Some Thoughts on Teaching the Roll

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?”

3 Ways to Coil Tie-Down Straps

Any other ideas?

whole-foods wine 6 pack bag with straps
wholefoods wine 6 pack bag with straps

Editor’s note. Skip coiling. Buy a 6 pack of wine from Whole Foods and use the wine bottle storer. Stuff and go, just like a thrown bag. Coiling is old school (slow).

Nightfall is hurling itself at us from sunrise

Winter paddling forces us to adapt to new rules on the water. Seasons change and so must we. Listen to mother nature and play by her rules. In December its easy to start late when the warmer hours come for the Crack Of Noon Club.  But from the moment your eyes open in the morning, maybe before dawn, Nightfall is hurling itself at us silently creating drama hours away.  Get as early a start as possible.  

Routinely stressful late takeouts are caused by the same reoccurring events, late starts, difficulties due to swims, lost gear and finally squeezing in that late afternoon run anticipating speed.  I like the following article written from a woman’s perspective, a loved one’s perspective about an afternoon late run. The author is empowered by trust in her husband and understanding what he does.

A paddler’s family sees the addiction for boaters getting the good run while the water is up. Sometimes the water comes up high with multiple added challenges of cold, ice and marginal amounts of daylight.  If the ones we care for don’t understand “the plan” for when things go unexpectedly all sorts of issues spiral out of control, stress rules the day. Their sphere of awareness is singularly trained on whether or not you are standing in front of them. Talking about what ifs ahead of time is important. Things going unexpectedly does not mean calamity, in fact an unexpected challenging day is more the norm than not in our risk based sport. We train every day to manage these challenges.

 Once you ring the Fire Bell, it is rung, and it needs to be done so with care (911).  For me personally my wife trusts that I will overnight successfully in the woods or hike out through the night before getting the pro’s involved. Your family choice might be different, but I never call my wife when I am off the water for the day. Getting that call I feel trains my wife to worry and its been so for 1o+ years.  Ever since my early trips into the daks without cell service we’ve been ok with this plan.

I suggest a short call list of close friends and expert boaters that know the areas you paddle. Give this to your friends/family and make a plan for when you don’t show up on time.

A good read touching on this opening:

Grading of Rapids – from

Came across a good article on what defines a rapid’s class on the kayaksnthings blog. Here’s an excerpt:

Grade I: Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy.
Grade II: Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed. Rapids that are at the upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class II+.
Grade III: Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class III- or Class III+ respectively.

Class IV rapid

Grade IV: Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. A fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids, or rest. Rapids may require “must” moves above dangerous hazards. Scouting may be necessary the first time down. Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential but requires practiced skills. A strong kayak roll is highly recommended. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class IV- or Class IV+ respectively.
Grade V: Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies exist may be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. At the high end of the scale, several of these factors may be combined. Scouting is recommended but may be difficult. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts. A very reliable kayak roll, proper equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills are essential. Because of the large range of difficulty that exists beyond Class IV, Class 5 is an open-ended, multiple-level scale designated by class 5.0, 5.1, 5.2, etc… each of these levels is an order of magnitude more difficult than the last. Example: increasing difficulty from Class 5.0 to Class 5.1 is a similar order of magnitude as increasing from Class IV to Class 5.0.
Grade VI: These runs have almost never been attempted and often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability and danger. The consequences of errors are very severe and rescue may be impossible. For teams of experts only, at favorable water levels, after close personal inspection and taking all precautions. After a Class VI rapids has been run many times, its rating may be changed to an appropriate Class 5.x rating.

Read the rest here: Grading of Rapids is dependant on water flow, experience and knowlege of the paddler. —

