That Love /Hate Kayak Thing


I think my kayak hates me!

I got to admit, I’m a canoester through and through.

Nine months of the year I don’t even think about kayaks.

But then comes August and the northeast rivers dry up and the northshore Greenhead flies die off and that big old Atlantic is warmed up and I start looking at the Caribou.

Now the 'bou is a SWEET boat. Got a little speed. Got a litle rocker. Got nice edges. Carves like a Samarai. Got a skeg for when I get lazy.

Love that boat!

So come July I commence to stretching. Trying to touch my toes. Dam those hams are tight. One year I stretched so hard I hurt myself. Felt like sciatica for about a year. Thank god for cruise control.

Thought I better find a sea canoe. Something I could kneel in. Yeah. With a deck and a key hole cockpit like the whitewater boats I paddle.

No such animal. Put a saddle in my old Solstice. Yeah I could keep it up. On flatwater. Long as I paid attention. You know the 'bou is 21" wide. You sit down low for a reason!

So I’m back to stretching. Took her to Maine last weekend. Paddled her for a couple of hours three days in a row. Each day was harder than the last. My aching back!

Took her out on Plum Island Sound this AM. 2.5 hours. The last hour all I wanted was to stand up, or lay down, or get up on my knees.

Hate that boat!

All I want to do is paddle that thing for 3 or 5 hours at a time like I can my canoes. I can take a little pain. I don’t mind crawling(or swimming) out of the boat. Heck I’m used to that. But this sitting on the floor with my feet out in front ain’t happening.



probably not used to it…
…I would think you’re not used to the position you find yourself in, it’s using different muscles, or adding a strain that the muslces you used to using, aren’t used to (say that really fast 10 times!).

are you sitting in a comfortable position? adjusting the seat, or perhaps, if the seat’s the problem, replacing it could help. how are the braces for comfort? are your legs bent comfortably?

I’m a noob 'yaker, but I found after tweaking stuff on the water I went from leg numbing discomfort to business class comfort (too outta condition to feel 1st class yet LOL!).

just some idear’s…

I know where…
you are coming from… Now that I am back in canoes I often wonder why I even went to kayaks. My back did the same thing as yours for the last 2 years of kayaking. Got so bad I just gave them up. With the canoes now I find my self sitting on the bottom,legs up over the gunnels,PFD as a back rest cushion against the seat,and drifting with the current.Actually sitting in the seat I can stay for hours ,and just get out of the boat,no pain,no cramps. Glad I changed back. I miss the speed of kayaking,but I am having way more fun in the canoes.

Happy Paddling billinpa

How do you do…

– Last Updated: Aug-26-06 10:07 PM EST –

...that slideshow thing?

Find the Bou a good home, it deserves it..

Get some outfitting help
It should not be that bad.

I get out of my sea kayak (narrower beam and lower foredeck than the 'bou) after a few hours of paddling looser and more flexible than when I started. I’m 44, 40# overweight, and can barely touch my toes on a good day - but can easily after a long paddle.

Ok, about the only thing I’m good at is touching my toes! Practicing gentle yoga will increase flexibility and lessen muscle pain. There is even a Yoga for Paddler’s DVD!

I think it is just time in the saddle
I love both canoes and kayaks and when I am in the yak I like it best, but then I get in the canoe and I like that the best.

If you can get a mix of other exercises such as cycling to keep all your muscles toned, then it is just a case of repetition and extending your time in the boat and your butt, legs and back will adjust to the longer hours.



Well that sure …
didn’t work for me. I ride bike to work,when at work I walk 7 hours out of 8. In my job I walk,crawl,lift,pull,sit,and carry. Put me jammed in a nearly straight out leg position,with little movement,and it became torture. In a canoe I can move about freely,end of all my problems. When I had my kayaks,I tried cushions,backbands,things under my legs,behind my back,and nothing would allow me more then 1 hour in the seat without pain.Now I do have a backband similar to a SOT on my canoes{but don’t really need it},no cushions,and I can go for hours.I think the more natural sitting position is what is working for me.

Happy Paddling billinpa

Exactly where?
Does it start hurting? Like where do you feel it first?

in the small of my back.

I think it’s because my hams are tight.

Stretching them gets me from 5 minutes in the boat to a few hours. Probably need to keep stretching even when I’m not in that kayaking state of mind. Yeah I can talk the talk but so far havn’t managed to walk the walk.

The other thing I’m starting to wonder about is my torso muscle strength. Maybe I ought to be working on that too?

I don’t think it’s an outfitting issue but I’m open to ideas.

The slideshow thing
I assume you mean in my profile.

That’s an animated GIF graphic file.

I made it with “Animation Shop” that came with Paintshop Pro V7

Take 'em with a grain of salt - this kind of thing tends to be off the mark at best in cyberspace - but a couple of ideas for what they are worth. One of the few remnants of my horse riding days is an occassional hit on what in the body is causing what.

