Monday, 13 January 2014

The trouble with rolling, and stirring, and cheese...

© Adventure Kayak Magazine 
Now, I don't want to be that irritating self-styled guru who says that everyone else is wrong. But my confidence has been bolstered lately by some good reviews, and so I'm going to push the boat out.
The dangers of conflicting guidance are best observed in mainstream religion and in diet advice. In both of these fields, there's a wealth of complex information that's been dumbed down for "ease of understanding by the hard of thinking", and unfortunately that leaves said boneheads struggling to decide which piece of information they should be adhering to! Low fat or low-carb? Confession or kindness? Is it OK to cherry pick? Are they just trying to sell me something?
Boating, thank heaven (if there is such a thing), is not generally troubled with shock-marketing, but we all have to make a living, and in this increasingly competitive world, I might just be tempted to say "Hey! Duck and cover! You've all been doing it wrong!" Luckily most of you boaters are a bit more open-minded, intelligent and adventurous than the average bear, so I'm sure you're going to deal with it just fine!
The Adventure Kayak article shown above (read the whole thing here) got me a-thinking. Now, there's nothing wrong with the article, and the experts who contributed are all just that. Experts. The real deal. Good on 'em. But I noticed that two of the bits of advice ("Give in" and "Skip the Setup") are actually kind of conflicting. Because the latter suggests using the expediency of the brace position to prepare to roll back up on the same side as the capsize (a great move) and the former recommends using the momentum of the capsize to roll through 360º. Both great ideas.
Now, I'm not criticising the mag. You can't make any body of work completely free of holes. Just look at any one of my books. They're like an homage to Swiss cheese. That doesn't stop 'em being useful and entertaining, and that's what they're for. And if you are ever hopelessly confused, you can email me. The point is, if there ever was any point, that there are a range of tips worth familiarising yourself with, to improve your chances of recovery from an aquatic inversion in a kayak.
One school of thought is that if you practise many different types of rolls, from all sorts of different positions, you will be ready to deal with anything that nature throws at you. This is the Greenland rolling philosophy. At the other end of the spectrum, on so many levels, is the combat roll philosophy that is increasingly prevalent in the US and Europe and especially among whitewater boaters - that there is one roll that is always safest/best, and you should do that. Both of these philosophies are of course correct. If it's good enough for the Pope, it's good enough for me.
However, I thought I might use my new-found and largely self-imposed guru status to disseminate a piece of knowledge that has percolated through my grey matter lately, and that might just be useful to any struggling rollees.
As I mentioned in a previous article that you might like to read here, the important thing about rolling a kayak is to bring your upper body near the surface of the water, and then leave it there while you right the boat using your lower body only, and then recover your upper body finally once the boat has attained a stable position. You could call it a simple 1.2.3, though I didn't think of that the first time around!
The problem most people keep having is what to do with the paddle, and the copious instructions they are usually given lead them to believe that the paddle is important. It isn't, if you do the body language correctly. However, what is important is that the paddle does not detract from the critical motion, or put another way, don't get it stuck under the water and trip over it!
In order to help you not to do this, and without trying to explain all over again how to roll, I'm going to suggest that learning to move and slice the paddle around in and under the water would be a good thing. The most difficult part for many people, having capsized in an awkward position, is to get the paddle into a place that allows them to attempt to roll within a reasonably unpanicky timescale. If one can master this part of the game, then it makes all the tips in the Adventure Kayak article much more doable.
It is much easier with a skinny Greenland paddle than with a big giant Euroblade, but it still takes a bit of practice. With the modern surface area of bladeness, you must slice it edgeways through the water, but the other end of the paddle, which is set at a different angle, may make this difficult. The only answer is to get confident at moving the paddle around under water, and a good way to start is one end at a time while you are upright. I call it "stirring". Put it in the water, move it around. Forwards, backwards, sideways. Feel the force(s). Become one with it/them. If this feels foolish or pointless, keep doing it until it doesn't!
Wiggle it around. See what happens. ©Bill Mattos 
You won't find stirring written about in many books, just as you won't find my method for learning to roll sans boat or paddle or water.  If these ideas resonate with you in some way, as they should, being the great disturbance in the force that any guru's musings represent, then why not consider the exceptional Haynes Kayaking Manual? It's full of clever sh*t like that.

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