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What is a "small paddler"


Jul 1, 2021
Shoshoni Wyoming
Hello to all. I am wondering what constitutes a "Small Padeler" I see mention of some kayaks being for "Small people" and I am wondering if that means short or skinny or both. My reason for asking is that I am only 5' 6" tall but I weigh 190 and have very little body fat. I am a bit odd on my build, not "small" but I do have short legs (28 inch inseam). I have a 44" chest and a 36 inch waist. Would such boats listed "for small paddlers" but too small for me, or does it refer more to tall and short more so then it does light and heavy?
It's mainly weight. I'd have to look again at what the manufacturers use in general, but I'd guess small paddler size would be 140# max.
As Mick said mainly weight for hull displacement but often those "Small Paddler" boats will also often have smaller cockpits, lower decks and a closer front bulkhead. I like the expression that kayaks are like pants, just because they say they're your size doesn't mean they'll fit.

What kind of paddling are you looking to do and how much are thinking of spending? Hopefully someone with similar dimensions can suggest a few favourite boats for you to try to demo/rent.

I am short but not "small" so I didn't know what to expect.

What I am doing so far is rec-boating but I am pushing my luck at times. That's why I want a more "sea-worthy" kayak in the very near future. Winds come up here very fast and unexpected. Because the weather report says it;s going to be clear and light winds doesn't mean it always is up in the mountains or one the lakes in the valleys that touch the mountains.

For now my wife and I are going on small to mid sized lakes and sometimes on the Wind River and we only have 2 old Town Loon 106 Rec kayak. We have taken them out intentionally in winds to see how well we could do and found they do have limitations when the wind get very fast. Thankfully we have a place we can go directly into the wind and when we get into chop and winds too hard to overcome, we simply turn around and let it drive us back to the truck. I never venture out very far when I am testing myself or my gear. And I have gone beyond the abilities of both now, so I know for a fact, I'll be needing a Kayak that is safe and good for high waves, surf and choppy water in the near future.

What our plan is going to be is to have our 2 Rec-kayaks for good flat water with wind maybe up to about 15 MPH (where I live we have wind 320 to 330 days a year, so not going out in wind is simply not possible if we always waited for a day off work and that day was windless too) and then to get 2 boats that are only limited by our skills and abilities. That's the reason I posted on the forum about sea Kayaks.

Once I gain some abilities in the sea Kayak we want to go with my Sister and friends to coastal Alaska and paddle those waters. That won't happen for at least 1 more year and we are on the water now every week 1-2 days so I hope to gain some abilities as soon as I get a boat I can learn them in.

Anna may buy a small sail boat but I am much more interested in a good sea kayak. I have read the pros and cons about rocker, chine and lengths, but it's only book knowledge so far. I need to actually get into a Kayak and learn to use it in the waves.
I need to actually get into a Kayak and learn to use it in the waves.
If you can travel, I'd recommend taking a course with a good sea kayak instructor who will provide you with a boat.
Kayak Academy (Issaquah) and BodyBoatBlade (Anacortes) are two places in the PNW that would be at the top of my list.
Some companies/guides have 'trips' that include a lot of skill development; that would be another possibility.
While you are on the coast, you'd have an easier time shopping for a sea kayak - though COVID has reduced the number and variety of boats available.

BTW, leg length can be a big issue in getting a good kayak fit. It's not just a 'weight' issue that makes it difficult for smaller folks to find a good-fitting boat. Most commercial kayaks seem to be designed for 6-foot men with 32-34 inch pant inseam. For those of us who are shorter, the thigh pad area can land right on our kneecaps - not good. Some sea kayaks have movable thigh pads, which can be a plus. Moving the seat forward can make entry/exit more awkward, so not usually a quick fix.
In addition to earlier comments, there is yet another aspect to getting a kayak that 'fits'. I am 5' 5" and ~140 pounds. So I might fit in a 'small person' kayak. However, I find typical 'small person' kayaks encroach on my foot space. On a longish paddle I occasionally want/need to remove my feet from the pedals and stretch my legs out. In some cases, the deck height is too low to allow this. In other cases, there may be a fore deck pod which can also make this difficult. It's crucial for me not to "fall in love" with a potential next kayak, but ensure that the fit is splendid before I commit emotionally.