First of all, if the problem starts in the small of your back I am not sure that tight hamstrings are the entire issue. If they were, I think it’d show up more like sciatica and the first point of pain would be lower down with a sharper discomfort running down thru your hips and under your sitz bones. Or at least it’d show up real soon after the low back. (On really long paddles I have to periodically pull my legs out from under the thigh braces or I have this issue on my left.)

I suspect, especially if you do a lot of paddling in a canoe kneeling, that the muscles right around your butt and sitz bones are tight. They are likely to be pretty strong. There are Yoga stretches that specifically go after them without setting up huge protests from the hamstrings. I can’t descibe them well here, but look for books or whatever that show them. If you stretch the hamstrings you will incidentally get to these some,l but targeted work is more effective.

One thing that might be the hamstrings - are they tight enough that you are fully prevented from keeping a fairly upright seated position in the kayak just because of them? I am having a hard time seeing that unless the seat in the kayak is tilted forward somehow so that, with your legs in the braces, you need to keep an angle close to or beyond 90 degrees between your upright back and you upper legs. But its possible. At my size I found the Caribou seat and cockpit to be pretty uncomfortable. I had to push my legs out oddly to find anything resembling contact - but that’s a long shot.

In the end though, I would guess that the core of the problem is a combination of abdominal strength not being enough to properly support your low back and something that is causing you to paddle in somewhat of a hunched over position thru the midriff. That may be a lot of things including overall cockpit fit, placement of butt and thighs front to back in there, limited rotation when paddling the kayak… but you may be hunching over more in the kayak than you do in the canoe. Only you can tell that though.

Yup - core strength and hams

– Last Updated: Aug-27-06 12:08 PM EST –

A little goes a long way.

Tight hams can force your pelvis to tilt back and put a lot more stress on your lower back. Weak core muscles make this worse.

Sitting tall in the saddle and using core rotation to alternate the load and increase circulation can do miracles. Cured a very serious chronic lower back problem in my case.

Be sure to stretch warm - after exercise. Stretching IN the kayak periodically while paddling can help.

Whatever you do don't get caught up in the seat and leg cushion stuff. Makes it worse over time.

have to agree
with the seat and back cushion route…go minimalist. the body will figure it out. core muscles is the key to everything here…stomach muscles strong automatically causes the back muscles to become stronger.


No Getting Around It…

– Last Updated: Aug-28-06 8:47 AM EST –

sounds like you need a routine of stretching and abd crunches to really be able to sit in a kayak for any length of time.

The stretching can simply be 10-15 minutes a day. Sit flat on the floor with legs entended in front. With hands on either side of your legs, your back straight just lean forward progressively and hold for 30 seconds. DON'T bounce ("ballistic stretching" can actually result in injuries). Do three sets of this. Now spread your legs as wide as possible. Do the same with head leaning towards each knee, and then to the middle. If you do these routinely (3 to 4 times per week, daily better), you'll have noticeable progress in a matter of a month.

5 years I've known you... never seemed like a sitting kayak position has been your thing...


Says it all

Laura (Sedna) got a shot of me up on the Sheepscot two weeks ago. A huh I could have got out right there!

Anyway thanks for your thoughts. Stretching and torso strength. Yup that’s what I gotta do!

one more
I totally understand how you feel. My solo canoe is real comfortable and being able to change from sitting to kneeling really helps the lower back. I have a couple of herniated disks and chronic sciatic pain. The exercise and yoga do help tremendously.

A couple of things that I started trying a couple of seasons back in my kayak has made it possible for me to paddle for hours without pain.

You mentioned you already tried the suppport under thighs and the backband placed real low on hip instead of lower back. What has really helped is I center my legs and pump them with torso rotation. Involving the lower body and constantly having the legs moving has done a world of good for my sciatic pain. Of course in rough water you do need to splay your legs but still keep pumping them through the stroke.

canoes -->yaks [–>canoes]

– Last Updated: Aug-29-06 3:15 PM EST –

Hi TommyC1,
I hear ya' with the ligament/tendon issues. Greyak & others seem to have gone thru it and Get It. Large issues seem to be core strength, paddling POSTURE!, and outfitting for leg/tendon, and the same ankle/foot(as in OC-1) comfort. The double spoons seem to need a slightly longer motion(maybe just cause of the paddling-Box being wider)...than any canoe paddle, hence the torso right up thru our necks needs to be as aligned as possible.
I once tried a little padding to actually rest portions of the leg-knee-heel/achilles-tendon on..somewhat as in playboat outfitting....felt great!...kept tension from that smaller end of the leg structure...and aliviated the hamstring tension induced when having to hold feet UP, on the pedals!!!
Haven't been in the kayak(touring) in ~a decade but I can feel the surfzone drawing me back to play in once again...