Perception Kayaks: Carolina or Avatar?

-- Last Updated: Feb-19-05 8:52 AM EST --

I’m shopping, and I really need some advice: I just started kayaking last spring and I bought a Dagger Catalyst 12.8 w/o a rudder, as it’s a good all around kayak, and I didn’t have a clue about kayaking. My friend and I bought our kayaks with the option to trade them up within one year (for full price). The store carries only Daggers and Perceptions, so we’re limited in our choices.

We mostly paddle on fairly large lakes and flat rivers, but want something that we can possibly take on the ocean (as in protected bays ... not rough open water). So we’re looking for longer boats, but not really sea kayaks. And weight is a factor, as we have to lift these things, and I sometimes go solo. Our Daggers weigh 45 lbs, and I doubt that I could handle anything much over 55 lbs. My friend is 5’-7”- 120 lbs; and I’m 6’0” - 146 lbs. I have very long legs, so that’s a concern also (I have my Catalyst foot pegs set at max, which is just barely enough).

I’m considering two Perception models, the Carolina 14.5 Airalite and the Avatar 15.5 or possibly the 16.0. The Avatar is a poly boat (Exolar, same as my Catalyst). Both kayaks weigh 54 lbs. (The Avatar 16.0 is 56 lbs, and the Carolina poly 14.5 is 60 lbs). The Avatar has a skeg, which I sort of like. (I don’t really want a rudder, which is optional on the Carolina).

Why are the Carolinas (even the 16.0) rated as a Day Touring boats, and the Avatars rated as Expedition Touring boats? (The Carolina actually has more hatch space and has a much higher maximum load.) The Carolina also has a better stability rating (a 4, compared to a 3), so what does this actually mean? The biggest difference that I can see are the hull heights: Avatar = 11.5” and Carolina = 13.75”.

Is anyone familiar with these kayaks? (Oh, I’m also sort of considering the Dagger Specter 15.5 Airalite, as a third choice.)

~ Arwen ~

I’m biased…
I’ve never paddled a Carolina that I liked, but they certainly have appeal to some paddlers. I’ve said this many times, but you need to take a serious look at your planned usage and your desire to upgrade in the future.

The Carolina and the Avatar are about as far apart in the Perception line as it is possible to be. The Carolina is a day touring boat, and the Avatar is a performance touring boat. You mentioned that you couldn’t see much difference between the two other than the depth, but that is not even scratching the surface. They are completely different designs with entirely different objectives.

The Avatar has much less volume, is more compact, and is MUCH faster that the Carolinas. You sit in the Carolina, you WEAR the Avatar. The skeg on the Avatar is not the best design on the market, but for most use it is reliable and works well. The Avatar is more narrow, but the multi-chine hull keeps it from feeling tippy. Any way you look at it, the Avatar is the more aggesive boat.

The Carolina will have more storage and more foot room. One can still pack a good deal of gear into the Avatar, but it will be more difficult The Carolina will feel more comfortable to the novice paddler. The Avatar will feel more comfortable to the more experienced paddle, in fact, I still believe it to be the most comfortable boat of it’s type on the market (even more comfy than my Avocet.) The Carolina will provide a dryer ride than the Avatar, but will be less soulful. In fact, the Avatar is one of the shallowest boats on the market.

I could go on and on about the differences, but the bottom line is that they are simply in different classes. If you have some experience, the Avatar won’t be unstable, and it will provide an excellent platform to help you become a better paddler. You won’t want to replace the Avatar after 6 months. The Carolina is a decent boat for what it is, but if your motivated you will grow tired of it quickly.

As a side note, I recommend the Avatar 16 over the 15.5.

Even though I have a Valley Avocet, I kept my Avatar 16 because it is just so damned fun. When the wind picks up and things get nasty, I still sometimes grab the Avatar. My wife finds herself picking it more and more often because it’s a fun boat that is not intimidating to her.

Only you know what is going to fit your needs, and only you can make the final decision. Try them boat out, just keep in mind how different they are. The Avatar will feel a little different to you at first, but after paddling it for a few months you will never want to go back to a rec-oriented boat. Just my opinion. Paddle well…

what he said

Thanks so much!
Thank you so much yaksurfer, for taking the time to write such an informative reply! I haven’t actually really seen either kayak model, so all I’ve got to go on is what is in Perception’s catalog. The store that I deal with carries mostly just recreational and white water kayaks, so I probabaly won’t be able to demo either boat from the store. (But the owner will let me exchange any boat, if I don’t like it.)

I live in Northwestern NH, so there’s not much of a selection on touring kayaks up here. I’m hoping to go to the New England Paddlesports show in early April (2-1/2 hours southeast of here), so I might get a chance to see both boats then.

Like I said, I’ve only been paddling since late last spring, so I don’t have that much experience. But I did get out 33 times last year and I’m a fast learner. It sounds like the Avatar would be more of what I’m looking for, as I want a fast boat and I like to be challenged. Those are the two main reasons for trading in my Dagger … oh, it’s comfortable and everything, it’s just not fast enough or challenging any more. I’m just not sure that my friend wants a kayak that’s this challenging, and she wants us to have the same boat, as we almost always go together.