As a counter example, for me the back band needs to offer good back support for my compromised back. However, if the back band strays from that ideal, I can modify it so it works. In such cases, I do not reject a kayak for that particular reason.
Wow.......thanks so much. You are doing exactly what I need, .....bringing me tip about subjects I'd have not thought of by myself.
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No problem, you are describing me, except I am now more fat then muscle.
Do not buy a boat for a small person.
I paddle a 17 ft. Redfish stripper.

I would like to get something in the 16 to 19 foot range myself. I am learning. I don't want to buy more then 2 boats and I have one already, a Old Town Loon 106 recreation kayak. I think having that one for flat water and low waves, and then something that is good for "every condition" would give me all I'd need for as long as I have to live. I hope so anyway. Money is a concern as is a place to store them, so I can't collect a lot of kayaks.
Storage could be more a matter of definition. For example, a kayak sitting in the yard is a nautical sculpture; it’s art. And it would not be unreasonable to protect that art from UV with some kind of cover.

At one time I almost picked up a beautiful cider strip boat at the Port Townsand Wooden Boat festival. The only reason it did not replace a large picture frame over the fireplace mantle is the cockpit was too small for my thighs; I couldn’t fit in it. It had to be useable - more than just “Art”.

Your two boat collection will cover a wide range of activities but don’t put too much time in looking for the “perfect” sea kayak because after a year, you’ll probably have a better idea for “the next” boat. Over the years, I’ve sold three boats - each time getting closer to what works for me.

I am also your size. So much fun buying jackets that fit in the chest with arms hanging over my hands. Or buying size XL pants just so they will fit on thighs and ankles - gee, didn’t everyone play football in high school. Just because paddlers use a lot of upper body (Yes, I know, actually it’s “core”), do clothing designers think we all have legs like TinkerBell?
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A couple of more questions to ask, are you planning on day paddling or camping? Do you want a fast boat or a slower more maneuverable boat? For example if you want a faster boat for camping out of a Tempest 170 comes to mind. At 190lbs you'll be at the low end of it's capacity having room for 40-50lbs of gear and still be pretty quick. It has a low'ish deck and you could even move the seat back a bolt hole making it feel even lower. See the white kayak with black trim in Chodup's blog here https://3meterswell.blogspot.com/search/label/Trip Reports Only available used in composite now. If you were looking for a more maneuverable, more stable but slower boat with less room for camping gear but a potentially better waterline paddling empty, the Scorpio MV comes to mind. I mention both of these since I see they're both sold at Kayak Academy that John mentioned above. Solid suggestion by John to take a road trip to get those lessons and see what feels best to you even if you aren't planning on buying new. Lots of boats are easy to find information on on the internet but impossible find locally. Nice to go see what's actually available and fits in person. Maybe an Etain or a Cetus even? Fun to dream about boats.

As for having extra room in front of your foot pegs to the bulk head that's where you keep the box of wine or the water cube. Someone mentioned on here a long time ago that if they leak then it doesn't get on your gear. My wife is extra small and every boat has room for a water cube in front of her feet. The extra weight also helps her with tracking and fighting the wind since all boats are big on her.
Big and Small, that boat looks excellent. I am not a speedster, but I do want "speed" just because it's something that come with less drag. I do however understand the less drag means less stability. I am very new to the game, so I am open you all opinions. My size is something I have been told will work to my advantage, but I don't know if that's really true.

Like Cougarmeat above, I am short, thick and not fat. I used to have very strong arms, but I don't push myself as hard these days because old shoulder injuries are giving me some trouble if I don't pace myself. I am 5 foot 6 inches and 190 pounds and it's been said by a lady in my church "He just LOOKS like the poster Child for the Marine Corps" I'd think that means my center of gravity is lower then many other men, and I am hopeful that's going to help me in the learning curve.

Yes, Anna and I are into camping and so I'd need some carrying capacity, but if I had 50-75 pounds over my body weight I'd have to guess that would be fine. If I could find a boat like that one you showed me, in the 16 to 18 foot range I'd be delighted. But I expect I'll have to grow into it. (learn how to use it better) Hoping to make a trade if someone is interested in the things I make . See the link here >>> https://www.westcoastpaddler.com/co...o-trade-for-a-good-sea-kayak.9147/#post-96867

Cougarmeat, how long have you been kayaking? If you and I are about the same size I'd bet you'd be very helpful to me if you are not too busy to chat.
I hope to gain as much real-world knowledge for everyone I can, so I don't have to make all my own mistakes. I am too old to start a 30 year long "personal school of trial and error paddling"
At 5'6" and 190 pounds I'd say "sort of big". I'm 6' and about 155 pounds. I generally paddle a 17' long by 21" beam kayak. My partner is taller than you and a little lighter and her kayak is about an 1" longer than mine and 24" beam.

