Feet and Leg Position

I have just finished building a 16 foot wooden touring kayak and I really not sure how I should fit into it. I am used to a huge 55 inch cockpit on my 12 foot Perception Sundance recreational kayak (which I still love)and leg and foot issues never really were too important. I need some advice on how to place my feet and legs such as: what angle should your knees be bent, should your heels touch when padddling, should your thighs be touching the underside of the coaming or the inside of the coaming? I would appreciate any advice or wisdom you can share.


Basic Tripod
The specific angles will vary based on the boat, your size, and most importantly your own body. The almost right angle that I like from torso to legs, for example, is not physically possible for someone with really tight hamstrings. But we can both paddle a kayak effectively as long as the boats are fitted out to work with those tendencies.

The three points of contact you need for the bigger control manuvers and/or an aggressive forward stroke are butt, thighs and feet. The butt needs to be well seated for balance and being able to shift it around to change your weighting, the thighs need to be sufficiently under or into a thigh brace to lift and hold a boat on edge, and the feet need to be able to brace against something to “pedal” during a forward stroke. How you get there is a matter of spending time in the boat to gradually get the outfitting just right with shaped minicell foam or whatever.

The final angle that is also variable between people is whether the legs are pretty much straight in front to catch a thigh brace, or in a froggy position opened out to the side. Racers almost always prefer straight, but outside of that thre is a lot of variation. Again, personal preference.

It’s usual to get a boat and spend some time paddling it before finalizing the outfitting. The one reason to speed that up may be if you plan to take rolling lessons in this boat, where the outfitting can be a lot more important.

Hi Jake
It would help to know what kind of kayak you built (congrats BTW) and whether it has a keyhole or an ocean cockpit. If is is a low volume, Greenland style kayak with an ocean cockpit, the usual position is straight legs together flat on the hull. For most people, that takes some getting used to but is very comfortable once you get it down. As you move up the volume scale, position moves toward the tripod with legs splayed up and out in easy reach of the thigh braces. If you have a large cockpit fishing boat then your legs can go where comfort dictates.

Hope this helps,


Loose or Tight?
The fastest paddlers only contact their kayaks at their butt and feet. Their balance comes mostly through their paddle not from the kayak.

This performance paddling posture is probably not what you are after. You are prabably aiming more the snug, restrictive fit that the majority of sea kayakers prefer.

Either way, I expect you will not really figure it out until you paddle the boat fro extended periods. So the most important thing in the beginning is to make sure you have enough adjustability in the seat and footpegs. Get those adjustments right so you are comfortable, feet do not fall asleep and your thighs are somewhat close to the deck or sides for a brace when needed. Then if you want a snugger fit add minicell foam.

My advice is to try to keep things as loose as possible. You will paddle more efficiently and also be more comfortable. But many would urge you to lock yourself in tight to the cockpit.

Another thing to spend time deciding. There are some excellent coaches who would recommend that your legs should be laying loosely along the bottom of the boat, and only be in contact with a thigh brace on an “as needed” basis like for turns or sculling.

I know paddlers who have, after packing themselves tightly in the kayak for a long time to enhance control, started stripping outfitting out again to get a looser fit. It’s probably worth noting that so far these are folks who have also gotten pretty secure in their roll, and can tolerate some wiggle and still reliably get up.