What does ‘getting connected’ to your boat mean?
Often the guidelines to boat connection get summed up as ‘Making the boat an extension of you’ or ‘enough for the boat to react off every move you make’. Although these statements give enough of a picture to imply the correct level of connection, how do we know what ‘properly connected’ feels like? This will be described throughout to hopefully allow an in-depth understanding of how tight to get yourself in your boat, as well as some insight into the benefits of ‘connection’. This article is aimed at white water kayaks however I tend to use a similar amount of connection in a playboat or sea kayak, depending on what I’m doing.
There are four main connection areas in a white-water kayak;
- Lower back.
If all of these are in connection with the boat the paddler will then have an upright posture (often described as active posture) which in turn will allow the entire body to drive and manoeuvre the craft.
To really become detailed in how much connection you can achieve you can divide the four connection areas up again; you have two feet, two knees and two bum cheeks, count these as individual connection points to gain feel and feedback from your boat. Think of it this way; no two bodies are the same, two people could be different weights, inside leg length, flexibilities or have previous injuries that make their bodies unique. With proper outfitting, you are able to get a personalised connection with your boat from the seven connection points that can give feedback, both feet, both knees, both bum cheeks and your lower back.
To get the ultimate fit boats are now extremely adjustable, the main adjustment points are footrests and backrests, then you have smaller adjustments to really personalise the fit, this is things like seat height, thigh grips and hip pads.
This becomes my first adjustment point; while sat on the seat your footrests should be positioned so that your feet are flat, your knees are in contact firmly with the boat and your thighs are in contact with the thigh grips (if the boat has them). Footrests come with a variety of adjustment mechanisms, everything from a ‘full plate’ footrest that adjusts by undoing the bolts and moving the entire plate, to a ‘toast rack’ style of footrests consisting of slots to put your feet onto and an adjustable peg on runners. Some kayaks, mainly playboats will have a foam footrest that you cut to size.
With the foot flat on the footrest, knees touching the sides of the kayak and your thighs under the thigh braces you should feel a little bit of pressure from these areas, as a guide I can lift my heels of the footrest an inch or two, when I do I feel the pressure on both my knees and my thighs increase.
The backrest should sit on the small of your back (lower back) and be tight enough to help hold you in a good upright posture. The key thing here is that the backrest is helping to hold you in this posture, not doing all of the work for you.
To achieve this, I’ll sit as tall as I can in my boat and move my chest forward, try and imagine this forward position as a flex forward from your hips or belly button. This movement will feel like your pelvis is rolling forward and an arc is appearing in the small of your back. Once in this position, I’ll tighten until I feel the backrest come into connection with the small of my back. When I go back into an upright posture as opposed to forward posture, the backrest is now supporting the areas needed to keep this posture. Depending on flexibility some people may need to loosen or tighten from here, to establish this just sit and relax for a bit. Can you feel your hamstrings? Loosen a little. Can you feel your tummy muscles? Tighten a little.
If this is adjusted properly, I can sit in this position in my kayak for a while without feeling cramped and I am unable to easily slouch.
This one is going to depend on torso length, I seem to have come from a family of long backs (long torso for my height) meaning I don’t often feel the need to be raised up in my kayak. Other people will raise themselves up to achieve more leverage. For this one I can only suggest trial and error, take a couple of sections of seat-shaped camp mats out with you and add or take away to give different feels to your boat. Too low and the boat feels cumbersome, too high and the boat feels tippy, you’re after the happy medium.
This one falls into personal preference; I’m not using hip pads in the boats I’m paddling currently as it feels as though the seat does the job of the hip pads. Hip pads are designed to fill the space between you and the seat, minimising the space that you can slide around in. Often in the outfitting pack, the hip pads will come with spacer shims to allow you to find the correct fit. The common mistake here is that the paddler ends up with loads of pressure on their hips from the pads. If this is the case you may be experiencing pins and needles in your feet or a numbing sensation in your legs.
Hip pads should sit with the notch (nose of the pads) sitting up above your hips (top of your legs) forward of your torso. These pads should make you feel as though you’re being held down into your seat.
It’s feasible that in summer I may need more padding than in winter, I prefer to think of this as being because my winter layers are thicker than my summer layers, not because I am carrying a layer of winter warmth!
Once connected try rocking the boat onto its edges; can you rock the boat from side to side? Can you hold it on an edge? If the answer is yes, then this is useful feedback leading toward a strong connection.
Watch TV in your boat. This has to be one of my favourite new boat rituals. Once it’s fully outfitted, get connected and sit your craft through your favourite soap or just read a book or magazine. The first photo of me doing this was from my early teens, I think it was the joy of having my first kayak rather than studiously trying to find the correct connection! If you can sit in your correctly connected craft for an hour or so without getting cramp, pins and needles or numb legs and you haven’t lost posture (slumped into your boat) you’re onto a winner.
The last check is to see if you can get out of your boat with the connections as tight as described above. This is the biggest complaint I hear; I don’t think I can get out. Don’t take my word for it, have a go. ON DRY LAND, how quickly can you exit your boat? You’ll be pleasantly surprised! If it’s still playing on your mind think about trying a couple of wet exits from your boat in a swimming pool to build your confidence.