Rookie kayak purchasing advice?

-- Last Updated: Aug-29-11 2:20 PM EST --

Total rookie here, asking for some advice on what type of kayak/equipment and possible retail locations around West Michigan any experienced user might suggest.
I'm a 24 year old dude, and bigger than average but not a monster at 6'2" and around 250 lbs. I plan on using a kayak predominantly for upper body exercise with little to none extra luggage on calm rivers and small lakes. I am familiar with row boats and canoes, but I've never used a kayak. I'm aware of the different types of kayaks and equipment that goes along with them, so don't worry about confusing me with terms and language.
The only kicker I'm bringing into this is my price range, hopefully lower than $300 but I'll bump it up to $400-ish if I find the right one...I've looked around a little bit and am possibly interested in a Pelican Pursuit 100 or Future Beach Fusion 10 based only on ads from Dick's Sporting Goods. Am I looking in a decent direction or am I way off course?

just to get the discussion going…
sounds like performance/efficiency/maneuverability are not the top priorities – which is a good thing given the price constraint. Also, carrying a heavy boat will only help with the upper body work out


So safety would be the main priority in terms of both flotation and protection from the elements. A sit on top would have plenty of flotation, but its protection from the elements wouldn’t be so good – I think you said upper midwest, so you would need to consider that and what season(s) you wanted to paddle. You could supplement with clothing, but that could add to the cost. Regarding sit inside; the less expensive boats may not have two bulkheads which you could live with, but you would probably want to supplement with float bags (additional cost).

Anyway, that’s a start…

your budget is problematic
A decent NEW kayak, even with end of season sales, is going to run you between $700 and $900. Add on at least $150 for a good paddle and PFD and you are pushing $1000.

You could get something used – our usual recommendation for newbies. Found these Craiglist ads in your area. Most are short recreational style boats, more like a decked rowboat than a “real” kayak, and slow, but handy to get onto the water and you will get a workout trying to get them moving (my comments follow each ad):

Kind of a slow, fat little rec boat but it would get you out on the water.

ditto – cheaper and flimsier but includes a paddle and PFD

ditto (short and slow)

ditto – a cheapie starter boat for flat sheltered water.

Then there are more advanced boats:

That’s a much better boat, one you could take out in some protectetd areas of Lake Michigan if you got some training in open water paddling – would also be faster and give you a better work out. I’d offer the guy $500 to 600 for the whole lot (includes some good extras). He’s been trying to sell it for over a month and has already come down – he’s asking too much for it. (I buy and sell a lot of used touring kayaks) The PFD would be too small for you.

That guy might take $400 for his Folbot – its a neat vintage kayak (some fold up for storage but this one may be a rigid boat). Don’t let the appearance fool you, they are cool boats and very sea worthy.

That boat is a little better than the 10’ rec boats but still not a full touring kayak. Would work well for you,though. Is asking for “best offer” and includes a fiberglass paddle. These yaks are $700 new so I would offer $350 and maybe go as high as $450.

I’m not wild about inflatables but this one is OK – will be a little slow and they catch the wind a lot but that is a good price and they are easy to transport and store.

Here’s a listing of kayak outfitters in west Michigan _ I am most familiar with Earth’s Edge in Grand Haven – nice shop. Go see them to get the scoop on what you should be looking for. They may even have some demos or old rental yaks or know someone with a used boat to suit you:

I lived in Grand Rapids, worked in Muskegon for 8 years and first started open water kayaking out there. Lots of resources and good water. Good luck!

Wow, willowleaf
that’s a really useful and helpful reply for the OP! The only possible way to improve it would be for you to buy one of the boats as a present for the poster. :slight_smile:

I’d sell him one of mine…
if he lived nearby. Got a couple of decent “beaters” I am thinking of culling from the fleet.

Rather than get into a deep discussion of what would be the “best” boat for someone with only a few hundred bucks to spend, I usually find it more useful to look at what is available in their area on the used market and give them the pros and cons of boats within their reach, geographically and financially, as well as tips on what to offer for them. Takes less time than “kayak selection 101” (and there are usually more qualified people on here who will weigh in on those finer points and give the newcomer those options.) Having lived for some time (and still having connections to) the OP’s area helped with that.

I’ve steered a number of out-of-town friends and relatives through the “Craigslist winnowing” process with pretty good results so far. This time of year here in winter country (and especially with the current economy) the used kayak field seems to be shifting from a sellers’ to a buyer’s market recently.

…I am bored to death at work today and had plenty of time to research the market up that way.

Good start…
Absolutely great advice to start off! I figured I would be turned off by the sit on’s due to the conditions and you have helped me confirm that.


I just got one of these at Dicks sportin
at Dicks sporting goods. It was at the store not online and was $50 off all kayaks so $499 plus tax

13 foot tracks pretty good too. First Kayak so nothing to compare it too but i Might rent a higher end Kayack this weekend to compare it against what i bought. Just kinda curious what all thet extra money gets you. The rental choice i have are a Necky 14 foot Manitou or a Tsunami 140 w/ Rudder.I have kayaked once before with a handbuilt wood kayak 15 foot a freind built and this track as well as that did.

You ain’t kidding!
You got that right adbass! That’s some awesome info from willow!

