The Ladies' Kayak Project


Have you ever wondered what a kayak specifically designed for women would look like? A kayak that wasn’t just a smaller, narrower version of an existing design – a boat that was truly designed to fit and perform for a woman’s body? We have wondered and we’re very excited about an upcoming project that has the potential to produce a women’s specific kayak! Read on for more information about this potentially groundbreaking project spearheaded by Risa Shimoda and how you can be a part of the innovation!

Help us change a paradigm!

Nearly all kayaks today are designed by men. Not surprisingly, most models also perform better for men than for women, due to several physiological differences. While some paddling schools report equal or greater numbers of women in beginner classes, the male/female ratio among those who stick with it is 3 or more to 1. There are many reasons for this attrition, but I believe one relates to the design of today’s kayaks.

Newer models have reduced this gender inequity tremendously – produced in several sizes, and outfitted to accommodate multiple body shapes. However, one fundamental difference in the anatomy of men and women has not been addressed in kayak designs – their respective center of gravity (CG), contributing to the perception of many women that they are less able to learn basic skills, have fun as a recreational enthusiast and excel as an elite athlete compared to their male counterparts.

A kayak design concept for women that takes advantage of a woman’s structural attributes could reduce the gap between potential performance and mastery between men and women, and expand the paddling market in a new way. Addressing this CG-related challenge involves an investigation of ergonomic, volume/ displacement, and manufacturing materials.

After approaching several well-known university design departments for their agreement to put this quandary to the capabilities of future engineering product designers, Carnegie Mellon University has offered an opportunity to ask students this Fall (2011) to explore this design challenge and recommend a solution that could be applied to various genres of kayaks.

There is no guarantee that students will find a solution, and an unconventional solution might be impractical to manufacture. However, they might just come up with an elegant and practical concept! Either way, we will have advanced the pea so that another research project might get closer, and a kayak company might be encouraged to develop a great kayak for ladies (don’t hold your breath).

Here’s the crazy part of this project: class materials and students’ lab fees will cost $7,000 for the semester. I do not have the resources to implement the Carnegie Mellon project, and am asking for donations. You are not donating to a non-profit charity, and you are not purchasing a discount on a boat ‘if it comes out.’ You won’t see the $ again, though you will be part of a movement, whether the specific project succeeds or simply creates awesome awareness about the issue.

If the students develop intellectual property worthy of protection, they will be the owners of its patent. However, a non-profit organization tbd would own the licensing rights and could use licensing fees to encourage and reward women kayakers who want to contribute to the future of the sport. I will not benefit financially from the license.

Funds are due to Carnegie Mellon August 1st. We are limiting each person’s contribution to $25 or $26.30 online (the extra covers the PayPal processing fee) at Checks can be sent payable to “Carnegie Mellon University” to Risa at 601 Hudson Ave. #102, Takoma Park, MD 20912. If we can get 280 people to donate $25, we are there! If we raise more than $7,000, I’ll keep the balance in PayPal for use as a startup fund for the non-profit, return it to those donors who put us over the top, or take a booth at the 2011 Gauley Festival to further the discussion. Thank you for your support of this groundbreaking project!

I’m also seeking volunteers from Washington, DC area to help with an intro clinic for CM Students at the Potomac (late September or early October), and Pittsburgh to meet with them during the semester. If we can leverage Skype or webinar technology, we will include as many interested parties as possible in the project presentations. Email if you are interested in helping show the students how kayaks fit women, currently (or not!).

We love talking about gear and helping women chose the best pieces of equipment for their bodies, interests, and wallet.  To tap into our knowledge about purchasing new kayaks or other pieces of gear, check out some of our clinics or personal instruction!