The kayak pool season is almost upon us. Soon hordes of eager kayakers will descend upon the area pools to flourish in chlorine-filled crowded waters and pristine shower stalls. Top on the pool activity list is always the elusive Holy Grail—the bombproof kayak roll.
Mastery of the kayak roll makes you safer. A bombproof roll is, at the very least, a very fast way to recover from capsize. Some say that it is the ultimate recovery technique. No less important, albeit less conspicuous, is roll you can trust as the foundation for building your kayak skills house. If you seek a substantial solid structure, you have to mix the roll in the foundation that will be there to support it (see this discussion and follow-up from a couple of years ago). If you dread submersion, immersion, getting wet and cold, rescues, swimming to shore, and the whole bit; along comes the inevitable consequence—your edged turns and braces will never become all that they can be. Quite possibly you will never enjoy the thrill of bumpy water for fear of swimming.
And let's not forget, rolling is just plain cool. It need not be instrumental to any other end whatsoever. It's yet another way to spend quality time on the water in a kayak. So learn how to roll this winter, learn it well, and fear no more as you set out to stake your flag out there in the wet land.
The BoBo doll study was about social learning. To the authors it was also about aggression. The study was remarkably simple. Children watched as adults abused BoBo dolls. Subsequently, children were left alone with the dolls. What happened? Are you on the edge of your seat? Yes, as you see in the video for yourself, the children hit the dolls just like the adults did. The scientists drew a seemingly obvious conclusion: social learning of behavior occurred via observation. What you see is what you do. So is this true about rolling? Can one simply watch some rolls and learn how to roll?
As is the case in social science, the interpretations of the study results were questioned. "How do we know that children learned aggression?" – the purists asked. Truly scientific conclusions should be limited to behavior, not intentions nor meaning nor any such things that are not directly and objectively observable. Children saw the dolls being hit so they only learned to hit them. Aggression is an overlay of interpretation not what was observed.
While seeing is said to be believing, the objections to the results of the BoBo doll study suggest that you don't necessarily learn what you don't see. Watching hundreds of successful rolls will not directly translate into your own roll. What you see when you watch a successful kayak roll is just the tip of the iceberg and, as is the case with icebergs, most of the substance is hidden deep beneath the surface or below decks as is the case with kayaks.
The theory behind learning kayak skills tells us that the process is largely visual. The major teaching strategies include demonstration of the skill at their core. It's only with more advanced students that demonstration begins to yield ground to experimentation and introspection. To me, rolling is not among the physical skills that you can learn by pure observation. At the very least, you will need to pay attention to the feedback from your muscles and joints, do deduction and interpretation of what you see and distill the critical aspects of what makes the kayak roll work.
Fortunately, the Bobo doll has a helpful trick up its plastic sleeve to help a poor kayaker with the roll. It is striking how much the action of getting up that the doll employs is like a good kayak roll. You knock a doll down and it re-balances itself upright—upper body above the center of gravity. My fellow paddlers, instead of watching This is the Roll, should we tune to the BoBo Dolls being hammered on YouTube? To get up, the BoBo Doll does exactly the right thing as far as the kayak roll goes. And the right thing is to use the power in its lower rather than upper body. You can call it the hip snap. The doll does not rely on the strength of the upper body or push off of the paddle. Not at all!
Unfortunately, and you probably have already guessed this, what gets the doll up is invisible. The social scientists focused on the kids and postulated some invisible things taking place. We already discussed what we can learn from them. Paddlers will do better paying attention to the dolls. Just like the kids had no aggression to behold when watching the adults abuse the toys, paddlers have no visual access to the powers that right the dolls. Despite the fact that the doll is a great model, no learning will take place unless we understand what lies beneath the plastic shell. While the principle is a matter of basic physics, it is hidden completely and totally out of sight.
To learn from the BoBo doll you will have to understand how the doll accomplishes the deed. When it's knocked down, more of its weight is below the point of contact with the ground. Visually, more of its body is above the contact point. What you notice when watching the doll's resurrection is the rapid and powerful swinging up of its head up from the ground. What actually does all of the work to make the rising happen is the weight invisible on its bottom—a visual illusion of sorts. To get itself up the doll pushes the bottom down rather than lift the upper body.
A proper kayak roll utilizes the lower body to get the paddler upright. Just like the BoBo Doll, you will need to focus on pushing the hip that is on the same side of the kayak as your body away from yourself and over to the other side of the boat. You will also pull the boat down with the thigh on the opposite side. Forget about pushing 'up' off of the paddle blade. Just like the BoBo doll, once the kayak rotates back upright, your body will wrap around it and end up on top. Think BoBo doll when you roll.
First kayak session of the season for me is on Sunday at Naperville North High School. I hope the imagery of Bobo doll will serve you in the quest after the bombproof roll. I will shortly follow this post with additional thoughts on the raised head, diving paddle, and other common kayak roll pitfalls. I would like to leave you with a short video that offers some of the best demonstrations of braces available on the web. Can you spot the BoBo doll action in these? And remember, the two Bo's in the Bobo Doll stand for 'Body' and 'Boat.' Blade is conspiciously missing because it's far less important.
Find some thoughts on the Hip Snap in the next post of the series.