Get the Most from Your Kayak
Whether you're an experienced kayaker or are just getting into the sport, this fully illustrated manual has everything you need to make sure your boat and gear meet your kayaking needs. Written by longtime paddler and outdoorsman Andy Knapp, "The Optimum Kayak: How to Choose, Maintain, Repair, and Customize the Right Boat for You offers an insider's focus on kayaks and accessories.
This one-stop resource, the first of its kind, featuresA review of the entire spectrum of kayaks and kayaking gear for most variations of the sport, from whitewater to sea kayaking, along with information on getting started in the area that interests you.Guidelines for purchasing the kayak and paddling accessories--new or used--that are appropriate to your needs.Basic maintenance procedures and storage tips to keep your kayak in top condition.Instructions for making repairs to your equipment, including how to make emergency repairs while on a paddling trip.Tips for customizing your boat so that it suits you perfectly.Information on building your own kayak and keeing it secure.Handy resource lists of manufacturers, associations, repair services, mail-order, and Internet suppliers, and more.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Andy Knapp is the paddlesports specialist and buyer for Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis and a former member of the Board of Directors of the Trade Association of PaddleSports (TAPS). The author of numerous articles in Sea Kayaker, Silent Sports, and other magazines, he is a contributing editor for Canoe & Kayak magazine and the editor of the Upper Midwest Kayak Touring News. A multisport outdoorsman, he estimates that over the last 35 years he has logged over 123,000 miles biking, kayaking, canoeing, running, snowshoeing, hiking, and skiing.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter 5 Customizing Your Boat Kayaking in all its aspects is a sport of physical and mental dexterity. A kayaker meets the challenges of the earth's surface water in one form or another using a variation of a simple craft that dates back thousands of years. Over the millennia, the Inuit undoubtedly tinkered with their boats and water gear, exchanging information with others near and far, to make these tools work for them in their harsh, changing environment. Today, as recreational kayakers, we too gain satisfaction from tinkering with our boats and gear, customizing our kayaks and accessorizing with the proper gear to make them meet our specific paddling needs. Unless you build your own kayak from scratch, you will need to do some modifications to any stock boat to make it work for your intended purpose. The interrelated factors of fit, performance, convenience, and safety dictate our customizing needs. The most important factor is fit, since it relates closely to performance and safety. Making the kayak fit our individual bodies is as important for appropriate control and comfort as it is to fit a bicycle or a pair of skis properly. Performance relates to the way the kayak and paddle do the things we must do to navigate through the water. For convenience, we want certain things available when we need them as we paddle. And for safety's sake, we want the configuration of kayak and gear to add to our margin of error, making it more likely we will return without mishap. This customizing process is a constantly evolving one. Almost all aspects of kayaking are undergoing a dynamic level of change and innovation, and our individual needs and goals will evolve with these changes. Many of us who have paddled for years may wonder how we made do with the skills and the gear that seemed so hot back then. Yet, the basics never change. It's not the gear, but what we do with the gear that counts. Outfitting the Cockpit Cockpit fit is the key to paddling performance. The adage that you "wear" your whitewater kayak is true for all kayaks as well. Kayak propulsion takes more than just sitting and moving our arms back and forth. Efficient paddling technique involves the shoulders and most of the muscles of the torso, so your upper body needs to be free to reach, turn, and flex. As you paddle, you are pulling yourself forward, and you must be firmly seated and bracing with your feet to prevent sliding farther forward into the kayak. As you encounter progressively difficult conditionswhether you seek them out or notyou will need to lean, brace, and sweep, which requires your hips, lower back, and thighs to be holding the boat.
These points of contact with the kayak are where the energy you put into the paddle forces the kayak to go where you want it to, and thus are the focal points for proper fit. The goal is to balance a comfortable fit with the performance needs of your style of kayaking. The differences in outfitting for whitewater kayaking, sea and surf kayaking, and recreational kayaking are mostly a matter of degree; the principles are the same. Think of your kayak fit in the same sense you would about your boot and shoe fit. For all sports, your footwear needs to fit well. For climbing you need maximum performance, and a climbing shoe must fit very snugly. When hiking you need a hiking boot to cover the miles with performance and control, but you also need a level of comfort to be able to continue. And with sandals you are maximizing comfort and are outfitted for only minimum control, such as when walking on a beach. The Seat Your kayak's seat and the back band or backrest are the most important components in terms of comfort while paddling. The recumbent position of kayaking is naturally a comfortable one, but your rear end and lower back need to be evenly supported to distribute the weight and avoid pressure points. Make these adjustments in advance, since your options for shifting around and making changes once situated in the kayak and underway are minimal.
