Flyfisher's Roll Journal

Everyone starts somewhere!  Now where did that paddle go? 

Do I know how to do a hand roll?  NO!

Well, I needed to make sure I could do a wet exit from this little tiny cockpit!

Learning to Roll a Kayak

11 June, 2002!

My first complete and unassisted roll. I was able to get 6 of about 30 rolls accomplished. This is not a bombproof roll. It is not even a pansy roll. It just gives me license to continue.

I started about 6 weeks ago to teach myself this skill from internet postings and from the books. Along the way, I developed some pain and a click in my shoulder and learned a few things that may end up being useful to others as they try to learn the skill. I have no doubt that my advice right now will change as I become more proficient, so read the following just as the advice of a novice. Some parts may be more valuable than the advice of a master roller. Some will be not so good an idea and may help to ingrain some bad habits… Gee! At least you get to get into my head and see how I approached it.

I had an advantage: a backyard pool deep enough for a diving board… i.e. a pool with deep water. This allowed me to run out and practice for 15 minutes at a time and keep the frustration level down. My practice boat is a Perception Carolina. It is pretty stable, which may be a disadvantage for learning how to roll… But I solved that problem!

First, I made sure someone in my family was at the backyard pool whenever I practiced. Next, I made sure I knew how to get out of the kayak when it was upside down. I made sure I knew how to do this even when the release loop was not visible. I made sure I knew how to do it with my eyes closed. I told each of my “lifeguards” that my banging on the top of the kayak was my emergency signal that something was wrong. (I have now rolled to inverted several hundred times and never had any difficulty getting out of the kayak whenever I wished. No one in the family needed to help assist me in any way.)

I did read everything I could get my hands on. I agree with most of the advice I read. Below are a few things I learned on my own that I have never read:

- I did not find it useful to have someone help me by not allowing the boat to roll past 90 degrees. Depending on that person delayed my learning for a week or more.

- A Greenland paddle made from a 2x4 saved my shoulder. I learned this from the net, after nearly wrecking my shoulder with a euro paddle. I have come to really like this paddle for all kayaking. It’s also cheap, even including the labor. It is also homemade. It is also different. People ask questions about it.. All good things.

- It was good for my ego to learn how to roll by using the paddle like a pole against the bottom in the shallow water. This gave me time to practice keeping my head in the water until the last moment and allowed me to work on decreasing the amount of push I put on the paddle. It was this practice that allowed me to learn to push on the opposite pedal and pull with the near knee to do the hip snap. But while getting good at this, I learned the bad habit of coming out of the water without leaning back… I still need to remember that.

- On to the deep water – no bottom touching here: Doing rolls without the spray skirt was VERY useful. When the cockpit is full of water, the boat is much less stable and much easier to get through 90 degrees. I found that I could do high braces with my head and chest in the water this way and that gave me lots of practice in pushing back up with the Greenland paddle in the deep part of the pool.

- It was also useful to hold only the end of the paddle during the roll upside down, letting the paddle float on the surface, then getting a grip on the paddle and pulling toward it. This taught me more about where the surface really is when upside down… It is just a foot or so away and easy to reach once you know where it is.

That’s it for now… It may be interesting to come back to this some months from now and see if I still agree with my notions listed here.

Goals still ahead of me: Bombproof roll; Roll in waves and wind; Roll a “recreational kayak” without thigh braces; Reenter and roll; Roll at night; Roll in very cold water. Roll with a storm paddle, roll with just the hands.

12 June, another night of practice, accomplishments:

- A couple dozen successful rolls - perhaps 50 percent - certainly more than 50 percent (maybe 80-90 %) if I only count the times I needed to come out of the boat... (There were a number of almost successful rolls where I was able to take a good deep breath before going back down again.)
- First successful 360s - just as easy as the others once the position is figured out.
- Successful "off side" rolls.
- Successful roll with the pool lights on.. This was actually confusing with the water lighted up and the sky black.
- A couple successful reenter and rolls. Whee! That was fun!

One other skill I suggest learning before doing much roll practice is being able to close one's nose by scrunching the face muscles... I have done this for years to the point that I am very comfortable swimming underwater on my back looking at the surface. Nose clips would work the same for practice, but what would one do in an unanticipated roll situation?? The pain of water going into the nose and sinuses is very distracting in the event of an unexpected roll. Same goes for opening eyes underwater without goggles.

