One of the main reasons to paddle a sit on top kayak is the freedom of movement they give. Paddlers of a nervous disposition, who wouldn’t be caught anywhere near a sit inside boat, also get piece of mind with SOTs – if it all goes pear shaped then simply exit your craft without fear of being trapped under the water. Here at Sitons we’re also keen to point out that sit on tops do offer progression. For those getting serious about paddling SOTs they do offer performance you might think didn’t exist. With this in mind, and after our recent dabbling’s, we thought we’d look at thigh straps in more depth. Thigh straps, after all, are a tool to bridge the gap between SOT and sit in kayaks – for wave riding they’re a great accessory.

Thigh straps?

Many sit on to paddlers aren’t even aware thigh straps exist. Straps are fitted the same way a kayak seat is with clips latching onto moulded D-rings. These then loop over thighs, adjust for comfort, and provide a connection to the kayak that paddlers wouldn’t normally get. The tighter you make these straps the more locked in you feel – the down side, of course, is how much harder they are to slip out from. But, to put things in context, using thigh straps isn’t like being inside a sit in boat. You can still release relatively easily if need be.

Why use them?

One of the most fun areas of sit on kayaking is playing in waves. Even small junky mush can be good fun with an SOT. Prone board surfers tend to avoid these conditions – add a kayak to the mix, however, and it’s a whole different story. Being propelled forwards while sitting, even on low power white water froth, can be smile inducing to say the least. And for those who get a taste switching your riding up a level is certainly doable – even with a sit on boat. One of the problems with SOTs without straps (especially in waves) is the lack of response. Having caught those first glides paddlers may start experimenting with turning along the wave – leaning in the direction of travel. Unfortunately engaging the boat’s rail relies heavily on body weight and while it’s possible to achieve the boat’s buoyancy will always push back. It’s never going to be as efficient without thigh straps. Adding straps to the mix allows allows you to push the facing rail into the wave, and make it bite. You can lift your outside leg, and increase the pressure even more. The hull digs in further and those bottom contours and grooves start working their magic. Suddenly you have a much more responsive sled that wants to perform proper carving turns.

The agile and athletic may even discover the joys of re-directing their boat – suddenly a plethora of surf inspired moves becomes possible. Stuff you only thought a sit inside boat would accommodate – further evidence sit on tops can deliver performance and don’t have to be regarded as simple beach toys.

What if it all goes wrong?

We’ll not lie: as much as freeing yourself from tightened thigh straps is easy enough, there’s still a few seconds of faffing where you may be in the water. Not panicking – especially if it’s your first go – is key. Even being under the waves for a few short seconds isn’t going harm anyone. Simply slip the straps off and swim from under your craft – they’re designed not to trap the rider. This may sound daunting but there really shouldn’t be a concern if the paddler in question has water confidence, prior paddling experience, is wearing a buoyancy aid and can swim. The only thing you’ll have to consider is the surf pushing your boat into the shallows towards shore. Starting off in small waves, if you’ve never worn straps, is advisable. As paddlers get used to the feeling, and what happens in certain situations, bigger waves can be tackled. Start slowly and build up your confidence.

Worth the investment then?

Even if you don’t use your thigh straps every session we think they’re a worthwhile investment – especially for waves. Paddlers frequenting inland waterways and considering having a bash at mellow white water will still find thigh straps applicable – for similar reasons. Responsiveness and performance are all requirements for white water paddling – something you can also do with sit on top boats. As with surf kayaking it’s worth taking things slow to start with, and familiarising yourself with how to free yourself should your boat tip over. (You can actually roll a sit on top with thigh straps – this could be worth practising).

If thigh straps do prick your interest then hitting your local kayaking emporium and getting hold of a pair to try on flat water first is a good idea. Then it’ll be time to hit the waves – we guarantee the rewards of using thigh straps are numerous and as such we can’t recommend them enough for progressing paddlers. Thanks to Perception Kayaks Europe who helped with this article – www.perception.co.uk/pages/index/homepage