The vertical part of a kayak seat that supports the user’s back and prevents it from leaning backward. A backrest pushes back horizontally against the kayaker’s lower back, which can lead to discomfort, fatigue, pain and even injury.
Here are some photo art that I have taken for my 500 kayak on the back waters for the Mississippi. See my web page for more info on my process and images lgdimagery.com
I have found a very inexpensive seat for my 500. It is a cafeteria chair I got for $3.00 at a yard sale. Because of the shape of the legs it fits over the center of the 500 and the cross mettle supports on the chair fit into the slots on the 500 just right. I did not have to cut anything just set in the 500 and slide it so that it locked into the slots.
I have some lower back problems and can not sit in a normal kayak and the 500 works so well for me. I do get tired easy with out any back support but now that is not a problem. I hope that others that have the same problem will benefit from this info.
The term ‘Lumbar Support’ appears frequently in discussions about kayak fishing and paddling related back pain. The underlying assumption in those discussions is that the lumbar area of your back (lumbar spine) requires adequate support, and if such support is provided your back pain will disappear, or at least become tolerable.
What is the Lumbar Spine?
Here is a short definition we found in a dictionary:
▸ adjective: of or relating to or near the part of the back between the ribs and the hipbones (“Lumbar vertebrae”)
As you can see, the lumbar spine consists of rigid vertebrae and more flexible cartilage between them. This part of the spine supports the combined weight of the upper part of the body, including the torso, head and arms, and it is normally supported by the massive structure of the hip bones below. In other words, in its natural state, there is nothing that pushes, holds, or supports the lumbar spine from any direction except from its top and bottom, and what holds it in this normal position are the muscles around it.
How Did the Lumbar Spine Become a Problem for Kayak Fishermen and Paddlers?
The native people of the arctic, who originally created the first kayaks were used to sit down on the floor with their legs stretched forward, and therefore didn’t have any use for additional support for their lumbar spine. This is why native kayaks did not feature a backrest, or any other ‘lumbar support’. When Westerners began paddling those aboriginal kayaks they noticed they had problems staying upright with their legs stretched forward, in the posture known as the L position. This is because they were not used to sitting in this position in everyday life, and the muscles in their body weren’t adjusted to it. Rather than adjusting the paddler to the kayak, designers and manufacturers decided it would be easier to try and adapt the kayak to the paddler, and introduced a combination of backrest and footrests designed to lock the kayakers in the L position, and prevent their upper body from ‘falling’ backward or sliding forward (‘slouching’). The kayak paddler, or fisherman is effectively ‘supported’ by three rigid points anchored in the kayak: two footrests and one back rest. By continuously pushing against those three points, the kayak fisherman’s legs provide the power necessary to maintain his body in its place, and in the required posture.
How Does the L Posture Affect the Lumbar Spine?
Your legs have the most powerful set of muscles in your body, capable of making you run, jump and kick. When you’re locked in the L position, your legs are constantly pushing against the kayak’s footrests, as well as against your lumbar spine, which is ‘supported’ by the backrest behind it. This strong, continuous pressure on your lumbar spine comes from an unnatural angle, that is from the backrest behind it. There is no way for you to stop it or relieve it as long as you’re in this position, which is the only one that sit-in and sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks are designed to offer. Effectively, when you’re paddling such kayak or fishing from it, the only way for you to relieve the pressure is to get out of the kayak, stand up and stretch, walk, etc.
How Does it Lead to Pain, and to the ‘Yak Back’ Syndrome?
Getting out of the kayak in order to relieve the pressure on your lower back is not a realistic option in most cases, and this is why most kayak fishermen and paddlers keep sitting in their kayaks although they feel a growing discomfort, and eventually pain in their backs. This pain is known as ‘Yak Back’, and most people who paddle sit-in and SOT kayaks for periods longer than an hour experience it sooner or later, to some extent. The pain is the result of the abnormal pressure on the cartilage rings, and the contraction of the the muscles in this area as a result of the effort they have to make in order to prevent back (spine) injuries, or at least minimize them. Try to imagine the fight between the extremely powerful legs pushing your lumbar spine against the backrest behind you, and the much less powerful muscles in your lower back that are trying to protect your spine, and prevent it from being damaged. Luckily for you, your lower back would soon enough start to ‘scream’ that it’s being hurt, or in other words – you’re going to feel pain. This pain should tell you to stop this unhealthy struggle between your legs and your back, before your back gets seriously injured. Ignoring the pain at any given moment would result in the aggravation of the problem, that is to more pain, and eventually to a more severe back injury that would take you a longer time to recover from.
