Many clubs have begun their winter pool sessions for paddling and rolling practice. Although our local club does not sponsor formal lessons as part of the pool sessions, there is much that novice kayakers can gain from attending these events. If you’ve never tried a wet exit from any kayak or practiced re-entering a sea kayak, it would be wise for you to practice both of these skills in the warmth, comfort, and safety of a nice clean indoor pool. You should practice them again in the summer on your local lakes and rivers, but it’s always easier to try them for the first time in a pool. Even if you have already done wet exits and basic re-entries, you can use the pool time to experiment with some variations like using a stirrup and many other ways to re-enter your boat. It may also be a good idea to practice some more difficult wet exits. Can you get out of your kayak using just one hand? Do you always remember to hold onto the paddle and kayak after you exit? Can you remove the sprayskirt when the grab loop is tucked under the bungee of the spraydeck? In this last scenario, you should have a second person watching nearby for safety to help you get back upright if you find out that the answer is no. At the very least, make sure you are right next to the pool deck so that you can reach it and right yourself.
If you are a whitewater or sea kayaker who aspires to learn how to roll your kayak, you can be doing some important prep work on your own making it easier for you to learn when you have the opportunity to work with an instructor. Buy yourself some nose plugs or a dive mask, then plan to spend some serious time hanging upside down in your kayak. Try to see how long you can stay in your kayak before you have to wet exit (or if you have another person willing to work with you, they can help you get back upright rather than having to wet exit). The biggest obstacle to learning how to roll that I and other instructors have found is the inability to be relaxed underwater. You may be a scuba diver, lifeguard, or competitive swimmer, yet I have seen all three of these still get a little freaked out about being upside down in a kayak when doing a wet exit or learning to roll. You need to be relaxed enough that you can think and analyze what you are doing while underwater. Being relaxed also means that you can hold your breath longer, as well. I would also recommend that you dress warmer than you think you need to. If you only wear a swimsuit, you will get chilled after awhile and you will start tensing up even if you are not shivering. Don’t be embarrassed to wear a rash guard or even a wet suit in the pool. I also recommend wearing your life jacket since you will be wearing it when you paddle. You might as well get the feel of how the life jacket changes your buoyancy in the water. When you feel that you are able to completely relax in your boat, you can begin working on your “hip snap” which is the most critical part of a successful roll. The term “hip snap” is a bit of a misnomer, but whatever you want to call it, you need to have a good one. You can begin by holding on to the pool gutter or deck as you practice. Then you can try to use the bow of another paddler’s kayak. If this other paddler has a decent roll, they can probably give you some feedback on the quality of your hip snap. The final test is to be able to hip snap using just a life jacket or inflated paddle float in your hands. Once you can do that, you’ve practically got the roll mastered. I would recommend rereading a couple of my past blog posts about rolling. You can find them linked on my “Archived Blog Posts” page.
You still have a few days before Christmas to ask for that whitewater kayak which will be easier to transport to the pool. Jamee and Scott at the Bear Paw Outdoor Adventure Resort in White Lake, Wisconsin have some good deals on some consignment and demo kayaks. I’m buying one tomorrow. Check out www.bearpawoutdoors.com to see what they might have in stock. You can also check Craigslist, but I only saw one Dagger GT 7.5 listed within the last two weeks. It’s a good boat, though, if you are an average size paddler. I have a Dagger GT 7.5 myself. If you don’t have a smaller kayak (and won’t be getting one soon), you can still bring your sea kayak. In fact, for the paddle float and assisted re-entry practice, you will need to use your longer boat. Just make sure you get it nice and clean before bringing it to any pool session. Most of the sponsoring clubs are renting time from a school or fitness club pool. The pool owners don’t appreciate sticks, leaves, and sand in their filter systems and may cancel future pool sessions if participants are bringing dirty kayaks. So get out your vacuum cleaner and a bucket of warm soapy water and get that boat glistening!
There will most likely be pool sessions near you for the next three months. Make the most of your opportunities!