Aruba 8 SS Kayak Review [2020] − Good Beginner Kayak, But Not For Big Guys

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If you’re curious about kayaking but aren’t sure how much paddling you’ll be doing, I’m guessing you don’t want to spend too much money. My first kayak, for example, was a basic sit-on-top kayak that I could transport by myself and paddle with ease. 

That’s what Sun Dolphin had in mind with the Aruba 8. After my Sun Dolphin Aruba 8 ss kayak review, I came away more than satisfied that it can stand the rigors of an introductory kayak. 

The stable design is forgiving for beginners, and the excellent maneuverability is invaluable if you’re just starting out.

There are a few warts. The seat design is not the best and will probably need some modifications to be comfortable for an extended period. You also won’t be going anywhere fast, especially should any weather crop up. It’s also not as stable as some introductory models.

But if all you want is to get a paddle in the water on the local lakes or rivers and learn the basics of the sport, the Aruba 8 makes for a lightweight, portable, and accessible option. 

Pros: 

  • One of the smallest and portable hard-sided kayaks on the market
  • Top-notch maneuverability gives beginners an easy learning curve
  • Small amount of watertight storage space

Cons:

  • No scupper plugs included and oddly shaped scupper holes
  • Tiny load capacity makes anything longer than a day trip impossible
  • Hard plastic seat bottom gets uncomfortable after an hour or so
  • Low top speed

Things to Consider Before Buying a Sun Dolphin Aruba 8

Picture of the Aruba 8 SS

Hard-sided kayaks don’t get much smaller and lighter than the Aruba 8. But that being said, an 8-foot and 27-pound boat still needs storage space. Ideally, this will be in a dry location out of direct sunlight. 

If you’ll need to transport your kayak to the water, make sure you have a vehicle that can do so safely. This light kayak can even be carried via bicycle with the proper towing accessory. If you own a larger SUV or truck, the Aruba 8 may fit in the back or truck bed. But those with smaller vehicles will probably have to purchase a roof rack or something similar.

As a sit-in kayak, the Aruba 8 is more challenging to get in and out of. If you’re not very flexible, have a pre-existing injury, or just tend to stiffen up quickly, it may be more comfortable to look at a sit-on-top model such as the Sun Dolphin Bali 10.

While it performs well in calm conditions, the boat lacks a ton of storage space, speed, or tracking to handle multi-day trips and dynamic ocean conditions. 

If you’re looking for a recreational kayak that can handle a bit more weather, consider a better performing, albeit more expensive model like the Old Town Sorrento 106sk.

Specifications

  • Length: 8 feet
  • Width: 28 inches
  • Cockpit Dimensions: 19 x 37 inches
  • Weight: 27 pounds
  • Load Capacity: 260 pounds

Design

Material

Like most beginner and recreational kayaks, the Aruba 8 is made of a durable plastic called polyethylene. This tough substance should be able to handle any incidental drops or bumps you experience carrying it to the water. 

Speed

The stubby design works against the Aruba 8 in this case. The longer a boat’s keel, the faster it can go over water. While the V-shaped design does make it more efficient than some squatter boats, it can’t make up for the short keel.

For simple recreational trips, this probably won’t be a problem. Just know you should never be in a hurry when paddling an Aruba 8. If you’re paddling with friends, be prepared to be bringing up the rear. 

Maneuverability

Aruba 8 SS maneuverability

The short keel and 28-inch wide hull make the Aruba 8 an easy boat to steer. Even without a rudder, it turns fine using just your paddle. If you’re a more experienced kayaker you’ll find that executing tight turns with your hips is easy and the kayak is very responsive.

Comfort

aruba 8 ss comfort

The Aruba 8 has a padded, adjustable seat back. It’s also high enough to provide plenty of back support and keep it comfortable as you paddle. There’s enough wiggle room to accommodate most people. 

However, there’s no seat bottom, leaving you to sit on the kayak’s hull. While this isn’t a big deal for short paddles, after an hour or so you can expect your posterior to go numb. This can be alleviated by bringing along some extra padding like a foam knee pad to serve as a cushion. 

Stability & Tracking

While still reasonably stable, it’s a little more tippy than other beginner kayaks. It shouldn’t be much of a problem as long as you don’t take it into rough or challenging water.

The boat’s tracking is directly proportional to the water conditions. In calm water, the V-shaped hull can hold a line just fine. But wind and waves quickly push this little kayak off course and can make for a frustrating and potentially dangerous paddle home. 

Durability

The tough plastic hull can absorb most impacts and collisions. Good paddlers still exercise caution and keep their boat in as good a shape as possible. But it’s still good to know that when you inevitably miss a submerged rock or another obstacle that it’s not the end of the world.

You can maximize the lifespan of your boat by carrying it to and from the water’s edge. The tough plastic can handle being dragged short distances over sandy or small pebbled beaches, but it’s not a good habit to get into.

Portability

At just eight feet long, the Aruba 8 is one of the shortest kayaks on the market. Weighing 27 pounds when empty means you should be able to move it from your vehicle to the water with little trouble

Depending on your vehicle situation, it may fit in the back of some trucks or even be squeezed in the back of an SUV. 

