In the preceding posts I proposed that the key to a successful roll is hidden from plain view below decks of a kayak and that it is located mainly around the torso area. The second post argued that the main goal of the hip snap is to get the boat out of the way so that the upper body could be re-united one on top of the other. Today, it's time for tales of monsters and their evil mothers. Today we meet the archenemy of the bombproof roll. Don't worry, the tale ends well, the dragon turns out to be nothing but a ghost and everybody rolls happily forever and ever.
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.