How to outfit your sea kayak with foam

Boat fit is never perfect. Every kayak is always going to need a bit of tweaking here and there to be comfortable. Getting the right sea kayak, or surf kayak is really important and fit is primary on my list. But I know that I will always need to do a bit of extra work to get it just right. And despite what most people tell you, getting it right is a process- not a one-step job. This means paddling the kayak, deciding what doesn’t work, making adjustments and trying it out; and then starting all over again. A lot of new sea kayak owners don’t want to believe that the new $3500 kayak they just bought needs work, but the fact is, it’s built off a mold, people are not. So you have to add a bit of foam to get the kayak the rest of the way to your body.

I had two outfitting jobs. My Tiderace Xplore_s and my Mega Bullitt X S. This first post is about outfitting my sea kayak. I decided to take the opportunity to take a few pictures and show what my process is. And before the really nerdy boat outfitters get up in outrage, I do a fairly simple job on my first pass, see if it’s right, and then come back and do more refined work. I worry more about feel than looks.

The Tiderace Xplore_S
My new Tiderace is a really really good fit. I actually love the stock seat pan, which is a first. I’ve made several custom seats for my nigel foster Silhouette’s.

Custom Seat Nigel Foster Silhouette

With the Tide Race Xplore_S. I just wanted to add a tiny bit of foam to the thigh rest for grip and abrasion protection on my knees should any sand get in. And then the big job of removing the backband and building a custom one off of the bulkhead.

The foam on the underside is super easy, you buy the very slim 1/4 inch neoprene foam backed with adhesive at the paddle shop Lee’s Adventure Sports in Kalamazoo. And get a pair of kitchen shears. The nice one’s your spouse doesn’t want to find anywhere near glue, and foam, and fiberglass.

Neoprene Foam for thigh braces:

  1. Line up the foam with the edge of the thigh brace. Line it up with the edge of the thigh brace, and trace a line to cut with the scissors.
  2. Trim the foam with scissors.
  3. Carefully peel backing tape and apply.

Thigh brace foam

After it is applied paddle it to make sure it is enough. I will probably add some foam to the outside edge for knee grip. This prevents you from being sucked out of your boat, which believe me does happen.

The Backband
The backband is decidedly more complicated. In order to remove the backband from this kayak I had to uninstall the seat pan too because they are connected together. The really tricky part is that a washer and nut hold the seat pan to the cockpit rim on the backside. So while it is easy to access the allen wrench bolt on the cheekplate, the backside involved lots of new curse words as I tried to get a wrench to hold the nut while I loosened the allen bolt. My wife rescued me and we worked as a team to hold the nut on the backside, and then remove the backband and reinstall the seat without it.

This backband setup is actually better than most. With help, I had it out and back in a matter of minutes. I remember tossing a wrench and uttering some words not fit for small children when working at Lee’s on an Eddyline boat (Lori Stegmier’s falcon) that was impossible to reassemble. I eventually got Jason Roon to help me reassemble it.

Tiderace backband, I hardly knew thee!

Once the backband was out, I cut some 3″ minicell foam to rest off the rear bulkhead. I cut two pieces to use as building blocks. I eyeballed the distance. Which if I haven’t mentioned it before, I love working with minicell foam. Measuring is approximate and anything you cut can always glue stuff back together. Unlike carpentry, it’s a lot more fluid and less precise.

Step One
base for backband on tiderace xplore_s
Build a base for the backrest. I cut some three inch foam to rest on the hull and the back of the dayhatch bulkhead. You can see in this picture that I am going to trim some of this out so it wedged neatly behind the seat.

Step Two
Second piece of backband being glued.

  1. Apply some weldwood DAP contact cement with a cheap paintbrush to the top of the base piece and let it dry. In warm temperatures this doesn’t take long.
  2. Cut a new piece the same size as the first. It will slide back further than the first because it isn’t wedged to the base of the seat pan. After sitting in the boat with the foam, I decided to glue what I cut off from the first piece onto the next block. I wanted it to stick out a bit to simulate backband pressure. Note that it is not very wide.
  3. I glued these two pieces together as well. Apply some pressure to the two separate pieces. But they will stick together so don’t worry too much.
  4. Once those pieces are connected and dry, apply more glue, and connect your base to your new two-piece block. Apply some pressure to these pieces.
  5. Let it dry.

Step Three
Semi finished minicell foam backband in my Tiderace Xplore_S

Paddle, assess and iterate. I highly doubt that this first pass is going to suffice, I may end up shaving a lot off of the top edge to allow for easy of layback onto the backdeck on handrolls, or other maneuvers. But I want to see how it feels first and assess if it needs to get even more foam to simulate more backband before shaving anything off. The only way to do that is to paddle it, assess where it’s not comfortable and then adjust.

Let me know what your thought process is around outfitting or any special projects you’ve done that are cool.