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Those of you who read this blog and manage to stay awake will know I once had a Jitsu with no back-band. How do I feel about this now?

Ages ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I owned a Dagger Jitsu. I decided one day to rip out all the outfitting and replace it with foam, drastically saving weight in the process. As part of the weight saving exercise I also got rid of the back-band, something got used to, and in the end much preferred. I realised that even in a playboat when you are moving around a lot, a back-band simply restricts your movement.

Fast forward to now. Currently I own an Exo Helixir with lightweight carbon and foam outfitting, which I recently retro fitted to it, saving just over 2kg or so on the boat weight, while also stiffening the bottom of the hull for when I’m surfing those huge world class waves in the Stakeout competitions (yeah, right). Okay, I’m not doing that, but I have noticed a difference in how easy the boat is to move on flat water thanks to the weight saving. One thing I have been using again, ever since I got the boat, is the back-band, and I got used to having one again.

However, during a recent pool session the back-band broke. Not the adjustment rope, but the actual webbing that threads through the back-band and holds the metal ring, which the adjustment rope pulls on to adjust the tightness. I had to continue the session without a back-band, and it felt weird. Really weird.

It didn’t take me long to get back used to the feeling of having no back support, though, but it did show up a lot of issues with my technique. One thing with freestyle is that you have to be super aware of your body position, and what I found was that I had become much more dependent on the back-band than I thought. If you’d asked me when I still had it whether I relied on the back-band during moves like cartwheels, for instance, I’d have told you “no, I try to keep my body as neutral as possible.”

Uh-oh. This turned out not to be the case, and once the back-band was removed from the equation I found that I was using the back-band pressure to help me get the stern down, both during cartwheels and during moves like tailies and attempts at flat water lunar orbits. So, what have I learned?

For one thing I will now not be replacing the back band. I’m going to take out the whole assembly, saving a bit more weight. I will have to make sure my other outfitting is super snug. But in a boating sense, having no back-band makes you focus much more on your core. During cartwheels and other moves you have no choice but to make sure you are using body rotation rather than leaning backwards. You are forced to use your abs and legs during tailies, and you will know this in no uncertain terms, because after a freestyle session with no back-band, you will wake up the next morning wondering why your abs and lower back muscles ache.

Something else you will discover is the feeling of freedom. I’d forgotten this part of the equation. It’s weird, because you’re snugly in the boat with the hip pads, thigh braces, foam Gui-Gui seat and foot blocks, yet simply removing the back support instantly makes your movements much more free and fluid.

Back-bands have no practical use

The reality is that a back band doesn’t really do much. In fact, as anyone who knows the basics of kayaking knows, you should be barely touching the back-band while paddling anyway. So, what’s the point of it? It doesn’t ‘keep you in your boat’ when upside down, as some people like to say. It inhibits torso rotation, and it can affect blood circulation in some cases where people do them up super tight.

In short, kayakers think they need a back-band because they’ve become used to the feeling of it being there. Take it away and they feel strange, with the extra freedom of movement fooling them into thinking it’s made them too loose in the boat. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, when you first paddle without a back-band it does feel really strange and unfamiliar. It takes a couple of sessions or river trips to get used to it. But once you realise that the extra freedom of movement is helping you, not hindering you, you will find it harder still to go back to having a back-band.

It seems I’m not alone in this. Freestyle and white water kayaker, Patrick Kyle appears to feel the same way. Read his thoughts over on his blog in his review of the carbon Pyranha Jed.

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