Tiny Female Beginner - Buying Advice?

I’m 5"2, 102lbs. I live in New Hampshire, & I’m looking to buy my first kayak. I’m trying to check out boats made for smaller people, but I’m having a hard time finding them. I did get to sit in a Necky Eliza in the L.L.Bean store, and I’ve been on the water in my husband’s Tsunami 140, but so far that’s about the limit of my kayak experience. I did get to demo a Tsunami 120, but I wasn’t too psyched on it. I had a few models in mind that I wanted to check out, but nowhere near me carries any of them. I couldn’t find any demo days remotely near me until June. If I wait till then, the season will be half over by the time I actually get my boat! REI is having a 15% off sale, and I’m seriously considering just ordering the boat that looks best and, worst case scenario, I could return it to the Boston store if it really isn’t going to work out. I know, that’s a bit stupid, but I want to get out on the water NOW!! :slight_smile:

At any rate, it seemed like it was time to get some good advice from people who know what they’re talking about. Would anybody mind recommending a boat or 2 for me?

Here’s some more info:

My price ceiling is somewhere around $1400 (preferably even closer to $1000. I’m getting it as a gift, so I’m trying to be somewhat frugal…) I’m definitely a beginner. I’ve canoed all my life, but I’ve only been out in a kayak a few times. I don’t know how to roll or anything remotely skilled. I’ll mostly be on lakes & wide, slow rivers to start with, but I’d like something with the versatility to take on more challenging waters as my skills progress (mostly faster rivers & maybe even calm seawater.) My husband and I are experienced backpackers & will probably wanna do a few multi-day kayak trips once I get the hang of it, so I need some storage, but we’ve got plenty of light, small gear, so I don’t need a ton of room. Oh yeah, & my husband’s about a foot taller than me, much, much stronger, and he’s got a Duralite Tsunami, so I need a fast boat if I’m gonna keep up with him.

I tried paddling my husband’s Tsunami 140, but my hands kept hitting the sides of the boat midstroke whenever I wasn’t paying attention. That could just be lack of technique, but in general the boat just seemed huge on me. (I have a really tiny frame. I mean, so tiny I can still wear kid’s clothes. I’ve only got a 28" waist.) So, I’ve been thinking a narrow boat would be better for my size. The ones I’ve been considering so far are the Eliza, Wilderness Systems’ Tsunami 135 & also the SP, plus the Old Town Cayuga 130. A local shop owner also recommended the Eddy Skylark to me, but it sounded like it might be a bit too pricey. I’m leaning towards the Eliza because I’ve at least been in it, & I think it was OK. Also, it just looked to me like it was decidedly the best boat of the bunch…but I don’t really know enough to make that call.

Anyway, thanks for reading & for any help you can give. Sorry this post is so long; I’m trying to throw out all the information you might need, but maybe I went a bit overboard! :slight_smile:

Take a look at the Perception Sole…
if they still make it.

It could just about make it into your budget, and is made for the smaller paddler.

It is a good fast boat.

However if you are a complete newbie, and looking for a wide rec boat don’t bother looking at one.

Whatever you do, don’t buy a boat without sitting in it and trying it out.

What a person here might recommend for you might be a terrible selection for you.



Drive Down To Rowley, MA, RT 1

– Last Updated: May-05-08 6:32 AM EST –

to New England Small Craft. They have a pretty updated and extensive collection of sea kayaks north of RI, including the smaller ones like the Eliza, Impex Mystic, etc. More important, the staff are good ocean paddlers (and racers). They'll give you good advice, can point you to lessons, or arrange to give some lessons and possibly on the water demos.


You can also head up north to the Portland, ME area to Maine Island kayaking for boats, demos and lessons:



A couple of others
If you can find one used, a Wilderness Systems Tchaika or an Impex Mystic would be worth demoing as well. They don;t make the Tchaika anymore, but a few smaller women I know that had/have them loved them.

Both are composite, but you should be able to stay within your price range if you look at used ones.

