I recently secured a finalist position in the "Wife-of-the-Year Contest" by purchasing my husband a Native Watercraft Ultimate 12 for his birthday. He is returning the favor by buying me a kayak of my own. Before investing his hard-earned cash, however, he let me try out his boat and arranged for me to demo 3 others. (I'd like to give a shout-out to Greg with Southwest Paddle Sports of Houston for making that a great experience.)
To put things in perspective, I am 50 years old, 5'4", 120 lbs., and had never kayaked before. I want a boat primarily for recreational paddling, nature photography, and to keep an eye on my husband when he is out in his boat. My first thought was, "If the boat is too big and heavy, I won't often want to go to the trouble of hauling it to the water." While the Ultimate 12 is easy for my husband to handle, it is too heavy for me to lift on my own. So, I opted to try out the Ultimate 9.5, the Hurricane Santee Sport 116, and the Marvel 10, also by Native Watercraft. (All 3 passed the lift test: I could lift them without throwing any body parts out of alignment.)
The Santee Sport is, quite frankly, a sexy boat. It has a sleek shape, a high-gloss finish, and comes in an array of seductive colors. It also has a generous cockpit opening, making it easy to get in and out, although I found it to be the least stable of these 3 stable boats. It also is easy to move forward and glides well at speed, but tends to drift a bit when slowing down.
After having tried out my husband's Ultimate 12, I had high hopes for the Ultimate 9.5. For those 3 or 4 people who know even less about kayaks than I do, the Ultimate is a hybrid between a kayak and a canoe, having an open hull, with the exception of bow and stern flotation. Advantages of the open hull design include easy-access storage and the ability to accommodate a tripod for nature photography. The pontoon design of the hull makes it a very stable kayak. However, I found the Ultimate 9.5 disappointing. Paddling it was like running a slalom. Every stroke sent the bow around in the opposite direction. While I concede that I haven't begun to perfect my stroke, I didn't have that problem with the other 2 boats.
The Marvel 10 is a deck boat that also has a large cockpit opening for easy access. It feels very stable, is fast and easy to move forward, tracks very well, and turns on a dime. Additionally, it has easily adjustable foot pegs and the same super-comfortable seat as the Ultimate. I have since taken the Marvel 10 out for several hours straight, and I'm not only still alive, I'm not even in pain! The boat felt like and extension of my body and was so easy to move and control that it freed me up to fully enjoy my surroundings.
I can heartily recommend this kayak, even to any old dog eager to learn a new trick!