Sun Dolphin Bali 13.5 SS Tandem Kayak (REVIEW)
I love paddling and many of my closest friends love it too. In fact, getting out on the water is one of my favorite ways to spend time with them. Tandem kayaks, especially the easier to use sit-on-top variety, are a great way to enjoy the paddling experience with them.
Sun Dolphin’s Bali Tandem sit-on-top is one of the best entry-level tandem kayaks on the market right now and is near perfect for taking paddling friends out for a weekend adventure. Families will love it too, as there’s just enough space in for a child if you don’t load it down with gear.
- Accomodates 1, 2, or 3 persons
- Three Covered storage compartments
- Onboard shock cord Deck rigging
- Deluxe adjustable seats with back supports
- Storage compartments
Last update on 2020-01-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Things to Consider Before Buying Your First Tandem Kayak
Paddling with a partner can be a great experience and with the strength of two, you can really get a boat moving.
However, choosing the wrong kayak can lead to frustration and, depending on how well you handle conflict, a deterioration of the relationship (they don’t call them “divorce boats” for nothing).
For your first tandem kayak, you should focus on getting something that’s easy to use. It’s hard enough preventing your paddles from clanging together on each stroke, you don’t need something wobbly that feels like it might tip over every time you friend needs to scratch an itch.
Don’t get too carried away looking for astounding performance – maneuverability and speed will come later on; just focus on having a good time.
A tandem kayak should be:
- Stable: two paddlers are more likely to make mistakes that unbalance the boat.
- Comfortable: Two comfortable paddlers will be less inclined to get into an argument.
- Durable: It should be built to last as long as your relationship (or longer).
Sun Dolphin Bali Tandem Kayak Review
Sun Dolphin is an industry leader in the field of recreational kayaks. They make boats that are fun, easy to use, and most importantly, affordable. The Bali Tandem is one of their best offerings as far as tandem sit-on-tops kayaks go.
You and your paddling buddy should have no trouble paddling one of these on your first try. It’s a workhorse of a boat: durable, stable, and intuitive enough that you and a friend might actually get a synchronized paddle stroke going.
- Can hold up to three people
seat can be repositioned to the middle of the cockpit for solo paddling.
- Fairly lightweight for a tandem hard-shell
- Very affordable
- Seats aren’t that comfortable
- Only performs well in calm waters
- No rod holder mounts included
- Grab handles are insufficient for carrying solo
As a recreational kayak, the Bali Tandem actually performs quite well, so long as you’re not taking it in the ocean or on a really fast-moving river. This is a really stable kayak that’s designed for beginners and paddlers that don’t mind taking it easy.
It’s 34 inches wide at the cockpit, which improves primary stability, but also adds some drag to the boat. The Bali Tandem will never win any races, but it will provide a stable base, and if you do flip over, it won’t be a disaster so long as all your gear is tied down properly.
However, I am impressed with the fact that the Bali Tandem comes with adjustable footrests; this is somewhat unusual for sit-on-top kayaks, as they often just have molded footwells. Getting the perfect fit for your legs improves paddling efficiency and makes you feel more connected with the boat.
Most of us don’t have the space to keep a solo kayak in addition to our tandem for when paddling partners are unavailable. Going it alone in a tandem is a fairly miserable experience though; the whole boat is unbalanced. That’s why I really appreciate that Sun Dolphin has designed the Bali Tandem to let you reposition the seats. If it’s just you on an adventure, it can be moved to the center, just like a solo boat.
Tandem kayaks never really excel in the portability category and that holds true with the Bali Tandem. It weighs 70 lb and like most of the longer sit-on-tops, is nearly impossible to carry by yourself.
The grab handles to sides of the cockpit aren’t very useful as the thirteen and a half feet of length is simply too unruly to maneuver with them – best to carry it from the bow and stern handles with a partner.
