Nature Coast Kayak Fishers Club

Gary Rankel, from Hernando, Florida, launched his kayak fishing club and website in 2015.
Since then, his website has become a useful source of information about fishing Nature Coast and Citrus County, kayak fishing techniques and rigging tips, the Nature Coast Kayak Fishers Club schedule and activities, and the Wavewalk 500, from which Gary has been fishing for the past seven years.
Gary offers lectures and advice on these subjects, and he organizes fishing trips, mainly to the Ozello wildlife refuge, where he and his friends fish for snook, redfish and seatrout, as well as other species. He is also active in campaigning for wildlife and fisheries conservation, following his decades long work as a scientist in this field.

Many seniors who would like to go out there and fish are prevented from doing so because handling and driving a regular size motorboat is too hard for them, while fishing out of a common (SOT or Sit-In) kayak is too uncomfortable for them, mainly because of back pain problems, leg circulation, difficulties in launching and beaching, and the need that some have for an extra source of power, namely a motor, due to the fact that their range of travel as paddlers is even more limited than that of younger anglers. Some elderly anglers, such as Gary himself, who’s in in seventies, no longer enjoys a perfect sense of balance, and appreciates the extra stability offered by the Wavewalk.

Gary wrote a comprehensive review of the Wavewalk 500, which was published in the magazine Southern Kayak Fishing.

Hamstring Theory, Yak Back, and Kayaking Ergonomics

This article first appeared on the PAINLESS KAYAK FISHING blog.

This short article will attempt to examine the ‘hamstring theory’ about the source of back pain and leg pain in kayaking and kayak fishing, both as an explanation of the causes of these widespread ailments, and in practical terms related to what you can and should do to prevent them.

What are hamstrings?
Hamstring is the name given to any of the tendons at the rear hollow of the human knee.
A hamstring muscle is the name given to any of the three muscles constituting the back of the upper leg that serve to flex the knee joint, draw the leg inward, and extend the thigh.

What do hamstrings have to do with back pain and leg pain in kayaks?
Most people are short in their hamstring and calf, as a result of spending many hours every day seated in chairs, such as when doing office work, studying, dining, watching TV, commuting etc.
Therefore, when one sits in a kayak with legs straight, the hamstring tissue stretches, and that can be felt as pain.
This shortness of the posterior leg may cause stress in other parts of the body. It may compress nerves resulting in leg numbness or tingling. It can cause discomfort and pain in the lower back due to bad pelvis position, as the pelvis is attached to the hamstring muscles.
A short posterior leg prevents people form sitting fully upright in the L kayaking position: The hamstrings pull down on the back of the pelvis creating a ‘slouch’. This rounds the low back and causes back pain.
Kayaking in the L position can also cause a sciatic nerve to get pinched . The sciatic nerve is a large nerve bundle that innervates the legs, and it is sensitive to compression:
Short hamstring muscles can cause the pelvis to shift enough to increase the pressure on the sciatic nerve. Pressure on the back of the thighs can also compress nerves, and cause circulation problems in the legs.
Kayaking in the L position may also lead to Hamstring Tendonitis: a condition which involves pain in the area above one or both knees, the biceps, and sometimes on the back of the upper legs. Tendonitis is the inflammation of the tendons that connect the muscles to the bone.

Conclusions, so far
The above diagnosis points to several problems caused by sitting in the L position, and involving hamstrings. Practically, it means that one way or another, most people who sit in kayak in the L position would feel some sort of physical discomfort, pain or injury – sooner or later.
That is simply because the L position is not fit for most people, or as most kayaking instructors and outfitters would put it – they are not fit for it.
This is where it’s important to stress that the hamstring theory talks about the L position itself, as if the fact that people sitting kayaks did not have a backrest and footrests to hold them in place, and help them maintain their back in an erect position.
In other words, sitting in the L position in your living room would lead to similar sensations and problems if done for long hours, although your feet and lower back would have nothing to rest on.
Why is this important? Because the existence of footrests and a backrest aggravates to situation for you, as it causes a number of additional problems, some of which can be even more severe.

The hamstring theory – prognosis
In a nutshell, the basic idea is that since your body doesn’t fit the L position, you can teach it to adapt to this position with exercise. When your body fits the L position, you’ll be able to paddle correctly, that is using proper kayaking technique, and by that reduce discomfort and injuries.

This prognosis may be true for some people who possess both time, energy, motivation and initial fitness to work on their power, flexibility and skills.
It’s also a path that could lead some people to additional injuries, and more severe ones.
But most importantly, it’s an approach that defies the purpose of recreational paddling and fishing by confounding means and ends: Instead of viewing kayaking and kayak fishing as possible outdoor fun activities, and mild, beneficial physical exercise, it relates to proper kayaking technique and posture as a goal in itself. Alas, this goal is practically not attainable for most people, who would keep suffering from a variety of undesirable symptoms related to the L position in itself, as well as in combination with the backrest-footrests system that all sit-in and SOT kayaks feature – simply because nearly all people in the modern world have short hamstrings, as short hamstrings are a typical result of the way we live.
This argument would have been moot, or just theoretical if alternative forms of kayaking and kayak fishing didn’t exist, but luckily they do: The L kayaking position as well as the footrests and backrest that inevitably go with it are non-existent in the new, patented W kayaks that offer no-pain paddling and fishing.

Your Lumbar Spine Pain and the Fallacy of ‘Good Kayaking Technique’

This article first appeared on the PAINLESS KAYAK FISHING blog.

