Thoughts on Kayak purchase

Wow - just found some really interesting ‘advice’ online…


Though Wilderness Systems Tsunami 125 Kayak is part of the hugely successful line of Tsunami Day Touring Kayaks. After extensive Frontenac Outfitters Test Paddling we made the difficult decision to NOT stock or recommend purchasing the Wilderness Systems Tsunami 125!

Although only slightly wider than its siblings (Tsunami 120 or Tsunami 140) the 125 is much more sluggish & less responsive Kayak to paddle. Designing a fantastic kayak is kind of like baking the perfect pie and the recipe is not always going to be perfect. Sometimes despite your best efforts you miss.

“Thankfully the Wilderness Systems Tsunami 120, 135, 140 or 145 are exceptional day touring kayak choices… but we regretfully suggest you take a pass on the 125. We trust the folks at Wilderness Systems appreciate our honest evaluation? We know our customers do!”

I’m not typically one to ‘hang my hat’ on one person’s advice, but this is about the 10th time I’ve been warned away from the 12-foot kayaks. I know they still recommend the 120, but the 125 was definitely wider and deeper and had a bigger cockpit (than even the 145).

I also found a good video online that explained more thoroughly the difference in tracking and speed for the longer vs. shorter kayaks. I get it… The part I struggled with was the more ‘logical’ side of me that thought shorter would be better for lakes and streams.

Looks like, for now, I’m primarily looking at the 140 or 145 for myself, and the 135 for my wife. I know a lot of folks here recommend trying before buying, but that’s a luxury I may not be able to accommodate.

I’ve been to Frontenac (an expert kayaker buddy of mine is in Ontario and buys his boats from them) and they are an excellent and knowledgable outfitter. I would put a lot of value on their assessments of boats.

The problem with shorter boats is that they have to be comparably wider to provide enough volume for displacement, which becomes even more problematic with a heavier paddler. I’m only 5’ 5" and 150 lbs. I currently own 5 kayaks which are 12’, 13’ 6", 15’, 15’ 7" and 18’. I only use the 12’ one for small lakes and narrow slow streams and to take on airline flights because it is a 22 pound folding kayak that packs down in a duffle bag. I never take it out where I want to paddle any distance or with people with longer boats. Virtually all 12’ boats are slower than longer boats, even those only 18" or 24" longer. In my other kayaks (the 13’ 6" and 15’ 7" are both also folding kayaks, and the 15’ and 18’ are hardshells) I can easily cover distance and keep up with anyone else I am paddling with.

Putting your wife in a shorter boat than you are in will disadvantage her in keeping up with you when you paddle together. A lower volume longer boat will give her more speed with less effort. Unless she is very petite, the Tsu 140 would be a good choice for her. The Tsu 120 is a kayak for older children and very short and lightweight adults.

“Recreational” kayaks (mostly 9’ , 10’ and 12’) are for what we call “lily-dipping”. They are for short day trips close to shore on calm waters or for leisurely floats on smaller rivers. They can be quite fun and they are all some people need. But some people get bored with them pretty quickly. If you want to feel the pleasure of covering some distance or going out on larger, windy lakes or coastal conditions or even just longer rivers, a longer boat is much more enjoyable. There are facts of basic fluid physics that mean that a shorter boat has a speed constraint beyond which even a strong paddler cannot accelerate.

To place it in an approximate automotive context: rec boats are golf carts, 14’ “light touring” boats are commuter sedans, 15’ and 16’ touring boats are highway cruisers and narrow low profile 17’ and 18’ sea kayaks and surf skis are sports cars. Obviously, there are many exceptions to that (some expedition touring kayaks are more like Mack trucks.) But I think you get the idea. If you can make it to an on-the-water demo you will quickly get the feel for what we mean about the differences between shorter and longer boats.

@willowleaf Wow… thank you! You’ve been a huge help! I appreciate your patience! All of what you said above makes a lot of sense and is very informative. I appreciate your thoughts on the Tsu 135 vs. 140, as well. And for the record - commuter sedan sounds perfect. I’m all for a Toyota Camry on the water. LOL! Thanks for putting it in ‘laymans’ terms.

