boat is the right size you can pad out cockpits for a better fit.

I found the removable hip pads to be very helpful when demoing/renting/taking lessons:

A boat that's too wide or too deep will be uncomfortable and inefficient to paddle.

One boat that would be good to demo would be a Tsunami SP. It may not be what you're looking for, but it would fit well and be useful for comparison.

Demo/rent/borrow anything that fits, regardless of price tag or features. It's a great way to learn.

What did your wife end up going with? I’m trying to get a list put together because our outfitter is limited so… I will have to road trip a bit to try different boats. I want something I will be able to use in the winter coastal conditions, 2’-4’ swell.


– Last Updated: Aug-01-09 6:54 PM EST –

She ended up with a Wilderness Systems Tchaika, which is no longer made. The downside is that it doesn't have a forward bulkhead standard so it needs some work for open-water use -- a good bow airbag at minimum, and adding a bulkhead is better.

A few more small-paddler boats:
Valley Avocet LV, Aquanaut LV
Impex Mystic, Force 3
NDK Romany LV, Pilgrim, Explorer LV
P&H Capella 161, Vela
Venture Easky 15 LV
WS Tempest 165, Zephyr 155
Current Designs Willow, Suka, Raven
Hurricane Tampico 135S
Perception Tribute
Point 65N X-Lite
Eddyline Fathom LV
Prijon Catalina
Necky Eliza
Dagger Alchemy 14S

and I'm sure there are more...

Many of these will still be big on you -- "smaller paddler" seems to mean "under 170 pounds". There aren't many "serious" boats for 100-pound paddlers.

One more choice -- you can build, or have built, a custom skin-on-frame for less than the cost of many production boats:

Taking some time

– Last Updated: Aug-01-09 1:56 PM EST –

It's difficult for me--and many others here--to think of paddling as anything short of a happy obsession/addiction/passion, etc., so I'd like to offer my standard advice to novice paddlers thinking about acquiring their first boat.

First, about the rudder "requirement" for "moderate" coastal conditions...

I don't know how many different boats you've paddled so far, or in how many different conditions you've paddled them, but I can tell you this: whether or not a rudder is "needed" is more about hull design and paddler skill than it is about water conditions. You may well end up being very happy with a ruddered boat, but if you're thinking about it just in terms of what you think "moderate" sea states might be, I'd recommend taking a bit more time getting to know boats, yourself, and how you perceive conditions before you make the rudder, skeg, or neither decision. Though I've paddled many boats with rudders over the years (rentals and other people's boats), I've never owned a ruddered boat, and I've been happily paddling in coastal waters for 12 years, in all sorts of conditions (including "moderate" and well beyond). From my perspective, a rudder is just another mechanical device that can fail, and if it fails at just the right moment, and you really do depend on it, you're screwed.

Beyond the rudder/no rudder question...

Again, how many different boats have you paddled? And in how many different conditions have you paddled them?

These questions are fairly basic, but within them lies an important element of "first boat choice" that many novices don't really consider straightaway, and if a first purchase is jumped into too quickly, they may have some regrets. It is this...

During the time that it takes to get to know various boats in various conditions (renting, borrowing, etc.), your basic paddling skills will begin to develop. As this happens, your perspectives will shift, and your personal preferences and dreams of paddling will develop (and most likely change in some ways from what you feel they are now). When I first started paddling just over 12 years ago, I wanted to purchase my first boat within the first few weeks. I'm glad I waited a bit longer, because had I purchased any of the first few boats that caught my fancy during those first weeks, I know now--looking back with 20/20 hindsight--that I would have been terribly disappointed in a very short time, and looking for a different boat almost right away.

My situation back then was really ideal. I had every day, all day, all Summer to try different boats, and there were many different boats available to me to try during that time (three months of paddling every day, all day, while renting boats from three different shops and borrowing more boats from friends). After three months of this, I did purchase my first boat (still have it, and still love it), and this boat wasn't anywhere near my radar during the first two and a half months of this intensive boat trial/skill development/dream development period. Had I not tried so many boats, in so many different conditions, and developed some skills along the way, I could not have made a first boat decision that I'm still happy with today, 12 years later.

My advice is, if at all possible, to take some time to paddle as many different boats as you can find, and paddle them in as many different conditions as possible. Develop some basic skills along the way, and allow your dreams to go where they will for a while. Once you've done this, you'll sit in a boat one day, take a couple of strokes, and the boat will say "I'm the one!". Be a bit patient (I know that's easier said than done), keep looking, and your first boat will find you.

Have fun!


Great advice and I definitely plan on following it. I will be spending the next two months narrowing down my choices and picking experienced paddlers brains… This is not an investment I take lightly!

please keep us posted!
It’ll be nice to hear what you learn along the way.

I will happily post about any progress I make in my research. I’m sure some of it will be good for a laugh, at the very least!

More choice if you lose the rudder req’t

– Last Updated: Aug-01-09 3:10 PM EST –

You are really limiting your choices if you insist on a rudder - and missing some nice boats out there for a paddler your size.

For reasonable conditions you should be able to acquire skills that make a rudder not necessary. Can be helpful yes, but for what you describe a skegged boat will do fine and give you much more choice.

