About a month ago I posted a blog about learning to roll at pool sessions during the winter. I had promised to put some video of hip snap practice on the website. It is actually on the photo gallery page, but I didn’t get around to blogging about it until today. Sorry. I’m much more punctual and responsible in real life than I am when it comes to writing my blogs. Well, better late than never, I guess.
Kayakers who are anxious to learn the skill of rolling tend to get to focused on the end product and it actually inhibits their ability to roll successfully. The first thing you need to understand is that none of the movements required to roll a kayak are hard to perform. The hard part is learning which movements are required and in what order, and then training your body to perform those movements in a choreographed sequence when you are upside down, underwater, with water shooting up your nose. Add to that the fact that those who are chronologically challenged (read over 40) are going to take a little longer to train their muscles than those who are younger. Despite all this, I don’t want you to despair. There is truly hope for anyone who wants to learn to roll. It may take some time, but there are some secrets to working your way to a successful roll. The trick with learning to roll is you want to break the skill into small, easy incremental steps that build your confidence. As you watch the video, please excuse the poor production quality and ignore the audio. It isn’t very good. Rather, read what I have written below and then watch the video several times before going to practice yourself.
The hip snap is the key component of any successful roll. Don’t be in a big hurry to do a full-blown roll with a paddle. Take the time to work through the following steps and be rigorous in your attention to detail as you practice. You will start by practicing a hip snap while holding onto the side of the pool deck. Then you can try doing the same thing while holding onto the bow of a friend’s kayak. From here you graduate to using a paddle float for support as you perform your hip snap. Once you can do the hip snap successfully with the paddle float alone, then you can start working on the roll with a paddle. Your next step will be to place the blade of your paddle on the bow of someone else’s kayak. After that, you can put a paddle float on your paddle blade and practice your hip snaps with the paddle held at a ninety degree angle. The last steps will be to learn the set up position and how to get from the set-up to the finish postion (this will vary depending on the type of roll that you are learning). For now, I’m just going to cover the steps of practicing your hip snap without the paddle.
It is imperative that you insist on good technique in all of these steps. The most important aspect of this technique is that you do not “muscle” your way up with your arms. The roll happens under the sprayskirt using your knee, thigh, and hip. Unfortunately, “hip snap” is not a very good description of what you do. As you watch the video, notice that the kayak does not roll from rightside up to upside down and back in a jerky, “snappy” motion. It should be practiced in a very slow, controlled, and smooth motion. Practice this skill much slower than you are likely to do it in your final complete roll. The focus needs to be on getting as much flexibility out of your body as possible and teaching your body to use the correct muscles in the correct sequence. You can always speed it up later.
When you see me with my head on the pool gutter, I am laying to the left of my kayak. To bring the kayak upside down, I am lifting my right knee in the thigh brace to tip the boat on top of me. When I go to right the kayak, I need to relax the right knee (although it stays in the thigh brace) and instead lift up on my left knee and thigh to roll the kayak right side up. I am not “snapping my hips” side to side. The motion should be very smooth and requires very little strength or pressure on the hands and arms. Notice that I do not lift my head off my hands while I practice repeated smooth transitions rolling the kayak upside down and rightside up. Only when I am done practicing several “hip snaps” do I lift my head up. Keeping your head down during this whole exercise helps you to train your body to keep your head down while attempting to roll a kayak upright. When practicing your hip snaps, get in the habit of leaving your head down as much and as long as possible. Keeping your head resting on your hands the whole time takes away some of that tendency of trying to push yourself up.
When you switch to practicing on the bow of someone else’s kayak, that person needs to watch very carefully to make sure that you are not pushing down on the bow of the boat to lift yourself up. The more still and quiet the bow of your friend’s boat stays while you execute your hip snaps, the more likely it is that you are doing it correctly. Practice your hip snaps just the same as you did while holding onto the pool deck.
You may be able to fool yourself or your partner into thinking that you are not muscling yourself up when you use the pool deck or the bow of your friend’s kayak, but be prepared to learn the truth when you use an inflated paddle float to perform your hip snaps. There is no cheating with the paddle float. If you are performing your hip snap technique correctly focusing on using your knee and thigh to lift the kayak, you will be successful. If you attempt to use your arms at all, the paddle float will go underwater and you will not come up. Have your friend standing by to give you a bow rescue just in case, or be ready to wet exit if necessary. It may take you awhile to truly discover what it means not to use your arms to muscle yourself up. When you successfully perform a hip snap using a paddle float for support, you will immediately understand how little effort it really takes to roll when you do it right. In fact, gradually letting air out of your paddle float as you practice could actually lead you to learning a hand roll!
Only after developing a solid “hip snap” should you be thinking about trying to learn how to use your paddle. You will be much less tempted to try pulling yourself up by pulling down on your paddle, a problem that plagues many people who are learning to roll and a technique flaw that can lead to shoulder dislocations in the future. Another suggestion to keep from developing bad habits as you learn to roll, don’t practice for too long at any one time. It is better to practice frequently for short periods of time (example: 3 times a week for 30 minutes each time rather than one 90 minute session.) Even though rolling does not take a lot of strength, your leg and hip muscles will get fatigued as you practice and you will have a tendency to resort to poor technique as you compensate. You don’t want to ingrain bad habits. In between physical practice sessions, take time to visualize those smooth easy hip snaps. Remember that you are trying to build your confidence by having success at each of these steps.
Feel free to shoot me any questions you may have, and good luck with your quest to cultivate a roll!