Something a little different from my previous posts.
This past summer I took 2 of my daughters and their boyfriends for a short trip down the Delaware. None of the 4 had ever paddled a kayak before. I immediately noticed that while the girls were quick to grasp the concept of using their hips and body lean to control the kayak, the boys never quite mastered the technique.
The girls were able to paddle in a straight line fairly consistently while the boys would just try to compensate by paddling harder as the boat went further and further offline.
Now as a father, I’d like to think that my girls are just a bit smarter than their boyfriends but I don’t really know if that is the case.
I’m wondering if , in general, most females are better technical paddlers than their equivalent male counterparts.
I know that I most certainly rely on strength to get me out of some bad situations and that a lot of my paddling style favors strength over technique. A lot of female paddlers do not have the physical strength of the male paddlers, yet they are able to paddle on the same class water.
I’m thinking that in general, a female’s technique must be so much better a male’s to compensate for the physical strength differential.
So are girls better paddlers than boys?
We’ve all gone through it, or are at least in the process of it. Learning to roll a Kayak can be extremely frustrating. Of course some people seem to pick it up right away. I hate them just a little.
After my debacle in the Ken Lockwood Gorge I decided that I just might need to know how to roll the kayak if I wanted to continue boating. I had tried teaching myself but it wasn’t working out too well, in fact, it wasn’t working out at all.
Not knowing where to start, I googled “kayak lessons NJ”. The first site that popped up was KCCNY. At the top of the webpage was a drop down menu for activities and one of the items listed was a kayak rolling course held at Morris County College. Perfect. I called up my friend Ed and we both signed up.
Ed and I arrived a little early the first night. We left our boats in the car and wandered aimlessly around the gym looking for the entrance to the pool. Eventually, we saw someone else carrying a kayak toward a side door. Utilizing our superior intellect, we reasoned that we should probably follow them and went to get our boats.
We entered the pool area and were greeted by Kurt, the head instructor. Kurt told us to leave the boats poolside, change into our swim suits, and join the rest of the class on the bleachers.
The class consisted of about 10 students. Kurt introduced us to Jack, Ellen, Connie and Mark and said the they would be our instructors. Ellen was already in her boat so Kurt asked her to demonstrate a roll for us. Looks easy enough.
Next we watched a video explaining roll technique. I wasn’t too impressed with that. I’m more of a hands on learner and I wanted to get in the water to try things out. I was certain that given a few pointers, I would be rolling in no time.
The first thing we were asked to do was a wet exit. Mark demonstrated while Kurt explained how you tucked against the boat, pulled the grip loop to pop the skirt, and slid out of the boat. I’d already practiced that manuever a few time in Ken Lockwood so I wasn’t overly concerned.
Kurt told us that he wanted us to stay upside down in our boats for as long as possible before attempting the wet exit. He explained the instructors needed to get a feel for how comfortable we were in the water. I’ve always been a strong swimmer and love the water so I took my time and made sure that I was the last one out of my boat. Maybe I’m a tad competitive.
Ed is competitive too, much more than I. In high school, Ed was one of the star athletes while I was more of a fringe player (benchwarmer) who got in the games when they got out of hand. Ed isn’t all that comfortable in the water and it was good to see that he was one of the first people out of his boat.
Each instructor had two students. I was working with Mark while Ed worked with Ellen. The instructors held our hands while we practiced hip snaps. Kurt explained that we wanted to put as little pressure on our hands as possible when we snapped ourselves upright. It didn’t seem logical to me. I want to push down hard so that I can pop the boat upright. Mark tells me to use my hips, not my upper body but I’m having a lot of trouble grasping the concept. Ed is doing much better that I am and that’s really starting to bother me.
The night ends and much to my surprise, I’m not even close to rolling up. I was certain that I would get it right away. Later that night when I return home, I bend over the bed to kiss my wife and all of the pool water drains out of my sinuses and runs out my nose. It’s an extremely romantic moment.
Things don’t improve much a week later when we take the next class. Mark is trying to explain the mechanics of a sweep roll but I’m not getting it. Mark wants me to sweep the blade across the surface of the water but I keep trying to pull it down to flip myself over. It’s not working and I’m getting frustrated.
To make matters worse, Ed is doing very well. Ellen told him that he has a really strong hip snap and is working on teaching him a “C to C” roll. As I watch, Ed puts it together and snaps himself up without any help from Ellen. Then he does it again. He is the first one in the class to get a roll and I was sure that it would be me.
Jack asks Ed to flip again and tells him that he is going to rock his boat in order to simulate a whitewater roll. When Ed flips over, Jack grabs his stern and rocks it violently up and down. Ed doesn’t even try to roll and promptly does a wet exit. I feel a little better.
