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TarponThe Tarpon 160 (Two-hatch model - see notes on 2005 Re-Design: Tarpon 160i)
by Wilderness Systems

See also: "Not All Tarpons Are The Same" A very detailed review of all the Tarpon Models


TERRIE: (From our Fall Expeditions) I did the hip wiggle as Tom suggests in his book, and the Tarpon felt really sturdy and stable. I didn't have the sense that it would tip or that it would take on water. Seemed to start easy from a dead stop and didn't take that much to get going.

TarponThe frustration level was really low and boosted my confidence. I was surprised on my last day when we got to the take-out "Hey wait a minute...This is it?" I was ready to go farther. Could have paddled more that day. Didn't notice difference in seat pad softness but plastic seat back gave more support than the Grand Touring Seat we had outfitted it with before. Loading: harder to load than Perception's Napali or Illusion; the openings were generous but freeboard is low making it hard to fit stuff in. DRY in hull and dry ride. Pretty boat. Above deck storage is limited though.


I've had my Tarpon for 18 weeks now. I estimate I have well over 300 miles on it already, averaging one 16-20 mile paddle a week. Longest paddle so far has been around 25 miles (6 hours). Conditions I have used the Tarpon in range from flat fresh & salt water to open ocean and everything in between including rivers and the Intracoastal Waterway. I have been up narrow creeks and canals out of reach of other boats, I have paddled in Port Everglades with the cruise ships and tankers, and in the Atlantic. I'm 5' 9" 200 pounds and normally carry another 10-25 pounds of gear. Lighter paddlers may have different impressions of the Tarpon.

Stability: All but the most erratic boat wakes can be all but ignored. The boat cuts through the small ones and glides over the larger ones. I have to work pretty hard to fall out of this kayak (I never have except on purpose). I frequently sit sideways with my legs over the side to reach gear or just relax a minute - on flat water and out in the swells.

Comfort: The molded seatback is great. Those who complain it is uncomfortable must not rotate correctly when paddling. It is not intended to be a lounge chair you can sit still in, it's meant to give support through a range of motion. It does this exceptionally well and I would hate to have to paddle for several hours without it. I have heard several mentions of a pad made by Surf to Summit - but feel added padding will limit the mobility offered by the smooth backrest and ruin what is so great about this set up. Foot pegs offer a large range of adjustment.

Tracking: I have had no need for a rudder would rather not have the 10% drop in speed. The only time the boat is less than perfect is in following/rear quartering waves which at certain periods can turn the boat around a bit. I've had a similar effect running down river in twisting currents. I suspect this is true with most kayaks.

Turning: The 16 ft length made turns seemed a little difficult at first (10 min). This was more about me learning the kayak than any characteristics of the kayak itself. The boat is very responsive for it's length and now seems to turn beautifully in all conditions.

Speed: My average (including water and snack breaks) cruising speed is 4 mph. It is reasonably easy to get the boat to close to 6 mph (maximum physically possible with a 16' non-planing hull) for sprints to clear boat traffic, etc. It's no surf ski - but for a 28" wide 65 lb sit-on-top it's quick. There are a lot of kayaks in S. Florida - but I've yet to have anyone on another sit-on top keep up.

Overall impressions: The Tarpon is predictable, reliable, and fun. Rounded sides make for easy on and off to swim/snorkel/dive, even in heavy chop. It's very forgiving and suitable for novices but also should satisfy more seasoned paddlers. The Tarpon is very quiet with almost no hull slap. Great for wildlife observation and fishing. Very dry too, but when you do take on some water a small amount can accumulate in the seat. Add a channel to drain that, a small easily accessed day hatch, and elevated vs. recessed large hatches (dry, but not 100%) and this boat would be nearly perfect.

Some of the latest offerings from the other kayak companies are obviously intended to catch this boat (all around the same dimensions), which says it all. If they have something better they can send me one and I'll give it a couple hundred miles of comparison paddling. Kris Buttermore Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Just got my Tarpon on 9/22. I have been renting Tarpons, Scupper Pros, Necky Dolphins, and a host of other SOTs this past summer. First thing I noticed was the tracking and speed of the Tarpon. Scupper Pro needed a rudder to paddle staight, Necky was a lot tippier. Paddle mostly in Long Beach, Huntington Beach, and Newport Beach, California areas. Notice that the Tarpon is very smooth and stable in waves, wind, and channel chop. Takes in little water. Wind has minimal effect on stability of boat. (I'm 5' 10" - 210 lbs.) Scupper holes do work. Seat is very comfortable. (Had back surgery last December). Hatches seem to be dry. (Added paddle holder on starboard side and bungee cord over stern hatch) Average cruising speed 4 knots. Glides great. Somewhat slow to turn. (Hey - 16 ft.) Boat is somewhat heavy outside of the water - 65+ lbs. Once in the water no difference. Just added a rudder from WS. (6 hour installation). Very nice having rudder, especially in the wind and channel chop. Really makes controlling boat easier than corrective strokes. Turns a lot faster than corrective stokes. Would buy this boat again. Plan to do a little surfing near the shoreline. (Realize that boat is not designed for this. Who cares?) JR Los Angeles, CA.