Used Eliza
There’s currently a used Necky Eliza for sale in the P-Net classified ads. Located in Maine, asking $1000.

Much of the same
Definately worth it to take Sing’s advice - you won’t get better. The Mystic came to mind but others have mentioned it. You are quite within the target range for the Valley Avocet LV, but they are still rarer than hen’s teeth and quite new so there’s zilch chance you’ll find one in your price point (used).

I would suggest you stay with a boat that has two sealed bulkheads and rigging and all that jazz if possible, because that’d work for you for a long while as you grew. Do I recall correctly that the Sklylark is a boat without two sealed bulkheads etc? If I do, I’d suggest it won’t fit your longer term plans and would get old fast.

Tsunami SP
The Tsunami SP (Smaller Person) was designed for exactly the situation you describe, so why don’t you at least wait until you find one to try out? And, it fits your budget, too. Another boat to consider is the Current Designs Raven; a really nice (almost elegant) little kayak. The old Wilderness Systems Piccolo was a wondeful rotomolded boat paddled for years in all sorts of conditions by our very petite daughter, 5’1", 100 lbs., so its a good choice if you find one. I’m not positive, but I think the Tchiaka mentioned in an earlier post is the composite version of the Piccolo. However, most importantly, get in the water; it isn’t how the boat looks on the showroom floor, but how it feels and paddles that should make a difference. You won’t find that inside a store, so find a dealer that can give you a test paddle in the boat you both want and need. Great luck. Paddle On!

Prijon Viper
The Prijon Viper will work well for you.


Contoocook River Canoe - May 18
Next demo day in your area is in NH - http://www.contoocookcanoe.com/contoocook.html - May 18. You will be able to check out the Eliza that you are interested in along with the Impex Montauk and quite a few other boats.

And just as an FYI - the reason you don’t see too many demo days in northern NE is because the water is cold and beginners aren’t prepared for it.

When going to the demo day, don’t show up in jeans. Wear fleece and other quick dry materials along with a wind break jacket and pants and a hat. That will allow you to be more comfortable while you are trying boats and will make for a better day to focus on the boats rather than how cold you are!

Don’t think you are missing half the season not getting set up to paddle until mid June. If you are a beginner and don’t own any kayaking clothes to protect you from the cold water, it is best to wait regardless.

When you are comfortable swimming in the water you want to paddle in, it is the right time for you to start paddling. (That is until you own the right clothes that will protect you from the elements.)

Good luck and enjoy the process, it really isn’t too painful!


For fast rivers
you are probably going to want plastic and there are a variety of kayaks marketed for kids and small adults. There are 2 used kayaks for sale at Charles River Canoe and Kayak in Newton, MA: a Carolina J (60-120 lbs paddler) and a Picollo (60-100# paddler). I have purchased a few kayaks there and they are right on the water and will let you try (at no charge) a few to see if you like them. These are well below your price limit, but consider that you also need a paddle, skirt, PFD, etc and that will add up quickly. If you are more interested in a light hardshell kayak, the Tchaika is a nice kayak for your size. There are a few in the NE area if you look online. A few years ago, Sing posted a link to a Island Newt, a lightweight fiberglass beauty, but I do not know if they were ever available here in the US. I do not know of very many composite kayaks that are made for truly small people. Your best bet is to look at kayaks marketed for kids. They often don’t have front bulkheads, but that can be remedied with a float bag. I have sat in a few of the hardshell kayaks marketed for small adults, and still found them a bit large and I am not as small as you are. I have a very small friend who loves her Impex Mystic. That might be good. I am in Massachusetts and have a Tchaika you can try it to see if you like it, although it is not for sale. Email me separately if you want to try it.

CD Raven

– Last Updated: May-07-08 11:25 AM EST –


Did you sit in the Cayuga? MMMMmmmm sweet…

Best to actually sit in the water though, not the demo floor. These are really sweet boats and the best seat anyone could want. Not racing fast but pretty fast. Besides, just tell hubby to slow it down a touch. I don’t have trouble keeping up with anyone in my Cayuga.

