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Submitted: 09-30-2009 by red_pepper
One of the lessons I've learned from biking is that your fit to the machine is often more important than the quality of your components for best performance. The same is just as true in kayaking. If your seat is uncomfortable, leaves you feeling disconnected from the boat, or compromises your paddling position or stability, you'll perform at less than your best. You may even end up injured.
Such was the case with my Thunderbolt seats. The stock seat held me snugly and left me feeling secure in the boat, but (and perhaps this seat was modified by a previous owner) the back of the seat was such that the edge would cut into my back, especially if I used any significant amount of rotation in my stroke. My legs and buns would get numb after awhile as well. Using a back strap took away the back discomfort - as long as I was paddling casually. When I got aggressive (as in racing) and used a lot of rotation, I would end up with significant back chafing from the strap. I tried various padding schemes, but nothing really worked well. My lower back looked like I had been whipped and beaten in a POW camp.
With the stock setup not working for me, I opted to try the Onno seat. Reviews of this seat were glowing in admiration for the seat, and my experience with other Onno products was very favorable, so I called Pat and got one on order, getting the seat installed and briefly tested a week or so before the 2009 USCA Nationals. Not wise. The Onno seat is an excellent touring boat seat, but in my race boat I found it too wide and flat, leaving me feeling disconnected from my boat (which seriously compromised my performance in the swirling waters of the Allegheny river at the Nationals). Also, when I tried it without the back rest, the edge of the seat cut into my back. With the back rest it was much better, and the smooth back rest chafed me less than the back straps I had tried previously, but it still was rubbing me. At the Nationals I picked up some padding and got a good fit with the seat, using it fairly well in an 18 mile race the following week, but it still didn't give me as much rotational freedom as I desired. It was also a little heavier than the stock seat, and seemed to place my center of gravity a little higher. The quest for a better seat continued.
During the course of my search for a better seat for the Thunderbolt, I came across an interesting kayak seat called the Bumfortable (as in, keeping your buns comfortable!) from Gurney Gears. A wildly colored seat, made from closed-cell plastic foam, the Bumfortable seat promised to be an ergonomic seat that would provide support and cushion in all the right places, while having a slippery enough surface to allow body rotation for a proper forward stroke. Other claims included: warmth, reducing pressure points by redistributing the load over a larger area, light weight, no water absorption, low center of gravity, and - very important to me - structural back support without the chafing of back straps, etc. As a bonus, I read on a racer's web site the story of an individual who had installed a Bumfortable seat into his Thunderbolt, and really liked it:
Time to get out the credit card!
I ordered the narrower model, even though others had said they were able to get the wider model to fit the Thunderbolt. I think it was a good decision; the seat fit the Thunderbolt about like it was made for it - and for me. Like most people, I tried sitting in the seat before placing it in my boat, and found it was a little uncomfortable. There's a rise in the middle of the seat that kind of feels like it's going to give you a wedgie. Once in the boat, however, the seat felt great.
Gurney Gears shows how to glue the seat in place, but I opted to use 2 inch wide industrial strength self-adhesive Velcro hook and loop fastener material instead, a trick used by other paddlers in the area. After removal of the Onno seat, I used a cleaner/degreaser to clean the inside of the hull, followed by the use of rubbing alcohol as a final degreaser. I then attached a couple of strips of the Velcro material to each side of the channel running along the bottom of the seat. Having already test fit the seat to the boat, I knew where I wanted it placed, so I attached the mating Velcro material to those strips, removed the backing, and placed the seat in the desired position. It was easy and worked great. When I sat in the boat, the seat conformed to the bottom of the boat, and the seat sides provided just the right amount of foam padding between me and the cockpit sides (actually the stock seat hangars).
A couple of days after installation I headed out to the river for an 18 mile run - 9 miles up paddling at race pace, and a casual return trip after joining up with a recreational group coming down stream. My experience in the past has shown me that some seat seem ok when you're pushing hard, but hurt your back when you slow down. Conversely, a good touring seat is usually poor when you're going all out.
When all was said and done, I was very pleasantly surprised to find this seat seems to do all things well. I felt more connected with my boat and more stable than I've felt with any other seat. At the same time, I was able to really put the power to the water, getting plenty of rotation without any rubbing against my back. I think I ran some of my fastest times ever on that section of my local river, a combination of feeling secure in the boat and the ability to put my full power into the paddle. The Velcro installation worked great - the seat never even hinted at moving. If necessary, though, I could remove it and relocate the seat to fine tune the boat. During my outing my back was comfortable whether I was running hard or taking it easy. It seems to provide support to the back in just the right places, while avoiding rubbing in more tender areas. The seat definitely feels warm and comfortable. It's not hot and sweaty, just warm. It should make the boat feel pretty comfortable in winter.
If you need an improved seat in your kayak, and you can get past the wild colors, I would highly recommend the Bumfortable seat for serious consideration.
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