Thoughts on kayak purchase (small woman)


I am a beginner (5’3" and 145lbs, 35yrs, 39" hips, short torso/longer legs) and have not kayaked in anything other than the various types of SOTs you find at your typical rental facilities.

I would like to get into kayaking (have always been interested in learning) and have been looking around a bit to see what’s out there and have been reading many past posts here in the forums. Despite being in South FL, there are not many kayak outfitters close by and I have to travel at least an hour to find a decent place. And, even then, I would say the stores are not stocked that well because there are just not many people into kayaking in South Florida.

I am interested in SIK model only. I found a good deal on a new, old model (2012) CD Squall GTS. I also found a used CD Willow that I would have to travel a bit to take a look at. Since I am just a beginner, I would be interested in hearing thoughts as to how I should how I should approach buying my first kayak. From what I have read here, the Squall would be a good beginner kayak, but then I worry because I hear some find it to be “barge-like” and I don’t imagine that I would want a kayak that felt that way, lol. I would like something that I could progress/advance in (rolls, etc.). I’d like to keep my budget around $1,000 (I would spend a bit more if I found a great kayak at good price).

I would be kayaking some on the open ocean (probably not too far from shore, but something that would be fine in rougher waters), intracoastal waterways (with large boat wake), the Everglades, and inland rivers (Central FL, Crystal River), and rougher lagoons (e.q. Indian River Lagoon). I would also like something that can hold enough camping gear for at least 3-4 nights, though I would be mostly daytripping. I would be kayaking solo, with my (fit) BF, and with a local kayaking Meetup group. I am fairly fit and think I have a pretty good sense of balance from many years of horseback riding and cycling.

I am leaning towards just going with the Squall GTS (I will test it next weekend), developing my skills, and then maybe invest in a composite kayak once I have some experience under my belt. And yes, I do plan on taking lessons after I get my kayak! :slight_smile:

Am I on the right track here? Thanks for reading and any shared thoughts/advice!

Not the Squall

– Last Updated: Sep-10-14 11:56 AM EST –

Or anything in the Solstice line from CD if you want to make stuff like rolling easy. I am very close to your size and the Squall was my first sea kayak. Good points - she got me out there and home again with never a spill, even when I was somewhere stupid in terms of my skills. But the boat like all of its series has a high deck and has a secondary point that is a frigging bear to get it to roll past that. My rolling went from 30% to 90% success just by switching to a new boat from NDK. The Squall is also quite stiff and tracky, and as your skills come on you might wants something more fluid.

To stay at your price point you want to find either a really good deal on a fiberglass boat or stay plastic. I would stongly suggest that you give the Wilderness Systems line a shot - the Tempest 165 of which there are tons so finding one used should not be hard. Or Tsunami 135 Pro, but finding a used Tempest will probably be easier.

In the CD line your best bets are the Willow or the Suka but neither are available in the more inexpensive plastic.

In the Dagger line you want to look at the smaller Alchemy, also available in plastic and relatively plentiful. Slower than the Tempest, and designed to be very playful. An advanced paddler can go out and make the thing spin in any direction while beginning paddlers feel it has safe stability.

There are boats for you these days. 15 years ago it would have been a different story.

some more options
Adding to what was said:

Necky Chatham 16 is very similar to the Tempest 165 mentioned above. Too bad you don;t live near CA, as I have one for sale right now.

Usually a little more pricey, but the Valley Avocet LV is often liked by more petite people. And actually many boats with LV (low volume) in the name might be worth a look.

Valley Gemini also works.

another model

– Last Updated: Sep-10-14 12:25 PM EST –

I'm close to your size (female, 5' 5:", 150 lbs, long legs, same hips) and can recommend another mid-priced versatile model for our size, the Venture Easky 15LV. Sweetwater Kayaks in Clearwater are Venture dealers. The model was phased out last year and replaced with their Islay 14, which would be another to look at (it is based on the P & H Delphin, a higher end kayak that would also be an option), though they might still have some Easkys in stock.

I've had the Easky 15LV for 4 years now and it has been a wonderful boat, perhaps the most versatile of the dozen or so I have owned. Lighter than most rotomold boats this size at 44 lbs and nicely outfitted. Great boat in rough water, fun to surf but also tracks very well and has decent storage capacity.

to add…
To What as already been said, check Craigslist for used boats. A used Wilderness Systems Piccolo would be a nice transition kayak.

Possible used options:
Perception Shadow 16.5 or 14.5 (Kevlar about 45 lbs)

CD Willow or Eliza composites

Another one to consider
My wife is about your size. We kayaked for years (northeast), then had kids and slowed down. Then she had cancer and slowed down more. We have been paddling again lately and researched a lot to find a new boat for her – she wanted something lighter, and with a rudder. (She had an older WS Alto that has held up well, but weathercocks excessively.) We ended up getting her a Necky Eliza. Weighs only 49 pounds, is a little over 15 feet long and 22 inches wide. A nice size, easily managed – designed for women, and a portion of sales go to breast cancer work. List seems to be $1500 but we paid $1,100 for it (at Maine Sport in Rockport, ME). The boat paddles nicely.

Epic 16X or Touring Cruiser 16 are
also possible used options that I see pop up in FL now and then near your price range.

