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.
Figure O on the left depicts the forces in play during the PULL-style roll. Picture X 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 body moves 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.
PS: here's a link to a companion video to this post