By Tom Bamonte
By: Kris Dressler
Jon Turk (Japan to Alaska, Cape Horn, etc) and I were talking after WMCKA a couple of years ago. I asked him his total number of unanticipated rolls.
I asked the same of Dave Snowberg (GLSKS 2007, Baranof Island, Baja to Tierra del Fuego, etc).
Yet they both have, and continue to practice, excellent rolls.
While a brace comes in handy far more often than a roll, the roll is essential.
As for learning, I learned the roll first, which gave me the confidence to begin practicing bracing, which is still not good. I think once the roll is learned, the reflexive nature of a good brace is the hardest part to learn. As I'm still learning, when I miss a brace, the consequence is only a little water in my nose and some heckling.
The voices once told me that I could land a particular jump on my snowboard. I spent the next 8 weeks on crutches.
By: Scott Fairty
Thanks Haris for posing an excellent question! Here's a few somewhat random thoughts.
There are paddlers that have amazing rolls, they practice rolling every chance they get but many of these same people are also capsizing all the time in conditions that should in no way cause a capsize. Because their first instinct is to roll, they end up flopping over all day. A roll should be "Plan B"; braces are "Plan A". A solid roll is not a reason to have poor bracing skills.
I don't view the roll as this "other" thing separate from all other strokes and maneuvers we use in a kayak. Our stroke repertoire is a continuum; the more you know, the more fun you can have and the safer you'll be.
The difference between a "good brace" and a roll is relatively small. If you define "good" as being able to right the boat from your shoulder in the water, then the only difference is the setup for the roll. However the environment in which we learn to roll is an issue. If I were going to teach you something simple, like passing a bean bag from one hand to the other; I'm sure you would think how amazingly simple that would be to learn. But now I tell you that while you're learning this you'll also be upside down, underwater and "locked" inside a kayak. That just bumped the complexity of an otherwise simple task up to a whole new level of difficulty.
I have had people come to me over the years wanting to learn to roll without having first learned how to paddle. In my experience, those people have a harder time learning to roll because they don't have the foundation skills of paddle sensitivity, edge control and body/boat awareness that a person with some "boat time" has acquired.
How much a paddler needs any particular stroke really depends on the environment they paddle in and/or how much satisfaction they get from controlling their craft with grace and finesse. If you just want to poke around a little pond or slow moving river, do you really need more than some forward stroke looking thing and a slightly wider forward stroke-like thing for turning? That skill set is not however transferrable to Lake Michigan with a 15 knot nor'easter.
A few weeks ago we were surfing at Montrose Beach in unusually powerful waves and I can say with a high degree of confidence that regardless of your bracing ability, you were going to be capsizing. You can see Alec and I proving that here: video. Alec also took a photo of me out in the clapotis at the end of the breakwall:
(The big stuff was actually to the right of this frame; you may need to copy the pic to your desktop for a better view.) Had I come out of my boat I know it would have been exceptionally dangerous for Alec to attempt to rescue me and I am not at all confident that I could have self rescued. Consequently I didn't spend too much time there nor did I paddle into the substantially more chaotic conditions to the right of the pic.. My point is that in these conditions a roll is essential not just desirable because the likelihood of being capsized is great (independent of one's bracing skills) and the consequences of coming out of the boat are significant.
There are 3 things I can say with conviction:
1.) Rolling is always preferable to wet exiting, regardless of how competent you are in self or group rescues.
2.) No roll is 100% reliable so your self and group rescues need to be solid in the conditions in which you are paddling.
3.) There are conditions where coming out of your boat is not rectifiable.
By: John Tebbens
I am writing for those who look to this list serve for advice from the more accomplished paddlers on how to approach the wonderful sport of kayaking.
What I’d like to express here is that I began my love of kayaking on Lake Michigan at the end of one December in frigid water never having been in a kayak before and when asked to focus on torso rotation in my paddling stroke by my paddling partner, lost attention of the horizon and fell into the late December waters only to learn for the first time, from water level, in nothing more than fleece and cycling rain gear how to do a deep water T-rescue as the swimmer.
Suffice to say I was exhilarated and not discouraged. And after that one experience, I decided that the first thing I wanted to learn how to do in a kayak was to roll it without assistance.
So I brought my enthusiasm and applied it to learning to roll. I learned to roll with a paddle, without, both sides, to the back and to the front, etc., etc. The funny thing was when I first went out with CASKA on a simple river paddle I couldn’t even paddle the boat in a straight line as all other strokes were still on the horizon fro me to learn.
When spring hit, I took advantage of a sea kayak symposium on Lake Michigan and took every class that I could get with the most diverse group of world class paddling instructors I could find.
