How to Customize Your Kayak Cockpit With Foam

Written by kathy imbriani
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Today's fast-growing sport of kayaking grew out of necessity for the Inuit people of the Arctic. Used for hunting and fishing, the kayak was usually made from a wooden frame covered with sealskin. Narrow and sleek, these boats were designed and built for each individual and fitted tightly to their bodies for maximum control and maneuverability. Instability came with this maneuverability. The craft was vulnerable to tipping over in the cold sea. This resulted in the Eskimo roll, a technique for righting or "rolling" the kayak when capsized. Kayakers use a variety of methods for rolling today. All involve the use of the hips and arms to twist the boat upright. A tight fit between boat and boater is necessary. Most new boats being built today come with some factory installed padding. If this padding is too loose or nonexistent, it helps to know how to fashion and install custom-made padding.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • Minicell foam
  • Sharp knife
  • Commercial grade waterproof contact cement
  • Tape measure
  • Dragon skin
  • Duct tape

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  1. 1

    Sit in your kayak to get an idea of how much space you need to fill to make a snug fit against your hips. The hip pads should cradle your hips to provide tighter control of the boat and facilitate rolling. Either measure, if there is room, or eyeball the needed thickness of each piece of Minicell. The Minicell should be wedge shaped, wider at the top and tapered until it is quite thin as it reaches the bottom of the boat, so it will not catch your clothes as you enter and exit the boat.

  2. 2

    Cut a piece of Minicell for each side. Cut the approximate width and height you need.

  3. 3

    Duct tape the Minicell inside the cockpit. Climb back in the boat and approximate how much foam you must shave or cut away for a better fit.

  4. 4

    Remove the Minicell and shape it with "dragon skin," a metal sandpaper used to shape foam. Dragon skin comes in a sheet and you can curve it around a wooden block for better usage.

  5. 5

    Re-tape the Minicell to the inside of the boat and try for another fit. This process can be tedious, but trial and error is the only way to achieve a customised fit.

  6. 6

    Fit the Minicell foam for the thigh area. For a perfect fit, the thigh should contact any padding and raise and lower the boat. The Minicell should be curved to the shape of the top of the thigh and rest about 2 or 3 inches up from the knee. This customisation of the thigh area provides fine edge control of the boat and allows for tight turns and better rolling.

  7. 7

    Follow the same trial and error process for the thigh pads as for the hip pads until you have achieved a perfect and comfortable fit.

  8. 8

    Once you have perfected and tested the fit, permanently affix the pads to the inside of the cockpit with contact cement. Contact cement is unforgiving, so you only get one chance to get it right! Coat both the surface of the pad and the inside of the cockpit with contact cement. Wait 15 seconds before pressing them together. Let the pieces dry for 24 hours before getting them wet.

Tips and warnings

  • Once you have shaped the pads, again duct tape them into the boat and sit in the boat for awhile to ensure a comfortable fit for long periods of time. Some kayakers bring their boats into the living room and sit in it to watch a movie, just to be sure of the fit!
  • Before using your boat for the first time with your new pads, make sure you can easily get out of your boat while upside down in the water. Take a buddy with you to the lake edge or swimming pool. Flip your boat upside down and gently push the boat off your body like a pair of trousers. You should slide out easily, but not fall out.

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