28 June, practice pays off

I have been practicing with the Carolina on and off over the last few weeks. Not bullet proof, certainly not bomb proof, but pretty regularly successful. Both sides pretty easy now, 360s from either side, change in the middle and decide to change sides. Lots of reentries… Why go to the side and get the water out???

Having just finished Kingfisher (Great Auk) I found that I could easily roll it as well. If anything, it rolls more easily than the Carolina. The spray skirt takes a little more to remove with the acute angle at the front for a wet exit, but it seems a delightful boat to practice rolls in. Next, I need to see if it is possible to do a balance brace in the Kingfisher.

Hand rolls? Not a chance yet! Though I am beginning to understand the use of the body as a substitute for the paddle in sweeping to get some purchase on the water.

23 August 2002
Not every post is fun...
I have been enjoying my new SOF. It is just about perfect in many ways. I do wish the Masik was just a bit higher so that I had a little more room to move my legs around and avoid having my feet going to sleep. Maybe putting a block in the bow so that I have more than the footrest to press against would help some. As is the footrest is a little too close to the deck to get an effective place to plant anything but my toes.
Rolling is a little disappointing. The boat rolls well, better than my Perception Carolina, better than my Great Auk, certainly better than that miserable little Old Town Otter. But I don't roll well.
I have a pretty dependable roll for about 5 rolls, then it goes down hill. I think it is because I just get tired, even though strength is playing less a part of rolling than it did in the beginning. I almost feel like the boat gets unresponsive, like there is a bunch of water in it keeping me from coming up. But when I do finally get up, I check and there is very little water in the bottom of the boat. Less than a quarter of an inch which has made it past the spray skirt, and I'd guess through the top seam. No, I think it must just be that I run out of energy, even though I am not breathing hard, don't feel particularly worn out, or cold. Maybe it is a mental block.
I saw an advertisement for a rolling aid in Wavelength magazine, a CO2 inflatable float that one can hold on to and roll back up as an alternative to rolling with a paddle. I went out to the pool and picked up one of my empty 2 1/2 gallon chlorine bottles. In the pool, I found that I could use the float to do a "balance brace" by depending on the float. I could then roll upright using the float in my right hand and with a rear recovery. I could do this 4 or 5 times and then I ran out of strength in my right arm to continue. I could not do it with my left arm at all.
I know... I need to get some instruction. I am sure that a good instructor could point out 10 things I am doing wrong and make my life easier.
I also know that continued practice will likely make me stronger, and move me toward the 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical stage of rolling.
But today, I am singing the blues. And for others who sometimes feel that way, maybe it is ok to just say that I am presently discouraged.

Sept 3 2002: The rolling saga continues... this time a little better

Over the weekend, I did a bunch of paddling with my wood strip kayak and with the SOF. I fitted a Minicell footbrace in the SOF and some neoprene pads for my knees on the Masik. It helps a lot.

On rolling, I thank all for their advice and encouragement. One very useful piece was to make sure I was really getting set up for the roll by floating up toward the surface and really being in position. I was able to hit dozens and dozens of rolls all weekend by doing this. I only did a wet exit once, and that was after I had gotten exhausted.

I did find that some water got in the boat during every roll. After 4 or 5 rolls, it was useful to use a sponge to get a pint or two of water out of the boat. When the water gets about as deep as the keelson, I can really feel it sloshing around inside during the roll.

I discovered something which a teacher would have explained in the first 5 minutes of rolling, which means I am about 4 months late in learning it: bracing at the end of a roll improves the chance of a successful roll a lot. I have no idea how many times I have nearly completed a roll, trying to lean my shoulder to the other side of the boat and slowly rolled back in the water right at the end of a recovery. Turns out, of course, that a quick little brace is very useful in recovering here. I have no idea why that did not occur to me earlier.

I spent some time trying to do a side scull. Since I do not have a beach in my pool, I enlisted my ever-patient family members one at a time, to hold up my shoulder a bit as I practiced the scull. I did not get the scull down, but I did get closer.

I did discover that it is very easy to put one's lower legs up on the edge of the pool wearing a PFD and scull with the paddle. Actually it not necessary to scull at all! I admit to a little puzzlement why it is so hard to get in that position from the boat???