In each and every class, when asked to try a new stroke or a different way of doing a stroke by one of these instructors, I was able to devout my full attention to the lesson at hand with NONE of my attention split to keeping the boat upright, as righting a boat was literally of no concern for me.
I tried my first crossbow rudder, for one example, and it got caught under my bow and flipped me and then I would right myself in literally 2 seconds (I asked someone once to time it and 2 seconds is how long it takes to roll a kayak from the time your head goes under water and then comes back up for its first breath in most cases), I’d try any other stroke some for the first time without regard for flipping.
My instructors loved this about me as a student because most had never seen someone with no other advanced skills than bombproof rolls, but mostly they expressed that they liked it because there was only 2 seconds between attempts at implementing their instruction and trying it again with their newly suggested modifications which permitted me in short order to hone in on the new skill and fully take advantage of the world class instructor before me and the short time I had with them. I was also one less person for them to worry about in their group from a timely rescue scenario in a deep water situation. Because I didn’t require the time to get back in my boat, my instructor didn’t move on to the next student so my personal one-on-one instruction time in the group was uninterrupted by a wet exit.
Eventually bracing probably did take me a little longer (having no fear of turning over) but I believe I implement my brace well and almost never go over unless trying something new like when I was learning new skills or now new for me means challenging myself at new levels, bigger conditions, or different ones and certainly unexpected ones. In fact, bracing and every other one of my paddling strokes have become less like separate strokes and more like subtle, fluid parts of a composition of strokes that has to some extent become almost second nature and less distinguishable as separate notes and more part of a melody or symphony of strokes.
My learning curve was very steep by most standards and was even met with some resistance by some old school paddlers as the new guy on the block. I didn’t do it another way so the only way I know was the way I learned kayaking and I did it quickly, “mostly” without fear, because I learned how to roll first.
By: Jim Tibensky
I would like to second what John has said - that learning to roll early in one's paddling career can be a great thing. I was one of the instructors who had John in a class early in his paddling life. And I loved his enthusiasm for learning and for paddling and the fact that he was not intimidated by challenging conditions. I think sometimes people mistake enthusiasm for something else (like ego) and that's too bad because the enthusiastic paddlers often are good enough to be proud of what they have accomplished and should be commended not condemned.
Many years ago the Chicago Whitewater Association would have a club trip to the Madawaska Kanu Centre for a week of instruction. Almost every summer a bunch of CWAers would go. I used to teach there and it was funny what a reputation CWA had. Because most CWA paddlers learned the sport by starting in pool sessions, they all could roll like crazy but weren't very good at anything else. There isn't much room in a pool to do more than practice rolls. Other instructors would laugh at how backwards the Chicago folks were - they could roll but not go in a straight line. But, by the end of the week, the Chicago folks had the respect of everyone because they learned so quickly.
The moral is: John has a good idea. Taking fear out of the equation makes learning much easier and much quicker for most people. John went from beginner to Level 4 Instructor pretty quickly. Good for him, I say.
* * *
In response to a couple of emails, I thought I would send a more detailed description of Lone's death, which was also reported in Sea Kayaker magazine in, I think, April 1999. Paul Caffyn's account follows:
Lone Madsen, Danish journalist and sea kayaker, was caught by a storm on 30 September whilst paddling the south-east coast of Greenland. She and her paddling companion Tore Sivertsen, a helicopter pilot with Greenlandair, were paddling south from Angmagassalik towards Cape Farewell at the southern tip of Greenland and were crossing a fiord near Prins Christians Sund when strong winds suddenly hit them with gusts up to estimated 50 knots. They were crossing a fjord when Tore heard Lone shouting for help but there was nothing he could do. It was impossible to paddle against the wind. Lone apparently capsized and was overcome by the chill of the icy waters.
Some hours later, Tore got safely to the shore and got in touch with Narsarssuaq Airport and an overflying twin otter, however the weather was so rough that there was no possibility to attempt a helicopter rescue that evening. Tore was picked up the next morning and after 15 minutes searching, they found Lone’s body.
Lone was a regular contributor to ‘Sea Kayaker’ magazine in the USA with articles on paddling in Greenland. In 1996, Lone with two Greenland ladies, Inngi Bisgaard and Rina Broberg, paddled from Sisimiut down the west coast of Greenland to near Kap Farvel. Her account of this trip appeared in the June 1997 issue of ‘Sea Kayaker’, Vol.14, No.2.
In June this year, Conrad and I spent two days in a small hut near Kangamiut on the west coast of Greenland, while waiting for a gale to ease. The hut log book contained only three entries from passing kayakers, one of which was from Lone and her companions for 21/05/96.
