I just received my copy of the new DVD, “Simplifying the Roll with Helen Wilson”, in the mail today. I ordered it from “Sea Kayaker” magazine and received it in about 3 days. I immediately turned off the football game this afternoon as soon as it arrived and popped the disc into the DVD player. After watching it all the way through, I have to say that I am very excited about this DVD and feel like it has a lot to offer those paddlers who have been struggling with learning to roll, or who want to begin learning.
There are three chapters to the DVD with a short bonus section. Chapter 1 covers learning the basic Greenland roll. Chapter 2 talks about troubleshooting problems with your roll. Chapter 3 goes on to talk about more advanced Greenland rolls that are based on the “butterfly roll”. The short bonus section at the end shows a technique whereby you can begin to transition from the lay-back rolls to the more difficult forward-finishing rolls.
While the entire DVD is filmed with Ms. Wilson and her student performing rolls and balance braces using a Greenland paddle, the audience is told that these techniques can be performed using Euro-style paddles, as well. I know this to be true since I have done many of these skills using a Euro blade paddle. In fact, my only serious complaint about this DVD is that there were no demonstrations that actually showed kayakers using Euro blade paddles. However, the existing demonstrations are well done with good use of camera angles, descriptions, and slow-motion footage. While I thought the video image quality was pretty clear, contrast between the kayak and the paddler could have been better. Some people may have trouble seeing the paddler’s body position at times since Helen Wilson wears a black tuilik (traditional paddle jacket/sprayskirt combination) and performs the rolls in an all-black kayak. There are some short video clips on Flickr showing Ms. Wilson doing rolls in a white kayak which contrasts better with her dark clothing. These can be found linked on her website, www.greenlandorbust.org.
Since learning to roll is a process that generally takes longer than just a single lesson, many of us end up spending a lot of time struggling and practicing on our own. Helen Wilson takes the time to address this reality by showing several techniques that a person can use to begin learning the basic Greenland lay-back sweep roll without needing to have an instructor or second kayaker present. I like the exercises in the first chapter that show the movements used in a roll being performed by a kayaker floating in the water, but not in a kayak. The idea of draping your legs over the outside of the kayak for flotation while practicing the shoulder postition and torso movements is very creative and goes a long way toward reducing the body tension that seems to interfere with learning for so many students. “Simplifying the Roll” emphasizes learning how to perform the balance brace before attempting to roll, although being able to balance brace is not necessarily a prerequisite to learning how to roll. Taking the time to learn the balance brace, however, does teach you to relax and use what Ms. Wilson calls “the recovery knee”. Both skills are extremely beneficial when learning to roll.
In the “Troubleshooting” chapter, Ms. Wilson correctly identifies that lifting the head is often a symptom of other problems with the roll. However, I would have to disagree with her observation that it is the weight of the head that causes the kayak to sink. The DVD, “The Kayak Roll” by Performance Video, does a much better job of explaining how the paddler has to pull with the wrong knee in order to lift the head which is what actually brings the kayak back down on top of the paddler. Other than that minor point, I think that Helen Wilson has done an outstanding job of presenting a method for learning to roll that will be very helpful to the many beginning sea kayakers who are over 40 and need a gentle step-by-step approach to developing the muscle memory needed for rolling. This DVD definitely has earned a spot on my list of recommended rolling DVD’s along with “The Kayak Roll”, “Rolling a Kayak – Sea Kayaking”, and “Dr. Ben’s New & Improved Rolling Elixir”.
For those who are already devoted students of the Greenland-style of kayaking, there are some excellent suggestions on ways to transition from the basic Greenland-style extended paddle sweep roll to the the norsaq (harpoon throwing stick) roll. There are also demonstrations of some Greenland-style competition rolls and other “fun” rolls.
If you are considering teaching yourself to roll, or have been struggling with your roll, I would suggest that you consider getting a Greenland paddle and learn your first roll with it. Once you have the basic Greenland sweep roll mastered, you will probably find it easier to transition to a sweep roll using a Euro blade paddle. Although, like me, you may just enjoy going out and learning more Greenland rolls for the fun of it. Hopefully, we will have a few more weeks of reasonably nice weather to work on our rolls, whatever style you choose. If not, I guess there’s always the winter pool sessions.