Bracing, it’s the new Rolling – A response to kayakjournals “Why you can’t Roll”

06/06/2018 Off By WetandMucky

As Simon often puts as a caveat to his posts – “If you don’t like what I say – Get your own blog!” – Well I have one, so I’ll use it to air my thoughts in response, however I actually do agree with what he says… To read Kayakjournal’s article, please click on the link below:

via Why you can’t roll, and why the internet can’t solve the problem for you

The article rings very true for me and echoes a number of conversations I have had with people over the years, both in the club setting and on social media.  Simon talks about the desire for many people to rush in to learning to Roll and skipping vital learning steps along the way.  Kayaking is a sport that is at least as much (if not more so) defined by our mental state as our physical skills and strengths, I’m sure you have heard the phrase ‘head-games’ mentioned on your paddling journey and if you haven’t yet I promise you will.

Keith 9

However ‘head-games’ can work both ways and lead us to environments we may not be physically prepared for, and this is my issue with people learning to Roll (too) early in their paddling pathway.  As Chairman of a club which runs regular pool sessions for training one thing that many new members want to achieve is to be able to Roll – it is seen by many newcomers to the sport as the pinnacle of expertise and kayakmanship (is that even a word?) and something to be achieved as soon as possible, rather than worked towards.  My issue with people learning to Roll too early is that they often bypass or skip over a whole bunch of other essential (some might say more important) skills along the way.

When I first started kayaking as a Scout many years ago, the only real pathway was the BCU Star system. Starting at 1 star, learning to paddle forwards and backwards and with some basic turning strokes, 2 star introduced sideways strokes, more complex turning strokes and support strokes (this was a guaranteed wet session!) – low brace, high brace and skulling for support, 3 star took these skills to the moving water environment and then introduced the mythical art of the “Eskimo Roll” – This format has pretty much stuck around as a good model of practice and a process for learning to kayak, so much so that some 30-odd years later the same system is still used today, albeit with a few tweaks and improvements along the way.  So why should we rubbish over 30 years of professional coaching experience and research and jump straight to the Rolling part (I’m sure one of the many veteran coaches could jump in here and tell us exactly when the Star system was introduced).

Part of my concern is that learning to Roll brings with it a sense of mastery that is not necessarily representative of the sum total of skills, this lulls the novice paddler into a false sense of security, how many are guilty of heading to a river, pushing their grade with the mentality of “I can roll, so if I fall over, I’ll just roll back up” – I’ve certainly been guilty of this and learned a valuable lesson the hard way!  Have you ever been stood watching people paddle through a section of rapids, maybe you’re on safety for your group and someone gets a little off balance, and then tucks up into the roll position and has to practically force the kayak over in order to roll up? Wouldn’t it be far easier to put in a well timed brace? isn’t it better to stay upright if at all possible? But by rushing to learn the roll and skipping through the previous steps your default self-rescue position becomes to roll when in reality it should be one of your last resorts!

Euthanasia 3.jpg

Now put that scenario into somewhere like the ‘Graveyard’ section on the Tryweryn – a novice paddler tripping over a rock here (very likely) now has to spend valuable time setting up, tucking into their roll position, remembering the sequence, trying not to panic and get their head up first for a much needed gasp of air…. All while hurtling down a Grade IV rapid upside down with the very real and highly likely prospect of your head meeting some of the many rocks and boulders barely covered by water?  I speak from bitter experience when I say it does not make for a pleasant day out, after my experience I very quickly returned to spend a LOT of time practicing my bracing techniques, I would now brace for Queen and Country rather than Roll in the Graveyard (and I have a very fast/efficient Roll) I have actually skulled for support through long lengths of white-water rather than accepting the need to roll, a skill I have practiced at several venues, for even when skulling for support and floating sideways down a rapid – your head and face is NOT exposed to submerged rocks – food for thought…. Bracing, it’s the new Rolling!

That said – Rolling is also an essential and valuable skill when you’re ready…