The goal of the kayak roll is to restore the body weight on top of the supporting platform—the boat. The previous posts argued that one should pull the boat under the body using leg and torso muscles.Y our rolling practice sessions should seek to minimize the reliance on the paddle. That being said, the instincts tell us to lift the body out of the water which, when there is no solid ground on which to support the push-off, makes for a shaky roll indeed. Two completely different mental images of the roll are at play here: one that lifts and another one that pulls in the opposite direction. Today, we'll put these two ideas into pictures side-by-side. Literally.
The first figure illustrates the beginning of the action as soon as the paddle is in place to support the flipping of the boat. I use C2C roll because it yields itself for illustrating the differences best. The general principles, however, apply equally to the sweep/screw, forward finishing, and Greenland rolls—only the timing is somewhat different.
FigureO on the left depicts the forces in play during the PULL-style roll. PictureX on the right does the same for LIFT. You will see two arrows in each picture. The arrows that originate from the boat or the body show the intended directions of boat or body movements respectively. In figure O the moss-colored arrow starts at the juncture of hip and boat. That's what you want to move when you pull the boat first. In figure X the orange arrow starts at the roller's chest. With the lift model in mind, the body has to move up and sideways away form the blade and towards the center of the kayak.
The arrows that originate from the blades show the direction of the paddle movement required to power the intended actions. To rotate the kayak upright, you'll want to pull the boat with your knee/thigh and torso pretty much parallel to the water's surface toward the blade. The momentum is directed downward at the initiation of the movement. The teal arrow on the left of figure O shows the forces at the blade that will support the boat rotation. In the beginning, the blade just needs to keep your body from sinking.
Enter figure X, to lift the roller the paddle will need to go straight down at first and away from the boat subsequently when the bodymoves towards the boat. It is easy to spot the diving paddle in this image—the dreaded epic failure of the roll just as the body clears the surface. There is no way keep the paddle blade parallel to the surface of the water for long and there is no support for the sideways push of the body. An awkward draw stroke away from the boat with the back of a vertical blade may work. More likely, however, you get a hopeless stabbing of the water with the tip of the blade.
The second figure shows body boat and blade after the hip snap. In this picture I have rotated the boat as much as the flexibility in my body and the fit of the boat permit. The body started to come out of the water.
Let's start with the instinctual LIFT strategy in the figure X1 on the right. Normally, if you tried to lift, by this stage, you would see the classic desperately seeking head and the diving paddle stabbing the water in the opposite direction. After some practice, beginning rollers internalize the 'hip-snap first' idea, execute it but fall back on the body-lifting strategy to finish the work as soon as the hip snap is done and body clears the surface. The shaft angle to the water is past 45 degrees by the end of the hip snap and that just happens to be the exact path the body needs to move to end up on top of the boat … just in the opposite direction. You see where this strategy is going to land you, right?
Arrows in the left figure O1 illustrate the forces at work when you pull the boat and the body together. The recovery angle of the boat at the end of hip snap is limited by body flexibility in a given boat. Therefore, to continue with the strategy in a straightforward way you would need to employ the car-jack action. You start with a wide diamond shape, bring the sides together and this makes the top rise. If you keep on pulling the boat to the blade and the blade to the boat, provided some momentum was generated during the hip snap, the body will rise and the roll will succeed.
That's your classic C2C. The chest is facing the bow throughout the motion. Even though I just used C2C to illustrate the action, I don't think it is the best roll. I consider C2C to be a stepping stone, an educational tool, if you will. Why?
You are probably sitting on a chair right now. Try this: without lifting your bum cheeks off the chair do the C2C motion and note how low you body goes. Got it? Now lean forward and, if you chair has no back support, backwards. Leaning backwards and forward I can get my head below the top of the seat while flexing sideways I can go down maybe as far as the bottom of my rib cage. Add the PFD or torso insulation and the difference in ranges will shrink but for most cases it will remain significant. The lower you can bend your upper body on the chair, the less power it will require to lift it out of the water. Pulling the boat under the body will be easier. If you bought into the idea that pulling is preferable to lifting, both layback and front deck finishing rolls will be more efficient.