That extra weight means it’s no picnic to load on top of a car either. However, the Sun Dolphin is not excessively heavy as far as tandems go, so you’ll unlikely find a more portable two-person kayak.
One of the first things you’ll notice upon climbing into this kayak is that the seats were definitely an afterthought. There’s a thin foam pad to sit on and an equally thin, but at least somewhat adjustable backrest behind you.
If you were doing multiday trips with this boat, your butt and back might not be very happy about it. Fortunately, it’s not really built for such trips anyways, so this should never be a problem. The Bali Tandem is good enough for adventures only lasting a few hours, and as a roomy sit-on-top, you’ll at least have plenty of space to stretch out your legs.
Like most sit-on-top kayaks, the Bali Tandem is incredibly durable; it just comes with the design. Since the hull is a solid structure, it’s much less susceptible to warping when left out in the sun and short of running one of these through extreme whitewater, there’s little to no chance you’ll bend or break the boat.
The seats are really the only weak point, and by the time you would have worn them out, you’ll likely have purchased a more comfortable aftermarket version.
Alternatives to the Bali Tandem
Sun Dolphin has created a great kayak with the Bali Tandem; it handles well, is incredibly durable, and most importantly, it doesn’t cost a fortune. However, it doesn’t excel in most categories but is just good enough.
Those looking for a kayak that outperforms in one area or the other might want to consider a few other choices.
Ocean Kayak Zest Two Expedition Tandem Sit-On-Top Touring Kayak Review
If you need a kayak that turns quicker and gets going a little faster, you might prefer the Zest Two Expedition Tandem from Ocean Kayak. This boat’s a bit longer at sixteen feet, which gives it superior tracking abilities, but it’s also built with a more aggressive hull shape that really allows it to lean into a turn.
If you and your paddling partner enjoy running fast rivers, this is a solid option. However, it will cost you a bit more than the Bali Tandem and weighs an extra five pounds.
Advanced Elements StraightEdge 2 Kayak Review
The Bali Tandem is also not the most portable kayak on the market, weighing 70 lb and requiring two people to transport. You and your paddling partner don’t need to sacrifice portability though – to stay lightweight you can always go inflatable.
The StraitEdge 2 from Advanced Elements is one of the best boats for those wanting to shed pounds, only weighing 48 lb. As an inflatable, it lacks the storage capacity of the Bali Tandem, and costs a little more, but this could be a great option for those wanting something that can be carried a couple miles down the trail (it fits in a convenient duffle bag).
Hobie Mirage Compass Duo Tandem Kayak Review
One of the more popular reasons for getting a sit-on-top kayak is to do some fishing. Unfortunately, the Bali Tandem is lacking in features that would make it an ideal fishing kayak (rod holders, transom mounting for trolling motor, etc.).
A much better option for anglers is the Mirage Compass Tandem from Hobie, a company known for building amazing fishing kayaks. The Mirage Compass is not only equipped with far more comfortable seats, which sit a little higher for better viewing, but also has a unique pedal-drive system for maneuvering the boat without setting your rod down.
The downside? It cost around five times as much as the Bali Tandem, which is outside the budget of all but the most serious anglers.
Is the Bali Tandem for You?
Your first question should actually be: do you need a tandem kayak in the first place? If you don’t already have an easygoing paddling partner in mind, the answer is no, and you should move on to a solo boat that will be much easier to maneuver and will cause less strife.
The second question to answer is: where do you plan to use it? If lakes and slow-moving rivers are your ideal weekend trip, the Bali Tandem should serve you well – not so much if you want to explore coastal waters or big current rivers. It’s a superb kayak as far as budget recreational boats go, but it is definitely designed for novices and might not have everything that more experienced paddlers would need.
- Do you need to carry a lot of gear? The Bali Tandem has loads of storage space.
- Is this kayak going to be used for fishing? It doesn’t come with any rod holder mounts and won’t be that easy to attach a trolling motor.
- Will you be portaging frequently? A canoe might be a better option.