Have you ever tried pounding in a nail with a saw, or cutting boards with a wrench? While saws and wrenches are both extremely useful tools, you need to have the right tool for the right job. This time of year, many kayakers are thinking about learning to roll. Trying to learn to roll in a kayak that does not fit you well is about as efficient as pounding nails with a saw.
Over the years I’ve seen many paddlers try to learn to roll in kayaks that were either way too large in the cockpit, or needed some judicious foam padding to improve the fit of the boat. While it is possible for someone to roll a kayak that does not have an optimal fit (watch the Dubside DVD on Greenland rolling for some amazing examples of this), it is nearly impossible to learn how to roll in a kayak that is too large. Rolling is a skill that is easy to perform, but very difficult to learn. Most of us don’t assimilate information very well when we are upside down, underwater, and unable to breath. The last thing we need at that point is to be falling out of our kayak. What you want is to have a kayak that fits so well that you don’t have to focus on keeping yourself in place when it is upside down, and that will immediately transmit every little motion of your hips and knees to the kayak.
The first time I took a rolling class, we were given whitewater kayaks to use in a pool. Unfortunately, the kayak I ended up with was too large in the hips. Just about the time I finished my hip snap was when my hips first made contact with the side of the seat. Needless to say, I wasn’t very successful. As the other students were leaving the pool and heading to the locker room, I was able to find a smaller kayak and try a few rolls. Voila, I rolled up on my first try. While I don’t guarantee that anyone will have instant success with a snug-fitting kayak, it does greatly improve the odds of success.
Earlier this spring I was attending an open pool session where a gentleman was trying to work on his roll. He had been struggling for a long time and was getting discouraged wondering if he would ever learn to roll successfully. We got to talking and I gave him some pointers to help him out. A few weeks later I was giving him a private lesson on dry land rolling (that’s a whole other blog post for another day). In the process of watching his efforts and talking about the difficulties he was experiencing, it became apparent that his kayak could use a little padding in the cockpit. In this case, it wasn’t that he didn’t fit, he was just sliding out of the kayak, especially when the fiberglass seat became wet and slippery. I recently received an e-mail and a link to a YouTube video showing this man successfully rolling his kayak. He credited a large part of his success to the addition of some foam in the cockpit that helped him stay connected to his kayak when rolling.
If you are planning to devote some serious time and perhaps spending some serious money on rolling instruction, do yourself a favor and make sure that the tools you are using are up to the job. I’ll be talking about some other ways to improve your success when learning to roll in future blog posts.
Maybe it’s time to go soak your head! 😎