I looked into the Tsunami you linked to me from Craigslist and it sounds like a great deal and starting point! The problem I’m facing right now is that it’s 2 hours away (one way) and my wife is taking the van for the weekend, so… no roof rack! I’m trying to figure out something for my truck, but it only has a 5ft bed, so needs to be a roof/tail extender kinda thing. IF I can sort that out, I’ll likely try to get it. Details… timing… ugh. :s

Unfortunately, it’s a lot more complicated than that, and I also believe that the OP’s plans to put himself in a 14- or 14.5-foot boat and his wife in a 13.5-foot boat will not create a situation where his wife is noticeably slower. But if she has the size and paddling strength, the T. 140 might well be better than the T 135. Anyway, I think it’s important to realize that those “facts of basic fluid physics” only come into play at speeds that are faster than average paddlers travel anyway, except in cases where rather long and slender boats are being pushed fairly hard (as people who own such boats are more likely to do) and someone in a substantially shorter boat is trying to keep up. At the speeds most people paddle, this is much less of an issue, and in actual fact, at anything that can be called a relaxed pace, boats that we’d call “short” actually require less effort, especially if they are decent boats to start with and not just crappy barges.

I’ve used this example before, but I have two rather similar rowboats, one that’s 12 feet long and another that’s 15 feet long. The 15-footer is faster, topping out at 6.0 mph in a sprint (the same speed that is indicated by wave theory), and speeds from 5.0 to 5.5 mph are “practical” to sustain, thought I wouldn’t call 5.5 mph all that easy. How “slow” is the 12-footer in comparison? It tops out at 5.3 mph according to wave theory, but I seem to remember sprinting for three miles at 5.5 according to the GPS (I could be wrong. Maybe it was 5.3). Cruising along at about 4.5 mph is pretty easy. And here’s the thing: At speeds of 3 to 4 mph, the 12-footer requires noticeably less effort than the 15-footer, and there’s no question about it. Also related to ease of effort in that speed range, the 12-footer can accelerate from a dead stop to 5.0 mph in a single stroke of the oars (confirmed many times by GPS), and even though the 15-footer is ultimately faster and weighs just 20 pounds more, I can’t begin to make it accelerate that suddenly (I haven’t checked, but I think hitting 4 mph in a single stroke would be about the best it could do without risking a broken oar). At a speed of 4 mph, I’d say both boats are about equal in terms of effort required, though if that’s not exactly right, I’d still assign the efficiency advantage to the 12-footer. The 15-footer really shines when substantially greater speed is needed, but the effort required is in a completely different realm than what’s used for slower speeds like 3 to 4 mph. Yes, these aren’t kayaks, but the fact that they are so similar in overall shape, and the fact that they max-out at almost exactly the speed that wave theory says that they should, gives pretty good reason, I think, to give credence to the observation that at speeds of 3 to 4 mph, the faster boat is NOT easier to propel. This is something numerous other people have pointed out in discussions here over the years. I would add one other qualifying factor, though, which is that for very skinny boats, how “abrupt” it feels to hit the maximum speed will be less pronounced, and for such boats, the range of practical cruising speeds will range closer to the maximum than for fatter boats, and the maximum will more easily be exceeded (it’s not a “true” maximum anyway, but in practical terms, for average boats, it’s pretty close).

Oh, and what of the boats proposed by the OP? Well, in the case of my two rowboats, total length is equal to waterline length but that won’t be the case for the kayaks in question. So, not knowing the actual waterline length, I’ll use a figure that’s one-half foot shorter than the total length, as that will be close enough for this purpose. Using those lengths, the theoretical maximum speeds of the 13.5-footer, the 14.0-footer and the 14.5-footer will be 5.6 mph, 5.7 mph, and 5.8 mph, respectively. Those figures are so close that I would expect that for each boat, the range of practical speeds that are well below the maximum would be mostly overlapping each other, and I’ve never seen anything on group paddles that would lead me to doubt that this would be true. All I’ve seen are slow paddlers, not slow boats (obvious exceptions exist of course, but I’m thinking in terms of relatively similar designs), unless the boats are shorter by a bigger amount than we are talking about in this case.