In the past seat design by many commercial kayak manufacturers has appeared to have been an afterthought, driven as much by price and ease of installation as by fit. A competitive market has fostered innovations in this area. Nevertheless, it is impossible for any one seat design, even a good one, to fit all possible human shapes. Therefore, your first seat customization decision will be whether to utilize the existing seat as a base and improve its fit or to take it out and build from scratch. Either way, a seat designed just for your needs will not be as difficult to create as it may sound.
If you have a new kayak or are new to the sport, put some paddle time in to get a feel for what needs to be done. Before hitting the water, get the foot pegs and back support into proper position. Adjust the angle or tension on the back rest/back band to support your lower back and give your back a sense of gripping the boat. Adjust the positions of the foot pegs so your knees are bent sufficiently to allow you to grip the thigh braces as well (if so equipped).
With these points adjusted, you should feel sufficiently wedged in to be able to hold yourself in the kayak even if it were upside-down (which is what you would be if trying to execute a roll). If you are uncomfortable with this snug a fit, back off on these settings. You can fine-tune these positions later as you customize your fit and as your paddling confidence grows.
After being on the water, you can identify areas for improvement. Does the contour of the present seat match your anatomy and remain comfortable for extended periods? Make note of any pressure points, including the front edge of the seat where it may pinch a leg nerve and put your leg to sleep. Try a few wet exits and see how easy it is to hold yourself in for a few moments and also how easy it is to relax your legs and slide out. Practice some leaned turns, braces, and sweep strokes to determine if the seat is too wide and how much hip support you may want. If taking a kayak skills course, pay attention to these fit issues and seek opinions from knowledgeable instructors.
Most kayaks come with an installed contoured seat. For extra comfort, fill in with minicell foam some of the contours or add some padding. Generally you don't want to add too much height to the seat: even a small increase in the position of your center of gravity will noticeably decrease the kayak's stability. As you experiment with the fit, lightly tape the foam pieces in place, and then go for a test paddle to see how it works before committing to that configuration with adhesive. Proceed carefully and patiently when modifying the seat's comfort and fit. In the end, you'll have to sit with it.
If all you want for your posterior is a softer, more comfortable surface, there are a number of commercially made seat pads and cushions that will do the job. Many paddlesports accessory suppliers offer basic minicell foam seat pads that fit the contours of most molded hard seats. For a more deluxe ride, you can use gel-filled pads. The gel flows into the correct shape and eliminates pressure points. Planetary Gear makes this variety of pad that is held in place with Velcro and a security cord.
Several inflatable seat cushions are available, including one by Cascade Designs that is patterned after the construction of their popular Therm-a-REST sleeping pads. With it, you can vary the amount of air you sit on, striking a balance of comfort and performance.
Other products are coming onto the market all the time. Look through the ads in paddlesports-specific magazines (see chapter 8) or check your local paddlesports store for more possibilities. If you are looking for new outfitting ideas, go to where the kayaks are. Kayak events like rodeos, races, and symposiums bring paddlers and manufacturers together, and the latest ideasthe good, the bad, and the uglywill be there as well. When it comes to finding the best seat arrangement, your needs may be relatively unique, so be prepared to look around. Working with Minicell Foam Minicell has become one of the most useful ingredients for outfitting canoes and kayaks. A dense, but light, closed-cell foam, minicell is easy to cut and shape, resists compression, and tolerates a fair amount of wear and tear. Virtually any effort to customize the fit of a kayak involves the use of some minicell foam. Here are some general points about working with it.
Cutting and shaping. You can get minicell in various preshaped pieces or in bulk sheets from a number of vendors. The foam is relatively expensive, so plan ahead, cut carefully, and save any significant pieces. It can be cut with a variety of sharp tools, including a hacksaw blade or an old bread knife. For more precise shaping and smoothing, use a metal sand- paper commonly called dragonskin or a shaping tool such as a Stanley Sureform.
Adhesives. Paddlesports stores commonly sell quality contact adhesives like Hydrogrip and Mondo Bond. Follow directions carefully; these adhesives generally require coating both surfaces and setting until tacky before joining.
Safety. When working with minicell foam or any other material that will change the way you fit in your kayak, keep the entrapment issue in mind. In the worst-case scenario, you must instinctively be able to release your legs and slide out of the cockpit. Practice wet exits with a new customizing job in safe water before venturing out onto more technical water. The snugness of your kayak fit should grow with your increasing skills of braces and a solid roll in the conditions in which you paddle. Installing a New Seat Replacing an existing seat or installing a new one is a more ambitious project, and you should consider a number of things before removing your existing seat. First, have a clear idea what it is you want to do, what materials and tools the job will require, and how long it will take, because you won't be able to paddle the kayak in the meantime. When removing the old seat, be sure you are not altering any structural parts of the kayak. Particularly with whitewater boats, stock seats may be part of the system that provides rigidity to the hull or holds the pillars in place. If so, you must accommodate these structural features in your new design.
