The ‘Yak Back’ – What Your Fishing Kayak Shouldn’t Do To You

The ‘Yak Back’ is a popular name given to a condition caused by paddling traditional sit-in and SOT kayaks, and fishing from them.

The ‘Yak Back’ symptoms include leg numbness and cramps, discomfort in the hips and buttocks, pressure and pain in the lower back (lumbar) area, and premature fatigue.

Paddlers and fishermen suffering from Yak back feel a strong urge to change positions, stand up, walk, and stretch.  Early Yak Back symptoms can appear as early as half an hour from launching, and they tend to aggravate as the hours go by.

It is not uncommon that people who paddle sit-in and SOT kayaks and fish from them develop a chronic Yak Back condition, manifested mainly as an acute sensitivity to pressure on their lower back, and sometimes even chronic lower back pain that forces many of them to abandon kayak paddling and kayak fishing.

The Yak Back is the result of being seated in an unnatural position often called the ‘L position’, in which your own legs push your lower back against your kayak seat’s backrest. The pressure applied is constant, and generated by the most powerful set of muscles in your body, which is why cushioning the seat’s backrest is quite useless.

Traditional sit-in and SOT kayaks offer too little stability to begin with, which is why as a paddler or fisherman who uses them, you’re required to keep your center of gravity (CG) as low as possible by sitting as low as possible and throwing your legs forward. As you do that, your legs change roles from naturally supporting your upper body to actively pressuring it in your spine’s lower part, which is a vulnerable place.

Native people of the Arctic who invented kayaks never used backrests, because they were used to sitting this way, so they didn’t need lumbar support. However, this is not an option for you because without a backrest you’re likely to find it impossible to keep your body in the L position for more than a few minutes.

The W kayak is the only kayak that offers your legs their natural role in supporting your upper body in your balancing, control, paddling and fishing efforts. Since your legs support your upper body you don’t need a backrest to support your back, and therefore there is nothing that can cause you discomfort, fatigue or pain.

The W kayak also offers you the possibility to switch between a variety of different paddling and fishing positions, including standing, which helps you stay fresh and comfy, and avoid Yak Back symptoms.

For these reasons the W got its nickname ‘Back Saver’.

Read more about ergonomics in kayak design.

11 thoughts on “The ‘Yak Back’ – What Your Fishing Kayak Shouldn’t Do To You”

  1. The yak back is the biggest, dirtiest and best kept secret of kayak fishing.
    You’ll hardly find any dealer talking about it openly. If you ask, they’ll tell you there’s a new type of kayak seat that’s more “ergonomic”, with more foam or some other gimmick, and it happens to cost more than what you already paid for the seat you have 😉

  2. People are tempted to try kayak fishing because it sounds great, and then many of them discover after a while that they simply don’t enjoy it the way they thought they would. I guess yak back is one of the most important reasons.

  3. It’s a subject some folks get very defensive about. Chests puff out and people talk nonsense about the shape they are in and how it does not bother them. Kayak reps cringe at the mention of it and of course recommend very expensive aftermarket seats. I have met fishermen who tried kayak fishing and loved it only to give it up because their backs could not take it. Everything about the sport was a plus except the fact that their bodies kept telling them to stop. It boils down to the L postion as Yoav describes. Funny thing right now we are seeing some kayaks coming out with higher seats. I’ve even seen people try to modify current sit on tops with rigging for a higher seating position. When sit on tops first came out they were play boats. You did not spend much time in them. You jumped out to go swimming, rode the waves, they were a big water toy. Taking that toy and making it into an all day fishing machine does not work very well. The W with it’s saddle gave us the riding position where the human body can be comfortable for a far greater period of time. Being able to move around as you might care to gives us a boat that you can be out in for hours. I do find it amusing watching all the other kayak firms battle to find a way to make that L position work.

  4. The saddle is in fact a by-product of the initial W concept, which was about stand up paddling in full confidence.
    It took us some time realize its full potential through the riding position.

  5. Great article Yoav.

    I for one know the Yak Back pain up close and personal.
    In a traditional sit-in and SOT kayaks, I can not last 2 hours
    without screaming pain in my lower back and down my legs.

    If it was not for the Great WaveWalk Yak, I would have to
    give up fishing from a kayak all together.
    I can sit 8+ hours in my Wavewalk with No Pain.
    The ability to change positions in the Wavewalk is unmatched
    By Any Kayak on the Market.
    Being able to stand and paddle is the biggest bonous of all.
    Especially when site fishing, your rang of vision is Greatly increased
    being able to stand.
    Plus the fact that in the Wavewalk, casting is never a problem.
    I Never have to worry about banging my rod butt on the hull anymore,
    like I did in the traditional sit-in and SOT kayaks.

    Once again Yoav, Thank You for this Wonderful Fishing Machine
    you designed.


  6. I was searching through Google doing research for a blog article, when I found this blog, and while not what I was exactly looking for I found it very informative and interesting, and it gave me an insight into the range of products that are available for preventing backpain in peoples lives. thanks Angela xx

  7. After a fun day in your Kayak, Yak Back can be a real pain. I suggest that you consider a visit to a local chiropractor prior or after for some good stretching. They can offer you pain relief using specific chiropractic techniques that involve hands-on manipulation of the body and thus helping the body to heal itself. You will be surprised what a chiropractor can do for you.

  8. Great idea!
    Kayak manufacturers should bundle their SIK and SOT yaks together with special discounted programs at chosen chiropractors, and the bigger kayak brands could launch their own chiropractor services.

    I see the kayak business going in a whole new direction! 😀


  9. I see this type of problem all the time. Obviously prevention is the best cure, so if you do find a solution, post it for everyone to try. However if you are having back pains then you might want to consider myopractic as a very effective way to treat and resolve it.

  10. Maybe a back specialist should be brought in to help design new kayaks, best of both worlds then. 🙂

  11. Myopractic,

    As you know from your own professional experience, treating symptoms without eliminating their cause isn’t vrey helpful, to say the least.
    The W kayak treats the cause of back pain, leg pain, leg numbness, yak ass etc. simply by not forcing the kayak operator into sitting in the L position, with their own legs pushing their lower back against the kayak seat backrest.

Leave a Reply