Monday, July 18, 2011

The Ladies' Project

Yes, you’ve heard Goldilocks’ tale - “This kayak is too wide, this kayak is too deep, this kayak is too heavy, this kayak is too slow, this kayak is uncomfortable, I can’t reach the foot pedals, I can’t stretch a spray deck over the long cockpit, my butt doesn’t fit in the seat . . .” Gosh, the same thing happens when I try to shop for clothing in the men’s department. DUH!!! There are significant anatomical differences between men and women.

Of course, I am not the only Goldilocks. Many women paddlers face these same issues. There is no ladies’ department for kayaks so we end up shopping in the men’s department and making due with what we can find that fits best. In doing so, we compromise comfort and performance.

The learning curve for a beginner in whitewater kayaking is steep especially when trying to paddle boats that don't fit properly. I remember my first lesson when the instructor was teaching edging and said to apply pressure with my right thigh in the brace. My thigh was no where near the thigh brace. Many women give up on paddling or are limited to flat water paddling because they don’t get the body-boat connection necessary for developing confidence and skills.

Kayak manufacturers have started offering more size options to accommodate a wider range of paddlers, but no one has really scientifically looked at how the anatomical differences of men and women (lower center of gravity, shorter arms and torso, lower muscle to weight ratio, different pelvic structure, and narrower shoulders) effect a kayak’s performance.

The Ladies’ Project is a step in this direction. Risa Shimoda is a whitewater paddler and advocate for rivers and whitewater accessibility. She has enlisted Carnegie Mellon University’s engineering and design department to take on the challenge of developing a kayak design for women. This fall, students will be posed with this challenge (provided the materials and lab fees can be raised).

Let‘s rally to help and be a part of this movement to further kayak design for women. Donations are being sought to cover the $7000 material and lab fees. $25 is the suggested donation amount but any amount will help fund this ground breaking project.

Even if a solution is not found - we are furthering awareness and knowledge. You can help make kayaking more accessible to women by spreading the word and making a donation by 7/31.

To donate to The Ladies‘ Project, click here.


  1. Isn't there at least as much variation among women (or men) as there is between the sexes? All women do not have short legs and wide hips. All men are not tall with little fannies. Seems to me this project misses the mark. What is needed is a variety of sizes to fit a variety of body types, regardless of sex.

  2. Dear Anonymous,
    Good points, I agree that there is a huge variation between bodies of both genders and that we need a greater variety of sizing and outfitting options to fit different size paddlers.

    I think that this project is a step in the right direction to look at design and size options that will potentially benefit both male and female paddlers.

    Look at the popularity of Kokatat's MsFit PFD. I know many guys who love the fit of it and wear it despite its origin as being a pfd for women.

    Best of days on the water,