Features & Accessories

There’s no rudder or skeg installed on the Aruba 8, but chances are you won’t miss it thanks to the boat’s responsiveness and tight turn radius. 

Storage capacity is minimal but adequate for day trips. There’s a small watertight stern hatch that is suitable for holding personal effects and other small items you want to keep dry. Deck bungees are stretched across the stern and able to hold a small cooler or similar item.

A molded paddle holder in front of the seat allows you to have your hands free if you want to fish or just need a break. 

The boat comes with scupper holes to drain water but no scupper plugs. Oddly, the scupper holes on the Aruba 8 aren’t the standard size of most boat’s scupper holes. This means that if you want to install plugs you’ll probably need to modify them before installing. 

While some boats aimed at beginners sweeten the pot with throw-in accessories like a paddle or life jackets, you’ll get no added goodies with your purchase. 

Value

Since the Aruba 8 can be found at a reasonable price from most retailers, it’s an attractive option for beginners looking for a cost-efficient kayak. And while it performs fine as a recreational kayak, I wouldn’t push it past that.

This coupled with the odd-shaped scupper holes and no added accessories cap the boat’s upside.

But despite these shortcomings, it’s still a tough and reliable boat that’s right at home on calm and protected waterways where the goal is to have fun and relax.

Testimonials

I spent some time looking online to see if there were other favorable reviews for the Aruba 8. Some noted that it’s not as stable as many beginner models. But many lauded the portability and overall performance. 

First testimonial
Second testimonial
Third testimonial

Alternatives

Sun Dolphin Aruba 10

Picture of the Sun Dolphin Aruba 10

Two feet longer than the Aruba 8, the Aruba 10 manages to coax a little more speed even though it remains on the short side. The bigger frame makes it more difficult to transport, but it still weighs a svelte 40 pounds which many will find manageable. 

You’ll find the same excellent maneuverability as the Aruba 8 along with a nice little stern hatch to hold a handful of items. A paddle holder like the Aruba 8 has is another nice touch.

But despite being bigger, the Aruba 10 has a smaller load capacity than the Aruba 8, able to carry just 250 pounds compared to the Aruba 8’s 260. Longer legged paddlers may appreciate the extra legroom and the adjustable foot pegs do add a little versatility. But the seat has drawn negative feedback and chances are you’ll want to modify it a little to make it more comfortable. 

  • Cheap and cost-efficient first kayak
  • Excellent maneuverability helps with the learning curve for newcomers
  • Tiny load capacity and low top speed limits it to day trips 

Intex Challenger K1

Intex Challenger K1 Kayak picture

An inflatable model, the Intex Challenger K1 is one of the cheapest recreational kayaks. While inflatables have a (mostly) unearned reputation as being flimsy, tippy, and unreliable, the Challenger K1 performs well in all three of those areas. 

It’s certainly more susceptible to damage than its hard-sided counterparts, but leverages this with easy portability and a lightweight design. While you will have to inflate and deflate the kayak before and after trips, Intex has made this process easy. When deflated the kayak fits in a shoulder bag and can be stored in a closet if necessary.

On the water, the performance is somewhat comparable to the Aruba 8. The short keel provides good maneuverability and the multi-chambered design makes it a stable platform in calm and moderate conditions.

But it struggles to maintain a course in wind and waves and the lack of storage space means you won’t be doing any overnight trips in this one. 

  • Inflatable design and easy set-up and take-down makes it very portable
  • Surprising stability for an inflatable kayak
  • Included paddle with most purchases
  • No watertight storage to speak of

Sun Dolphin Bali 10

Bali 10 ss picture

You’ll find similar characteristics to Sun Dolphin’s other kayak products. The seat on the Bali 10 is fully adjustable but will probably need some padding to be comfortable for more than a couple hours. It’s another short model measuring 10 feet with a small load capacity of 250 pounds.

It’s a sit-on-top kayak so you don’t have a way to install a spray skirt like you can with the Aruba models. Chances are this won’t matter for many, but if you plan on paddling in colder water I’d lean towards the Aruba model so you have the option.

On the water, the Bali 10 performs similarly to the Aruba 8 and 10. The hull design does provide better tracking in wind and smaller waves while not compromising the boat’s stability. Adjustable foot pegs and the open cockpit design makes it easier to enter, exit, and adjust where your legs are braced.

  • The sit-on-top design makes it best for warm water
  • Improved tracking without sacrificing stability
  • Watertight stern hatch

Conclusion

If you’re looking to dip your toes into the world of kayaking, the Aruba 8 from Sun Dolphin is a fine choice. 

It won’t wow you with any high-end accessories and if you’re hoping to attempt any high-performance paddles in you’ll be disappointed. But as an introductory model, it shines with stability that compensates for any mistakes and the tight maneuverability that you’ll appreciate when you’re first starting out.

If you find that kayaking suits you, you’ll probably want to move on to a more expensive and impressive design eventually. But for casual Saturdays at the lake and similar scenarios, the Aruba 8 provides a safe and enjoyable paddle while keeping money in your wallet.

You can learn more about Sun Dolphin and their other paddling products by visiting their website

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