Ice conditions this year on the southeast coast of Greenland were not good for paddling. We heard of two parties attempting the trip south from Angmagassalik this northern summer, Lone Madsen and Tore, and another dynamic duo Lonnie Dupre and his Australian partner John who are attempting a circumnavigation of Greenland. The latter pair were successful, but only with much kayak hauling over the ice.
The south-east coast of Greenland, from Angmagassalik down to Kap Farvel, is totally committing for a kayaking trip. There are no villages for resupply, scarce beaches for camping and the polar ice pack remains closely packed against the barren rocky coast. The deep fiords are often choked with ice from calving glaciers and hurricane force katabatic winds descend off the icecap with unbridled power.
Newsletter No. 77 carried an article by Earle Bloomfield on the 1986 Australian expedition that set out to repeat Gino Watkin’s open boat journey south from Angmagassalik. The expedition was forced through problems with the support yacht to start in late September, and the four paddlers were extremely fortunate to survive encounters with collapsing ice bergs and gale force seas. After the kayaking trip was aborted, the support yacht was knocked down and rolled in horrendous seas.
The stunning quality expedition video of this trip contained a graphic warning from a local Greenlander that September marked the onset of winter and for the paddlers to be very aware of the dangers of the Pittoraq, a katabatic wind which descends off the icecap. I have untold admiration for the cameraman who filmed the rescue of the support yacht by the last Danish supply vessel of the season. The stomach churning seas appear to be at least 15m high from crest to trough. 30 September was late in the season to be attempting this trip, but perhaps the ice pack opened up very late, allowing an avoidance of hauling over the ice. Even so, Lone Madsen was out there paddling in conditions that we can only dream about. Her death is a sad loss to sea kayakers all over the
Vale Lone Madsen
Just to add my tiny bit - I have paddled the southeast part of Greenland. The katabatic winds can spring up out of nowhere, but can be more likely when a low pressure system approaches a glaciated area. The low pressure combined with the 'weight' of the cold air above the ice (and Greenland is all ice once you get a few miles inland) can cause the cold air to break loose and literally fall to the lowest point, which is sometimes the ocean.
Most of Greenland is covered by a high pressure system for much of the summer, when the sun never sets. But once in a while a storm comes up. The worst storm I have ever paddled in or camped in was in Aasiaat, Greenland. The wind forced the rain through the zipper of my tent. I won't tell the story of my paddling in the storm to get fresh water for the camp. Suffice to say I'm still here.
The thing about katabatic winds is that they have nothing to do with clouds or surface winds, so there is not any warning. One needs to be ready to deal with them whenever you paddle within a mile or so of the Greenland coast. Especially in the Fall when the sun sets for a time.
By: John Puskar
Always enjoy reading what everyone has to say on here. Here are a quick few pointers that I don’t think have been mentioned.
- Keep in mind that there are several reasons people fear being upside down in a boat.
- Aquatic plants that are not good for you (Venice , Florida had some sort of algae in the water that was detrimental to health).
- Obstructions (submerged post outside of the Zion nuke plant).
- Rebar from construction of a bridge/road
- Conveyor belt thrown in river (I think the Chattanooga river).
- Gas, water, and sewage lines that cross the river.
- Old pieces of sewage pipe that a boat can fit in (Desplaines River).
- Undercut rocks
- Sea caves
- Not called a sea wall but the one that goes out away from shore to keep the sand from washing off the beach? (Charleston, S.C.)
- 2x12 floor joist, downstream of 5 foot falls on the Peshtigo River.
- Big a-- rocks on section 4 of the Wolf River before the gorge.
I am often asked when teaching a class if I know how to roll. I often give the speech that I am an old paddler and like to keep my head above the water. I figure that is better then telling them that the above is waiting to get you! LOL
The point is that the roll is nice for confidence as John Tebbens pointed out but having a good grasp of the fundamentals to make sure you don’t need to use the roll is even better.
In my opinion (and you know what they say about that), the younger generation of boaters do learn their roll first and rely on it very heavily.
Also two other notes: Teaching folks to roll with no class time on the basics makes for a really long class.
Last note. I recently did an ICE with John Browning, and he had us do self rescues using a paddle float in rough seas. I did not pass this section because I flipped twice while pumping my boat out and waves were hitting me from the side. I did roll back up both times and did not come back out of my boat. But the lesson here that I took away with is practice paddling with your boat fully flooded and also without a paddle. Like John, I can roll on a dime but I think what John and the ACA also want is a good solid understanding of the very basics. I almost never flip over because of my braces and boat control. I seldom roll the boat under poor conditions and I have never practiced paddling a sea kayak in poor conditions flooded.
Good to know that you can do it all!