Rockpool Isel, how do I love thee?

Rockpool Isel

Rockpool Isel

Let me count the ways!

It’s been almost 2 years since I became the proud owner of a Rockpool Isel kayak. I think it was Fate that brought us together as, quite simply, I don’t believe I could have found a kayak that could be more perfect for me.

I am a 5′ 5″ (1.524m) tall female weighing 8 st 4 lbs (116 lb, 52.6 kg).  The Isel is designed for “the smaller paddler” and features a “snug fitting cockpit”. This sounds highly appealing to smaller paddlers, however, I admit to having a little, er, flirtation, with another brand of kayak “designed for the smaller paddler” that left me less than convinced of the suitability of such models. The Isel, however, is a quite different animal and I knew immediately upon testing it that I could trust it.

First of all, it is an excellent fit. With correct footplate and seat positioning, I can sit relaxed in the kayak and my legs are in constant, comfortable contact with the thigh braces. This affords a feeling of real control and, combined with the stability of the kayak, I simply feel safe and secure. I also added a thin layer of foam into the conveniently located hip pockets.

All this safety and security doesn’t make for a boring kayak. Indeed, the Isel is manoeuvrable and nippy and I am able to turn it in high winds without difficulty. Because of its harder chines, it sticks nicely when edged and I get instant feedback on how far to go. It loves to pick up waves and, although I am not the bravest of surfers, I have had fun scooting along on a following sea.

Two Isels on the water

Two Isels on the water

Other features that have particularly impressed me include, firstly, the adjustable footplate. I am not a fan of foot pegs, although this is a very personal preference. I developed sore feet when paddling kayaks with foot pegs and this simply isn’t an issue any more. I know people comment on not being able to stretch their legs when a footplate is present, but I find that I can do so simply by straightening my legs out. I dare say that I have found the ideal positioning of the plate and seat in order to allow good contact along with a little room for manoeuvre. Secondly, lower back pain used to feature quite regularly when I paddled other kayaks, but no more. This could be because of the adjustable (and removable) glass seat design and the lumbar support provided by the back rest (and/or because I have toughened up a bit since my earlier kayaking days – yoga helps). Thirdly, I love Rockpool’s unkinkable wire skeg design. On those inevitable occasions when the kayak is plopped on the beach and the skeg is down, it is no longer a potentially trip-ruining event.

I have frequently received comments from fellow paddlers as to how much happier I look in rougher water since acquiring the Isel. I went through a bit of a rough water confidence setback a couple of years ago after a good trashing in the aforementioned unsuitable “smaller paddler” kayak. The Isel has helped me overcome this, such that I believe I am now at an appropriate proficiency level for someone of my experience on the water.  For me, it has taken a great deal of the fear out of paddling and I now find myself seeking out and enjoying conditions that used to fill me with trepidation. I have been out in up to F6 (F7 if you count gusts) mostly in the Cowal/Clyde area, and various tidal conditions elsewhere, and have had no issue with control, windage, tracking or speed. I use the skeg minimally, really only in cross-winds and downwind when surfing.

The kayak is excellent for rolling and, importantly, for self-rescuing too. When practising self-rescues with other kayaks, it has often felt like wrestling an alligator. In comparison, the Isel practically lays out a welcome mat and offers you a leg-up to get back in.

Alan balance bracing in Isel

Alan balance bracing in Isel

Just when I thought I’d realised and appreciated all of the Isel’s good qualities, I recently discovered another major bonus – it makes for an excellent Greenland rolling kayak! As I mentioned before, the harder chines, the lower profile and lower rear cockpit rim are perfect for Greenland style (layback in particular) rolling.

It might seem like I have nothing bad to say, which is true. The closest I can come is that, naturally, being a smaller, low volume kayak, there is not a huge amoung of room for gear in the hatches, although it is possible to camp out of it on short trips if you pack as if you were backpacking, say.

As Rockpool point out on their Web page, the Isel doesn’t have to be used by smaller people only, and Alan has proved this by sneaking into mine for Greenland rolling practice. He might not be able to load the kayak, but he can certainly roll it.

I wouldn’t swap my Isel for anything. It is a wonderful kayak that has brought out the best in my abilities and has made my kayaking journey a real joy.


  1. Dan Dooley says:

    I can not thank you enough for publishing your blog! For whatever reason, having nothing to do with my location in Chicago, Illinois, USA, I have fallen hard for sea kayaking and being not the largest of physical specimens, your entries on the Rockpool Isel are a large reason I have ordered an Isel 10 days ago. Your writing is very enjoyable and your sense of humor very agreeable. Thank you once again!


  2. pamf says:

    Hi Danny – So pleased to hear that you have an Isel on order (and that you’re enjoying my ramblings!). I hope you have many years of pleasure with your kayak.


  3. Sergio says:

    My Isel arrives on March !!
    Thank you very much.
    I’ll send a picture

  4. pamf says:

    Fantastic! Although that’s a long wait 🙂 I’ll look forward to hearing how you like it, as I am sure you will.

  5. John Clube says:

    I have spent a couple of days in this boat and love it, to the extent I am attempting to buy one. Could I check a couple of points?
    Rockpool have stated that the deckline holders are not strong enough to hold a towline. I am pretty sure I have seen someone using a short tow attached to the deckline in an Alaw with the same system. I don’t believe them.
    Have you tried towing with a cord attached to the deckline, or being towed? Have you had any problems with the deckline holders as a result? Both should result in about the same strain on the deckline holder.

    It rolled sensationally when I tried it without a waist tow, but I failed to try it with a waist tow. Have you rolled with a waist tow? I have always used a deck mounted tow, but it would be nice to have the back deck free.
    I realise this is a bit late, and not a comment, but I hope you have had many hours happy paddling in that great little boat.

  6. Alessandro says:


    Your post is dated 2011 and I bought my second-hand Isel one month ago, also because if your excellent review.
    I am so glad about my choice and already spent several days along the fantastic North-Eastern Italian coastline (Portovenere etc.)
    The Isel is so stable and surfs the hell indeed !
    Mine is also equipped with a smart electric pump that works so well guy !
    I’m planning to spend a copule of days for some camping in June, to live my very first expedition attempt !
    Should you drop by stoned here, well, here I am !
    All the best then, cheers !

    Ale !

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