How much pressure do your legs exert on your lower back (lumbar spine) in the L position?
We’ve measured 40 to 60 lbs in adults. You can try and measure the pressure yourself, using a bathroom scale positioned vertically between your lower back and your kayak backrest: Have someone stand behind you and read the dial for you. It’s bad news for your lower back, considering the pressure is constant, and you can’t avoid it. It’s even worse news considering the fact that effectively, this pressure is applied on a few lumbar vertebrae and cartilage discs that are badly positioned to resist it in such angle. In terms of lbs per square inch, these pressure figures would be impressive, as well as most alarming.
Proper Paddling Technique, Cushioned Seats, and the Reality of Back Pain and Injury
Kayaking and kayak fishing instructors would tell you to sit straight in order to improve your kayaking technique and perform the required rotational movements of the torso in a more efficient manner. However, you need to remember that the people who initially invented and perfected this technique or paddling styles never used a backrest in their kayaks, because they didn’t need to. Consequently, they didn’t suffer from ‘Yak Back’ – unlike you. This is to say that perfecting your kayaking technique would not improve your lower back’s situation in any way: You will keep feeling discomfort and pain, and you’ll keep being at risk of back injuries, and even chronic damage. The obvious reason for this is the fact that your legs will keep pushing your lumbar spine against your kayak’s backrest.
Sit-in and SOT kayak vendors would offer you to ‘upgrade’ to the latest ‘ergonomic’ seat, that’s bound to more more expensive than the last one you bought. They would praise the extra cushioning offered to your hips and lower back, and claim that such seats would get rid of your fatigue, back pain and leg numbness – once and for all. The reality is quite different: Special kayak seats have been around for decades, and none of them has produced the desired effect of ending the Yak Back, simply because all seats have a backrest by definition, and no amount of cushioning can reduce the total amount of force that your legs use when they push that backrest against your lumbar spine. On the contrary: The extra soft cushioning may reduce the point pressure on softer tissues in your lower back (E.G. skin), and by that somehow delay the sensation of discomfort and eventually pain in your lumbar spine and in the muscles that support it. In other words, you’ll start feeling the problem when it’s already at a more advanced stage, which is not necessarily a good thing for you, if you think about it from your a health perspective.
In recent years, manufacturers of fishing kayaks have attempted to address the back pain problem by offering bigger and wider kayaks a.k.a. ‘barges‘ outfitted with higher seats. Their rationale was “We’d better allow the user to sit higher, and we’ll compensate them for the lost stability by making their kayak wider and thus stabler”. But does this approach work? – Not really, since due to their mono-hull, elliptical form, increasing the width of sit-on-top (SOT) or sit-in kayaks (SIK) has a rather limited effect on itheir stability. Therefore, their users (especially if they’re heavy people) must compensate for some of the lost stability by working harder with their legs, which in this case of SOTs and SIKs results in them applying more horizontal pressure on their lower back, which leads to discomfort, pain, and in some cases even injuries.
