-- Last Updated: Jan-04-13 10:39 AM EST --
A previous post recommended taking a look at NC kayaks. I second that with extreme prejudice. I know you (the OP) mentioned that you would not consider a boat without a test paddle. Well that probably wouldn't be possible unless you live somewhere in the Northwest, but the same is probably true of a lot of other really great boats.
NC does not make a 15' boat, but they do make a great little 15'-8" sea kayak. They are also having their super winter sale. It is worth taking a look--if for no other reason than to see what a fabulous boat you can get for well below the cost you stated.
I don't own one of their 15'-8" models, but I do own a 19 footer and a friend of mine owns the "fifteen." I wouldn't trade mine for anything and neither would my friend. Take a look at nckayaks.com.