I am in my 80s, over 200lbs and paddle mostly Necky kayaks; from the 22' Nootka Outfitter to the 10'11" Manitou Sport. My experience is in both fresh and salt water; with the mid-coast & Down East waters of Maine being my summer playground. I recently acquired a brand new Elisa (left-over), and used her on both a river camping trip, as well as day paddling along the coast of Maine. She is a fun boat to paddle, and carries a ton of gear. During the entire 3 days of river paddling, I intentionally never used the rudder. The only time she tracked well, was when I was paddling full on, at hull speed. The rest of the weekend was like paddling a 9' boat; she wandered all over the place. However, turning was a dream. We did some class II white water, and she acted like a WW boat. Ocean paddling was very much the same, without using the rudder. In order to go from point to point; the rudder is absolutely necessary (unless you are paddling hard and fast). She paddles well, handles waves easily, and turns on a dime. With the back-band, it's easy to get in & out quickly, by laying on the back deck. I could not get her to roll, but it also could be my issue, not the boat's. If one is looking for a fun, responsive kayak, capable of both flat water, and ocean paddling...in short boat (15'6"), the Elisa is a good choice.
I don't use the rudder unless I am taking pictures and want to be hands free and have some control over where my boat is going while I am lining up a shot. Also, I enjoy occasionally using my Wind Paddle sail and then the rudder is awesome because you can use the sail and use the rudder to "steer" and just enjoy the ride.
I am 5'7" and 140 and 61 years old, and the Eliza is a perfect fit for me. I love the thigh braces and am learning to roll. Recently, on a demo day, one of my small-built male instructors was able to slide right into the cockpit and took it for a spin and could not believe the manuverability he had with my Eliza. He was quite impressed and said he would like one for himself. Other guys wanted to try it and didn't feel they would fit, but they were jealous. I paddled other sea kayaks on demo days, but nothing felt or handled any better than my Eliza. I have taken it on 25-mile river day trips and it holds a lot of gear. It handles well in unexpected river challenges and it has kept me out of trouble. I put my stuff in small dry bags and the Eliza holds a ton of stuff.
I recently bought a Werner Camano paddle and now it is amazing how many miles I can cover without getting tired with my light weight paddle and my Eliza. The seat has gotten some criticism but I love the low seat and the fact that I can recline when practicing a roll and also slide into the seat from the back of the boat. The seat also supports my lower back. It is also easy to enter during a wet entry using a paddle float.
I am still trying to get the hang of loading it and unloading it myself. I have the Thule Glide and Set system and it loads from the back of my vehicle. I could do it if I wasn't afraid of dropping the stern and damaging the rudder, because it sticks out so far in the back. If I use a saw horse to set it on, I can lift the bow and then work my way back to the stern and lift it and slide it on. I love my Eliza and the joy it is giving me!
Eliza is easy to turn and quite stable. I've never capsized (well, not other than when practicing new skills like playing in surf). I'm 5'6", about 150 pounds, and I fit very nicely into the cockpit.
When I was looking for a boat, I wanted something that was small and nimble enough for rivers, but sturdy enough for the ocean. I've taken the boat out into the ocean in Northern Mass, NH and Maine many times now and I was just as comfortable as friends in much larger boats. Many of those friends have fiberglass boats, and I've even been able to keep up with them. I don't generally use the rudder. Having learned to paddle without one, I'm just not in the habit. But it's nice to know it's there if I need it.
I didn't think I'd want to learn to roll, but friends encouraged me to give it a try. I'm still practicing, but I was glad that the Eliza had a low backrest so it didn't interfere.
For a smaller boat, there's lots of storage space. I haven't tried camping but someone probably could.
Reading some of the comments about the quality of construction, I think those complaints are about the composite boat. While light, I find the poly version quite well made.
Initially, I wasn't sure if I liked my purchase, as it does feel less stable getting in and out. (The longest boat I had paddled before this was a 12'4" rec boat), but when I got used to "being one with the boat" and paddled bigger waters, especially in windy or rough conditions, I fell in love. I recently returned from a 4-night kayak camping trip, and was surprised at how much gear I was able to stuff in the Eliza. The trick is to use small drybags so you can take advantage of the narrow spaces at both ends of the boat.
The thing that brings this boat from a 10 to an 8 for me is the backrest. It is very low, and my back does not feel supported at all. Even on short paddles, I miss being able to lean back and relax. Also, I am used to a very wide cockpit because of my experience with rec boats, and I miss being able to pull my legs out and sun them on the top of the boat.
Overall, I have been very happy with my Eliza. It is very maneuverable, and the length and weight are manageable to load and move around for a woman of my stature. I would recommend this boat to other women without hesitation.
The craftsmanship is mediocre. The skeg wire is run right through the middle of the rear bulk head, which is bound to interfere with using it for touring. The front bulk head seams aren't properly sealed for the last foot of the boat's length starting at the bow. In order to see it, you literally need to put your head into the hatch and look. The overlapping unsealed fiberglass edges are bound to either catch the gear that you pack, or start coming apart as a result of pulling the gear out. Finally, the thigh braces foam was coming off on a brand new boat.
The cockpit is designed for women with narrow hips. I'm 5'6" and 135 lbs with average hip width, and my hips barely cleared the cockpit coaming. I paddle in the winter using a drysuit, so I know I wouldn't fit into this boat while wearing bulkier clothing. Also, the cockpit is short, which causes shin scraping when entering and exiting the boat for a person with long legs. The seat lacks hip support, so when you put the boat on edge, your hips shift onto one side. Given the above issues, it is a boat for a petite paddler, not so much a medium sized.
