Learning to Roll, or maybe not

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?
 
 
 
 
 

4 Replies to “Learning to Roll, or maybe not”

  1. It’s comforting to hear that some of you “Grand Poobahs” of KCCNY had humble beginnings and challenges along the way. Sometimes I think it’s just me. Thanks for the hope and inspiration Andy!

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