I can also testify to the comfort and the versatility of using a closed cell pad. I had a 24" x 72" half inch Ensolite sleeping pad and cut it in half to use in my skin on frame kayak, which has no lower seat and only a Snapdragon backband. I press the pad into the cockpit, wrapping it across under the backband to snug around my hips and then fold under about 8" under my thighs to elevate them a little. This ends up being more comfortable all day than the factory seats in any of my regular kayaks. My folding kayaks have inflatable seats with low backs and my hardshell boats have backbands, but I don’t lean back into my seats at all – the backbands just provide resistance behind my pelvis as I drive with my legs during the paddle stroke.
Also, if we make a shoreline lunch stop, I can always pull the chunk of Ensoloite out to sit on it. On camping trips I carry the other half of the pad flat in the bottom of my stern hatch with dry bags and gear packed on top of it. I use a Klymit inflatable pad for sleeping (it packs down to the size of a beer can and easily stashes in a kayak) when I camp but put the two Ensolite halves under it for insulation and to protect the air mattress.
I can also testify to the truth of what MountainPaddler says about cyclists and seat comfort. I used to commute daily on my road bikes and did long day tours on the road and rail-trails and always used a hard formed narrow leather Brooks saddle – never had seat discomfort from it even on 50 mile day trips. Wide and/or soft padded seats always make me feel like somebody beat my butt after even a moderate ride.
Question: You did explain that you are fit but have you had specific exercises recommended and supervised by an OT or PT directed at improving your core muscles specifically for sitting? I was a dancer too, though only into my mid 20’s, and the strength and flexibility routines that were part of that training were not enough to make long term sitting in a fixed position in a boat (or at a desk) comfortable. And that continued to be true even though I practiced martial arts well into my 40’s and have done gym workouts 2 or 3 times a week for 35 years.
When I really started getting into kayaking 20 years ago I had a friend who’s an OTR advise me on routines that would firm up my thoracolombar fascia and strengthen all the muscle groups in my thoracic girdle, particularly the obliques, lats, glutes and serratus. I noted that some of these were similar to the exercises that my mom’s PT gave her when she ruptured a lower back disc at 77 in a bad fall – the workouts were so successful that she not only was able to cancel surgery that her orthopod was planning but was pain free for the remaining years of her life, going from having to lay on the floor in agony while taking heavy pain pills to being fully active and even making long solo road trips in her car without pain.
When you’ve had an injury, just general overall fitness, even high fitness, is usually not enough to compensate for that strain. You really do need targeted exercise specific to that new vulnerability AND to enable the specific activities you hope to pursue (this is why OT’s tend to be better than PT’s at designing routines to improve function and endurance).
And sometimes being super fit in one type of activity can mean you are hampered in comfort in another different type. Over the years I have taken many friends kayaking and canoeing with me I have noticed that a surprising number of people who are ardent cyclists ,and have no trouble riding 8 to 10 hours a day, tend to be the first to complain about “lack of support” and discomfort, even pain, in a boat even on short outings. Part of it I suspect is that they tend to have tight quads and the other is that cycling doesn’t really challenge your lower back or obliques – cyclists’ arms and legs are what is mainly supporting their riding posture. The cyclists all seem to want to lean against their seat backs and I have learned that I have to bring along inflatable lumbar cushions or even lengthwise split segments of large diameter foam pool noodles to wedge behind them. But though they will usually report some improvement from the extra support, it never seems to make them completely comfortable.
So, having seen several people be able to minimize the disruption of a damaged disc with supervised training, I think it’s worth exploring for anybody suffering from it. In my mom’s case it was not her orthopedic specialist who referred her to the OTs, they actually worked in the pain management clinic of a chiropractor that I knew. My neighbor next door and one of my good friends (with whom I often kayak) have both also avoided disc surgery in the past couple of years through prescribed targeted exercise.
You would think this would be a routine step in treating disc damage but I have known too many orthopods who just want patients to rest, take it easy and pop pain meds – I suspect they fear further injury (or even a malpractice suit) if they recommend guided exercise protocols or refer a client to a chiropractor. But those workouts are what the body needs so it can support and protect an injured joint or vertebra during activity. And enabling the person to stay active without discomfort both enhances overall health and mitigates pain in the long run.