Actually the deck height on my Dagger is only 11", so will I really get THAT much wetter in an Avatar? I do get pretty wet in mine in the rougher conditions, and I am planning on getting a skirt at some point.

Do you think that I would have enough leg room in an Avatar? Is the 16.0 any roomer? I mean, it’s only like 5" longer than the 15.5. Oh, and would you please explain what a multi-chine hull is, as I really have no idea?

Thanks again for your help,

~ Arwen ~

I rarely paddle without a skirt, even on flat water. Putting the boat on edge just makes maneuvers so much easier – and more fun – that I feel handicapped without that ability. It’s like not being able to lean into a corner on a bike.

Stability issues
Carolina’s have high INITIAL stablity, on flat and moderate water, and make beginners & novices feel comfortable. The Avatar design, with less initial stability is actually a more SEAWORTHY craft as it allows you to handle broaching waves without the boat wanting to heel back and forth. I’m sure that Avatars require more attention, but handle rougher better than Carolinas. (I have a Corona, now Eclipse 15, so I know about “attention”)


only 5" longer
length of kayak has nothing to do with fitting in the cockpit. Perception does funny stuff like add on different thigh braces to a “standard” hull so that what might fit perfectly in one hull make another totally awkward for the intended range of paddlers for it. They did that with the Monterrey quasi/rec/tour kayak. With the Avatar you’re getting a full on tippy boat(compared to rec.kayaks) where learning to brace/roll is eventually in the picture. The Carolina is on the other side of the stability curve where butt balancing (like sitting in the bottom of a canoe) is sufficient but in high winds you’ll be blowing sideways more than the Avatar.

Paddlesport Show
You can call Kittery Trading Post in advance if you want to make sure they’ll have the boats on hand that you want to see. Most of the vendors have a lot of stock there, particularly Perception. I bought a Carolina 16 there a couple of years ago and ended up not really liking it. It’s really a barge. Also, I’m a big guy - 6’0" and 250# - and there was room to spare in the cockpit. Big boat. If I knew then what I know now I would have gone with something different.

Pickup vs. GT
Each has their application. In answer to your question about day touring, the Carolina doesn’t have the efficiency and speed to qualify as a distance boat. Good package for its intended use and market, but not a high performance boat.

from an avatar owner
I’ve been paddling for a few years now and just last year bought an Avatar my first boat, after years of renting just about everything from a Carolina to much more advance kayaks I realized that I like the responsiveness of the more advanced boats but i didn’t want to go broke buying one. This past season I spent a lot of time in the Avatar and enjoyed every moment from nice calm water to some pretty heavy stuff that i was a little worried about, the Avatar performed great and I feel it has helped me progress as a paddler. Everyone has thier own needs but if you get a chance to paddle one and i don’t mean just for a few minutes take time and see how it feels i think you’ll be surprised and find its got good primary and even better secondary stability.

Chines and other stuff…
There are others who have better command of the english language who could describe chines better than I. Chines are, in effect, a ridge that runs either partially or completely the length of the kayak. If you look at the side of your boat, you will see a chine. Some boats have “hard” chines which are very pronounced, while others have “soft” chines that you may not immediately see. Generally speaking (huge emphasis here) the softer the chines, the more “tippy” the boat feels at rest. This is referred to as initial stability. Hard chines may help the boat feel more stable initially, but cause other problems later. The multi-chine hull of the Avatar tries to take the best of both by utilizing small ridges approx. 1" apart on the lower 2/3 of the hull. These chines provide solid initial stability without compromizing your ability to lean hard or roll easily. Hopefully some of the others can be more thorough, but those are the basics.

At your height, I don’t believe you will have a problem with leg room in the Avatar 16. Your shoe size will be more relevant. Not only does the deck taper down quickly from the cockpit, but Perception used recessed deck fittings on the Avatar that may take up additional foot room. This may require that you point you toes downward. This may feel strange at first, but you will probably learn to prefer it. Again, fit is always subjective. In addition, the thigh hooks in the Avatar are some of the best I’ve seen–I even have the same ones in my whitewater boat.

I suggest using a skirt in all but the laziest of days in the Avatar. Partly because of the way it is made, and more importantly, the way you will want to paddle it. I whink you will find yourself trying many new things and pushing yourself a bit–so your bound to get wet. The cockpit measeures approx. 19" X 34" so your choice of skirts will be excellent.

OK, it all boils down to this. The really tough decision…are you ready? What color are you going to get? Paddle well…

RE: Chines and other stuff…

– Last Updated: Feb-19-05 11:26 AM EST –

You actually did a very good job of explaining what multi-chines is. I'm very visual, and I can very easily picture what you described. That really helps a great deal. :)

It's good to know that my long legs should fit in the Avatar (I do have a 33" inseam). Being tall, my feet aren't exactly small (my shoe size is 11), so I'm hoping that this isn't going to be a major problem. I usually wear water sandals, so I may have to get some booties this year. I guess that I'll know when I actually sit in one. I'm not worried about the fit being too confining in other areas, as I am pretty slender, and I also read that the thigh braces have a 2 inch front to back adjustment.

