Material: Roto-molded Polyethylene
Cockpit Size: 31 x 15 inches
MSRP: $300-$500 Used
Finding the right sized kayak for your child can be a challenging endeavor. One option is to simply stick them in an adult-sized kayak but this is ill-advised because the child will be swimming in all of the excess volume and will need to work too hard to keep up. Another option is to investigate the myriad of “toy” kayaks on the market that provide the proper fit for a season or two before that inevitable growth spurt kicks into high gear. Aside from being quickly outgrown, these small kayaks offer little in the way of performance and features for your child’s paddling skills to grow on. Yes, they may fit with respect to your child’s height and weight but their short relative length inhibits tracking and standard outfitting packages of these kayaks often leave out key features like thigh braces thus preventing the development of a solid lean and bracing skills.
Don’t be discouraged because there are some good kids-sized kayaks on the market (the Perception Acadia Scout comes to mind) but it’s clear that great kids-sized sea kayaks are few and far between. However, when I dip into my mental rolodex of “boats of yore”, one particular model jumps to the front of the class: the Wilderness Systems Piccolo. When I was working as an instructor at Coastal Kayak Educators we had a fleet of Piccolos and I’ve seen 100s of kids learn to paddle and fall in love with kayaking in this craft. I took my first paddle dippings in a Piccolo some 15 years ago too!
At 13ft 6in long and 20.5in wide this kid’s sea kayak sits firmly in the light touring class and boasts all of the key features of a standard sea kayak. These include integrated thigh braces, fore and aft bungees, a small “day hatch”, and an optional rudder (although it is hardly needed). Also, the molded cockpit rim easily accepts and tightly holds a spray skirt. The real beauty of the Piccolo is in its appropriately down-sized volume which provides the perfect fit for a pre-teen while maintaining desired performance. The Piccolo tracks as well as most light touring class boats and offers great primary and secondary stability. The roto-molded plastic is the “no-brainer” material choice as its supreme durability will take all of the abuse that a kid can throw at it (you should have seen the abuse these things took at CKE)! One thing to keep in mind is that the Piccolo has no bulkheads and little floatation so you must install bow and stern float bags to displace volume. The great features and handling characteristics of the Piccolo will provide the opportunity for your child to grow as a paddler.
The Piccolo is also a nice fit for smaller adults. I’m 5’6” and 130lbs and still barely fit in the Piccolo (although I over-power it quite a bit). My one gripe is that the front deck is very low thus pushing my inflexible legs down into a flat and rather uncomfortable position. If you can touch your toes then this shouldn’t be an issue for you. Considering that my height is at the upper reaches I’m not too surprised to experience a slight decrease in stability from what I experienced when paddling this craft as a child. If you’re any taller than me then you should check out the Wilderness Systems Alto which is the big cousin to the Piccolo and would offer a better fit with similar handling characteristics and outfitting.
Unfortunately, Wilderness Systems discontinued production of the Piccolo some time ago (Why must all great things come to an end??) but they do come up used for sale quite often. If you’re in the market for a kid’s sea kayak then you’d be smart to gobble up a used Piccolo if one becomes available in your area. Prices are typically in the $400-$500range which is totally worth every penny. I’m hoping to accumulate a small fleet of these puppies one day!
Stats: 13’6” long, 20.5” wide, 42lbs (roto-molded)
Pros: Excellent kid’s kayak, Appropriately scaled-down volume
Cons: Discontinued (available used), No flotation (use float bags)
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