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I started whitewater kayaking last summer after sea kayaking for a couple of years. My initial experience with WW kayaks was frustrating as I was learning. They spin so easily and it is difficult to get them up to any speed. Finally I took a WW clinic and the instructor suggested a Zen. So the Zen was the boat where I started to learn to paddle WW.
It was a revelation to use the Zen after I had tried some other models. It tracks a bit more readily than other boats that I tried and it feels more stable in wave trains. It eddy turns and peels out very naturally, so I was able to learn to S turn in a Zen very easily. Ferrying was a skill that I had to work at a bit, but once I discovered that the Zen would slide across the current with the correct angle, I was able to get the hang of it. I can't say that I compared every skill with different Kayaks, in truth I learned a lot of the skills for the first time in a Zen. Before I hads tried the Zen, I was very uncomfortable in WW.
I learned to roll in both the Zen and my Tsunami 165. The Zen takes less energy to roll than the larger sea boat, but is also easier to flip. If you roll both boats 10 times in a short period of time, the Zen will leave you fairly comfortable and the Tsunami will probably make you a bit tired. I struggle with my roll in fast current, but in flat water both boats are very consistent to roll.
The bottom line is that I think the Zen is a great boat for learning and its stability makes it a good choice for big water. I like the handling and I can say that it helped me get more comfortable in WW. I love this boat and am considering buying one.
I wish that they had incorporated a stern hatch or a day hatch, or both. The stern is a large volume that you need to fill with inflatable bags, it would be great to be able to use that space like you can in a sea kayak. If they had a hatch, I would probably be rating this boat five stars.
This is the boat I wish I had bought. I own a Tsunami 165, which I love, but the Tempest handles like a dream.
I am 5'10, 180 lbs with long legs and arms. I find the Tempest 170 to be a comfortable snug fit with excellent hip contact, yet sufficient leg room. I had no trouble edging or wet exiting with a neoprene skirt.
I have taken several sea kayaking coursed with LL Bean. Since I own the Tsunami, I always request the LL Bean provided Tempest 170. I always feel that my Tsunami is the family SUV and that the Tempest is my neighbor's Vette.
Once you get over the fact that the boat has almost no primary stability, you find that she can stand on edge with excellent secondary stability. Edge turns are a dream in this boat and so is almost every maneuver that I have tried.
During one of the classes the sneaky teacher had us paddling in a cross wind and tidal current. The idea was to teach us a lesson in navigation. Without thinking about it, I deployed the skeg and headed straight for the assigned destination ahead of the rest of the class. The skeg made the boat almost immune to weathercocking. The teacher noticed the deployed skeg and laughed out loud that I cheated. The lesson I learned is that it pays to have the right equipment.
I love this boat and would give it a 9 out of 10. What would make it perfect is a more comfortable seat. However it has the same strap seat that I have on my Tsunami 165 and I have learned to sit up properly in it.
I am new to sea kayaking, though I have used recreational kayaks for several years. I have owned the 165 for about 6 months. I have not yet used the boat in high surf, but I have used her in cold weather with high winds and in light surf on perfect days. Using a spray skirt, the boat stays very dry. I have continued to kayak on lakes through December in New England with no discomfort. I have been on the lake with floating ice around me and the durability of the boat allowed me to survive some errors in judgement.
The incredible stability and dry cockpit makes winter kayaking practical. I am not confident enough in my skills to kayak the open sea in winter, but I think that the boat is capable.
She tracks very well and does not weathercock as bad as you would expect without a skeg. I have a rudder, but usually I do not deploy it. By edging and paddling, I can turn very well and I can edge to counteract weather cocking.
I have also used a WS Tempest 165 and 170. I like the 170 for its agility over the Tsunami and the cockpit is big enough. The Tempest 165 was too tight for me. I learned with experience that a tight fit is a good thing in a sea kayak, so if I had to choose today I may select a Tempest 170. The Tempest fits me like a glove and is very playful. If you plan on a lot of rolling, maybe a Tempest is your choice.
The Tsunami is a great choice for most people, it is the SUV of kayaks. You can use it for the day or for an expedition. It fits my body well enough and has superior primary stability. You can keep yourself dry in all but the roughest conditions and it is a great choice for winter.
One disadvantage of the Tsunami is its weight. However, that comes with a durability advantage. I was lifting the boat up to the rack on top of my car when a high wind caught it and it flew out of my hands and landed 10 feet away on the pavement. I inspected it and found no damage at all. That sort of durability is really great for a novice who may run into rocks, ice, or other hazards.