I know y’all aren’t the biggest fans of the inflatable ones, but the higher weight capacity of them is a plus for me. My old man isn’t as interested in kayaking as much as me, but he’s curious (at 6’4" and 350 lbs). The “light touring” model you popped up with seems like a good idea for me too (probably not for him, but oh well).

And as for the shop that you are recommending in Grand Haven ,willow, I’m probably going to stop in there to see what they have to say. I’ll even try to make a reference to ya!

Again, that’s some great insight. Thanks!

Since I now have vast experience
measured in weeks! I second the suggestion of buying a used kayak. I bought a used one less than a month ago and, while I may have shiny kayak envy, I’m paddling every other day on a local reservoir while also beating up the boat a bit. My goals are much the same, to get some exercise and gain some paddling experience. I don’t feel so bad beating up a 12 year old boat!!

I did okay with mine at $450 but the PFD and paddle were very subpar so I bought new ones. If you can find the right deal you may be able to save on those expenses.

I found a great Craigslist “compiler” at

Saves having to go back and forth on the different Craigslist locations.

they won’t remember me
I doubt anybody at Earth’s edge would remember me – I moved back to PA in 2003 and haven’t been to their shop since the last time I visited my cousins in Muskegon in 2007. Actually I bought my first touring kayak and most of my gear at the Outpost in Holland back in 2002, which used to be a great kayak source but in recent years they seem to have dropped kayaks and switched over to SUP’s exclusively (stand-up paddle boards.) Besides, much as I liked that store, Holland always creeped me out. Weird place. Impossible to find your way into town and then impossible to find your way out. And all those identical blond children staring at you – felt like “Village of the Damned”.

I’m just a little smaller than you and can tell you for sure you don’t want the potomac 100 ES. I have one of those I bought for my wife’s first boat and it rides LOW in the water when I am in it. I’ve never been in the pelican 100 but I think you’ll find pretty similiar results.

Since you are not worried about speed and open water, Dick’s sells a Perception Swifty, I’ve got two of those and they would make a good workout boat on protected water. Even now that I have a bigger fleet I like the swifty’s as something to put friends and beginners in when I go canoeing.

My experience with craigslist is if it’s a good deal it goes fast.

best deal
By the way, i looked again at the package the guy is selling of the 16’ Old Town – that’s a real steal. You could sell the Thule rack and J-saddles on Craigslist or Ebay for $150 (they are worth over $225 new) and the Lotus PFD for $50 (it is a $100 vest). And he’s throwing in a decent paddle and a sprayskirt – that’s another over $100 saved right there. So if he would take $700 for the lot you’d be down around $500 for everything if you sold off what you didn’t need.

hey now!
You’re in PA - so YOU’RE at the end of the earth, not MI!

Seriously though I share your view of Holland and W. MI. And kudos, a very good approach and legwork for the OP in your post.

another option
There are a few cheap buys in the classifieds on this website from the same seller (dutch name so it may be over by you). You may be able to work a deal locally.

D’oh, my bad
Didn’t think to look at the classifieds (deserve a dousing for that gaffe.) Yeah, that Alto is a nice price and would work in just about any water in the region – I almost bought one just like it 5 years ago (had to choose between it and a Dagger Magellan – in retrospect, should have bought the Alto).

I worked with an M. (Mike) Vanderlaan in Grand Rapids – maybe I know him. Not that it’s an uncommon name thereabouts – the GR phone book has more Van-whatzits than Smiths.

PA = “end of the earth”???
Hardly! We’re at the crossroads of the rivers! Within 2 hours of home I can paddle the drainages of the Mississippi, the Chesapeake Bay or the Great Lakes-St Lawrence Seaway! Have heard a rumor we have more miles of streams and rivers in this state than any other besides Alaska.

Now Philadelphia may qualify as the “end of the earth” but it really isn’t part of the state…

.rather than recommend a specific boat…I would offer the following advice. Be careful of foot room in the cheaper rec kayaks, some of the low deck( low volume) kayaks aren’t very comfortable if your feet are cramped. you want your feet in a natural position, upright as possible, depending on shoe style, U can run out of foot head room fast. 2nd thing , for your price constraints…scout Craigslist on a daily basis for good used boats, but be prepared to drive a long ways to save some money. Nobody keeps the 1st boat they buy. keyhole cockpits are,IMO, the easiest of the cockpit styles to get in and out of, of the true sea kayaks,excluding rec style open “tubs”. good luck

try this first
Not far from you is a school where you can get some stellar safety training and test boats out at the same time as they use a variety of sizes and shapes. Last time I checked in they had a wide range from 11 to 17 feet available and even some sit on tops. For 95 bucks you’ll be a better, more skilled paddler AND zero in on the type of kayak that would suit you before you spend another 400 to 1200 bucks. But hats off to Willowleaf for all that great advice and research and we need more of that on pnet and less sniping.

buy light and narrow- no rudder
I hate a heavy boat but as a starter I did shove a 10 ft animas ww boat into the back of the trunk of the taurus. Does your back seat fold down? used kevalr with no rudder is good. Most rudders allow no way for you to push off with feet. Most boats are ridiculously wide and go nowhare but circles. Too far to reach out. My choice would be r5 or a 21 in wide plastic used boat