Another week and I’m still not getting it. Mark has his hands full with me. There is so much to remember. Blade flat at the surface of the water, pressure on my right knee and hip, extend the arm and sweep, roll the other hand up against my life vest. I just can’t seem to put it together.
Finally I take a break from it as Jack demonstrates some stroke techniques. Mark goes off to work with another student. I think he’s glad to be rid of me
Jack shows me how to put my boat on edge when making a turn. He says that it make the boat more stable when paddling in whitewater. It doesn’t feel that way to me. It feels like the boat is really wobbly on edge and not at all stable, but I do it anyway and Jack tells me it looks really good. We practice a few more things, draw strokes and forward strokes. I’m pretty good at that as I have canoed a bunch of times and the concept is a least a little familiar to me.
The night ends with me following Jack around the pool trying to catch him. I can’t do it and I still don’t have a roll.
Ed can’t make it for the final night so I am here alone. There are fewer students tonight so the instructor ration is almost one to one. I’m working with Jack tonight. He tells me that I have all of the components for a successful roll and that I just have to put it together.
Its getting much closer now. A couple of times I almost make it up and Jack only has to help a little bit. Other times I don’t even come close and Jack has to help a lot. I feel bad for Jack. He has to struggle to lift my 190lbs out of the water when I screw things up. He doesn’t complain but I’m sure he is getting tired. I marvel at the patience that both Mark and Jack have exhibited with me. I feel completely inept.
We’ve been at it for almost an hour when Jack tells me to take a little break. He tells me that I have the roll and we will put it together once I get a little rest. Sounds okay to me, I think that we’re both a little worn out.
I meet Jack in the shallow end after break. This is it, the last hour of the last class. Jack stands by as I flip, set up, sweep my paddle across the water and roll up. I can’t believe it. I look at Jack, sure that he has helped but he assures me that he didn’t touch my boat. It seemed so easy, I just popped right up.
I try it again, then a third and fourth time with the same result. I keep coming up with ease. It seems so easy I can’t understand how I was unable to do it before. The rest of the class watches as we try a bunch of different things. Jack has me pass my paddle from one hand to the other over the bottom of my boat before I roll. He takes my paddle away then hands it back to me upside down. He grabs my stern and bounces me up and down. I roll up each time. I’m a star. Where is Ed when I need him?
H2O Dreams makes some interesting points on rolling in a video on their blog. Check it out here.
I’m thinking about fighting the old pulling-the-head-up issue when teaching the roll. I think next time I’m working with someone who’s having trouble, I might try saying, “Ok, as you finish your roll, throw yourself right back in the water, head first, like a dive” in hopes that that would break through the instinctive reflex to pull their head up. Do that a few times and see if the muscle memory of moving the head in that direction kicks in.
Or…could be a complete disaster. I find that if I preface stuff like that with, “Ok, let’s try this experiment that may help or may be a disaster,” students will happily give it a few tries and easily let it go if I say, “Ok, that was useless. Forget it.”
Anyone else have thoughts on teaching this particular aspect beyond “look at your paddle?”
After my sucessful trip through the Ken Lockwood Gorge I decided to get my own equipment. I don’t really know how to go about it but I spend a lot of time on Ebay looking for a bargain. Finally I see a boat, paddle, helmet, spray skirt, jacket and boots all listed for a starting price of $350.00. The boat is a Perception Amp. The specs say it is rated up to 200 lbs. I have been paddling my friend’s Diesel 65 and its only rated for 190 so I figure I’m OK. I wait, put in a bid at the last second, and the boat is mine.
I pick up the Amp out in York, Pa. It looks a little different than the Diesel, the bow and stern are super thin. I’m really pumped up and keep looking at the boat in the back of the van on the ride home. I throw it down on the lawn as soon as I get home and climb in. At least I try to climb in. I can’t get my sneakers to fit in the boat so off they come and I try again. I still can’t get in. Its starting to look like $350.00 wasn’t such a bargain after all.
The next night finds pieces of the boat spread out all over the lawn. I’ve torn out the thigh braces, seat and foot braces to see what I can do to make myself fit in the boat. I squeeze the foot baces together and reinstall them on the last notch. The seat goes in as far back as the adjustment will allow and the thigh braces are now installed as far forward and wide as possible.
The plastic emits squeals of protest and grabs at the skin of my feet and legs as I shoehorn myself into the boat. I have to wiggle one way then the other but I finally make it all the way in. It occurs to me that I may have some trouble getting out quickly but at least I’m in. I sit happily, though rather uncomfortably, on the lawn in my boat. I can’t wait for rain.