Piccolo and Tchaika are not analogous
They’re both small, though. If I remember correctly, the Piccolo had no bulkheads and the Tchaika had only one, so either way you will need supplemental flotation.

I rented a Piccolo and had fun with it. I’m 5’2" and a little under 110 lbs. The Piccolo was plenty stable and was incredibly easy to accelerate. It “hit a wall”, speedwise, compared with the 16-plus-footers I normally paddle, so keep that in mind. It would be useful for you to rent a few different ones before buying.

No, I haven’t actually gotten to sit in the Cayuga yet. The local store had about 15 Dirigos, but no Cayugas. Grr!

Thanks for all the advice! A couple responses:

It’s great to find so many people who are somewhat familiar with the area I live in! To be more specific, I live in Canaan, NH. (That’s in the Upper Valley/Dartmouth region, on the Lakes Region side. I’m about 6 miles east of Mascoma Lake & about 40 miles west of Lake Winnipesaukee.) I’m kind of right in the middle of the state. There are tons of small ponds and lakes within under 10 miles of my house. My plan this summer is for my husband & I to get out paddling at least once a week after work, and then maybe do some longer trips after I get a bit more comfortable & stronger.

The problem is the area I live in is not very highly populated nor is it a prime tourist destination. I haven’t been able to find any rental shops nearby that carry a wide enough selection to include the specific kind of boats I’m looking at, and a quick scan of classified ads comes up with only a couple boats in my size for sale within a 3-hour drive!

I definitely see the sense in taking it slow, renting, buying a used kayak, etc., but because of where I live & constraints on my time, that sounds like it will likely take me most of this season. In the meantime maybe I could luck out & find somewhere in the area that would give me a long-term rental on a big, slow, stable kayak. If so I could still get out in the evenings this year, but that seems like a lot of $$ to throw at something that, in the end, is just going to frustrate me. Seems like if I’m just going to throw money away, I’d be better off just buying a nicer kayak that fits me a little better, and if it turns out not to be the right boat for me, I could always sell it once I find the right one, and still not be out much more money than I would’ve lost on a rental… I know it would make more sense to be patient & wait, but I think having a kayak now will be the difference between me & my husband getting the exercise we need this summer vs. us not spending much time on the water at all. Also, TBH, the people who are buying this for me as a gift will be disappointed if it takes me all summer to choose a boat. Maybe that’s a bit of a silly reason to rush into anything, but it’s there. That & the sale that REI is having are what is pushing me to buy now. If I get a kayak from them and it turns out it just isn’t the right one for me, I can always return it. I’d rather not have to do that to the store, but I wonder will I be able to get as good a price on the kayak I want later? What do you guys think, could I find prices like these relatively soon elsewhere?

Wilderness Systems Tsunami SP $636.99

Old Town Cayuga 130 $788.99

Wilderness Systems Tsunami 135 $1,082.99

Necky Eliza $1,145.99

& I hadn’t really looked at this before, but I guess the Delta 12.10 belongs on that list, too, at $1189.99, though it might be a bit short…

Either way, thanks, Suzanneh, for the info on the Concord demo day! I’ll be there regardless of what I decide. :slight_smile:

It was very responsible of you to warn me about the water conditions. I’ve already heard of at least 1 somewhat experienced paddler who went missing on the Connecticut River last week, but do you really think I need to stay off the water completely until July? (It takes a long time for the water up here to get warm enough for a pleasant swim, IMO.) I’ve been in the water here in colder months than May (don’t worry, it was on purpose!) so I know what I’m getting into. Like I said, I’ve been paddling canoes since I was about 6 years old. I was even taking small ones out solo with some kayak paddles in my early teens. I realize it’s not the same thing, but it did give me some understanding of the kind of balance it takes to stay upright and how to move a paddle in the water to get where you need to go… Plus, I have been in a kayak before, & I seemed to know enough not to tip it over or run it aground under normal conditions. Is there really any reason that I couldn’t go out on a small, flat pond this time of year so long as I wear my PFD & bring a more experienced friend to look out for me?