What Your Lumbar Spine Requires When Kayak Fishing is Considered
Obviously, you need to avoid paddling and fishing in the L position, because it’s not merely uncomfortable, but in fact potentially harmful to your lower back, and sitting in it regularly for prolonged periods of time could lead to back injuries and chronic back pain. Having said that, what would be the ideal fishing kayak for you? -One that would offer you comfort at all times, and the ability to take care of your sore back. In fact, such kayak does exist. It’s the patented Wavewalk™ kayak, and by patent we mean a patent for an invention (utility patent), and not just a design patent. To begin with, W fishing kayaks feature no backrest whatsoever – similarly to all-terrain vehicles (ATV), snowmobiles, off-road motorbikes, and jet-skis. What all of those have in common is the fact that when you ride them it’s your own legs that support your upper body. This is good news for your lumbar spine, since it’s basically a posture equivalent to walking, or running – since no unnatural pressure points are being created. Second, the saddle type seat that W fishing kayaks feature offers a variety of positions, including standing up, plus the ability to change between any two positions at any given moment. Thus, whatever discomfort felt in your back, or local pressure building up in any part of your body can be effectively relieved as soon as you feel it. As a result, even paddlers and fishermen suffering from chronic and acute back problems report spending long hours in their W kayaks without feeling discomfort or pain. You can find such testimonials in a number of fishing kayak reviews, where they say that without their W kayak paddling or fishing from kayaks would be impossible for them – because of their back condition.
Biomechanical and Ergonomic Solutions in Kayak Design – Kayaking With No Back Pain
Back problems are the number one source of disability in the United States, and one of the main reasons why many people do not engage in kayaking and kayak fishing, or drop out from these activities after they realize that they cannot enjoy them.
This article defines the causes of back pain and discomfort that most people feel when paddling kayaks and fishing from them. It also explains how Wavewalk’s patented invention solves these problems, and why people who paddle these kayaks and fish out of them feel neither back pain nor any other discomfort after long hours, including people with various disabilities, back problems and excess weight, as well as elderly people.
Have you ever fished out of a kayak? If you did, you’ve probably noticed that something is wrong… Simply put, you weren’t feeling comfortable, and you may even experienced pain in your back and legs, and after some time, all you could wish for was to get out of that kayak as soon as possible, even if the fish were biting…
The problem you’ve experienced is simple, and sooner or later anyone who paddles kayaks and fishes from them faces it: Spending long hours paddling and fishing in or on top of an ordinary kayak, whether it’s a sit-in, hybrid or sit-on-top (SOT) inevitably causes some circulation problems and leg numbness, occasional cramps, pain in your lower back, and often fatigue and discomfort in your shoulders and neck. In fact, kayaking is so closely associated with back pain that kayakers commonly appear in TV ads for back painkillers and pain relief patches.
After you begin seeking information about your problem and advice on ways to solve it, you realize that the only thing that really works is paddling back to shore, standing up, and performing the exercises that physiotherapists recommend for kayakers. In other words, there is no gear that you can outfit your ordinary kayak with that can provide an effective and long lasting solution to any of these symptoms, because they occur as a result of you being seated in the L position – the traditional sitting position in kayaks, with your legs stretched in front of you while pushing your back against your seat’s backrest.
2. What Causes this Problem?
Being Seated In The Traditional, L Kayaking Position
The problem is caused by a combination of two things:
1. Being seated in a non ergonomic position to start with, and 2. Being unable to switch to other positions and release the stress that builds up in the critical pressure points in your body, especially in your legs and lower back.
Have you ever asked yourself why is it that the traditional, L kayaking position is used only in ordinary kayaks and in no other land, snow or water equipment? The answer is that it’s because although the L position is the worst for you it’s simply the only one that ordinary kayaks can offer.
Double Trouble: The Combined Effect of Horizontal and Vertical Pressure on Your Lower Back:
Figure 1. Horizontal Pressure
Figure 1 on the left shows the horizontal pressure that your legs exert on your lower back in the traditional L position used in all ordinary kayaks including both sit-in (SIK) and sit-on-top (SOT).
The pressure points in the lower back region can cause irritation and inflammation of the sciatic nerve (sciatica) felt as pain traveling from the lower region of your back down across your lower thigh. Foot braces and other support for your feet actually increase the horizontal pressure that your legs exert on your lower back. The back support and foot braces may hold you in your torso in place and prevent you from falling backwards or slipping downward, but they also limit your freedom of movement, increase pressure on your lower back, cause leg numbness and cramps and result in increased fatigue.
