This time of year, as a paddler, you have 3 options if you want to get in your boat on water. You can take a vacation to somewhere warmer. You can get a drysuit and look for open water around Wisconsin, or you can take your kayak to a pool session. In my next few posts, I’m going to talk about these various paddling options. If you have chosen the last option, it is likely that you are trying to practice an existing roll or want to learn how to roll before spring. For those of you in the category of trying to learn how to roll, I have some suggestions on ways to make the best use of these winter months.
Get some good rolling DVD’s that you can watch and study before trying to learn. My 3 personal favorites are Ben Lawry’s “Dr Ben’s New & Improved Rolling Elixir 2007″, Performance Videos “The Kayak Roll”, and Ken Whiting’s “Rolling a Kayak” (available in sea kayak and whitewater kayak versions). I recommend watching the Ben Lawry DVD first and try to find some space in your house where you can try his dry-land rolling exercies. Then, before getting into the pool, focus on the “hip snap” section of the Ken Whiting DVD. You will need to spend a lot of time learning and perfecting that hip snap if you want to have a good roll.
Before going to the pool, make sure you have your equipment ready. Check the outfitting in your kayak. You can’t roll if you fall out of your kayak when it is upside down. Make adjustments to the seat, thigh braces, and foot braces where possible and add padding where necessary (especially around the hips). Get some nose plugs or a dive mask, and if you have a choice of paddles, you may find it easier to use a longer paddle with larger blades as this will offer a little extra support when you are first starting out.
At the pool, practice some wet exits to make sure you are completely comfortable. Before exiting, hang out in the kayak for awhile and make sure that you can stay comfortably seated in the boat even when it is upside down. Wear your PFD even when you are in the pool. You might as well get used to what it feels like. Once you are comfortable hanging out upside down in your boat, go to the side of the pool and work on those hip snaps. Try to find a pool edge that is within a couple inches of the water. Put your hands on the pool edge and rest your head on your hands. Then start using those hula hips to capsize the kayak on top of you and to right it again. Keep your head on your hands the whole time you are practicing this. You might as well get used to keeping your head down. Imagine you have an egg between your hands and the pool deck. Would you crush the egg when you go to right your kayak? You should strive to feel as little pressure on your hands as possible. All the work should be done with your knees and hips.
Eventually, you want to try practicing this hip snap with your hands on the bow of another paddler’s kayak. It works especially well if you can find someone with a low volume whitewater kayak since it will become very obvious if you are pushing down with your hands and arms instead of using your hips to right the kayak. If you are trying to use your arms, you will push the bow of the kayak under the water. As long as you have another paddler to work with you, this is also a good time to go ahead and learn how to perform a bow rescue. That way you can have someone stand by to assist later when you go on to try hip snapping with a paddle float. If you are unable to successfully right the kayak, the other paddler can come in to give you a bow rescue. (Watch the Ken Whiting DVD, although he refers to a “bow rescue” as a “T rescue”.)
The final test of a really good hip snap will be to try it while holding a paddle float or a PFD that is floating on the water. If you are using your hips and knees correctly, you will have no problem hip snapping up with this minimal support. If you are still trying to push yourself up with your arms, you will only succeed in pushing the paddle float under the water (at which point you will need that bow rescue). Once you get to the point where you can hip snap off a paddle float to right your kayak, you will very likely learn to roll in short order. I have some video of my hand rolls on the “Photo Gallery” page of the website. Since a kayak can be rolled without a paddle, you can see that pushing yourself up with your arms is not going to be the way to roll WITH a paddle either.
We’re celebrating my son’s birthday this Sunday, so I won’t be at the next pool session, but I will get some video taken of these hip snap exercises the week after that. I’ll put the video up on the photo gallery page of my website hopefully on February 1st. If you’re at the January 31st session, I can demonstrate it for you in person. If there are other skills that you want to work on this winter and have questions, just shoot me an e-mail. As long as we are stuck with this weather, we might as well make the best of it and find ways to make good use of the time.