Good news. Manufacturers have recognized the needs of intermediate paddlers, and created a new class of kayaks just for you. These 13- to 14-foot boats sport sleek sea-kayak lines plus some beginner-friendly features--like wide hulls and padded seats--for those looking to step up their game, or the length of their trips. All of these boats offer confidence-inspiring stability, room to store a picnic lunch or overnight gear, and generously sized cockpits that can still be fitted with a nylon touring skirt for longer, choppier days. Read on to find out why some expert paddlers may even find themselves looking longingly at these sporty new designs.
Necky Manitou 14 UltraLite $2,349, necky.com
L: 14 ft 4 in
W: 24 in
D: 13 in
The Manitou UltraLite 14’s hard chines and upswept bow hinted at Necky’s elite sea-kayak heritage, and its on-water performance confirmed it. No matter who was in the cockpit, the Manitou always seemed to lead the C&K test pack around San Diego’s Mission Bay. Aside from the Brit-boat inspired hull, the retractable, snag-free skeg was our second clue that this is no entry-level boat. Ample volume in the bow keeps it balanced, while the stern’s pronounced keel helps it track straight in the wind. All of which makes the Manitou manageable for beginners, but still a great vessel to practice more advanced techniques like edge turns, surfing, and rolls. This model costs more, but the lightweight composite layup, seat and thigh braces means experienced and beginning paddlers alike can appreciate how easy it is to hoist the boat’s 42 pounds onto the roof rack at day’s end. If price is a concern, check out the plastic version of the classic 14-foot design ($1,029).
Pelican Strait 140 XE $1,050, pelicansport.com
L: 14 ft
W: 24.75 in
D: 15.25 in
With its hard-chined, V-shaped hull and a whopping 90 liters of rear hatch storage, the Strait 140 XE exudes a "business-in-front, party-in-back" attitude. The first performance-oriented design from primarily rec-focused Pelican, the Strait 140 XE was developed on the St. Lawrence River near the Quebec-based company’s headquarters by Olympian Francois Letourneau. That design heritage left us pretty confident that it can handle your weekend at the lake, and our test paddling confirmed that Pelican got it right. Two layers of impact-resistant thermoformed plastic coated with a rigidity-boosting resin add durability, and give the Strait an enviable mix of high strength, light weight, and low cost. The rudder comes standard, and helps with course correction in the wind. Though test paddlers with shorter torsos found the high deck cumbersome at times, this lightweight workhorse still hauled all we needed for a jaunt to the beachfront caf across the bay--and the extra layers for the paddle back at sunset.
Dagger Catalyst 13 $750/$975 with rudder, dagger.com
L: 12 ft 11 in
W: 27 in
To say the Catalyst hull is stable is an understatement--one tester was able to stand up in it before daintily stepping out of the boat onto the dock. At just under 13 feet long, with tons of deck volume creating that stability, we expected a much slower ride and marveled at the Catalyst’s speed and agility. A little added rocker makes it easy to initiate turns from the bow, rendering the optional rudder virtually an afterthought. Its ding-resistant rotomolded plastic construction adds a few pounds, but at less than a grand, this boat offers a lot of value in an affordable package. Building kayaks for beginners is nothing new to Dagger, which has several rec boats among its whitewater and touring lines. But Dagger built the Catalyst to grow with you. As your paddling--or fishing or photography--skills advance, you won’t be bored.
Impex Hesper $2,595, impexkayak.com
L: 14 ft
W: 24 in
D: 14.5 in
47 lbs, 50 with rudder
The Hesper is a hybrid; its low deck and pronounced chines combine with a wide, shallow-V hull to track a thin line between stability and performance. The Hesper’s design is inspired by Impex’s Mystic sea kayak, but with a little less rocker, giving it a little more speed at the expense of turning ability. Luckily, Impex included an innovative Smart Track rudder, which is a simplified version of the old cable system--it steers by simply tilting the foot pegs forward, instead of sliding on a track, resulting in fewer moving parts. The Hesper’s round cockpit is large enough for easy entry and exit, and easily accepts a sprayskirt. Impex also lavishes the Hesper with top-of-the-line hatches and composite layup. The new K-lite baked epoxy material is coated with a clear glass finish instead of gel coat--a combination that comes in six pounds lighter than the same amount of carbon-Kevlar.
Current Designs Vision 140 $1999/$2199 with rudder, cdkayak.com
L: 14 ft
W: 24 in
D: 12 in
36 lbs, 39 lbs with rudder
Current Designs’ Vision boasts all the standard virtues of transitional touring kayaks, with two outstanding differences: It weighs less than 40 pounds and costs less than two grand. The British Columbia-based company’s vacuum bagged, super light fiberglass-Kevlar composite hull material lends unmatched stiffness and durability for the price. The Vision also features beginner-friendly attributes like a shallow-V hull, softer chines, and an extra large keyhole cockpit (use a nylon skirt or Current Designs’ neo-nylon model). A low deck sheds wind while the wide hull provides rock-solid stability. Minimal rocker makes for a longer waterline and increased hull speed, but hinders the Vision’s turning ability--and had us employing the optional rudder. A 350-pound carrying capacity--with 91 liters of space in the rear hatch--accepts plenty of gear for a multi-day paddle; the padded, adjustable seat back provides all day comfort for extended tours.