The river comes up the very next weekend. I call Ed and we agree to meet on Saturday to paddle through Ken Lockwood again. At the put in, Ed hops quickly into his boat and paddles out to wait for me.
I’m taking a little while to get into the spray skirt. It’s a small tunnel and barely fits over my hips. I didn’t realize they came in different sizes. The guy I bought the equipment from was really small. Next comes the helmet and PFD. Not so much of a problem there. Off come the shoes, I cram my feet and legs into the boat and at last I am ready to try out my new purchase.
The Amp doesn’t paddle at all like the Diesel, not even close. I feel as though I am going to flip at any second and every rock I hit sends little streaks of pain through my ankles. My feet and legs are pressed tight against the bottom of the boat and there is no padding to help cushion the blows of the rocks.
I try to relax as we paddle into the Gorge but I am not comfortable in this boat and I’m a little worried that I might not be able to get out if I flip. The Amp does manuever around the rocks with ease but I feel like I’m sitting on a wire as I am cannot seem to find a center of balance.
Ed follows as I pass between two rocks. The boat wobbles and I am instantly upside down. I let go of my paddle and try to grab the bottom of the river to push myself back up. It doesn’t work. Luckily, Ed is right there and I grab onto his boat and pull myself upright. My paddle has behaved nicely and is floating next to me. I pick it out of the water and continue downstream.
We are nearing the end of the gorge and I’m still upright although very unstable in the water. Up ahead, the river narrows, picks up speed and forms a big hole as it passes a large rock. I’m pretty nervous about paddling through that hole in this boat.
Nothing to worry about, I never reach the hole. At least not in my boat. I flip upstream of the hole. The current is racing and I feel myself hit a rock or two. Ed can’t help me as I pull my spray skirt and slide out of the boat. I am helpless and disoriented in the angry current and feel myself hitting still more rocks as I am swept swiftly downstream. I plunge under the water and feel myself go deep as I pass through the hole. At last, the water slows a little and I am able to grab my boat and cling to a rock in the middle of the river.
The boat is full of water and weighs a ton. I try to pull it up on the rock but it weighs too mch. I pull the drain plug and lift the bow to start draining the water. A group of kids drive past on the shore honking and waving. They think its kind of funny seeing a guy sitting on a rock in the middle of the river holding a boat. I don’t really see the humor.
At last the boat is empty. Ed has found my paddle and has brought it to me. I can’t get into my boat from the rock. I really don’t want to get into the water again but I don’t have a lot of choice so in I go and swim to shore hitting a few more rocks for good measure.
I’m back in the boat but I’m not feeling good. I’m sore, wet, tired and certain that I will flip again. I’m paddling really stiffly and just waiting for something bad to happen. I don’t want to be here.
Sure enough, around the next corner and I’m upside down again. I let go of my paddle and once again grab at rock on the bottom. All I can think is that I don’t want to get swept downstream. Eventually it dawns on me that I will have to get out of the boat. I let go of the rocks and pull the skirt. The boat fills with water as somehow I manage to sit upright. I don’t really know howit happened, but it was easy once the boat was full and at least the boat is hitting the rocks instead of me.
I manage to get out of the main current and over to the left shore. I ask Ed if he has seen my paddle but it has departed for parts unknown. We are at the end of the gorge but I won’t be able to paddle down to the takeout. I didn’t want to get back into the boat again anyway.
Ed continues downstream while I empty my boat. Unfortunately I am on an island and have to cross a narrow tongue of swift water to reach the road. The water surges up around my thighs as I step into the current and I am afraid to take another step for fear of being swept away again, but there is no other option so I fearfully continue across until I reach the far shore.
I’m pretty dejected as I carry my boat down the road towards the takeout. I’ve lost my paddle, my feet are killing me as I walk barefoot over the rocks, I’m cold, wet, tired and banged up. Everything is sore.
I finally see Ed coming the other way in his van. He tells me that he found my paddle stuck in an eddy and had to finish the run with two paddles. I ask why he didn’t just throw mine to the shore and get it later. He didn’t think of that. We load the boats and head for home.
Once home, I grab some old chevy orange engine paint and spray it onto my paddle. I seem to have a bad habit of letting go of my paddle when I flip and the black blades are almost invisible in the water. It should certainly show up well now
That night, I am watching TV after having showered when I notice that my wedding ring is missing. It must have fallen off in the cold water and sits at the bottom of the gorge somewhere. Carole is not at all happy. The day ends rather unpleasantly.