Shhhhh, It’s a Secret!

Sue - Balance Bracing

I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating 
in a most peculiar way
– david bowie

So the deal is.. I have to learn to swing dance, and she has to learn to roll.  Well, that’s not really fair, I like to dance, and she likes to kayak.. so it’s all good.

So for our first pool session of the year it was time to take my favorite novice kayaker and teach her how to balance brace & roll. Sadly, I still feel like I’m teaching something dark and mystical among the euros and paddle floats of the C2C crowd.  Oh, and the secret… Well, we’ll get to that!  

Now, some people will tell you that a roll isn’t necessary for sea kayakers and that a good brace is all you need.  First, I think that’s flippant in the vein of climate change arguments.  Arguing NOT to do something that beneficial is always foolish whether the cause for doing it is real or imagined. Secondly, learning to roll, IS learning a good brace. UP, down, rolling & bracing are flat water distinctions that have very little to do with active water where the lines between verticality, rolling and bracing are blurred.  In the end, if I’m going paddling on big water with just one other person.. they have to carry a tow belt, and they have to roll.  I just won’t compromise there. Look at it this way, if you paddle with just one other person and things qet sketchy, once they’ve burned through their bag of tricks, you’re their last hope. When you look at it that way, It’s in your best interest that the person you paddle with has a really big bag of tricks!  (Not to mention they could be YOUR last hope!)

As we begin to think of next summer and make plans to out on the big stuff it is time to make sure Sue can roll, and roll easily and with confidence.   From my experience, that confidence comes fastest when learning in the traditional, Greenland Style.  I had that belief re-enforced for me again last evening as I talked to paddlers who were a year or two into learning the C2C and they still couldn’t roll.  I’ve been there.  When you spend that much time struggling to learn, you’ll spend another 5 years learning to be confident with the roll you finally got. In the Greenland style, the learning curve is usually much, much faster.  If it feels easier to learn, then you also feel much more confident. You spend more time practicing and more time feeling good about yourself and your ability.

Now there are a lot of good Greenland instructors, styles and methods out there.  How you teach traditional rolling depends on your gifts and those of your students. Sometimes you need to do a lot of ground work. Sometimes you teach a balance brace first, then slide into a roll, sometimes you just go straight for the roll.  In this case, we are starting with a balance brace.

So here’s our starting point.  Sue has been in a sea kayak since early last summer. She prefers the Greenland stick over the standard kayak paddle. She’s learned some basic rescue techniques and can easily cowboy up onto her kayak. She’s athletic and does yoga.  All put together it means that she should have an easier time of it than some folks might.  As I’ve said many times, it’s not necessary to be strong or particularly athletic to learn to roll.  But it certainly helps.


So we jumped into the pool and decided to work with the old Romany vrs my Greenland rolling kayak.  You really want to learn in the boat you’re most often going to paddle.  (I talk a lot more about that in my “Low Impact Rolling” series.)  Cutting out all the details, I basically took the paddle away and taught her to square her shoulders, lay in the water, arch her back and push the kayak away.. (Short version!).  In about 10 minutes she had her balance brace. Next I let her sink further and further under the water, then bring herself back up into the brace position.  Now there’s certainly some fussy stuff to cover yet, but she’s over and floating consistently and with little concern about it.

Now that’s enough for one session. Especially since she was just out leading a snowshoeing hike right before the pool session.  We spent a bit more time playing with basic rolling concepts, then we went and played for the rest of the evening.  As important as it is to know when and how to teach, it’s also important to know when to quit teaching and go play…

Oh and that secret? Women are just better at it!  LOL!  Well, there’s a reason many women can get the balance brace long before the guys can… It’s all about where you carry your weight.. So guys, don’t feel bad if it takes you longer to master this.. You’re just top-heavy… :)

Congrats on your balance brace!

Stay tuned!


OK, now to get those hands up across my knees…


The trick is that second leg…




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3 Responses

  1. Derrick, I can’t seem to locate the post on Paddle/Blade that was promised in the Recoveries post of the Low Impact Rolling series. Is it out there somewhere or is it still in the works?

    1. It’s coming. I sort of slipped off the planet for awhile right at the time I was going to do that one.. So look for it in the next few weeks.. sorry for that!

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