The Greenland Test

You got me where you want me
I ain’t nothing but your fool
You treated me mean oh you treated me cruel
– Aretha Franklin

If your roll sucks I’ll know.  It’s easy.   Just put away that big blade and have a go with my Greenland paddle.  Go ahead.  C2C, Sweep, Modified Sweep.. whatever.  Ok, I’ll even give you a warm up.. If you don’t roll after 2.. Um well… there it is then.

There’s a point where most every kayak roll becomes the same. It’s right at that moment when the paddler is who upside down, decides to roll up. At that moment the first thing you do, regardless of  paddle, rolling style or technique, is roll the boat up.  That seems obvious.  Well, I’m not referring to the whole process of rolling the boat up, but only that millisecond right after the mind decides to engage the body in the process of rolling.  At that moment, it’s all about the boat.   It’s also the point where most of our energy is expended IF we’re doing it right.

The roll is not about the paddle.  When I see people with a wobbly roll, or a shaky 2-out-of-3 roll, or the “I can roll sometimes but” roll I can almost always find the problem back at the boat.  It’s a matter of priority.  From my experiences in traditional or Greenland rolling I know you simply don’t need the paddle to roll.   You can roll with a stick, a skateboard, a hand, a bowling ball or if you’re really good, nothing at all. The point is, good technique with the body will overcome a multitude of sins out there where the paddle is supposed to be.

What really screwed me up when I was first learning to roll my kayak was all the focus on the paddle.  It’s not always intentional. It’s just “the way”. Standard rolling tends to go through a 1,2,3 process of “Hip Snap, Head Dink, & Paddle Position”.  We blow through the first two and then spend the next 3 hours focused intentionally or not on paddle stuff.   What’s more, most students won’t roll in that first session so they will go home focused on whatever we spent the most time on or where we left them.  Almost always, that will mean “paddle, blade, paddle”.

With all that thinking about the paddle going on it’s no wonder that the body and the boat get lost in conversation.  Again, it’s often accidental.  But here’s where things get even uglier.  Too much focus on the paddle produces paddle rollers, people who substitute good technique with a powerful shove, or push on their paddle in order to roll up.  It’s not these paddler’s fault. More often than not they simply fell victim to the  “carrot and stick” reflex.  They pulled once, it worked.. and the process was locked in. Can you roll with your paddle and have a god awful  grasp of body mechanics? Certainly.  But not well.  Not 100%. And not even close to “bomb proof” as they like to say.

When you think about how we teach some standard rolls it’s easy to see how we can create a bunch of wankers!  (Um, well… it was there!)

A good C2C roll requires almost no energy, but the process of learning it puts a student in a bad place.  They spend too much time focused on the paddle, and can receive a false sense of success by wanking or pulling on the paddle to get upright. It can also be hard for a coach to catch that or correct it.  The C2C by method can disguise the pull.  When the student “snaps” and the paddle sinks, did they pull or was the slight sink of the paddle just a reaction to the snap?  You really have to watch to tell the difference.  As a coach you also don’t want to get in the position of  having a student roll by wanking on their paddle and then have to tell them , “good, but…”  By then the mind has already scored the success.  Now you’re suddenly deprogramming which sucks…

A sweep roll is almost effortless as well.  Yet, I can’t count how many people I’ve seen do it who are relying on a yank at the end of the sweep to recover.  Take the yank away, and the roll evaporates. The sweep bit becomes almost inconsequential. Again, it’s too easy to fall into dependency on that little yank to make up for a shortened or dead sweep with a weak body roll (or hip snap).

It’s really no surprise that we have so many people showing up at classes and symposiums who tell us things like, “I can roll .. most of the time”. or “Sometimes” or “90% of the time.”  Often these are folks who’ve been paddling and working on their roll for years and are simply suffering paddle distraction.