If removing a hanging fiberglass seat that is built into the coaming, you may want to leave in place a length of the sidewall for use as an anchor point, perhaps for a back band, the new seat, or a set of hip pads. Keep the original sitting part of the seat for mounting at a different angle or height or as a template for another seat.
An important issue to consider is the effect of the position of the seat on the balance point of the kayak. In some cases, this may be the primary reason for modifying or repositioning a seat. Since your body weight is such a high percentage of the weight of the kayak when in the water, even small changes in the seat position can have noticeable effects on the way the boat handles. These changes in the trimor the waterline shape of the kayakwill determine how the hull turns, how it reacts when crossing an eddyline, and how it is influenced by the wind (weathercocking), among other effects. So unless you are certain of what you are doing, try not to move this balance point. Use a measurable reference, such as the line defined by your hipbones, as a way to note where the seat should be positioned.
Some kayaks may have some adjustability built into the design of the seat to allow for fine-tuning the trim. You can also control the trim by how you load the kayak. The farther from the center that a given item is stored, the more its weight will affect the trim. Too much heavy stuff toward the ends of the kayak will increase the swing weight and make for sluggish turning.
As mentioned earlier, maintain a low center of gravity for the boat. Unless you need clearance above the cockpit coamingsay for a paddler with a short torsokeep the thickness of a new seat arrangement to a minimum. When removing an old seat, make a few measurements of its height above the keel line of the hull for future reference.
If you find a commercially made seat that fills your needs and is available as a separate accessory, you need to determine if its width, shape, and method of attachment is compatible with your kayak's cockpit. Most likely some sort of dissimilarity will require drilling, gluing, or shimming with foam. Creating a new seat from raw materials is not as difficult as it may sound. The easiest base material to work with is likely to be minicell foam. Making a simple platform for some of the commercially-available cushions or padded seats is probably the simplest route and will provide adequate comfort for many paddlers. The trickiest part of the operation is shaping the underside of the piece of foam to match the contour of the hull at the point where you want to install it.
First, make a template of the contour of the hull. Do this by measuring along a given line and transferring those numbers to a piece of cardboard, which will be your template cutout. Use the line defined by the front edge of the foam seat platform. The rear edge of the seat platform is likely to have essentially the same contour unless your kayak has a pronounced taper or V-hull. Another way to create a template is to bend a piece of pliable metal like a coat hanger into the correct shape. (Another useful item for this purpose is the aluminum stay out of an internal-frame backpack). Use the template to check the contour of the underside of the seat foam as you cut it to shape.
A complete seat can be fashioned from minicell foam. Ken Rasmussen's article in Sea Kayaker on seat construction (see chapter 8) has become one of the definitive works detailing a method for doing this. In addition to useful methods for making a positioning template and shaping the foam to the contour of your anatomy, Rasmussen makes several good suggestions, including the use of a custom seat to lower the center of gravity and tips on covering the shaped foam with a fabric for added durability. Hip Pads Hip pads can be built into your custom arrangement to prevent slipping sideways while executing leaned turns and bracing strokes. If you fit them snugly, hip pads make it easier to stay in position in the kayak without straining against the foot pedals or tensing your legs. Curving the pads outward at the tops produces even more of a grip on your hips. Keep in mind, however, the importance of both a tight fit and a quick exit from the cockpit in an emergency.
A variety of commercially-made kitsminicell being the material of choiceare available. Such whitewater kayak companies as Perception, Dagger, Wave Sport, and Prijon supply hip pad fit kits with their boats. Some newer kayak models have width-adjustable seats that eliminate all or most of the cutting and gluing. Also, several accessory companies, including Planetary Gear and North Shore, Inc., also distribute hip pads and other outfitting pads. Some of these sets are pretty basicjust shaped minicell pads that are glued into place. More deluxe models have foam sections encased in nylon, allowing for different widths, with Velcro or strap attachment methods that eliminate the need to use adhesive. These deluxe alternatives give more adjustability between different kayaks or between different users.
Making your own hip pads is quite simple. Cut the foam into the approximate shapes and depth you wantusually about 4 by 4 inches (10 by 10 cm) or 4 by 6 inches (10 by 15 cm) will do, depending on the size of the surface to be attached to. When fitting, be sure to allow for the thickness of your paddle clothes. Put the pads in place temporarily with tape and try them out. Once you are satisfied w...
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