I also discovered that spending extended minutes on my side let lots of water in the kayak. Almost all of it came in through the homemade neoprene spray skirt, both around my chest and around the cockpit rim. It amounted to a couple gallons of water. I wonder what a faux Greenland tuiliq would do for this?? Probably add buoyancy and decrease the amount of leak.

I read in Paddling over the weekend, how it is important to do some of the Greenland maneuvers almost out of the boat! I can already easily slide to the bottom side of the cockpit. That makes sense. Now maybe I can get my hips even further up toward the cockpit rim??

Actually rolling is such a blast.  My technique is not great, but it works well enough to be a...  Is it bomb proof?  Not yet.  Is it bullet proof?  Not yet.  It may be slingshot proof.

September 4: Shawn Baker wrote about a complaint I had about my legs falling asleep:
: Another trick to make sure you can continue to enjoy this boat is to learn to
: balance brace--tip over, brace, and stretch your legs to your heart's
: content...

I responded:

Ah! to balance brace... I practice, I have read, I dream of being able to balance brace. I have written posts, I have written web pages, I have written poetry about the day I may be able to balance brace.

It's easy, all say, like rolling.

Latest from Greg Stamer (who should be getting impatient with me by now, but who shows no sign of it) is to let myself go into the bottom of the boat and strongly arch my back.

I looked at the pool last night and walked away. Maybe tonight.

Maybe building a 12" x 12" x 2" paddle float will allow me to learn how to side scull which will let me learn how to balance brace. Maybe I will need to wait for next August for the Michigan Clinic.

I'm going to go out to the pool again tonight and think through what I have learned and then think about getting into that clear chlorinated water again.

Maybe I will learn how to balance brace. Maybe I will just have fun trying to learn. Maybe I will find out it is so easy that I have a terrible time teaching someone else - like I can't teach my son how to roll.

For now, I am a poor numb legged balance-brace-wanna-be. And I would not trade it for all the gold in Kentucky. (Ft Knox that is.)

September 6 2002: Oh Joy!

I was able to do side sculling last night for the first time. I also dimly see the light at the end of the balance brace tunnel.

Thanks to all for their encouragement and posts.

Special thanks to Greg Stamer for his suggestion to use a slip on paddle float.
/snip: You can practice the body position (without enlisting your family members) by using a paddle-float on the extended blade. snip/
As described elsewhere, I made one from scrap kickboard, about 9" by 18" The Greenland paddle only fit up about 9-10 inches up into the thing... (Biggest kitchen knife I had.)

Sometime during my practice, the outer part of the float cracked and I broke off the outer 9 inches. This left me with a paddle float of only 9x9x2. It was still plenty to support me in the balance brace position, but could begin to sink if overpowered. So I did a gentle little sculling motion. It worked.

After a bit I got up my nerve to swap ends of the paddle and use the paddle itself to scull. First time I did so for about 30 seconds and then came up like from a roll. About the 4th time, I lost it and had to come up from inverted... oh well. Then I went back to sculling easily. I even cheated once or twice and swapped ends of the paddle and rolled with the paddle float. Cool!

I later made a new paddle float.  It actually is two paddle floats which double as something to sit on in the SOF.

I am not at the balance brace stage yet, though I am continuing to look for the magic position.

21 September 2002:

I studied the picture of you in the balance brace/side scull. It helped a lot. I got back in the pool today with two boats. First I tried the Perception Carolina to see if more volume and a flatter bottom would help in the balance brace. Maybe, but the nylon spray skirt kept coming undone and I finally gave up on it.

Then back in the Greenland Qajak. I had to consciously put my hands in the positions you were using and then move around slightly. I got back, both shoulders in the water, all of my head in the water except my face. I was looking at the sky and concentrated on a nice slow easy rhythm to the scull. I worked on using the scull to turn clockwise and counter clockwise. I worked to see how little pressure I could use. Then I got to the point that I was able to just quit the scull and sit there quietly for about as long as I wanted to! What fun. The BB finally came from being relaxed. (Admitedly I had two life jackets on.)

I looked up and the kayak was not quite as flopped over as I would have liked, but it was on the other side of vertical.

Then I decided to work on the off side... Lot of work to do there! But I believe I know how to chart the course.

Greg, thanks again for your patience and coaching.

No camera there when I did the brace by the way... It was just me and God.


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