After "getting into kayaking" with an O.K. Drifter, I wanted an upgrade kayak with the following (in order of importance): as fast as possible for a sit-on-top; behavior like a touring yak; seaworthy; dry ride; good looks. After doing a lot of research, picked the Tarpon over the Perception Illusion and W.S. Freedom. The boat is everything I had hoped for. Gets going fairly quickly, is fast, glides after you stop paddling, feels "light" and responsive, very quiet, a little "tippy" at first but you get used to it, good looks turns heads. The negatives are, not easy to turn (I didn't get a rudder and don't plan to) and the seatback is a little "chintzy" but comfortable with the S2S seat cushion on it. I plan to use my usual seatback from now on. My lady and I did an experiment: She matched my strokes in her O.K. Scupper Classic, and I was soon moving farther and farther away from her. Showed us the relative speed of the two kayaks. Either the Scupper is slow or the Tarpon is fast. G. Baldwin Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Took my new WS Tarpon out for the first time this afternoon.. This kayak has everything I was looking for, speed, stability, comfort, storage, and of course looks. One of the Tarpon's greatest attributes is -- it's quiet! I was able to approach Herons, egrets, and other wildlife effortlessly. I am looking forward to taking this boat to the ocean the next couple weeks.. Highly Recommended. Wes - Florence, SC -

WS TARPON: I immediately replaced the back support. Boat does not track well on the ocean with any wave action. Tracking is improved by adding ballast and rudder. Recommend paddler weigh more than 200lbs to avoid adding ballast. Good boat on flat water and pretty fast. Boat is stable for fishing. Storage space requires small items since hatchs are narrow and low on boat. Seat should be redesigned and some surfaces flattened for splash control and mounting fishing gear. Bill, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

Wilderness System Tarpon I am a second year beginner and love to paddle. My kayaking buddy has a OK Scupper Pro which I loved. But, yesterday I tried the Necky- Dolphin, the Heritage- Expedition and the Wilderness Systems- Tarpon. The Dophin was not particularly stable but fast and manuverable, tracked ok. The Expediton was stable, fast and manuverable but low in the water. The Tarpon felt heavier then the others but tracked great, coasted the longest, very stable, fast once "underway" and comfortable and dry. Easy to adjust the seat and foot pegs when moving. Two large hatches. Maybe a little on the heavy side. Will look into a rack with rollers. The molded seatback is very comfortable and the seat pad was just enough padding. I purchased it today after thinking it over, overnite and reading reviews on the web. I chose this over the OK Scupper Pro mostly for the sitting position, hull shape, stability- (my friend is 6'3"- he has no problem with the stability of the Scupper and it offers him the leg length), and asthetics. I am psyc! Lewis MANALAPAN, New Jersey

original TarponSpecifications: Wilderness System's Original Tarpon
16' X 28" 63 pounds
Maximum Capacity 325 pounds
Outfitted w/ 2 cargo hatches, rudder,
plastic backrest, self-adhesive foam seat pad

2005 Re-Design:Tarpon 160i

Tarpon 160iWilderness Systems has re-made the Tarpon 160. The hull shape has not changed, at least not by much. The big changes are on the deck. The two large, hard cover hatches, are gone and replaced with a tank well, with shock cords, on the stern deck and slightly smaller cargo hatch on the bow deck. Many added features are the same as the other Tarpons in the line-up. Two small hatches (one handy in the cockpit, the other behind the seat) have been added. The seatback has changed to match all Tarpons. And there is now a deck net on the bow and shock cords in the cockpit for handy storage. Also of note, the Tarpon 160i has 6 scupper holes, 4 in the cockpit and 2 in the tank well. (Corks do not seem to be included.)

See also: "Not All Tarpons Are The Same" A very detailed review of all the Tarpon Models
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