Both in principle and in practice I prefer layback and especially forward-finishing roll to classic C2C; however, this statement needs to be qualified. High forward kayak deck, bulky PFD or extra pounds around the waist will all inhibit forward-finishing rolling ability, sometimes, to the point of impossibility. Layback rolls can equally be inhibited by equipment such low-riding PFD, tow-belt, high aft decks. There's also a school of thought which claims that layback position takes too long to execute, is unstable and susceptible to re-capsize. People also say that it is unsafe in shallow water but see the piece from Eric Jackson where he summarizes the objections and offers his own insights.
From a learning perspective, while C2C is fundamentally a bottom-top/sideways two-dimensional roll, forward-finishing and layback rolls add movement on the forward-backwards axis and turn C2C into a 3D roll. At the end of the day, 3D is good as it engages more of your body to do the work of rolling. Learning-wise, however, 3D is harder to learn for most people than 2D.
Can I persuade you to try one more thing while you're still in that chair? Recall how far you were able to bend down forward, backwards, and flexing to the sides. We're going to do one more bend to the side except this time add as much torso rotation as you can muster. When doing C2C, you were facing the screen with your chest throughout the motion. This time, rotate to the side and face the floor with your chest as you bend down. For me, this torso rotation improves the ability to curl over the chair considerably. I can get my upper body lower this way as compared to sideways flex. Given your body-boat configuration the mileage may vary.
So, in summary, when executing the final stage of the pulling roll, you have at least four options—one 2D (classic and simple side-to-side C2C), one 2.5D (C2C with added torso rotation), and two 3D (C2C with low forward or backward swing).
The bottom line from the pages above was to suggest that you should PULL not LIFT when you roll. DRAW boat and body together and on top of each other with your body floating in the water for as long as possible. Try to suppress what comes naturally because it works on hard land. Do not LIFT the body on top of the boat by pushing off of the paddle blade. It may work if you're agile enough but it's not sustainable.
There is a least one more important topic I feel compelled to address—the punching hand. Stay tuned.
Ours begins like any other good fairy tale. A long, long time ago, back before we knew how to walk we all learned to sit up. Back then there was only one way—walk the upper body up while pushing off the ground with the hands. The chest and the shoulders with the head on top were rising slowly up off the ground. The little hands were pushing unsteadily down on the solid ground until the weight of the upper body got centered over the bum and the spine defied gravity. One act with two forces at the opposite ends: upper body rising up, little hands pushing down to support the action.
Can you see it in your mind's eye? Can you feel the triumph in your gut!? What a joy that was, that first step toward autonomy, independence, being your own person, exploring the world beyond what you can see from where your mommy dropped you. Ready to get moving!
Dramatic tah-tah-tah … adventurer beware! Close your eyes, visualize the glorious sequence again and this time … can you see the shadow of the monster rising from under the very feat we just celebrated? A good friend on solid ground turns out to be the ultimate saboteur on terra aqua. The dual-action push-and-raise strategy gave birth to an ugly fire-breathing and life-sucking two-headed monster named RaHeaDiPad. If you tried to roll, you may have heard of it as two primary reasons blamed for a failed roll: the Raising of the Head and the Diving Paddle. You may have learned of the two as separate and independent actors you need to conquer before you will roll. In this tale they are one and the same. They are but two ends of the same stick, two faces on the same coin; they are the underlying principle of Newton's famous law; the action that breads equal re-action; they are the two inseparable heads of the Anti-Roll dragon.
Sounds ominous enough? You shouldn't be intimidated. There will come a bright morning after the darkest of the nights. The monster, two heads and all, is not real! The rising head and the diving paddle are but harmless symptoms. They can't possibly hurt your roll! Their sole significance is to reveal what's going on in your head. The monster is only a shadow that points to something in the way of the light. Like the shadow on the wall, you can see it but it does not really exist.
The RaHeaDiPad is decidedly NOT what causes your roll to fail. When you spot it, you are not watching something that is performed incorrectly. What you are seeing is the wrong thing being done in the first place. No corrections to the execution need be attempted. The monster needs to be eliminated, removed out of the way, plain and simple. What you need to worry about is the evil step-mother who created the monster. This gets a bit tricky because the mother is the mental image of the way to get up after you fall that resides deep in the core with your deepest instincts. It's that infant pushing off of the ground with the feeble hands. Except, your hands are strong and confident by now and you know what you are doing. What was a feat back in the day is nothing but a habit with a mind of its own now. When you will convince the mother to get out of the way, the monster will vanish in a puff of pixie dust. And the way you'll do this is by gently nurturing a new and different action schema for the roll. It will gradually displace the evil mother and, with practice, will become just as natural as sitting up.