Native people of the Arctic circle who were the first to make and paddle kayaks used neither back rests nor foot braces simply because they were accustomed since infancy to sitting on the floor with their legs stretched forward, unlike us modern Westerners who lose this ability in early childhood when we learn to sit on chairs.
Figure 2. Vertical Pressure (Weight)
Figure 2 on the left shows the heavy vertical pressure (weight) applied on the lower part of your spine when you’re seated in the traditional L kayaking position.
The same sensitive area in your spine that’s pressurized horizontally by your legs pushing on it is being pressurized even more by the combined weight of your torso and thighs, that is nearly all your body weight. Your legs are prevented from supporting your body weight in this position.
In addition, sitting in the L position without being able to change your body position increases your fatigue and discomfort, and reduces both performance and fun. Cushioning your seat doesn’t really solve any of these problems since all it can do is spread the pressure from a single point to a wider area, but the combined pressure is still there and it keeps working on your lower back all the time. Sooner or later you feel very uncomfortable, and sometime it’s too late since you’ve already been injured. Kayaking in the L position with no adequate support for either back or feet is not a sensible solution for modern anglers and paddlers who have to spend hours kayaking and fishing from this low and uncomfortable position.
Food for thought:
If you had to perform some hard work or other physical activity in any position of your choice, would you even consider doing it sitting with your legs stretched forward like this? Do you fish or do you know anybody who fishes seated in this position from shore or from any other type of fishing boat? -The answer is: No.
More food for thought:
Airplane coach seats are fairly comfortable – certainly more than regular kayak seats, but why is it that after some time most people feel uneasy sitting in them? The answer is that the limited space makes it difficult for you to change positions, which leads to the buildup of discomfort and fatigue to a point where many people feel they must stand up and stretch, and those who can afford it promise themselves to fly first class next time – if only for the extra legroom.
Not all damages are felt immediately. Sometimes it takes years for the damage to accumulate, and by then it might be too late to fix it. This is true for back and shoulder problems.
What do cross-country motorbikes, mountain bikes, horses, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles (ATV) and personal watercraft (PWC) have in common? It’s the fact that their user operates them in the Riding Position. And what do skiing, surfing, water skiing, dog sledding, snowboarding, windsurfing, skating and skateboarding have in common? -The Standing Position. This is simply because the Riding and Standing positions are the best for you in both ergonomic and biomechanic terms, which means they offer best control and more power, and result in less fatigue and injuries. When we need to make long efforts during motion we have more available power and better control standing or sitting with our legs lower than our upper body (biomechanical advantage), and we also feel more comfortable and less tired this way (ergonomic advantage).
4. Engineering the Optimal Solution
Freedom to Choose = Less Fatigue = Enhanced Comfort = More Fun + Healthier Paddling and Fishing
Only the W kayak solution departs radically from the L position and offers a new, comprehensive and effective approach to all ergonomic and biomechanical issues in paddling and paddle fishing. The new, patented W Kayak re-distributes buoyancy from the boat’s longitudinal axis all the way to its two sides, and thus offers maximal support to the user’s balancing, control, steering, propulsion and fishing efforts. The central part of the W Kayak, its ‘backbone’, which joins the two hulls, is shaped like a long, 14″ high saddle. W kayakers can move back and forth along the saddle, according to their need (e.g. tandem, surfing, paddling in strong wind, launching, etc.). They can also switch anytime between numerous ergonomic positions, as shown below:
5. Riding (Mounted)
The Natural Position
Riding is the most stable, comfortable and powerful paddling position, and it offers best control over your boat and the most leverage on your paddle. In the Riding position your thighs, legs and feet are positioned directly below your body and take active part in all your efforts: Balancing, Control and Paddling. Riding is the best position for beginning W Kayakers. It is also the best position in whitewater and surfing applications.
Note that your legs support your upper body from both sides, and your feet are in a direct vertical line below your body.
