Learn To Roll, Stupid!

Actually, that should be “Learn to roll stupid” because today I’ve got some exercises that will certainly make you look stupid if no one knows why you’re dong them. Seriously though, if you’ve been following along so far with my series on low impact rolls these exercises are more important than they look.  Just find your inner child and play along.         

So our last post talked about how you roll over in bed.  I hope you spent some time on this and did break down how you roll on or against a hard (What’s your sleep number??) surface.  As I said, there are a variety of ways people do it and they don’t all apply to kayaking. Still, we’re not going to get anywhere near an “organic” roll without understanding our own intuitive motions and reactions.

The Infamous Straight Jacket Roll

So today I promised I’d show you how to perform a Straight Jacket roll with one simple proviso.  You can see the one proviso I bet.. no kayak.  Now, I don’t have a fancy Greenland style tuiliq but I did put on my Reed storm cag for the occasion. :)

You may be surprised to learn that this might not be as easy as it seems either.  Not without a bunch of kicking and splashing around.  And that leads us to our next exercise.   For this one just leave your boat on the beach and head out into the water.  If your back float is a bit shaky, then wear your PFD (Life Jacket).  Go out into the water far enough that you can float around without your legs sinking to the bottom.

1. Roll.  However you like.   Just do a full 360 roll in the water a few times and then break it down.  How did you initiate the roll?  Where does the power come from?  Do you kick? Did you use your hands? What is your head position?

2. Do it again.  Only this time cross your legs. Don’t allow your feet to kick you around.  Can you still roll?  How’d you accomplish your roll this time?  Bring your focus to the parts of your body that you use to roll.  If you’re struggling here be sure your body is horizontal to the surface.  Make sure your head is lying flat in the water.  (Don’t lift your head.)

3. Channel your inner Cheri Perry. Cross your arms over your chest.  Lock your hands under your arms if necessary.  Make sure you are lying perfectly horizontal… Now roll.   Did you succeed?   If so you’re amazing!  Now all you need to do is slip on your kayak and do it again.  Boom! (Yeah, I wish!)

I’m sure you realize by now that you can’t simply jump into your kayak and repeat this roll.  What we are actually doing here is continuing to get in tune with our bodies.  We are rolling without the “noise” of the kayak.  In this exercise we can lock into our “way” of rolling.  We can visualize success.  We can wrap an imaginary kayak around us like a weightless glass slipper and perform effortless rolls.

Without the distraction of the kayak we can sharpen our focus and bring it inward toward our core.  How do you roll?  If you are rolling with your legs & arms crossed, what part of your body initiates the roll?  How do you carry the roll through to completion?  Are you slow or fast?  Do you need momentum? Are you simply not able to do it?  Not everyone can and that’s ok.  In a class I’d break this down further and add some steps to better tune into our torso and hip motion and so on.  But hopefully this will get you started.

BTW Here is Cheri performing the roll IN her kayak!

So are you ready to get your kayak?  Ok.. go for it.   Now you won’t need a skirt and you should have a friend near by to spot you.


Derrick, Macy’s is calling!

So here’s the deal. You do NOT want your spray skirt or paddle. We’re hand rolling now!  A PFD is required by most states since you are technically going to be IN your kayak.  However, since we are playing right by the beach I’m not wearing mine in the pics. (Consult your state’s boating laws about that) Also, while I’m giving you this information, I realize that it may not be as easy as it sounds. Some of you won’t be able to accomplish each step without a bit of personal guidance.  It’s always best to have an instructor working with you.  – So with that said….

I want you to flood your kayak.  Each kayak is different.  In some kayaks I can simply fill the cockpit, in some I have to fill the front and rear hatches as well.  DON’T do this if you are far from shore or you may lose a kayak!!  What you’re going for is keeping your kayak (with you in it) riding right at the surface like that boat in JAWS… after the shark attack.

Once the boat is sunk it will become amazingly tippy.  It will just want to freely roll.  When you get in you may want to keep your arms out wide to brace and stop the boat from rolling over on it’s own.  Remember we don’t have a paddle here.  (If I’ve worked with you before this is where you should use your “Force” brace and not the slappy kind!)  So first you just want to be able to float upright and not roll.

A bit front heavy!

The first challenge is keeping your flooded kayak steady and not letting it roll over on it’s own. If the nose or tail sinks more than the other you can usually just lean a bit forward or back to correct it.  You may have to adjust your water in the hatches. If your kayak wants to roll over side to side, use only your body to keep it upright.  Try not to use your hands if possible.  What happens if you lay your back on the back deck?  Just relax and play.  Can you keep the kayak upright easily?