The boat is light, very maneuverable, and tracks well. It is also a few hundred dollars cheaper than other boats of comparable size, like Impex Montauk, P&H Capella 161, or Current Design Willow. Provided you fit into the cockpit and don't mind the chintzy craftsmanship, it can be a nice boat.
The boat is as responsive as a sea kayak can be, and yet cruises efficiently at touring speeds. After doing some analysis of my paddling using GPS, I concluded that the only reason I need to be in a longer boat, is to have enough volume for touring. If there's a headwind, you're not going to hold hullspeed, a shorter boat with good rocker will catch the shorter waves that often occur; and waterline advantages seem to disappear as soon as there is any significant sea running. The full chines carried out toward the ends provide a good carving turn. Eliza's shape is a lot like Nick's boats I think especially the Guillemot Play.
The whole women's specific thing is great for selling boats; this boat fits me, what would a smaller person do? If one is not a boat builder, there are no production choices that are as small or smaller than Eliza. One of the fun things about having this is that if I take any of my smaller friends out, they can be in a boat that fits them better than anything they've ever been in!
I have owned six kayaks and this is the best built production boat, and the hatches don't leak a drop! The cored construction yields a fair and rigid hull. It could have been built lighter, but some durability would have been lost and 46lbs is nice for me. Now if only they built a boat this nice for the smaller paddler!
I found the Eliza pretty comfortable, more so than I expected. I had a hard time keeping up with my "speed-demon" boyfriend, although he is a lot stronger than me and is in a lot better shape.
My second paddle was in a tandem (w/ my 5 year old son) and I hated it. I felt like I was trying to paddle a pontoon boat or something. I'm looking to buy a kayak in the near future and am seriously considering the Eliza.
Overall I think it's a great boat for a reasonable price.
I am a small female paddler: 5'3", 115 lbs, 33 inseam, size 6 feet, torso on the short size of average, hips 35".
A novice kayaker, I own and paddle regularly a FG seakayak at 15'11", 20" beam, 44 lbs, skegged, and a daytouring kayak of Trylon, 13'5", 23.5" beam, 41 lbs, no skeg or rudder. I paddle large and small lakes, Class I and II rivers. My seakayak is capable of Great Lakes paddling and I have brought both kayaks to rolling, bracing and rescue classes.
Overall I was disappointed with the plastic Eliza. Sitting inside was like paddling from the base of a barrel. The hull is quite steep with a triangular peak similar to the nave of a church. I could camp under there when it rains. Rain or shine it would be a windcatcher.
News flash to Necky: a cockpit depth of 12.5" is average, not shallow. Dial down the depth if you really want to fit short torso'd people (male or female).
Too much spacing at the thigh/knee contact points.The cockpit is an admirable 16" wide but there is a lot of room bellying out beneath it. How that would benefit a small to medium paddler mystifies me. The cockpit length of 28.5" sounds good but is compromised by the overly tall height at the nose of the coaming... and as to being "easier to attach or detach a sprayskirt", c'mon Necky. That has a lot more to do with correct skirt/boat fit and paddler technique (again, by either gender).
The seat, comfortable if loose, rises little over the cockpit, which makes it look newbyish and which can inhibit self rescues. The seat pan is wide. Evidently "female paddler" translates as "big hips" which not every woman has. I wonder what prototype paddler models were used.
There is also a lot of plastic material ringing the cockpit w. various holes and snaps, probably for some adjustments which were not immediately apparent to me. To be fair it might all have a purpose. At demo time it looked cluttered and conducive to snagging stuff.
The deck rigging is plain weird. There is no X cross anywhere for really secure storage and the intervals made for skimpy furnishing.
The crosslock hatch covers really amount to a six-way spiderweb of cords which is cluttered and not easy to grasp for removal - why is this better for small hands? My hands are small (ring size 5) and the cords simply cut in between my fingers when I tried them barehanded. Luckily I paddle w. gloves.
About weight... no way is this kayak 49 lbs water ready. It feels like 10% over that, at least. Anyways, why shouldn't any small paddler check out the many other good kayaks out there (which are not woman-specific) which can be had in much more friendly weights. Women usually have less upper body strength than men. In the one category where Necky could've really appealed to small women paddlers of plastic boats under 16 feet, they whiffed.
Let's get her on the water. The Eliza does track decently and moves well thru the water efficiently. I didn't choose to deploy the rudder because I do not use a rudder and wanted to see how well the kayak would edge and turn without it.
The answer, for me, is that the Necky can be edged, decently if somewhat mushily. I demo'd the Current Designs Suka and Rumour the same day - now those are kayaks that carve the water.
Using a plain forward stroke, the plastic Necky is neither outstanding nor deficient in point to point paddling. It is demure, not exciting. Not speedy, but not doggish. I guess some would call her reassuring and trusty. Maybe Necky felt women paddlers would value that higher than other traits.
Neither a pleasure nor a pain - dead average, and average for me won't cut it, no matter how laudable the design intent was nor how generous the offer to donate one percent of sales to fight breast cancer. That is after all not what is under review. I guess I'd rather donate directly to that good cause and buy a kayak I'd really enjoy that fits me a lot better, and that would be around 20% lighter.
There is a composite Necky with a skeg, which is an inch narrower and undoubtedly lighter. Good luck finding a dealer where you can actually demo one. If you would like to buy one blind so you can get it in PINK, hey, it's your money.
About that pink: all color preferences are highly subjective. IMO The pink offered in the plastic Necky is a garish polyester pink that reminds me of the bad cocktails invented by bartenders when they are bored.