For the record, I’ve got plenty of heavy-duty fleece, goretex, etc., and my husband spent the winter trolling the Patagonia outlet in Freeport for cheap Capilene for me, so I’m pretty well stocked. I don’t have any paddling-specific clothing yet, but I wouldn’t show up to a demo day in jeans. I think I’ll be warm enough so long as I don’t dump a ton of water on my lap! Oh, & I’ve already got a decent PFD, too.

So, anyway, thanks for all the advice so far. I realize I’m being a bit crazy, but I’m still tempted to just buy the Eliza & give it a try. Do you all still think that would be dumb?

Adirondack Paddlefest
may make an interesting diversion for you (May 17-18 Old Forge, NY) and afford you the opportunity to test paddle many boats. I purchased two new Tsunami SP’s for the “Smaller People” in my life (from Mountainman, the sponsors of this Paddlefest) and @ $525 apiece I am extremely happy with my purchases. I think it would be unlikely that you would return home without a proper demo boat at a price that leaves enough of your budget left over for a dry suit, paddle, accessories and maybe the round trip gas there.


Wild Meadow Canoe in Ctr Harbor
Take a look at Wild Meadow Canoe http://www.wildmeadowcanoes.com

They’re in Center Harbor and carry quite a few different kayaks. Their demo day isn’t until the end of June, but when I contacted them they said I could go in any time before that and try out any kayaks that interested me.

Have fun with the research. I’m going through the same process myself just now. I only wish you were farther south - I’m looking for paddling companions.

What about a Calypso?


Bean has them for $600 with packages for $650 and up. I was talking to some folks and they mentioned that it is for small women.

It might be worthwhile trying out.

No, it would not be dumb
By all accounts the Eliza is a great boat for someone your size. There are two schools of thought to buying your first boat - research, research, research for the perfect boat or buy something to get on the water and gradually figure out what you like. Your choices and the questions you ask put you way ahead of most first time kayak purchasers, myself included. Although, if you are going to just jump in I might go with the Carolina SP due to the lower initial cost and proven resale market for them.

Wear appropriate clothing, practice the same types of risk management that you and your husband likely due when hiking and get on the water. Unless a cost of a couple hundred dollars (difference in new and resale on your first boat) is a major budget breaker in your household, you really can’t go wrong.

Do yourself a favor and spend some money on a decent, lightweight, smaller shaft paddle - it will make almost as much difference as the boat.

Most important, get out on the water and have some fun. The bug may just bite you!


– Last Updated: May-05-08 7:21 PM EST –

Personally no experience with this model which is specifically designed for your height and weight.

Can vouch for QCC quality, as Rebecca and I own a QCC400x and a QCC700x.

Seem to remember from previous threads that JackL's wife Nancy had imput into design of QCC10x.

Sorry, I didn't register your boat budget.

However, keep this boat in the back of your mind. If you buy a first kayak, that kayak is unlikely to be your last kayak.

Small paddlers

– Last Updated: May-06-08 11:59 AM EST –

My wife is 5' tall and went through a couple of bigger boats before finding a Tchaika a couple of years ago. It was the first boat that fit her properly, and she's been very happy with it. There's a used one for sale in Newport at Alden of Sunapee, (http://www.aldenofsunapee.com/aotc.php), which is also a good place to demo boats.

Several folks have mentioned other boats that might work for you -- there are more choices now for small folks than there were when my wife was looking. I've paddled the Eliza and liked it, but I'm 5'9", 160lbs.

A boat that's too wide or too deep for you will be uncomfortable and inefficient to paddle. If the cockpit is too big you won't have the control you want. You'll quickly get over the initial instability of a narrower boat with time on the water and developing skills.

You should also look for a paddle with smaller blades and a small-diameter shaft instead of wrestling with a "standard" one.