Rolling is a big deal in whitewater kayaking because it’s an important self-rescue skill that can skyrocket your confidence, which in turn helps improve your skills. When you’re confident that you can get yourself back up after flipping over, whitewater doesn’t seem as scary and, mentally, you’re more likely to try new things.
Women have a few advantages when it comes to learning the roll. In general we’re more flexible which makes it easier to get our bodies into the proper position. We’re also a little better at following instruction, practicing technique and not trying to muscle our way up. Our hips are shaped in a way that makes the side to side motion a bit easier.
If you’re a woman I know you’ve heard all of these advantages before — you may have been told: “Oh, you’ll get the roll easy because you’re a woman and women are better at rolling.” And so you may be wondering: “What’s wrong with me!?” I’ve met women who were told that and then get totally depressed and feel badly about themselves when they struggle with the roll. It’s important to not put pressure on yourself. Think of those advantages as a bonus, keep a positive attitude and work one-on-one with a good instructor.
It’s not realistic to try to teach the roll via this article, but I can give you tips that can help your progress Specifically I would like to address five misconceptions about learning how to roll that may be keeping you under water.
2. Contrary to popular belief, your paddle doesn’t have to clear the water when you’re upside down ready to start your sweep (or sweep your paddle into position in the C to C roll). As long as it’s near the surface it’ll work. I’ve seen women give up on their roll because they felt like their paddles weren’t completely out of the water. If they had gone ahead and started the motion they probably would have come up. Now, if you’re incredibly flexible and it’s easy for you to reach your paddle out of the water more power to you! It does make the roll easier, but it’s not absolutely necessary. What’s more important to consider is how much weight or pull you’re placing on the paddle as you sweep and hip snap. If you’re pulling down hard on that paddle instead of sweeping it out away from your boat it’ll sink, your head will come up first and you’ll end up back under water.
3. Pretending like you’re holding something between your ear and your shoulder isn’t the only technique that will help you keep your head from coming up first. Looking down at your paddle blade as you come up out of the water at the end of your roll is also an effective technique. You can even think of rotating your body toward the blade as you’re doing your hip snap. This movement works especially well with the sweep roll, but looking down at your blade is a good technique for the ‘c’ to ‘c’ finish as well. I like this technique because it’s easy to know if you’re head is coming up first or not. If you see the sky instead of your paddle as you’re coming up then you know that you’re lifting your head and you can do it differently next time.
4. You’re not required to stick with the original roll technique that you learned. It’s normal for people to teach others the roll that works for them. This doesn’t mean that you can’t explore other types of rolls or modify it. In the beginning it’s important to stick with the roll that works for you. Trying different rolls too soon may only confuse you. A good time to try other rolls is once you’re coming up most of the time and you’re feeling confident that you’ll come up. Be weary of instructors who claim that there is only one right roll. A good instructor should be able to look at your body type, what roll technique you may have learned and tailor their instruction to fit your needs.
5. You don’t have to have a bombproof roll before learning basic skills in whitewater. The roll is a work in progress and it can take hours of intensive instruction to learn. There’s no need to put pressure on yourself to learn the roll right away. The more comfortable you feel in a kayak the easier it will be to learn the roll. The roll is only one of many whitewater skills and they’re all part of the whole in becoming a proficient paddler.
Remember to be gentle on yourself when learning to roll. Get out of the water if you’re tired and frustrated. Roll practice is way more fun when you’re feeling fresh. If you are in the Western North Carolina area Girls at Play will be holding roll sessions in December so come on out and get high quality instruction and fun! You can email us for more details anna (@) watergirlsatplay.com Happy Rolling!