So what is this monster? Both the rising head and the diving paddle have at least two distinct meanings. Good grace, now we have four!
RaHea: You probably heard the advice 'Keep you head down!' or 'Make sure the head comes out of the water last.' The essence of this common suggestion is not about the head at all. It is aimed at keeping your whole upper body weightless in the water for as long as possible. If only the BoBo Doll could flex at the waist and wind the upper body around its 'hips.' 'Don't lift your upper body (with the head attached),' is closer to what we want.
'Keep the head glued to the bottom shoulder' goes another common phrase in a pool session. Also good advice; however, like its sister 'Keep the body down,' it's a trick and the way it works also has very little to do with the head. Pressing the head down on the shoulder works by engaging the side of the lower body that is responsible for rolling and pulling the boat under the body. That's what you want--the right lower body action! Try doing a quick hip snap in your chair right now. Then do another one, but this time, perform a head dink in the opposite direction—harder than rubbing your belly with one hand and tapping the top of the head with the other, isn't it?
So it seems that both pieces of advice about keeping the head down and glued to your lower shoulder are really useful mnemonics. When we look under the hood, however, they have little to do with the head itself. Harmless shortcuts, you may conclude to yourself; unfortunately, they focus the attention of the roller just about as far away as possible from where the real action takes place—in your torso. If you internalize the principles of pulling the boat under your body and drawing the upper body and the boat towards each other without lifting the latter; when you have a mental image in your head that employs the bottom leg and the stomach (front deck) or back (layback) and lateral torso muscles to do the work, whether or not you keep your head down makes very little real difference. In fact, if you pull body and boat together rather than lift the body out of the water, it becomes very awkward and next to impossible to raise your head at the same time. If you don't believe me, do that hip snap in the chair and dink the head in the opposite direction again.
DiPad: The diving paddle is equally sneaky. It often hides behind a legitimate problem with blade orientation. It's rather common to see the paddle dive under the surface right after the set up stage. This is an undesirable but easily correctable technical mistake. It happens when the leading edge of the blade is below the trailing edge while it slices away from the bow. Let's be clear: this is decidedly not the second head of the RaHeaDiPad. The diving paddle that is the companion to the rising head is the fueling part of the lifting. Bring back the image of the infant trying to sit up. The infant head is the rising head of the myth and the supporting hands of the baby are the diving paddle. Can you see how they are one and the same yet?
There's a dead give-away of the monster diving paddle and it is the stabbing motion of the blade. Not slicing—stabbing. We already saw how during the sweep a simple technical mistake of lowering the leading edge of the slicing paddle can lead to gradual sinking of the blade. When the blade is nearly parallel to the surface at the end of the sweep, it can theoretically support the lifting of the body. It's the wrong thing to do but, if enough energy is available, you can produce a successful roll this way. Many strong paddlers do it all the time!
If you focus on flipping the boat, executing the hip snap, rotating the boat from upside-down to upright the blade will inevitably sink a little and the angle between the blade and surface will be around 45 degrees or more. It is here that the infant strategy of getting up is doomed to total failure. No amount of power and agility can save you now. It happens to be that the body requires propulsion at around the same 45-degree angle in which we left the blade, just in the opposite direction. The final lift of the body requires a stabbing motion of the paddle to sustain it and that's exactly the instinctual move we see when a roll fails at the last second in a dramatic fashion. That's DiPad!
For extra credit, watch the paddle at the very beginning of the hip snap. Quite often you will see a short but distinct stabbing motion one instant before the paddle goes down. What is that? Is it another giveaway of the DiPad wrapped around the sweep?
Consider yourself introduced—the RaHeaDiPad, the monster known in every kayak pool around the world, reduced to an overblown balloon. The smallest pinprick will expose the beast for what it is: nothing but hot air behind the ominous curtain. Then there's the mother and she's real. We got a good look at her when we watched an infant get up off the ground. I'll try some illustrations for the next installment.