I own a Dagger Jitsu. I like it, although like many playboats it has its fans and its detractors. Generally though it is regarded to have a good hull shape, and, frankly, I find it hard to fit into other models simply because I’m one of those awkward people who has long legs for their weight.

Image: Eagles Nest Photography

I’m not going to be world champion any time soon, and if I was to buy a ‘dream’ playboat I’d likely be buying a carbon one. But there’s one thing about the Jitsu that most who know it can agree on. It is a lot heavier than it needs to be. In fact this very same criticism can be levelled at pretty much any modern boat on the market today.

Modern outfitting

Modern outfitting that comes with boats has two problems. It is heavy, affecting boat performance and indeed paddler weigh capacity, and it is sloppy.

In any kayak, not just a playboat, you want instant response to your body input.

So it is with luck, then, that I have recently embarked on lightening the load in my Jitsu. The Dagger Ergo outfitting is easily adjustable and very comfy. But it is incredibly heavy. Lifting up my Jitsu compared to Emily’s similarly sized Jackson Rockstar shows that the difference is stark. And this will present itself on the water in the form of being able to more easily throw the boat around, less fatigue, and the boat sitting higher. It will be more responsive on a wave, and possibly a bit more retentive.

With this in mind, what can we do about it? For the purpose of this article I’m going to go through what I am doing with my Jitsu 5.5. Dagger claims that the boat weighs 13kg. Umm, no. My luggage scale, which from recent experience is quite accurate shows a weight that is closer to 14.5kg. Quite hefty! By contrast Emily’s 2014 Rockstar comes out at 13kg.

Initial ideas

I first started firming up ideas about replacing my Jitsu’s outfitting when I saw Adriene Levknecht’s boat in Uganda. Same model and size as mine, except that she had had all of the outfitting, including the central rail, replaced with an exact carbon fibre replica. It looked beautiful. A great way to get the toughness of a plastic boat, and lightness as well. She said it made a huge difference to the boats performance.

So I got thinking about how I could do something similar, but much more simple. But as I did so, I made the realisation that it wasn’t going to be as simple as I thought. In the end I had to scrap the idea of ripping out both the seat and the central track. It would just be too complex, and there’s no easy way to affix carbon to the plastic hull.

The good news is that after some quick messaging to Dagger, I discovered that the seat of the Jitsu comes out very easily indeed. All you need to do is unscrew the thumbscrew at the rear of the seat all the way out, life the back of the seat off the bolt, and just slide it forwards and out.

In practice this proved to be just as easy as described. Weighing the seat, it came out at around 2kg. By contrast a similar volume of closed cell foam comes in at 0.4kg, before being cut down. Although it might not sound a lot, that 1.6kg or so would bring the Jitsu down to 13.4kg. Just a smidgen over the Rockstar.

(Note that the weights here are not fully accurate. It’s pretty hard keeping the boat stable while weighing it so there is some variation.

For this article I’m going to cover replacing the seat. In the future I will be looking at replacing the thigh grips as well since they weigh around 0.5kg on their own.

I would like to note at this point that all the modifications that I am making to my boat are reversible. I am mindful of the resale value, and so anything I do can easily be taken out and the original outfitting put back in just as it came from the factory.

How far you go will depend on just how finicky you are with the boats weight. Many of the savings are accumulative. In other words the big savings will come from a combination of replacement parts.

Getting hold of a new seat

The first thing you will need is a seat! I searched high and low. I had considered the Soul Waterman Power Seat, but it would be pricey, even if it is an awesome seat. Instead as I was perusing the Gui-Gui Prod website while dreaming about owning a carbon boat, I noticed that the 2018 model has a foam seat instead of a carbon one. I contacted the company to ask if it sold them as separate parts, and luckily it did! So that was sorted, and I had one ready made foam freestyle seat on its way.

Once the seat arrived, the first thing that struck me was that it was a lot higher than the existing Jitsu one, and it would be a lot of foam to cut away to bring it down. But first I needed to find out just how much I would need to cut off. And that would mean finding out how high the lowest part of the seat recess of both seats was off the ground. Not a totally straightforward thing to measure.