Both kayaks are for day and multiday use. Both are plywood and both built by us (she built her own). My is the same design but for short, light, women. I fail on two of those parameters - only class myself as light for those who can't figure it out.

My partner's kayak (20 years ago), new design, first time in the water was a 9 day trip. I tend to do that, the double and a couple of other of my designs, first time in the water, a multiday trip.

As for arms, they are there to hold the paddle, your body does the work.
SZihn, I started kayaking about 1996. I’m happy to share but the contribution would be minimal; I don’t have a wide range of experience. I started out with a plastic Dagger Vesper. It had a rudder but no keel. It would turn on a dime - all the time. Anytime I picked up forward speed, somehow it would start turning. Remember, this was my first boat, early paddling/learning. I used the phrase, “I meant to do that.” as I’d continue the curve so I was paddling backwards toward my destination. I paddled with the rudder up until I could paddle it straight.

Then Mariner, which also sold Seda, had a winter sale. The idea was, drop the prices as low as possible so the crew that built the boats could have income over the winter. I drove up and tried out a Seda Swift. Of course there was also a Mariner II demo available but Matt said he didn’t want me to paddle it because he wanted me to be happy with the Swift as it was a better “first” boat. He did lend me a CF paddle, which was a new item at the time, and I remembered how light it was for about 15 years before I could afford my own.

Side note: once I was paddling with a friend who was using my Swift. I had watched the videos on forward stroke as was using my best technique - two guys, side by side, in boats, of course we are going to race. I was just keeping up. Even if his water length was a foot longer, I shouldn’t have had to work that hard. I ask Matt (Bronz) about it and he said the Swift was about the 5th fasted boat he’s paddled in its class (and he has paddled a lot of boats). He said the hull design was based on olympic racing shells.

I donated the Vesper to a church group for their garage sale and sold the Swift in order to buy a mariner Express, At the same time, an XL came up for sale in Phoenix and I drove down and back in a 3-4 day marathon run. I remember crossing from Navada into California and the border inspector asked the standard, “Where are you coming from?” I looked over my shoulder and said, “Nevada”. I wasn’t trying to be a smart-aleck, I was just tired. Later, I sold the XL and used that money to buy a Mariner Max in Kevlar. These days, I don’t have to impress anyone with how much I can lift:)

You just need to figure out the type of paddling you’ll be doing in order to minimize the boat style choices and then understand that there is no “Best” boat. Also, you really need to sit in it - unless you are familiar with the fit. For example, I would clearly buy a Mariner from the For Sale forum without sitting in it because I know how Mariners and Seda’s fit. I would not buy a Necky - not because there is a problem with them, but because there is something about their geometry that doesn’t fit ME. There are boats that are much easier to roll, but rolling is not what I do most the time. And I am seldom in waters that would require a roll. And I even less seldom paddle alone. It also helps to understand that after your first year, you will have a much better understanding of what you like. Go to various “demo days” and try out as many boats as you can. You are not so much looking for the perfect boat as gaining a sense of what feels different - if anything - about them.

On this “fit” business - it is not like Cinderella’s glass slipper. There is not ONE boat out there that matches you. There will be plenty. It’s okay to use color scheme as a criteria.

Spring day in Seattle

I like Mariner because though I would love to travel the world and kayak in exotic places, my situation is I live in the High Desert with Mountain lakes open about 5 months out of the year and the San Juans/Canada a long day’s drive. If I’m by myself, or meeting other paddlers, I can get by with the Mariner Express for about a week out. If I’m padding with someone who needs more comfort items, or taking more gear to experiment with, I usually take the Mariner Max. Because there are ALWAYS unexpected additional items.
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I am also your size. So much fun buying jackets that fit in the chest with arms hanging over my hands. Or buying size XL pants just so they will fit on tights and ankles - gee, didn’t everyone play football in high school. Just because paddlers use a lot of upper body (Yes, I know, actually it’s “core”), do clothing designers think we all have legs like TinkerBell?
You both must have it tough
I am 5'8, 180lbs and an xl pfd fits me tight.
According to the wet and drysuit guides I fit a medium in heigth and a large in weight.
The large again doesn't usually fit my chest properly.