I’ll finish up by pointing out that a friend of mine paddles a 13.5 foot kayak, and can keep up on any group paddle we’ve been on. I have another friend, who’s a very small and somewhat elderly woman, has a 16-or 17-foot kayak in which she’s slower than molasses, and a 10-foot “beach toy” in which she’s definitely faster. When she got into the sport, she followed very bad advice from “experts” to get a long boat so she could keep up with other paddlers, but she lacks the strength to overcome all that extra skin friction of the longer boat, so she can’t take advantage of the faster speed that the boat is ultimately capable of.

@Supermike72 said:
… it’s 2 hours away (one way) and my wife is taking the van for the weekend, so… no roof rack! …

I’ve been surprised in the past when people have offered to meet me half way, thus saving me a total of two hours round trip. You never know where their lives will be taking them, so it never hurts to ask.

Not that it helps with the roof rack problem. You need a topper/cap on your truck. That makes it much easier without a rack. Or you just convince your wife to take the truck instead.

@Guideboatguy - Physics! You’ve blown my mind. LOL! Actually, I totally get what you are saying - and interestingly you have generally stated the premise I’ve been operating on since the beginning. That for a casual paddle on creeks, rivers, lakes, and maybe coastal marsh waters, a 12-foot boat is probably not going to be considerably slower than a 14-foot boat, when going at a leisurely (‘bird-watchingesque’) pace.

Would we find them to be a bit of a slog when grouped with other paddlers in longer boats? Likely. And would we find them to be a bit ‘undersized’ in mild surf (1-2ft swells) or windy days? Likely. That said, I also get what @willowleaf is saying, too. I happen to be a fairly strong guy, so I’m not too concerned about my ability to power a 14-foot boat, and the 14.5 footer would likely be better on the river. As for my wife - the 13.5 or 14 should work (I’m too afraid to ask or guess at her weight). I do not know how much difference the extra 6 inches would make, but I’m sure she’d appreciate the extra cockpit room of the 140. She’s about 5’7, and carries her weight low. :wink: :*

@Sparky961 Thank you for the suggestion! I may ask if he could at least come this way a little bit. My wife is driving to Chicago with 3 kids, so no way is she going to take the truck. LOL! I’m in a much bigger hurry to get this hobby rolling than she is (“we have plenty of other stuff going on right now”). Was thinking of employing a strategy kind of like what you see on this site (see the additional pictures):

PS - again, thank you ALL for the discourse on this! I’m really learning a lot and have been able to much better refine what I (think I) need/want, and where to put my $$.

I can’t really comment on specific methods of hauling. I currently have a Thule rack with folding J-cradles. Before that I’ve always had trucks with caps, and have been able to put them up top on foam blocks and secure with belly straps and bow/stern ropes. The latter really sucks when you end up doing it often, hence the racks now.

It goes without saying that you want to make sure your new purchase is securely attached, regardless of what you end up doing. This is not the place to rush things.

LOL! STRONGLY agreed! If I could find a 14-16ft trailer to borrow, that would be best… BUT… if anyone is coming from North of Cincy to Louisville, please let me know. :smiley:

@Supermike72 said:
I happen to be a fairly strong guy, so I’m not too concerned about my ability to power a 14-foot boat

From personal experience many moons ago:

I started out early on in a borrowed 10’ Pelican (big box store recreational boat). It was very easy for me to run up against a wall in terms of speed out vs. power in.

When you start to see a wall of water, or like a standing wave on each side of the bow, LET UP! BACK OFF! You’re completely wasting your energy. You won’t make it go any faster than that unless you can get it to plane, which you can’t. When you find that point, reduce your efforts by some amount and sit back and watch the scenery go by.

