Trying to ease myself back into paddling

I bought a sea kayak (Dagger maybe?) a few years ago and used it occasionally for some river, flat lake and pond paddling. Life got in the way (and I moved and lost my private pond!) and the family lost interest so the yaks have been sitting unused for awhile.

Unfortunately, I also put on some serious weight and as the years passed I seemed to get older (go figure!).

Last weekend, for the first time in way too long, I got on the water in a rental john boat and rediscovered how critical on-water time is to my mental health. I have been searching for a new boat and have focused on small powerboat cruisers (even though I am a long time sailor) as I figured that was the easiest way to get on the water.

It turns out that my little rental trip may have changed my mind about the right boat. I discovered a beautiful cove with a waterway heading out the back to unknown but begging-to-be-explored marshes or ponds. That, combined with the smell of engine exhaust, turned my mind back towards paddling.

I live in Cary, NC so, properly clothed, I should be able to paddle through the winter on the local lakes.

Here are my issues:

I have never been all that nimble to begin with and way too many late nights behind the desk and in front of the dinner table have made me even less nimble. Getting in and out of my sea kayak was always a bit of an adventure.

I am out of shape plain and simple. I could diet and exercise and wait until I got back in shape before taking up paddling again OR I could take up gentle paddling to HELP me get back in shape, I prefer the latter.

I need a boat I can easily handle on my own from loading to launching. I used to have a roof rack on my SUV and I found that to be a hassle. I bought a Slick Rydr trailer but that is a bit much for a quick getaway. I am thinking of a boat that could stick out the back of a large SUV or maybe sit in an 8 foot pickup bed.

For the time being, I will likely paddle solo as I know no one in the area (just moved from Minnesota to North Carolina) and the family has zero interest in paddling - especially in winter.

That’s a lot of issues!

I have been thinking about getting something along the lines of a Pungo 120 as it seems like it work well for a less than nimble paddler and would be easier to haul than a 16 or 17 foot sea kayak. Also, the poly hull would stand up better to the occasional drop better than my fiberglass yak.

My paddling would be near shore on inland lakes on relatively calm days. I just want to explore the shoreline, coves and marshes. In fact, I wold probably stay near enough to shore initially that I could just swim ashore towing the boat if I should happen to go over as I doubt I could empty and reboard a Pungo on my own in the open water.

So I am looking for some advice. Does this seem like a reasonable way to get back into the sport? I know some people might say “Get into shape first, you pig!” I can accept that but I also know that it will take a year or so of hard work to really back to where I should be and I sure would hate to spend all that time in a stuffy gym!

Does a Pungo or similar seem like the right type of boat? Stability, ease of entry and transportability are higher on my list than performance. Cost is not an issue so if there are better boats for me I would like to hear about them. I am 47 years old, 6’1" and 278 manly pounds.

One other thing - I do own a Hobie Mirage. I bought it on impulse after getting severe tendonitis on a too long early season river trip with too little paddling skills. The Hobie was great for pedaling around my pond but I think it would be quite wet for winter paddling and it is a heavy beast to haul around. But I do have it already so I suppose that should go into the mix.

I appreciate all advice. I used to hang out here in my younger, lighter years and really enjoyed it.

Some thoughts
The winter is not the ideal time to pick up the sport, especially if you plan to go it alone. You really do have to think what you’d do if you swim in 45 degree water temps and even with proper clothing you have to make it to shore and recover your boat, paddle, etc. Around here, being close to shore can give a false sense of security as there are vertical banks, thick mud layers, and other obstacles that can make getting up to dry land a chore.

If you do go out before the waters warm up, try to find a local club or someone on here that you can paddle with.

If you have a big SUV, even a 50 lb boat can be a pain to cartop. If you pad that trailer a bit, you could leave the boat on it – ready to go – and you might be able to go up to a 14 footer which will often be higher volume and faster with a big paddler.

The Pungo 120 is along the right lines, you might also like a sit-on-top for easy entry, but you would certainly have a wet ride.

I would say to at least exercise a bit for a few weeks as you get ready and find someone that doesn’t mind a leisurely paddle while you get your sea legs.

Paddling can be good exercise, but you’d have to really go at it hard and often to knock off the lbs. In the winter months you’ll want to supplement the paddling with other workouts.

But glad to hear you’re ready to get back in the fray…


When the paddle bug bites
…you need to scratch it.

Got back into paddling five years ago after a long period away from the sport. Like you, I quickly realized that I was going to need to lose some weight in order to do the types of the trips that I wanted. Got serious about diet and exercise and lost 40 lbs over the next year. No reason not to paddle as your fitness improves, just select your trips accordingly.