For Fishing: Riding is the preferred position, rivaling only with standing. When you cast riding you have more power than when casting in the sitting position. Riding a W Kayak is similar to mounting a pony: Your upper body rests on the saddle and your thighs hold its sides, while each foot rests firmly on the bottom of a hull, as it would in a stirrup. This position is similar to the riding position used in other high performance vehicles such All Terrain Vehicles (ATV), Snowmobiles, and Jet Skis.
Watch this slow-motion demo video of the Riding position:
Sitting means having your legs positioned in front of your body.
Sitting positions are less stable and powerful than Riding, and not recommended for beginning W Kayakers, or for paddling in moving water. The sitting positions are good for relaxing on flat water.
Adding a back rest (lumbar support) is not necessary in the W kayak, and few W kayakers choose to outfit their boat with such an accessory.
1. Regular sitting, which is similar to sitting in a canoe 2. Sitting with both legs stretched forward 3. Mixed: one leg in the regular position and the other stretched forward
The Stand Up Kayak – For Real
Unfortunately, stand up paddling is often described as a feature offered by many kayaks and stand up paddle boards out there, but nothing could be further from the truth – In fact, when it comes to normal paddlers and anglers, who are neither lightweight nor extremely athletic, only W kayaks offer the possibility to paddle and fish standing up in comfort and confidence, and only W kayaks offer a critical safety feature in the form of a 14″ high saddle to fall on, in case you lose balance.
You can paddle on both sides of the boat or just on one side- in parallel and with a J stroke.
After some practicing you can try to paddle standing in moving water and in the surf.
6. Super Stability
Stability is key to comfort and good ergonomics. The patented W Kayak offers unmatched stability trough a unique combination of three factors:
The boat’s buoyancy is sensibly distributed along its sides, instead of being wasted along its central, longitudinal axis.
The passengers make natural use of their legs and feet to balance themselves by shifting their weight sideways, from one leg to another, and they apply this weight directly to the bottom of the hulls – below waterline, thus creating an effect of ‘dynamic ballast’.
The immersed profiles of the boat’s twin hulls act as multiple ‘Hard Chines’, thus offering maximal lateral resistance, and unmatched initial (primary) stability.
The W Kayak offers you the ability to throw to longer distances, which presents two advantages:
1. Being able to cover more water from a stationary position before you need to move your kayak 2. Some fish species can sense the presence of your kayak nearby and therefore are better caught from a distance.
When fighting powerful fish you want to be in full control of your kayak, and the W kayak offers you all the means for it. Read More »
8. The Cockpit – A Place To Be In, And Work In
Your kayak’s cockpit has other functions besides protecting you and offering you optimal comfort. It is also a workplace in which you store your gear and handle it. In W kayaks all the gear you need is within arm’s reach, and there’s no chance of it going overboard since in case it slips out of your hand it would end at the bottom of one of the hulls, where it’s easy for you to find and reach it.
Can I outfit the W kayak cockpit with a seat on top of its saddle?
Most W kayakers don’t add anything to their W kayak’s saddle, because they find it perfectly comfortable. Some people cover the saddle with a blanket or a thin foam mattress. Adding a kayak seat to the W kayak saddle is easy, but virtually no one does it. We know of a couple W anglers who outfitted their W kayaks with lightweight swivel chairs, and a couple more who added a DIY reclining back rest because of scoliosis problems. In fact, you can simply drop a plastic chair or a lawn chair in the cockpit, as seen here in this image, but hardly no one does it, simply because the W saddle offers the best comfort.
Five W owners have been paddling their wavewalks around Ozello in recent days enjoying the beautiful sunrises and catching a few trout, redfish and snook. Bob Smaldone can be seen in his usual standing position fishing the mangrove shoreline. Dick Sherman was paddling while resting his back on his custom made backrest, and Art Myjak enjoyed his maiden voyage in his new W. Ed Wheeler also came down for a day with his W from Lake City. I directed traffic and managed to get a few pictures. We continue to get lots of stares from other yakers in the area.
Art paddling his new Wavewalk 500
Art standing next to his new W kayak, and Gary’s W kayak is beached nearby
Bob fly fishing standing in his green W kayak. His yellow one is stored in Maine…
Dick and Art fishing the shallows next to each other