Every boat will have this point. Others can explain the physics behind it if they care to, but what matters to me is that shorter and wider boats will hit this point at a lower speed. Longer and narrower boats hit it as a higher speed. Generally not a problem if you’re not trying to get anywhere on schedule, but if you’re trying to make some distance it can be an issue.

Good info… much appreciated! My biggest plan in this boat includes “sit back and watch the scenery go by”… it’s very relaxing. When I was in Maine, I got up at 6am every morning and paddled around the lake with the loons and the fog… it was so awesome. In Hilton Head, we had a pod of dolphins swimming along with us. And in the Bahamas, we paddled through a mangrove forest with little crabs that were climbing on the branches. Go too fast, and you may miss all of that. :slight_smile:

Speed and handling comments - I just looked through some o the more recent stuff from SuperMike. What I am seeing is people warning you against making the same mistake I and my husband did and likely lots of others. We got transitional boats that we figured would do 95% of what we wanted to do, without understanding kayaks all that well. That was fine until we got them into that 5% situation, out on Muscongus Bay in Maine. We had possessed these boats for all of 12 weeks. We spent three hours stuck on an island while lines of unpredicted squalls came through . Happily we had stayed upright long enough to be pushed there by the waves. We are talking survival paddling since we had no idea what we were doing. We came back home and immediately started looking for proper sea kayaks, and luckily found someone who would take our other boats in trade against one of the sea kayaks.

I see a mention above of being in up to 2 ft seas. Granted that does not seem big, but if the waves are wind-driven and close together that can become very interesting if you also are new and don’t have rescue practice down. Which is a situation new paddlers often find.

In those conditions you want a boat with a stability profile to handle dimensional water, not a flat creek. Aside from things like having two bulkheads and perimeter line, the reality is you are not going to find a boat really designed to handle that unless you go longer than 12 feet. You can find many 12 ft boats that people here with experience have gotten thru those and probably worse conditions. But getting away it does not mean it is a good idea, especially if you are also making a decision for your wife. Both of you need to be in boats properly suited to your most difficult likely conditions, so that you don’t hit a surprise out there and find out next that you are now a solo paddler. I have seen it happen more than once.

Thank you, Celia… I appreciate the thoughts. You’re right that we should be prepared for that 5% time, particularly if we get them out on the Ohio or Lake Michigan. Glad you and your husband made it okay! I guess you can plan for calm sunny days, but you can’t plan for squall lines or unexpected wind if you’re 2-3 hours into a half-day trip.

My wife definitely wants to do this, and understands it’s better to start with what you really need and not buy cheap only to upgrade later… but she also does not want to stop and take time to help research it. “Too much going on…” (which is why we need kayaks). So to her, a 14-foot boat looks massive. lol!

Mike, the reason it seems like some of us are beating a dead horse is that we’ve been through exactly the situation you find yourself in and you might say that we learned maybe the hard and more expensive way. Celia makes the point that eventually and probably sooner than you think, you will encounter conditions that might rapidly become very threatening in boats that aren’t up to dealing with what you find yourself confronted with. A very large part of being prepared is your ability and that mostly comes with lots of experience, but even practiced experience will still have you in a bad fix in boats that just aren’t right for conditions.

A long time ago, I had my first rigid kayak and thought it was my ultimate do-it-all boat. It was a very well built 13’-8" boat that has a nice cruising speed. I had taken a paddle up river with the plan that it would be easy to come back downriver on the return trip. It all seemed like simple logic. Things aren’t always that simple. On the way back downstream, the tide had changed and was coming in with a vengeance and had a strong wind helping push it along. As I paddled along, I soon realized I was not gaining ground and no matter how hard I paddled, I was just maintaining my position. A quick calculation in my head told me that the tide would be running in for many more hours and I would be out there in the dark and probably worn to a frazzle. I was able to find a way to finally make headway, but it was still a very hard slog to get back to my launch site.

