What Low Impact Means

WarChild dance the days, and dance the nights away.
Open your windows and I’ll walk through your doors.
Let me live in your country — let me sleep by your shores.

Low impact does not mean dainty, wimpy or weak.  Low impact kayak rolling is not about modifying a powerful roll to make it easy on the old bones. If you think low impact means, low power you’re missing the point completely. What we’re really talking about is efficiency.   

Let’s think about our forward stroke for a moment.  Specifically look at the “catch” or that moment when you first put the blade in the water.  Most of us learned at one time or another that the blade has to go into the water cleanly.  If we begin the stroke too soon or put the blade in at the wrong angle we tend to get splashy.  Those of us who learned a thing or two from Brent Reitz learned to “spear” the water producing a clean entry before applying power to the stroke.   Now the thing is, this is all about efficiency, which leads to a more powerful and faster stroke. If you are sloppy with that paddle entry, slappy and splashy, the stroke is not only slow and inefficient but it’s high impact as well.  Each smack of a bad stroke, each “too early” pull on the blade, each stroke without torso rotation, each time you lift water at the end of the stroke, you’re doing yourself harm.  Years of inefficient paddling can lead to shoulder injuries, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome and more.   All that as payment for an inefficient and slow stroke that is much more tiring and wearing on your body than it needs to be.  Sadly we often translate tiredness due to inefficiency as proof that our stroke is “powerful and strong” which only reinforces our bad habits even more.

Rolling is the same.   Let me give you a case in point.  I recently was working with a man a bit older than me who had some real paddling sagas in his career.  Amazing stories about years of paddling on Lake Superior.  He never actually learned a roll as we think of it.  What he did was learn to scull his kayak up near the surface, then push.  It worked.  So for years, in all his adventures, in all conditions  this is what he did.  You can imagine that in white water this would not have worked so well.  Even in big water you don’t always have the time or the room to scull a bit before rolling up.  Still, for this individual it worked.   Now the result of all that sculling and pushing over all these years was that  he came to me only able to perform one roll at a time, and then with such pain he didn’t dare do it again for a few days.  I felt bad asking to see his roll once in order to figure out what was going on.  Without going into details, his self-taught style was amazingly energetic and powerful.  It was also inefficient to the point of injury.  Totally high impact!

Now with that said, the point of a “low impact” roll is not really about creating a roll for old people or doing what some might call silly Greenland ballet rolling.  What it’s really about is bringing efficiency and ease to our roll using proper techniques refined over centuries.  I pull a lot from what I learned from traditional kayak rolling, however I am not advocating turning in your Werner or dressing like a seal.  (Well,  it IS fun!!)  I hope what you will take away from this series a way to make your roll so efficient that it is effortless on flat water and so intuitive that it’s 99.9% in the messy stuff.

So.. next is “Boat Fit”

You may also like

One Kayak To Rule Them All
QajaqTC 2013, The Gallery..
Rolling Ole’ Betsie

4 Responses

  1. kellie

    Cool series of posts. We were talking this weekend about personal style versus technique. Pain is a great indicator of when personal style might take a look at technique.

    I can do all sorts of rolls in my little whitewater boat – it’s been more of a challenge to move them to the Pilgrim. Another dilemma is finding reasonably “clean” water to roll in (sometimes one is reluctant to take a glass boat to the pool).

  2. Dominique

    “what some might call silly Greenland ballet rolling. […] I am not advocating turning in your Werner”

    Maybe you should advocate just that, at least for a little while, for those who have that opportunity… A Greenland paddle makes the process of learning way easier, when one is properly taught. It also opens the door to the exploration of many rolling variations, which while I can see the type who could categorized them as silly, allow one to learn a much better level of boat control. It is then that it truly becomes effortless.

    And when all this is ingrained, you may reach a feeling of being one with your boat, completely at ease above, sideways, and under, whatever the sea around you (almost…) and even the paddle you have. It is exhilarating, and immensely satisfying. This might be the true gift of Greenland paddling…