TopKayaker.Net: Sit-on-top Kayak Buyer's Guides

Tarpon 160Tarpon 140
Field Reviews & Tips For The Tarpon Buyer by Tom Holtey

I recently had a chance to try some kayaks out in a demo-day like atmosphere sponsored by our long time kayak club, Hui Wa'a Kaukahi and Honolulu kayak shop Go Bananas.

The location was Kaneohe bay, Oahu, Hawaii. The ocean was flat with a light wind. The kayaks were all recreation boats used for light touring and casual paddling. I do own a Tarpon 160 but at this event I tried all of the new Tarpons except for the tandem- four models - by Wilderness Systems. If interested in any of the Tarpon line up I would suggest reading all the reviews of each model here and in our reviews database and stress you pay special attention to my Tarpon Tips at the end of this article.

(Photos not to scale)

Ripper Tarpon 100 Tarpon 120 Tarpon 140


The Ripper is the smallest of the Tarpon "family". It is a nice little boat with a corky feeling, stable and squirrelly. It is a comfortable kayak to be in with a roomy cockpit. It is highly maneuverable, leading me to believe that this kayak would be fun for casual easy surfing and may have some class I white water application. Get a Ripper if you are looking for a kayak for fun and mild thrills.

tarpon 100

The Tarpon 100 is a step up from the Ripper. This little kayak has a fun corky feeling; it is not fast but has a good glide for its size. The cockpit and seat back is comfortable and over all the seat was pretty dry. While highly maneuverable it seemed to track OK. The Tarpon 100 kayak is best for those who are looking for casual recreation from a boat.

tarpon 120

The Tarpon 120 is a stable kayak that was surprisingly not slow for a 12 footer. The rudder was nice, but not really necessary for some folks who will be paddling protected waters and short distances. Once again I found the cockpit and Wilderness Systems seat back to be comfortable. I love a center hatch and it is nice that this kayak has one, but I am concerned that it will be prone to flooding if opened in rough waters and/or with heavy cargo. The cargo-well is very spacious and the shock cords are thoughtfully held in place with hooks allowing for easy tie down of packages. For scuba divers I would be concerned about access to scuba equipment during a dive. The seat back would be a barrier, making it hard to reach the tank-well, but I did not have a chance to test that. The Tarpon 120 is good choice for those who are looking for a small kayak with the ability to handle some larger goals.

tarpon 140

I really liked how this kayak handled. The T-140 paddles well, glides ok for its width, and is comfortable like its sibling kayaks. The rudder is a good addition and is very responsive. This kayak has an ample amount of cargo capacity, making it a viable choice for light camping and touring. I would be concerned about access to scuba tanks during a dive, see my comments in the T-120 section. The center hatch will be handy for easy access to "goodies." The bungie cord will be handy for a tackle box. The Tarpon 140 is a good choice for those paddlers looking for a shorter touring kayak for modest distance with cargo capacity suitable for camping trips. See Athena's review below as she paddled it in rougher conditions for longer periods.

tarpon 160
See our review of the Tarpon 160

Tarpon Tips:

The hinged backrest mounted on all these new Tarpons including the Ripper, was very comfortable in my opinion. It was a little hard for me to adjust at first, but once you set it correctly to your personal fit I do not see a problem. (Or it may just take a little getting used to.) John Enomoto from Go Bananas suggested that reversing the side strap adjustments (pull down instead of up) would make this backrest easy to adjust. The job would be relatively easy to do by a handy person with some extra tri-glides and webbing strap. Email Tom @ TopKayaker.net for details.

Replacement Tarpon Seat StrapReplacement straps, or parts for moifiaction can be found at the TopKayaker Shop.

I would guess, and from the many comments I get from other Tarpon paddlers, that not all folks will find this seat back as comfortable as I did. Indeed when I saw the seat back on my Tarpon 160 I had my doubts.

Padded Seatback CoverThere is a solution for those who do not care for the stock seat back. If it is a matter of padding I can suggest two things.