That experience was not the only one that brought me to where I am now, but it might have been the beginning. I now own four kayaks–two of them are extremely capable all-conditions sea kayaks. Believe me, there is nothing like having a boat that you absolutely are sure will get you where you want to go, no matter how hairy it gets. Even better is that the boat does it so easily that big waves, strong wind and whatever else is going on just adds to the fun.

You might not think that speed is all that important, but I assure you that it will become important as will the overall competence of the boat and the operator. The operator will improve with lots of practice, but a boat that lacks certain characteristics will not.

This is my longwinded way of saying don’t be surprised if you get the bug real bad and sooner than you might imagine, you’ll be boat shopping again and maybe again. You might stave that off a bit longer by being very careful on the first purchase. Good luck and happy paddling.

So, I just bought two 10ft sun dolphin kayaks from Rural King…

Just kidding! Thought I’d give you all a jolt. lol! I am very thankful for all the advice and input received thus far. It has been extraordinarily helpful as I slough through all the options. I believe I have a MUCH better idea now of what I want/need, have increased my budget, and will shop carefully and accordingly. I may not get to try before I buy unless I happen upon just the right opportunity, but I feel much more confident now in my direction. Thank you all for helping me along!

I’m still open to additional advice/input, but hopefully soon I’ll see some of you on the water somewhere!


SM,you have to be an engineer!
An old boss had a sign in his office: " There comes a time when you need to shoot the engineer and get on with the project."
Take your best shot and get to it.

@string Pretty close - IT architect. We have to analyze and re-analyze what we’re about to do 10x before flipping a switch, lest we bring down the whole company. And even then, when unforseen things happen, you get thrown over the coals for not knowing why some unknown bug came back to bite you. LOL!

@Supermike72 said:
So, I just bought two 10ft sun dolphin kayaks from Rural King…

LOL - got me! I was browsing on my phone and had to put it down right after I read this line. Cursing aloud “WTF! I thought that guy had some sense!”. It was only after firing up my computer to see the rest of the chatter that I find you have a good sense of humour too.

What @Celia and @magooch said recently, you can’t buy great advice like that. Fortunately when I was shopping for boats I must have come across similar advice because I went right to a full sized fiberglass boat. Though I was strongly considering a 14’ Necky at the time. I’ve never looked back, though I have seen various plastic boats come and go from my shed in the meantime while searching for something I can bash against the rocks but still enjoy paddling.

LOL! Sorry @Sparky961 - all in good fun! :slight_smile:

Speaking of Necky, I’ve also looked closely at the Manitou 14 and the Looksha 14, but still find myself going back to the Tsunamis. The Manitou looks like it’s about to bend in half, and the Looksha has ‘okay’ reviews, but I found a lot of folks telling more about what they don’t like than what they do. The Tsunamis, on the other hand, seem to be all “love it” stuff.

Either way - you folks have spoken, and I have heard your pleas. I’ve moved beyond 10-12-footers (though my wife will probably freak when she sees the size of the 14 foot boats, but she’ll get over it). ha! Also, I will likely pay a visit to an REI or find a paddling shop somewhere when choosing a paddle and pfd, so we can make sure they fit right.

Now you’ve opened a new can of worms!
A good paddle , IMHO, is more important than the boat unless the boat is junk.
I went from a 240cm aluminum and plastic beast very quickly to a fiberglass and nylon ,to an all carbon fiber paddle , 215 cm.
Aquabound makes a good carbon shaft, nylon blade paddle that won’t destroy the budget that is a good starter paddle. Campmor has them at a good price. Oh, and I use a home made Greenland style at 220 cm.
Length is worthy of another thesis and there are many in the archives. Length is dependent be on your body . Shoulder width, height, and arm length all play into it. Then there is blade width.
Epic and Werner,I think, have on line programs to help.
The best thing to do is borrow paddles of different lengths and try them with your boat.
The coolest , most comfortable PFD I have owned is an Astral V-8.