Some kayak outfitters still suggest that good kayaking technique (I.E. “sit straight and rotate your upper body”) is the solution for lower back pain a.k.a. ‘yak back’.
Well, it’s not –
According to this article “Is ‘Rotation Training’ Hurting Your Performance? a.k.a. “Is Rotation Even A Good Idea”, rotating your lumbar spine isn’t such a great idea, and in fact it could harm you.

It’s about time professional kayaking instructors and some die-hard kayakers stopped saying that poor kayaking technique is the reason why kayakers and kayak fishermen feel pain in their lower back. The truth is that the back pains felt by so many is the result of bad ergonomics embedded in the design of all sit-in and SOT kayaks. It’s definitely not the fault of any kayaker or kayak fisherman.
It’s probably not the fault of the people who design and manufacture those kayaks either, because there’s really no other practical way to keep a modern-days paddler seated in such a kayak, or on top of it, without using the combination of a footrests and a backrest that aboriginal arctic people didn’t need to use in their kayaks.
This combination of footrests and backrest locks the paddler in a uniquely non-ergonomic position known as the L posture, which forces his/her legs to apply strong pressure on the lumbar spine – through the backrest (a.k.a ‘lumbar support’). It’s a bio-mechanical aberration:
Rotating one’s upper body doesn’t solve this problem because it’s not supposed to solve it in the first place, and as recent research reveals – such repeated rotation is in fact not good for the spine, and could be the source of additional injury and more pain.
Good kayaking technique can improve your performance in terms of speed, but it would be irresponsible or naive (or both) to suggest that it can either prevent or cure back pain.
In order tom prevent back pain you need to paddle a kayak that doesn’t force your body into unnatural postures and movements. Such kayak has to allow your legs to perform their natural role of supporting your upper body and providing power for your balance and motion efforts. This kayak should allow you freedom of movement, altering your body posture, switching between various positions anytime you feel like it, and standing up confidently while paddling and fishing, in order to relax your muscles and re-establish your blood circulation.
This kayak exists in fact. It’s the patented Wavewalk Kayak.

Kayak Pain and Injuries: Two Approaches, No Solution

This article first appeared on the PAINLESS KAYAK FISHING blog.

Outfitting and Exercise are the two traditional approaches to dealing with pain and injuries related to kayaking and kayak fishing.

The first approach consists of tips and tricks offered by outfitters, kayakers and kayak fishermen, in combination with home-made and commercial ‘comfort’ and ‘ergonomic’ accessories such as seats and cushions.
All of the above are supposed to help people who paddle kayaks and fish from them avoid discomfort, pain and injuries induced by kayaking and kayak fishing.
For example, the typical advice for kayak users who suffer from circulation problems in their legs that lead to discomfort, numbness and pain, is to place a small pillow under their knees in order to support them in a higher position. Like other cushioning solutions, this doesn’t solve the problem at its root but merely transforms, delays or masks it – or moves it elsewhere.

The second approach is promoted by professionals who treat pain and injuries, such as chiropractors. These people are more aware of the physiological causes of discomfort, pain and injuries related to kayaks, and what they basically recommend are various forms of physical exercise that can make paddlers and fishermen more fit for their kayaks.
Such approach makes sense when considering activities that people can’t do without, such as office work and driving. People don’t sit behind a desk for long hours every day because they want to have fun, but because they need to make a living, and they don’t spend hours every day in their car because they feel it’s exciting, but simply because driving is the most practical way for them to commute. That is to say that office workers and drivers don’t have a choice but to engage in non-ergonomic activities such as office work and driving.
This is not the case with paddling kayaks and fishing from them, since people are not forced to paddle and fish – they do it for fun and relaxation. Therefore, the idea that kayakers and kayak fishermen should spend time exercising at home or in fitness clubs in order to protect their bodies from physical injuries that occur as a result of leisure activities performed in kayaks doesn’t make much sense to most people. Indeed, why should you waste time, energy and money exercising your body to fit a certain product just because you feel like going on water, or fishing, or both?

Paddling itself should be your healthy physical exercise, and the same is true for kayak fishing.
If sit-in and SOT kayaks require that you exercise at home or in gym in order to protect your body from injuries that are likely to occur while paddling and fishing from such kayaks, then the sensible approach would be to avoid using them, and look elsewhere.
This is a matter of common sense: Your kayak should fit you, and not vice versa.
If you’re not in great shape (most people aren’t…) you’d better get a kayak that would help you get into shape naturally and pleasantly, without exposing you to the common kayaking injuries, especially in your back.
Such kayak should not force you into a single posture that’s uncomfortable and potentially harmful to your back. It should offer your spine support from your own legs and in a natural angle, with freedom of motion and change, and not from a padded plastic accessory that continuously pushes against your lumbar vertebrae from the wrong direction.
Unlike sit-in and SOT kayaks, this kayak should be easy to paddle in various paddling styles, in order to minimize excessive strain on particular muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints.

Most chiropractors are not aware of the existence of an alternative to traditional sit-in and SOT kayaks. The good news is that such kayak exists: It’s patented, tested, and offers a good, full solution to the ergonomic problems that other kayaks simply can’t address.
It’s called the W kayak, and it is made by Wavewalk Fishing Kayaks. The company’s website offers numerous testimonials from customers who had been suffering from typical kayaking and kayak fishing problems before they switched to the W kayak. It also offers several technical articles on the new ergonomic design of this boat.