Don’t know anything about the conditions in NC, but do agree that paddling alone in winter is not a good idea. A lot of people do it (including me) but you are always better off paddling with a group, and winter paddling gear (wetsuit/drysuit) ain’t cheap.

I’m an open boater, so can’t comment on your kayak choice. Can tell you that its very easy to get in and out of a canoe ;-).

Welcome back.

Every single word you said makes
perfect sense to me, and I say go for it!

You don’t need any more advice from us out here in the peanut gallery, except make sure you don’t wear cotton clothes in case you do dump- You will freeze.

Wear wicking clothes: light weight poly pro long johns and long sleeve T. with splash proof pants and top. If you have the bucks, spring for a pair of water proof knee high NRS Boundary shoes or equal. thery will keep your tootsies nice and warm and make it easier to get in and out of the boat.

My wife and I love exploring forgotton back country marshes and small streams where no bigger boats can get to. That is where you will see the most wildlife, and you can find lots of them where you’ll be thinking: "I wonder if any other human has ever been here before ? "



might not need to buy a new boat
if the sea kayak you have is 23–24" wide and has a larger cockpit—what is the make and model?–also might want to take an intro paddler’s course at the local ymca or guiding service–cheap usually and you will learn the right and wrong way to get into your boat–have fun

A couple of suggestions.

– Last Updated: Oct-31-08 8:11 AM EST –

I live in North Raleigh and paddle the Beaverdam area at Falls Lake often. Year round is quite possible here.

Go to Paddle Creek, and see Chuck. Try out a couple boats. Chuck sells Pungos and an assortment of new and used boats. If you want lessons, Paddle Creek or Frog Hollow do lessons. Frog Hollow more often, I think. Paddle Creek also does guided trips down the Neuse, about 3 miles or 6 miles.

Very active meetup group around here called Triangle Flatwater Paddlers. You can find them at Not a bunch of kids trying to hook up, real paddlers, including some very, very good ones.

Oh, and I, too, am a sailor turned paddler. Send me an email and I'll send you a phone if you'd like to discuss paddling around here more.

I think you’re big for the Pungo 120
I’m 5’ 11" and anywhere from 260lbs to 275lbs. Anytime that I paddle a 12’ boat, I feel like it’s just digging down into the water and is harder to paddle. For me, the minimum that I’m comfortable in is a 14’ boat.

I’m a huge fan of the Pungo line, though. For you- I’d probably suggest looking at the Pungo 140.

You can also take a look at the Dirigo 140. The main difference is that the Pungo’s go straighter better. The Dirigos turn better. Both are decent boats and take a beating.

As for sea kayaks at your size – trust me, I used to think they were challenging getting into and out of. Now, it’s 2nd nature and I don’t have any issues.

The Wilderness Systems Tsunami 145 is a great boat and even in my bigger size, I fit just fine. And, it’s incredibly stable (not AS stable as the Pungo - but, still impressively so). Plus, being closer to a true sea kayak, you’ll be able to progress your skills in it much further than you can in the Pungo.

Anyway, you can’t go wrong - get a boat and get out there!

Go for it…but take it easy
The Pungo 120 is a great boat. I think the 140 might be the better boat for you, though, as someone said. They are stable and sturdy as all get out and can handle someone with a little heft without making them feel squeezed and uncomfortable.

My favorite kayak of all time that I owned was the Wilderness System Mallard (can’t get it anymore). It was what I called my “fat fisherman’s” boat. Very stable recreational kayak with lots of room. I have a friend who was almost 300 lbs. at the time I had it and she learned to paddle in it and felt very comfortable. It got stolen off my car one night. I had a hard time replacing that boat and the Pungo 120 is what I ended up getting. My friend hasn’t been out in the new boat yet, but I do think she’d fit. Maybe not as well as in the Mallard, but the cockpit size is pretty roomy compared to a lot of other boats out there on the market.

Take it easy and do some flat water paddling before you head to the ocean shore with your kayak. Once you do that you’ll feel more confident in your abilities. North Carolina has pretty good weather even in the winter, but you will still need to dress properly. Maybe farmer johns and wool sweaters will do it for you. I live in Oregon and I tend to wear either rain gear or Snowboarding pants and fleece while paddling casually on flat water. With waves and wind you might need neoprene or a dry suit. Flipping is no fun when it’s cold and you don’t want to risk your life.

Good luck to you. Enjoy your paddling adventures! It’s easy to see why you want to get back into it. It’s a very relaxing way to exercise, you’ll build up your strength in time, and best of all you can become one with nature!

Best regards,


Entry/exit ease
You might want to look at some of the “hybrids” like the Mad River Synergy or some of the Native Watercraft boats. Entry/exit is somewhere between a SOT and a solo canoe, with a drier ride than a SOT.