Creating great river photographs

It seems that everyone has a digital camera these days and I
see people snapping pictures on the rivers all the time. Are you happy with the
results or disappointed in what you get? Ever wonder how to make the photos better?
Here are some quick tips to creating better photos and getting compliments from
your friends and family about what a great photographer you are.
#1  Good editing.
Even great photographers do not take perfect pictures every
time. With digital cameras it is easy to get carried away and shoot lots of
pictures. But seriously, do you want to share all of them, even the duds? What
is your reaction when someone shares 100 boring pictures with you? Do you
really look at them all? So, take a few minutes when you get back from a trip
and pick out a few of the best to share. If you share only the best, you are
instantly a better photographer. There is no cost to throwing the extras with
digital. Don’t be afraid to use the delete function.
#2 Make  people say “WOW” when they see a photo
Recognizable faces with interesting expressions grab your
attention. So make sure that the subject of your photo is looking at you, is
sharp and properly exposed (not too light or too dark). The face should not be
in dark shadow. Zoom close in to see the person’s face clearly. Most pocket
digital cameras have one auto focus point in the middle of the frame so put the
face in that spot for maximum sharpness. If you have a sports mode on your
camera, use it for action shots. It will give you the fastest shutter speed
which also improves sharpness. Watch out for the position of the paddle when
taking pictures of boaters,. It often ends up in front of the boaters face.
These are throw-aways. Take extras and save the one where everything comes
#3 Eliminate distractions
Look at the scene you are capturing and ask yourself? What
grabs me here? Why am attracted to this scene? Then capture that in the camera
without anything extra, such as pieces of other boaters, too many trees, too
much sky etc. Zoom in or move closer (not always possible in a boat), or change
your position to show a different background. Ideally you want enough
background to show where to boater is, or how big the waves are, but nothing
more. All photo editing software, such as Adobe Photoshop, Elements, Lightroom
etc has a crop tool. If you can’t eliminate it in camera, then crop later.
Today’s digital cameras have plenty of pixels so you can throw away some and
never miss them.
#4 Use the light
Sun can be your friend or your enemy and dramatically change
the mood of a photograph. Avoid shooting directly into the sun. Avoid putting
the sun directly behind your subject as this creates a dark shadow on the face.
In river photography, watch out for brightly sunlit water, as this tends to
overexpose and turn pure white with no detail. If you can, shoot on an overcast
day or in the shade. If the sun is out, try to position it behind you so it
lights the subject. What out for brightly lit areas that are not your subject
as these will draw attention away from your subject. Try to move or zoom to
eliminate these.
#5 Tell a story
When you put together a blog, a facebook page or an album,
select a group of photos that tell the story of the event. You might want to
include one or two that set the stage, such as the put-in, unloading boats etc,
and a series that show the action on the river, and maybe a parting shot to
close-out the show. You might have some wide shots that show the environment,
and some close-ups of the participants. Catchy captions can help tell the
story. Make each photo that you include a unique one and eliminate the
redundant ones, no matter how good you think they are. The audience will get
bored quickly, so pick the best one of each scene.
Here is an example of how I put these tips to use:
Hudson River Gorge Sept 2010:
We had a gorgeous fall day to paddle the Hudson Gorge in
late September. The fall foliage was so beautiful that I forgot to look at the
rocks in the river as I paddled down with my eyes wide open admiring the beauty
of the day. We had a fairly large group of experienced boaters, a relatively
low and easy water level, and a great day on the river. The photos in this
gallery were taken by a professional, James Swiegert who haunts the river and takes
pictures for the rafting companies, and Ram Tripathi. James took all the
close-ups at the Narrows in the Hudson Gorge.


Ready to level up?

One of the most common questions newer paddlers ask is: How do I get ready for the next class of river? And the most common answer they get is: Practice more difficult moves on an easier river (or, as one of my more cerebral paddling buddies says: Make class n+1 moves on a class n river).
But what does that mean? It’s hard to know what moves look like on a harder river if you haven’t been on one, but there are a few methods of practice that can’t go wrong. First and foremost: Catch eddies. Up high, close to the rock, paddling yourself across the eddyline. When you were brand new, there were likely plenty of rapids you ran that had no eddies at all. Well, guess what? They probably did after all. The first step to advancing is finding them and catching them so you can look downstream and plan your next move in a controlled way rather than just surviving a run down the middle. Now, see that eddy on the other side of the river there’s no way to get to? Find a way. How about that one that’s upstream a bit, or the one that requires a short surf across a little hole, or the one that’s intimidating even though it’s easy, because it requires a ferry above some thing scary? If you miss, find a way to recover, make a plan B on the fly, catch the next eddy and get in control again. If you alllmost get it, don’t let yourself off the hook. Pretend it’s “must make” and paddle up like mad until you’re fully in the eddy and you can catch your breath before planning your next move. On your next run, make the same moves with more grace and half as many paddle strokes.
Another option is to ask your instructor or a trusted friend who’s more advanced than you to show you some fun and challenging lines.
While you’re pushing your boat handling skills forward, you’re doing something else that is crucial to advancing, probably without realizing it: Learning how to read the river. I remember that, for me, one of my real breakthrough points early on was when I began to be able to find my own way down a rapid without help. When you paddle, keep your eye out for all the river features you heard about in your beginner classes: Downstream Vs (tongues), waves, eddies, holes, etc. Remember that, sometimes, it’s easier to identify a feature by looking a little below it and noticing what the water is doing. Try to identify features from upstream, then look as you pass by to see if you were right. If you stop to scout a rapid, try to identify features and lines before your leader gives you all the answers. Speaking of the leader, ask him or her to let you take the lead sometime when they think it’s appropriate.
You can work on your river reading even when you’re not paddling. Next time you’re up at the Deerfield, take a short hike into Dragon’s Tooth, try to spot features and lines, watch lots of paddlers run it in different ways, enjoy some carnage and discuss with your friends what they did wrong. There are lots of more difficult rivers you can hike and enjoy from the bank. You can even work on your reading with the tiniest of streams or a gutter on the side of the road. Pretend you’re tiny and all the same features are there. What do you see? Where would your line be? Realize that, if you find yourself doing this, you are probably an addict.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned a roll. While having a roll is something that will certainly be required later, it’s less important than all of the above in your transition from class I-II to class II-III. Of course it’s nice to stay in the boat, but a swim on a class II-III river is unlikely to cause major difficulties.
So…The next question: How do I know when I’m ready? Well, first, you’re finding those class n+1 moves are getting pretty easy. For me, I find there comes a point when a river that has terrified me for years suddenly looks like fun. It’s a bit mysterious to me, but my subconscious brain seems to have a sense of what kind of paddling I can handle. The thing that has been my most powerful compass over the years, however, is the paddling companions I have come to know and trust. As you become more experienced, you’ll find  paddlers of various levels whose judgement aligns with yours and who know you well enough to help you assess your paddling skill. Of course, you are ultimately responsible for your own choices and the decision to run a harder river is highly individualized according to your confidence, tolerance for risk, and general disposition.
And don’t forget to have fun.