I do plan on getting a skirt for my next kayak. I'll probably get a nylon one, at least to start with, as I want one that will be cool enough to use on the warmer days.

Yes . . . color is going to be a very tough decision for me! But I do love shopping. :)

Thanks again for all your help in explaining all this to me!

~ Arwen ~

Light and the brighter the better, so you can be seen on blue/black water especially in rain, fog or at night with spotlite. Don’t pass the bright red orange or lime yellow. Yaks are small boats and you need to be visable, and not a coordinated fashion statement.

RE: Color?

– Last Updated: Feb-19-05 12:25 PM EST –

What do you mean that my kayak color isn't a coordinated fashion statement? Of course it is! :)

Fortunately I happen to like bright colors. I'm also smart enough to know that my kayak needs to be very visible on the water.

Hey, why is it that so many kayaks also come in colors that aren't very visible at all on the water ... like blue/gray? You would think that the manufacturers would make visibility more of a priority.

~ Arwen ~

I took everyone’s advise,…
back in 02’ and picked up a poly Carolina as my first yak. While I did enjoy paddling it, I soon found out I was ready to move on to a more responsive, and faster kayak. The boat felt very sluggish going against wind blown current, or the tide. And the 25" wide flat hull would ride on top of the chop, instead of slicing though it, kinda fun, but not very efficient. With all it’s initial stability, it’s a good boat to put your friends in to introduce them to the sport.

Since the Carolina you’re concidering is made from airlite, I can’t directly comment on the similarities. However in my case, in 6 months I sold mine and moved up to a used 16.5’x23" fiberglass kayak, (British), and learned to roll soon after.

Like others said, there’s a boat,…or boats for everyone, ya just gotta find yours. Have fun!

RE: Skirt
Thanks, I do plan on getting a skirt for my next kayak. I’m planning on going with a nylon type, which I know is not waterproof, but I want something that is cool enough to use in warm weather. I recently bought Ken Whiting’s Sea Kayaking DVD, and have been learning how differently a sea kayak handles. Leaning and putting the kayak on edge, while making a turn is one of the first things I noticed.

~ Arwen ~

one of the laments often voiced…
…about the Carolina 14.5 in Airalite is that it is hardly lighter than the poly version…only one lousy pound difference (although it is 4" longer) according to Perception. Decreased weight is supposed to be one of the main advantages to paying extra for Airalite, but not so in this model. I can’t quite figure how it can be that heavy…my Sonoma 13.5 weighs only 38lbs and believe me, that’s a nice feature after a long workout! I wonder what the Avatars would weigh in Airalite?..I think you will soon see them offered.

deceptive data
the new carolina hull shape is much better than the old one but the weights given on the sticker and catalog were grossly incorrect, maybe the weight was without a rudder and seat. I believe when it first came out there was a range given,54-58lbs or something like that. The model we weighed was 60lbs. The thermoplastic sheets don’t vary in weight so the four pound variation must have been with/without a rudder. The other thing that was wrong,wrong,wrong was the seat hanger, unable to withstand the pressure of the backband it showed white stress marks just from people sitting in it.

It may well be a worthwhile material for big kayaks even if the weight savings is slight but not with bad engineering.

RE: Weights
The lighter weight was my main reason that I would be willing to pay more for an Airalite model. Airalite boats are pretty, but I’m very concerned about their durability. I’ve been told by several people (including an engineer) that the Carolina Airalite seat frame is not designed properly where it attaches to the hull, and that there have been problems with it cracking.

If there’s little difference in weight, then there is no way that I’m going to spend the extra money for a pretty boat, especially one that has durability issues.

Last month I contacted Dagger/Perception Support by email and they recommended Airalite because of it’s lighter weight.

They gave (I’m assuming that they were talking about 2005 models) that the Carolina 14.5 Airalite was 14’10" long and weights 54 lbs (w/o rudder, which adds 2 lbs). And that the Sonoma 13.5 Airalite was 13’7" long and weighs 43 lbs (the Sonoma only has a rear hatch).

The weights in the 04 catalog (and on their website) is the same as my email reply. (The 14.5 Carolina poly supposedly weighs 60 lbs.)

~ Arwen ~

in the buyer’s guide here

– Last Updated: Feb-20-05 10:36 AM EST –

the current Sonoma 13.5 is listed at 41 lbs. At some point they made this model 2-1/2" longer yet shaved 3/4" off the the weight should be about the same as the original design, which is listed as 38 lbs. Even at 41-43 lbs, that's not bad for a 13' 7-1/2" boat.

Airalite is lighter than poly; that's why the weight of the Carolina 14.5 Airalite is a mystery.
And the Eclipse 17.0 is no lighter in Airalite either; just 2 lbs. but the poly model is 2" longer. This doesn't make sense. When Perception was telling you how much lighter Airalite is, I would have asked them to explain these numbers.

PS...If you are having doubts about the material, talk to thermoform owners, not salesmen. Other than the poorly designed seat mount stress in that one model, what complaints are owners listing?