Now let me be clear, I like the C2C roll.  It’s no doubt my personal fallback, trashy water roll.  But I don’t like teaching it. I won’t actually.  The method of teaching the roll can too easily enforce bad techniques which can lead to poor performance or even injury.   With a standard or euro blade I’m happier teaching a sweep roll which can keep a student away from that whole “pulling” area with some guidance.

So that brings me to the  ‘Greenland Test”. When I have someone come up to me with a “Sometimes/most-of-the-time” roll, or someone simply looking for tips, I take away their big blade and give them a Greenland paddle.   The sudden difference in surface area will quickly expose a wanker! If their roll evaporates, I know the problem. If their technique is sound they should have no problem rolling with the GP.  If YOUR roll is sound, you will have no problem doing whatever roll you do with a Greenland stick.  If you’ve never tried it, test yourself.

If you failed the GP test, are just learning your first roll, or wanting to make your roll easier on your body stay tuned.  We’re going to work on that this week as I kick off a conversation about “low impact rolling”.  Rule number 1 then is simply.. put your paddle away (for now). It’s evil, and treating you cruel!!

Happy Monday!

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12 Responses

  1. Marius

    Nicely put!

    Shouldn’t we just get rid of paddle and teach body roll to make that reliance on paddle a moot point? 😉

  2. Marius

    During winter pool sessions one guy used to bring his young daughter. She could hand roll her WW boat, but was a total no-go with a paddle…

  3. Susan

    Waugh!! Sounds like me – I became uncontrollably dyslexic when the paddle was introduced, but could roll with a bunch of other things. My go-to roll (even with a Euro blade)?? Angel roll 😉

  4. Phil

    Wanker refers to someone who *??????* this side of the atlantic and is used mainly to insult! That aside I think a loose fitting cockpit is one of the biggest problems when it comes to rolling efficietly. My present boat probably needs some padding because when I am upsidedown I dont feel locked in, which isnt a good start to the roll sequence.

  5. Hey Phil,

    Yep Phil that was actually the point of the double entendre… as it is also used to simply say you have to pull hard on something… Let the jokes ensue! :) Anyway….

    Not feeling locked in is an issue. It’s worth noting that there is “too” locked in as well. You want to have good contact, especially around your hips, thighs and feet. The general answer it to pad out your boat with mini-cell. If your boat is way to large or plastic that can be more challenging. If you want to email me off the blog to talk through the details of adding some paddling I’d be happen to work with you on it.

  6. Susan, I was messing about with someone over the weekend who had never done an angel roll before and just sort of .. found it under water. That was unique. :)

  7. Bruce Babcock

    I have the issues that you’ve mentioned here, mostly “muscleing” up to the surface. It works, but it doesn’t feel pretty. I’ve just ordered Helen Wilson’s DVD to help me with my roll. I’m convinced that anything that’s done well will look, and feel, graceful.

  8. Henry

    Phil, I think it benefits people to make their roll easy when they are learning. Locking into your kayak (to the degree necessary) makes controlling the kayak easier and therefore something you don’t have to concentrate on so much (underwater). Once you have a a roll with good form (controlling the kayak with your body), that becomes less important and you can remove some foam if you like. One thing to keep in mind though is that you want to lock in your lower body from the backband to the thighs or knees, not really the feet. So don’t pull your foot pegs back. The foot pegs are used to paddle forward, not for rolling. If the foot pegs are close, some people (me included, sometimes) tend to push on them, when they shouldn’t.

  9. I agree with what Henry says. I don’t want to imply that connection with the feet should have anything to do with pushing on the peg. I refer to connection of the heal, side of the foot and possibly the toes to the deck (depending on the size of your kayak). While your feet provide no real energy to the roll they can be a starting point to kicking of a twist or turning your boat upright. But I’ll go over that idea more as we go. Regardless, pushing on the peg is not good, and pulling your peddles too far forward can actually make rolling harder than it needs to be.

  10. Roy

    close to impossiable to actually tip the hip forward and in a sulsa move while exerting any pressure with that same foot on anything…

    agree…forget the footpegs and dance the roll with the sulsa hip:)

    Best Wishes