Ideas, boats I know can be obtained right now -
Impex Mystic or, bigger and more expedition length, Force 3 (both w/skeg)
Current Designs Suka or Willow (skeg in both as I recall)
Necky Eliza, I think rudder
P&H Vela, maybe the Cetus LV but I haven't sat in one myself yet since it's a newer boat, or the Capella 161 - (all w/skeg)
Valley Avocet LV - very much your size (skeg)
Nigel Dennis Pilgrim, if you are within reach of a few dealers on the east coast that have received one (I didn't look to see where you were - and skeg)
Wilderness Systems Tempest 165 (skeg)
Betsy Bay - Indun is I think the model for your size? Look at their web site. I don't recall where they lie on the skeg/rudder/nothing line.

I have probably forgotten some. And you probably get my point about the rudder thing...

I have heard varying view points from friends, I know ultimately it will be personal choice but it helps to hear all views. I am also getting varying views on length… I know personal experience will be my best input but because of limited access to boats, this forum is another research tool. If I can narrow my list of boats to try, it will help both financially and with time frame. I am hoping to find a suitable used boat in the next 2-3 months. My size will definitely make the search more intensive and I do not have any local friends that do anything other then rec paddling, let alone my size so… I appreciate any and all input.

Another path

– Last Updated: Aug-01-09 6:41 PM EST –

A thought while mowing the lawn....

Some folks would say that that researching and demoing to find the perfect kayak is a waste of time that you could be out paddling. Your tastes will change anyway. Just get something that'll work and paddle it while you look. If you buy used, you can sell it in a year at little or no loss.

In your case, the issue I see with that is that there aren't many touring boats made for 100-pound paddlers, and most of them are expensive, scarce, or both. It'd be nice to be developing your skills while you're looking, but that's hard to do unless you find something that fits.

Since you know you want a sea kayak, there's no point in getting a "beginner boat" that you'll quickly outgrow. But there might be a place for a boat that would still have a role in your fleet when you do find the perfect sea kayak.

If I were your size, I'd take a close look at the Tsunami SP as a learning/play boat. The only thing you're giving up is top-end speed and cargo room. It's got all the safety features of bigger sea kayaks, and it'd be easy to transport and easy to maneuver. It'd support learning advanced skills, but you wouldn't feel silly paddling it with your rec-boat friends.

Here's a review from someone your size who also has a "serious" sea kayak:
Submitted by: wsharpView
Just bought this boat as a "play" boat for surfing and easy (class 1-easy 3) rivers. What a joy! Light enough for me to get it on the van and off and carry to the water. Very responsive yet tracks very well. Comfortable (I'm a 5'1" , 109 lb. woman). I've bounced it off rocks in a class 2 river, surfed 3 footers on the lake and paddled quiet water. I have an Anas Acuta that I LOVE and normally paddle but this is my rock/play boat. Really nice attention to details not normally seen in a "kids" boat. Hatches, recessed fittings, deck lines, a real seat with back band. Super little boat.
Rating: 10 of 10

I've got a 16' sea kayak, and I've often thought about getting something smaller for the purposes she mentions.

Would I take a 12' boat into 3-4' swells? Sure. I've had a great time with an 8' whitewater boat in much bigger waves.

great thought
Thank you, that is the type of advice I was hoping to find and you nailed my initial needs :slight_smile:

Second that
It’s near impossible to pick the really right sea kayak - the one that is worth damaging the bank account to buy - until you have enough skills to evaluate fit, stability and responsiveness for your own liking.

You also need to be able to decide the rudder/skeg thing so it is about your paddling preferences rather than someone else’s preconception. I have heard numerous people say that something is a sea kayak because/if it has a rudder. Interesting idea but not true. There are places and uses for rudders, and they deserve their due, but there are an awful lot of paddlers out there in skegged boats handling more major conditions than most of us will ever experience.

The Tsunami SP should be findable used, will get you going just fine and may remain a keeper even as your skills improve for an easy, shorter fun boat to mess around in.

Also - don’t get hung up on length per se unless someone is trying to talk you into a ten footer. Run away fast from that idea - there’s nothing in that length which will be helpful for building big water skills.

And - I forgot one boat that you should at least try out for fun, though it won’t be available used yet because it just came out. Wilderness Systems Alchemy, the smaller of the two sizes it comes in.

Alchemy 14.OS
Another great suggestion, thank you. Hopefully, I can track them both down semi-local and give them a try.

Take your time
Take some classes, work on your skills, paddle as many kayaks as you can. The kayak that you choose after doing this will be vastly different than one you would buy now.

Learning to paddle can seem like a steep learning curve, but with some effort now to improve your skills, you’d be amazed at how quickly you reach the top of the beginners’ curve. Everything looks different then.

I’ve only been teaching paddling for about 8 years, but have seen this happen for people over and over and over again. Seriously, my advice is, spend a season learning to paddle and then look for a kayak.

No worries, joining local paddle club and will do just that! First meeting tomorrow… Thanks everyone for the advice! Already have short list…

Another kayak not mentioned

– Last Updated: Aug-03-09 11:00 AM EST –

is a P&H Scorpio Low Volume - plastic/skeg.(16-17 ft) I love my tempest 165 but this new boat has caught my interest - small tight cockpit fit i think moreso than the tempest even - thus fitting a slightly smaller person. The lady paddling it is very petite and loves it (she has many other boats)

I will check it out
Just from specs, I want to try the CD Squamish