Now here is where things get even more tricky.   We’re going to roll our kayaks.  How?  Well, you can feel your boat wants to roll now anyway.  You simply have to help it around.  We’re going to do that by doggie-paddling or swimming it around.  Again, we are NOT wearing a skirt and we’ve already fitted our kayak properly so that we don’t fall out unless we want to. To pull this off you can twist your waist around in your kayak so that you are facing the way you plan to roll, square your shoulders, then dive over.  (Remember to be deep enough not to hit your head).   The momentum will get you 3/4 of the way around.  Then just reach out with your hands and paddle or swim up to the surface…. Another way is to lay back on your back deck then just roll over into the water and roll back up.  Either way, you’ll reach that sticky spot where you’ve come to the surface but realize you need to do something or your going right back down….

With the cockpit flooded Jeff hand paddles his kayak around.

Recovery. I think you’ll find swimming your kayak around to be fairly easy.  If you can get your hips and torso into the action the boat will just fly right around.  Where you’ll get stuck is when you break the surface.  You’ll find you can’t just sit up, and all the slapping in the world won’t get your there either.  The answer of course is to lay back and slip your body back onto the kayak.  Many paddlers that I’ve watched are successful with this little maneuver by actually slapping or pushing against the water to slide themselves back onto the the back deck of the kayak.  Of course… this will come back up in a later post in the series.

Here I don’t hand paddle as above, but use my body to roll the boat back around.

For the moment, I’m not looking for you to be able to get this sunken roll down.  You might, you might not.  The real point is to continue to get our body and mind in sync and bring the kayak into the picture a bit as well.  Sinking the boat and not wearing a skirt allows you to play comfortably, fall out easily, and hopefully lay back without much trouble either (If you’re kayak allows for it).  For what it’s worth I’ve seen students learn to hand roll using the sunken kayak method before the ever actually learned to roll with a paddle.  This is simply because these exercises put the focus exactly where it needs to be.  One more time with the dogma… The roll is accomplished with your body, not your paddle.

Getting the water out?  Now that’s another challenge!

So to wrap up today’s craziness.   Play.  Roll without your kayak.  Roll with your submerged kayak.  Play. Play. Play.  All the while, pay attention to your body. Where is the power? How do you initiate a roll?  Hips? Torso? Head? Shoulders? Feet maybe?  Whatever, just figure out how you work.  You’ll be needing this information as we move forward.

As we continue in the series we’re going to deal with that all important recovery.  This will include a quick look at balanace braces, a way to get your body to the surface with as little work as possible, and of course getting the kayak back underneath your bum when you do get back up to the surface! The right recovery, properly done is paramount not to just a successful roll, but to an easy, low impact roll.  When you get it, you’ll feel so good you’ll be smiling every time you roll.   Ok then, until next time… Recess is called.  Go play!

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6 Responses

  1. Thanks.. I’m liking it a lot better now. Thing is, I have more boats than I need or want and none are quite the rolling boat I’d like to have.. It’s just hard to decide where to thin the herd. :)

    1. Dminique

      Two solutions I can think of (I’m sure there are more – this could start a thread on its own… list your boats and ask for ideas…)
      (1) Build a skin on frame with someone
      (2) Swap the Scorpio for an Anas Acuta… Hidden benefit: no more silly hatches to deal with!

      1. Good idea really. I have 7 kayaks or maybe 8.. (getting my fingers out….) and of course I want to keep my Rockpool. I have a nice Skin on Frame, but it’s too big to be a rolling boat (for me anyway) without major work. Then I have 2 NDKs a romany & my explorer, a WW boat, a big plastic CD Breeze, and that green scorpio. I think I’d swap the skin boat one of the NDKs out for an old Acuta if I could find one. :) I think I have to keep the Scorpio. (not for me)

  2. Dominique

    Ah, but if the NDK are old ones they are rock solid and not that easily replaceable… All depends if you have a real use for the Explorer (the Romany is probably more versatile? – for teaching, bit of river, day play, rock gardens…). But for long trips you may prefer the Explorer…
    Guess the CD Breeze is for guests and has little/no trading value, and WW is different.
    Looks like best bet might be selling the SOF (show it on Qajaq USA) and either be patient finding an Anas or building another SOF…

  3. Roy

    If you look at the kayaks you have and who needs what to paddle….looks like the odd man out is that skin boat and that explorer….sell both and order a boat like John T ordered…heavy expedition lay-up on an Anas Acuta….then stand on it all you want.

    or talk Peter into doing the low volume AA for you (redesigned sidewall)lower deck (I think it’s stil in design stage, but maybe not)…in an expedition lay-up.

    Best Wishes