Jackson Day Tripper 12 has a huge cockpit.

I’d agree that the Pungo 140 is a great big-person’s boat.

Eddyline Equinox for your size.

I would also recommend finding a class where you can learn self-rescue. It can be learned in one class, but I feel it’s a necessity if you’re going to paddle alone. Also, look for indoor winter classes. Here in Chicago, we practice skills and rescue at an indoor pool in the winter.

Dodger For The Mirage
If your present size does not exceed your Mirage’s payload limits you might want to check out a new Hobie accessory. Hobie now makes a dodger for their SOTs. It is basically a tent like gadget that fastens to your Mirage and surrounds your body similar to a SINK mini skirt. It is a great Winter accessory addition for SOTs.

I would also second the Pungo 140 or one of the Native Watercrafts.

Don’t delay getting back into paddling. You will lose weight, feel better, and prolong your life!

Go with the Pungo 120 and

…you can’t go wrong. It’s a GREAT kayak.

Paddlin’ on


We expect to see you at the
next Jocassee Rendevous, whenever that is.

Glad you made it down to the real world, where the water stays wet all year.

Paddling is great for losing weight if you can get out often - I was doing OK when I could do a full day trip almost every weekend. Those days are gone for a while, but maybe someday -

I’d get a trailer if the roof rack was too high. Or trade vehicles. Lots of fairly low stuff out there makes good boat haulers once equipped with a good roof rack. Type of boat is not that important at first, you can lose weight rowing a jon boat just as well as paddling a sea kayak, you just don’t go as far. There is a pretty good outfitter with a bunch of rental stuff up at the Falls lake dam, I’d rent a variety of boats before buying anything else, and don’t stick to just kayaks - canoes can be a lot of fun to solo as well. Don’t overdo it at first and strain something, that could put you out of it for a while. And if you are going out Nov thru feb, get a 3mm wet suit. You’ll need it later anyway, there is a lot of stuff to do on the coast in winter with a sea kayak. And be careful if you go canoeing east of Buffalo road on the Nuese, there is an old mill dam with a high enough fall you wouldn’t want to go over.

Hope we can get together for some trips when you get it together and I get through my job/family/health situations.

Everything you said screams CANOE.
More room,comfort,and capacity.A couple :

I have only tried a couple of solo canoe
…but I found them much less stable than my sea kayak. I am sure that is mostly due to inexperience and perhaps the specific canoes I tried.

It certainly seems like entry and exit would be easier.

You don’t have to have a solo canoe
To solo a canoe. I had a 16 ft Old town Penobscott with a third seat in the middle I used solo, worked pretty well. If you aren’t stable, that just means you need to lower the seat. I don’t have a middle seat in my present tandem canoe, I just sit on a type III pfd, works OK till I get another seat installed.

Craigslist in raleigh has a 16 ft Mad River for $450 (Nov 1 ad) that might make a good solo for you with the addition of a middle seat - keep it real low, maybe 3 or 4 in off the bottom of the boat to start with. Some folks make them out of mini cell foam.

If you are really serious…
There are several aftermarket outriggers such as Scotty that can be used on rec kayaks to make them very stable while you are getting your sea legs so to speak. These can make getting into and out of the boat far drier and easier while allowing you to get a kayak in the 26-28 inch width that will be way more fun to paddle when you drop the weight. You are spot on about not getting a kayak that is too heavy to load on your racks. It’s a catch 22-the kayaks that will safely float your current weight are generally (unless you go composite) the heavy one’s that can also torque your back and shoulders until you are stronger while you horse them around. We’ve seen the outrigger solution allow folks to go smaller, lighter and begin to enjoy themselves quicker.

We installed a set of these for a guy around 300 lbs on a Native Marvel and he was the happiest guy around.

Good luck with your quest and hat’s off to you-you can do this!!

Solo canoes are not unstable,just
unfamiliar. Your COG is higher so you have to adapt, but it doesn’t take long.

Canoes are great but…
The problem with them is they can be much tippier than a kayak in big water, especially if you’ve got motor boats or wave runners buzzing you. It’s a hassle always turning into every wake. It’s also a pain to put on top of your car by yourself as the weight doesn’t distribute well. At least for me.

I’ve got an Old Town Discovery 158 and while the heaviness doesn’t seem to be the problem the bulk and the way it tips when trying to launch it on my racks is no party and can cause injury. I only take my canoe out when I’ve got someone to get it on and off the car with me.

That said, a canoe is a wonderful boat despite those slight misgivings. There is just something great about paddling a canoe on a fine autumn day with someone you enjoy being with. That kind of beats a kayak sometimes. But solo, I have to do a kayak.

Best regards,