WS Boats

– Last Updated: Sep-10-14 2:39 PM EST –

I really like the Tempest boats. Also the Zephyr 15.5 (another Wilderness Systems boat).

Squall would be useable but not great
A roto Squall was my first sea kayak, and I used it for a few years, including a month-long trip from Ketchikan to Skagway.

What would make it acceptable for your uses:

  • Forgiving enough to learn in.
  • Enough room for your 4-day camping trip. (I put 2 weeks of gear in mine but stuff was crammed in the boat as well as on top of the deck, not recommended.)
  • You’re within its paddler size/weight range.

    And here’s what makes it not a great choice:
  • Strange behavior in rough water; not particularly tippy but although it tracks strongly in flat water it gets all pivot-y and hobby-horsey in rough water, more so than other sea kayaks I’ve used.
  • The deck height is tall. The cockpit felt both too deep and too wide for me. I had a LOT of padding added to the thigh braces. The rear deck is also too tall. I never did a cowboy remount on it although I did get proficient at paddle-float rescue despite the awful rear deck. How awful? In my first year of paddling, I had the chance to do the same technique on a Necky Elaho and it was sooooooooooo much easier on that low, flat rear deck it was laughable.
  • Sliding rudder-pedal mechanism.

    In sum, I’d encourage you to try other kayaks as more likely fits than the Squall GTS. A few to demo or rent: Wilderness Systems Tempest 165, P&H Capella 161, NDK Romany (LV if it fits, regular if not). There are others that would fit your stated needs and not have the undesirable aspects I listed above.

    Don’t rush to buy if you can demo and rent a bunch of boats first.

She’s probably too big for the Piccolo
WS gave its max suggested paddler weight as 130 or 140, I think. In reality, it seemed perfect for me when I rented it, and I was between 110 and 115 lbs. It is, after all, a kid’s boat.

Just for fun

– Last Updated: Sep-11-14 10:48 AM EST –

Go to and look at what you could have for a bit more than you plan to spend, but it would be for a lifetime boat that can do it all. For you, the 15'-8" should fit just right.

Click on the "In-Stock" boats at the top of the home page and then scroll down to the 15 foot models. They are having a super sale right now--$1000 off.

Naples Kayak Co.
in Florida. Talk to Jay Rose,Director of Ops there. He can fit you in various small paddler kayaks and help you water test them. I believe he carries CD, I know he has the Suka and may have the Willow as well.He also carries P&H and other brands.

They have some sales running now, too, on used and demo seakayaks.

usual disclaimer: NOT affiliated w. them or any Florida kayak dealer.

I think they have a Suka on sale

Thanks for all the replies!

– Last Updated: Sep-12-14 12:32 PM EST –

I have looked at all the models everyone suggested--certainly a lot to think about! I wish there were better kayak stores in my area--it looks like Naples and Tampa are the best locations with the most models available to demo.

Funny Katabatic mentioned Naples Outfitters--I actually scheduled a Saturday lesson earlier this week and will also be demoing the Suka and Raven. I'll also see what else they have that may be a good fit.

I'll be sure to report back afterwards!

Again, thanks for all who took the time to read my post, comment, and help steer me in the right direction! :)

A couple more possibilities
A 14-foot Impex Mystic (used, as Impex has gone out of business). Nice boat. In fiberglass not too heavy, in kevlar even lighter. Nice lines. This was my first good kayak.

A 15.75-foot Pilgrim by Nigel Dennis. Made explicitly for small women, and it really is. It’s a wonderful boat: tracks with a skieg, turns easily, rolls like an absolute dream, feels stable despite its narrow width, and I camped 7 nights in the Everglades out of my Pilgrim. The downside? Weighs in the mid-50s. I just got so tired of loading it. Built like a tank. But petite and beautiful.

Finally, for a beginner boat, the 14-foot plastic Dagger Alchemy is good. They come in two sizes, and small is probably the one you want. Not expensive. Well-outfitted. Rolls very easily. Needs a bit of skeg to track; turns easily. Some people surf them. Lots of them around, so you might find one near you. Use that kayak to learn with, then move up and keep it for a guest boat – or a beater boat if you ever paddle a rocky river somewhere north of Florida. (I use mine for rocks and rough places.)

Good luck!

G in NC

for a budget around $1000
for a small paddler, here are some kayaks to look for and try out ( on sale, floor models, demos or lightly used):

Dagger Alchemy the S model

Necky Eliza in rotomould (plastic)

P&H Scorpio LV (plastic)

Wilderness Systems Arctic Sparrow (great older model)

Venture Easky - whatever low volume model they offer.

Plastic. Easky is in partnership w. P&H

There are others, these just come to mind.

The Suka, Willow, and Pilgrim are all very fine kayaks but even used will almost certainly be well above the $1000 threshold.

how’s the search going? Have you demo’d any kayaks?

If so, any impressions?

It would help in making suggestions.

another Perception Shadow recommendation
I have a plastic Perception Shadow 16.5, which I found on Craigslist for $500. I am 155lb/5’7 and it fits me like a glove. It’s my first kayak (lifelong canoeist) and I think it’s working out pretty well. something like this price would leave you money for a good light paddle (IMPORTANT) and some other gear.

good stuff. I’ll add one:
WS Tsunami SP.