Where do you paddle? If you answer, “Smaller lakes, ponds and gentle rivers,” or any other sheltered waters, you’re not alone. According to a 2016 Outdoor Industry Association report, the number of outdoor enthusiasts who count themselves as recreational kayakers is more than triple the number who identify as sea kayakers.
Elie Sound 120 XE Specs
Max capacity:325 lbs
Price:$699 USD/ $849 CAD
Not all of us have the opportunity—or the desire—to embark on multi-day kayak trips or paddle exposed ocean and Great Lakes coastlines. Chances are, even if you do fall into the minority who camped out of their kayak or ventured into the surf this season, you spent many more days exploring quieter waters closer to home.
What point am I trying to make, exactly? Just this: a 16-to-17-foot sea kayak is more boat than many paddlers need. Now before the naysayers proclaim sea kayaking dead, or the diehards declare Adventure Kayak irrelevant—or worse, irreverent—let me just say that I believe there’s tremendous value in traditional kayaks.
These boats challenge paddlers to develop more advanced skills, invite us to push ourselves, and allow us to turn dream trips into reality. Still, there’s a reason the 10-to-12-foot recreational boat market takes the lion’s share of kayak sales.
These boats are easy to paddle, easy to store and transport, and easy on the wallet. An entire family can get outfitted with recreational kayaks for the same price as a single, premium touring kayak. Case in point: Elie’s popular Sound 120 XE.
In the hyper-competitive field of beginner-friendly, sit-inside rec kayaks, the Sound 120 offers an attractive balance of comfort, performance and price.
Let’s look at comfort first. Elie’s design team gave the Sound 120 a super-spacious, open cockpit for maximum versatility and peace of mind for new paddlers.
At over 50 inches long and 23 inches wide, the cockpit opening has an airy feel that makes getting in and out of the kayak a breeze, even for larger and longer-legged paddlers.
On the other end of the scale, the Sound 120 accommodates smaller paddlers equally well, thanks to Elie’s deluxe Ergoflex seating system. The padded seat features thigh risers for all-day comfort, and an adjustable backrest that’s supportive without promoting lazy posture or getting in the way during reentries. I also appreciated the knee pads, which wrap the coaming where the paddler’s inner knees contact the boat. This is a critical point of contact for edging and stabilizing the kayak, and one that’s all too often overlooked in recreational designs.
Below The Deck Of The Sound 120
The generously-sized footrests adjust with a simple pull-push movement that I found easier to use than conventional pinch-and-slide pedals. No mention of the Sound’s outfitting is complete without a nod to the cockpit table, which resembles a dashboard integrated into the forward coaming.
Within the dashboard, paddlers will find a four-inch, screwtop lid. Elie euphemistically calls this a “day hatch”—in reality, it gives access to a small dry bag that’s just big enough for snacks and sunscreen.
Also incorporated into the table is a cup holder, which is perfectly sized for my travel mug of morning coffee. As an ardently minimalist sea kayaker, I’m a little embarrassed to admit how much I enjoyed this last feature.
The Sound 120 combines a 28-inch beam with medium-hard chines and a shallow-V hull to give novice paddlers an impregnable sense of initial stability.
This hull shape means that as skills develop, paddlers are rewarded with surprisingly nimble on-edge performance. Instead of the added complexity, weight and cost of a skeg or rudder, the Sound 120 features a durable, plastic keel extension to enhance tracking.
Acceleration and glide benefit from Elie’s proprietary Poly-XR material, a three-layer plastic that uses resin in the top sheet for a thermoformed hull that is lighter and stiffer than standard rotomolded polyethylene.
For those aspiring to kayak camping the Sound 120 has adequate capacity for an overnight adventure.
My ginormous Pelican SLR camera case slips behind the seat with room left over for water bottles and throw rope. The large Quick-Lock stern hatch accesses ample dry storage for tent, clothes and a compact sleeping kit.
I would like to see Elie add a front bulkhead to the Sound and its sister, the Strait 120. It’s not about storage, although a hatch up front can be handy for smaller items. While this feature has traditionally been omitted from the 12-foot-and-under rec market, a handful of progressive manufacturers like Delta, Eddyline, Current Designs and Feelfree to name a few recognize that these boats could very well get taken out of their protected waters and into rougher seas. A bulkhead provides an important safety benefit by integrating bow flotation in these compact kayaks.
Whether you’re an early morning coffee cruiser, cottage puppy paddler or weekend birder-boater, the Elie Sound 120 is a spacious, stable and versatile vehicle on the waters where most of us spend most of our time paddling.