How to Minimizing the Aches and Pains of Flatwater Paddling

Like most, I started in a rec kayak with a tall seatback. I thought it made sense at the time. Then came to learn it was a recovery obstacle and a crutch for good posture. I moved to a touring boat with a back band.

I came to think of the back band as more of a butt band, something to nestle against but not support my back. With practice, training the lower back muscles, I learned to comfortably sit upright for a few hours at a time.


I built a Pygmy kayak but was never comfortable in it. Sitting in a kayak for long periods was like torture to me with a history of lower back problems. I sold the kayak and went back to canoes. They are much more comfortable.

Now I favor drift boats which allow plenty of room for standing up and moving around and changing positions. I can bring multiple dogs and a weeks worth of equipment with a friend or two. For lakes I use a small outboard.

Technique seems to be primary. It is imperative to use the right muscles. Using arm muscles for power tends to lead to joint, tendon, and ligament problems in the elbows, wrists, and/or shoulders.


Brodie, Karen 2, or anybody else: Do you know of a website with a listing of qualified flatwater paddling coaches and/or workshops for intermediate flatwater paddlers to hone their paddling technique. If so, please share those. Not all of us live near a good paddling shop.

I suspect that not all backs are made the same. I can do 8-mile hikes without any back discomfort. Upright my back is fine, but sitting draws protests from the lower vertebrae. Still, I am going to give pbenter’s suggestion a try this spring. Instead of removing the back, I’ll just scoot my butt forward a half-inch in the generous seat and then try to paddle without touching the back. Thanks for the idea.

Use the ACAs drop down menu to find an instructor in your area. I recommend a Level 2, 3, or 4 instructor since you mention intermediate skills.

Or, for a listing of already scheduled courses (many are not listed by instructors yet due to C19 concerns - i.e. mine will not be listed for another 3 or 4 weeks). Just guessing here, but you should be ready to sign up for a Level 1 or Level 2 skills course to begin with:


I have no idea - possibly the ACA website might have such a list?

Thanks KayakHank: The first link that you provided allowed me to find several instructors within 10 miles. I am going to arrange a tune-up session on my paddling technique.

Glad to help and happy you have some local instructors.

What about an achy butt from sitting so long? Any recommendations on the perfect seat cushion?

I typically paddle between 100 and 110 hours per month.
I like closed cell foam seats.
All Sterlings come with seats from Redfish.
I replaced the seat in my 18X with one from Redfish.
My Petrel Play has a CLC foam seat.
In the past, most kayaks with fiberglass seats I had were somewhat uncomfortable.
(an exception was the seat in the Lincoln ‘Isle Au Haut’, for some reason it was quite comfortable).


Thanks, I will check it out!

After a bad mule wreck, first morphine is a like a gift from God. It took all day to find some. There were no helicopter available.

I have used plenty of different opiates after a femur broken in three places. They are all highly addictive and require some special management. Oxycontin and hydrocodone are good ones. I like Codeine a lot.

For paddling I bring a back brace, Ace bandages, NSAIDs and DMSO.

After a bad back wreck, and subsequent surgery, I was given opiates. As good as they are at reducing pain, the side effects weren’t worth it. A couple of Advil keep me functional.


Lots of good advice/information shared here…thanks.

I am 68, and one of the things to success I have found is a relationship exist between preparation, and results.
Look at the simple task of just painting something…the more time spent on prepping, which can be very boring, produces a much better finished painted product.

This observations extends into every segment of our lives…use it, and enjoy greater success!


Very thoughtful article, thank you Greg Jackson.
A few comments:
6) Gloves designed for paddling greatly reduce ‘hot spots’: they are “fingerless”, have thin leather (or synthetic) on the palm surface and a mesh body. These are very flexible and dry quickly. Wear them inside out so that the seams don’t chafe.
Similarly, excellent paddling footwear has a tough but flexible sole and a mesh upper so that they protect the paddler’s soles on shore but don’t hold water and dry quickly. Many launch spots produce wet feet.
9) Leg positioning: a paddler should ‘be one’ with their kayak - Zen, eh?
To paddle in a comfortable ‘natural’ position for many hours: heels should be close together and forefoot resting lightly on the footrests (or rudder pedals) with knees bent and splayed laterally so that the inner-upper surface of the knee lightly touches the underside of the cockpit cowling.
Try this sitting on the floor.
For respite and stretching the knees can be straightened so that the feet move forward under the foredeck.
This position prevents the paddler and their kayak from moving in different directions (unstable!) should an unexpected rocking of the kayak occur.
Try it, you’ll like it or I’ll refund your full deposit!
10) Probable typo: a short torso in a wide kayak is obliged to use a high-angle stroke.


I have also used a “sweet Cheeks” seat. It is a combination inflatable “bean” bag seat. It’s only good for me 2 hours. Im converting my boats to foam seats similar to Raisins’ seats.

On a longer paddle it is a blood flow problem. So I pull up next to Qruiser and lean over her rear deck. That gets my boat on a severe “edge” and relieves the pressure on stressed parts.

Always start with a general fitness program to obtain a base level of fitness and then as you get closer to the season for paddling unless you are a year round paddler (like most of us) focus on paddling specific workouts. I find that doing some dynamic warmups before paddling and some gentle stretching after your session will help you stay loose and limber. As a physiologist I would recommend finding your local exercise physiologist or Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach to design custom programming for your fitness levels.

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Getting old beats the alternative!


We got rid of most of our aches and pains by selling the kayaks after 20 years and buying pack canoes. Much lighter, easier to get in and out of, can carry more gear (like a regular backpack), and can move our legs around. 22 pounds is a heck of a lot easier to carry and lift. Can still use a double blade for distance and wind. Not going back.