I put both seats on a flat floor and put a straight rod across the highest point of each, and measured the height. I kept the rod in place and then measured from the lowest part of the seat recess up to the rod. Then for each seat I took the seat recess measurement from the total height one to find out the distance from the floor.

This way I could mark out the amount of material I would need to take off the Gui-Gui Prod seat.

When marking around the seat there’s nothing to worry about by taking too much out. Unlike most DIY projects it’s actually less hassle to take too much off than too little. This is because working with the foam is difficult when you only have to take small slithers off. If you take too much off you can always layer up some foam matting to bring it back up again.

I cut around the seat along the line with a very sharp knife and just kept doing multiple passes. In the end it was easier than I thought, although I had taken too little off! So I had to have another pass.

Having said that, I know that I am likely to have to take yet more off or at least make more adjustments after testing on the water.

There is one awkward part to getting the seat to fit. The central plastic track that runs along the hull has several bumps and shapes that need filing out of the underneath of the new seat.

When I cut out the bumps from underneath the seat it was impossible to make it look pretty. But nobody will see all this once it is in place, so not to worry too much.

Throughout this process I kept trying the seat in position (which I had marked out with the original seat before I took it out) and sitting in the boat.

Side walls

The original Jitsu seat has side walls built in. So I needed to break into my valuable closed cell foam stocks and make some blocks to go alongside the seat. These are very important since they support the side of the hull, so they are critical to the integrity of the boat. Secondly they are the place where the hip pads go.

Cutting the blocks was pretty straightforward, although they needed to be cut at an angle at the bottom to match in with the mould shape. A notch also had to be cut out at the top to account for the original ‘guide disk’ that guided the rails of the original seat as it slid back and forth during fore and aft adjustment.

I could take this out, but I would need to seal the hole that is left. But more on this later.

For the moment I haven’t fixed these in with glue etc. I cut them slightly large so they wedge in pretty firmly. However they are doubly held in place by the seat once it is in position so I doubt they will go anywhere.

Once these were in I cleaned out a section of the hull and affixed some industrial grade velcro.

Velcro is sometimes used in slalom boats for testing and also in the Gui-Gui Prod boats themselves. The only thing to be mindful of is when adjusting the seat position. Be very careful about gradually prying the velcro free with your fingers. If you just rip the seat off you will have the seat in one hand with the velcro being left in the boat with a layer of foam on it!

For the time being I added some more velcro for the hip pads onto the side walls.

I had to play around to get the hip pads sort of right. I know that I will need more playing after testing as I have a feeling that the seat is way too high at the moment. But I won’t know how it all feels until I try it.

Final thoughts

After fitting the seat in with velcro the weight of the whole thing was 12.2kg, which is to be expected. The boat feels noticeably lighter to lift up, and is now lighter than the Rockstar.

This is a work in progress however. The next thing I will be tackling once I have the seat height right are the thigh braces. These could be replaced with something far lighter. For the moment I am leaving the back band in, although it needs something to tension it at the bottom. I will also be making some solid foam hip padding. Lastly there is a moulded plastic ‘stopper’ to hold the front central pillar in place. This is a fairly chunky piece of plastic and I am sure it can be replaced with something else lighter. But until I have the seat height and trim right I will be holding off on those elements.

Edit: In my excitement to publish this I deserve some slapped wrists for forgetting to mention the invaluable help from Stu Morris from VE Paddles who gave me lots of tips on how best to go about things!

Right, off for testing!

[Update] I did some brief testing of the boat today to see what it felt like. Although it was slightly more lively edge to edge because of the slightly higher seat, it still felt pretty good. I have yet to try it on a wave or in white water, but so far it feels good enough to leave the seat alone. The difference due to the lack of weight was subtle, but noticeable. The bow didn’t pearl as much during forward paddling, and the stern was noticeably further out of the water when sat in a neutral position.

[Update 2] After testing on the Holme Pierrepont White Water course I can confirm that I am happy with the seat height and feel of the boat. The lighter weight has made a noticeable improvement to things, especially paddling down river. The boat isn’t catching the nose in anywhere near as much as it was before. This is especially noticeable when breaking into strong flows.

Now to move onto the thigh grips…

Words and pictures: Simon Wyndham