Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Slow Roll

Rolling is undoubtedly the most difficult skill for the novice kayaker to master – and also the one they invariably want to master the most. Consequently, the roll is the second hard-skill attempted (after the wet-exit) for many beginner boaters. They hop in a kayak, do a couple of wet-exits and then proceed immediately into learning the roll, often with mixed results. Learning to roll is not something that can be rushed, or forced, and it is our opinion that it is much easier to learn to roll if you spend some time (a day or two) learning the other fundamentals and hard skills before attempting it.

People will often say that the most important part of the roll is the hip-snap, or keeping the head down, or arching or sweeping properly. While certainly these are important factors to success they are not the most important factor to success. The determining factor to achieving success in rolling is comfort in the boat, and under water. Rolling is not an aggressive maneuver built off brute-strength – it is a fluid maneuver built off relaxed, slow, and coordinated movements.

So many people though when learning to roll are not completely comfortable hanging upside down in the water and hence, they tense their muscles, they rush their steps, they have difficulty concentrating on more than one process, they do not feel how the boat reacts to their movements – all because they are on some level still nervous about getting out of the boat, running out of oxygen, hitting their head on rocks, etc.

We actually see quite a few intermediate paddlers in our instructional clinics who suffer from this fear and either have not admitted it to themselves are, or as is more often the case, are unaware that this fear is even present. When this fear is present, even if it is buried within the subconscious, it has an adverse effect on rolling because the paddler is not as relaxed as he/she should be. Because they are tense they often pull too aggressively on the paddle, engage both knees against the thigh hooks, don’t come fully out of the tuck, and have a difficult time relaxing their body into the arch/sweep position.

There are various methods to help alleviate this fear and become more comfortable in the inverted, under-water roll position. You can practice wet-exits, try to swim upside down while still in the boat, or just test the possible ranges of motion upside down by stretching forward, backwards, and side-to-side, and then either wet-exiting or having someone give you a bow-rescue. Often when we see someone struggling with a roll and we suspect it is because they are too tense/nervous we will ask them to take their air bags out, fill their boat completely with water, and then put their sprayskirt back on. If you’ve never done this I highly recommend it the next time you’re at the lake or pool. If you do this and feel nervous than to some extent you are probably still anxious about being upside down in the boat which adversely affects your roll.

The interesting thing is that it is far, far easier to roll your boat full of water than it is empty as normal. The roll unfolds much slower which gives you time to relax and focus on one step at a time. Because it is slower you will also be able to self-diagnose the weaker parts of your roll. For example, when you hipsnapped, did your upper body stay in the water, allowing the boat to re-right itself first, or did your upper body come up first? Is your paddle diving into the water by your knees, or is it sweeping across the surface towards the stern of the boat? The advantage to practicing a roll with water in the boat is that you can actually feel the mechanics of the roll and how your body moves in relationship to the boat.

If you’re struggling to learn the back deck roll, off-side roll, or a hand roll, filling the boat with water is also a valuable tool. Relax and feel how the boat slowly responds to your mechanics and body position. Regardless what roll you’re learning, once you’ve played around with a full boat, empty it out again and try a normal roll. I bet it feels much stronger and more confident.


Gregor said...

Welcome idea! Thank you!


Anonymous said...

This is a new idea. Great. Cannot wait to try it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your advice ! Every suggestion to improve our skill is really appreciated !

Anonymous said...

Wow, Amazing advice. I do this all the time to mess around anyway. I have been having trouble teaching my mom to roll (she is afraid of being upside down I think) so I will see if she wants to try this now :)

neilh said...

Great technique. This idea can also be used to teach people with significant balance problems to stay upright to paddle. We sometimes use this is in the VA pool. Paddling with the boat full of water allows development and coordination of balance and trunk strength building in all directions while having some fun too.

Anonymous said...

Just tried it tonight at the lake, and realized it's really important to completely fill the boat. I did it initially with the boat about 2/3 filled and got up only after carping for about a minute. I noticed my wife was having a great time and only she filled her boat a lot more. I completely filled mine, WOW, what a difference. Now I see how the slow roll works. I tried a bunch different kind of rolls. Finally I tried to use this technique to work on my offside backdeck roll and finally figured out what I'm doing wrong. What a great learning tool!!!

Anonymous said...

This sounded so good I tried it the following Saturday. But when I filled the boat, I just sat on the bottom, pushing myself into deeper water until my head was under. I tried bailing some of the water, but the boat became really unstable. Do you have any ideas? Jake J.

Herm said...

Make sure your drainplug is closed and you put your skirt back on (this keeps some air in the boat). Also, it helps a lot if your boat has foam walls in it. You may have no center/rear walls in the boat, or they may be plastic. Without that tiny bit of flotation the boat will sink. If you don't have those walls than fill the boat 3/4 full. It will be unstable, as you remarked, but it will still work...and give you plenty of chances to roll:)