Tarpon Tour Backrest PadFirst, your PFD should be sufficient padding, you are wearing one right? If not, then a backrest pad can be added to the seat back. I would suggest the use of the Tour Seat Back Pad for older square seats, or the Padded Seatback Cover for newer round seats. A Grande Hot Seat is best as a new seat cushion. The WS Seat pad can be used as a replacement part for newer Tarpons. (Available at Our TopKayaker Shop)

Grande Hot SeatOtherwise I do not see why the hard stock backrest could not be removed and some strap eyes installed to accept a regular type of SOT seat. Email Tom @ TopKayaker.net for details.

The hanging bag under the small rubber hatch is a nice touch and will be very handy for small items. Not all the hatches on a kayak will be outfitted with this bag. I believe that the Tarpons outfitted with more than one small hatch can accept additional bags. (Available at Our TopKayaker Shop)

Hatch with bagOn some of the Tarpons, in some locations, these rubber hatch lids have a leash so the lid cannot be lost. Care should be taken to ensure that the "leash-less" lids not get lost. They would most likely sink if they went over board. The addition of a leash could be a nice custom outfitting project. The rubber lids have a tab with hole on the underside to accept a leash. A strap eye mounted in side the hull will provide a place to tie it off to. Replacement bags and covers (Available at Our TopKayaker Shop)

The side handles are wonderful for lifting the kayak onto car roof racks. WS innovated a little bungee cord lock to hold the side handles down and prevent them from knocking your knuckles as you paddle. (A problem I had with my T-160.) This feature seemed standard on all the Tarpon family kayaks that I tried during my visit, but it was not a feature on my 160 circa 2002. I will be looking into adding this to mine.

The seat areas of the Ripper and Tarpons 100 - 140 are roomy enough to ride a child in the cockpit with an adult paddler.

The rear handle on the rudder outfitted boats acts as a keeper to hold the rudder in place while transporting. It is vulnerable to being lost, as it is not permanently secured to the deck. I would keep a watchful eye on this little accessory.

We welcome your comments and reviews.

Tarpon 140Tarpon 140 Review: I am 5'4" and about 160lbs - an experienced paddler in ocean wave/wind action. Performance: Took it out several times in chop and 15 to 20 mph winds, negotiating channels and waves with landings and launchings in these conditions. Loved the stability of the Tarpon 140 but did find it sluggish to paddle any real distance. Another paddler came up along side and commented to me he didn't think it had the glide of the 160 and that was what I was just thinking. My upper body strength is weaker than Tom's but not this guy. I noticed the cockpit was designed more forward than the other models. The tank well was so deep and solid that I imagined the missing feeling of glide was from the heaviness of the back end of the kayak. The Tarpon 140 Actually tracks well without the rudder. It has a higher profile than the 160 and I found the wind catching it, so down went the rudder. It did handle swells very well and tracked well in chop and cross winds with rudder down. Design: That being said, it was very comfortable. I don't care for the backrest conflict with my PFD on the 160 but found the backrest on this 140 very comfortable in contrast. I did find the initial set up of the seat back a little convoluted. The foot pegs for the rudder were too high for comfort for my feet in light weight footwear; I would want my NRS kickers - sturdy thick soled kayak shoes for heel support. The strap eyes opposing each other behind the seat meant for the knee straps: one is doubling as the rudder pull and compromises the rudder function. I would add a strap eye for that. Otherwise the rudder is a smooth operation and the kayak responded very well. It is a pretty boat. The Tupperware tight lids on hatches and attachment cords are great...also the handle tie downs keeps hands from scraping while paddling. The drain plug is hidden under the stern area...not a good thing if it should knock open or be left loose, a following sea could be a hazardous thing. The high visibility of the orange color was great. I easily got in and out of the center hatch. Very stable and I would choose this as a stable touring platform for taking photos or fishing / snorkeling. Athena, TopKayaker.Net

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