A while back I wrote an article based on the Qajaq USA fueled discussion about Mentally Preparing to Eskimo Roll. For the uninitiated. An eskimo roll is the ability to right your kayak without exiting. Essentially it is a finesse maneuver where the paddler floats their body at the surface alongside their kayak and aggressively flicks their inboard hip to right the boat. With a little assistance from a paddle/hand/norsaq for support on the surface, the boat rights itself and the paddler can swing their body back, or forward onto the deck and then sit up.
This video is of me performing a Norsaq assisted forward recovery hand roll in a white water boat. This is one of the more difficult hand rolls to perform due to the need to stay close to the foredeck. Though certainly this is not as hard as an elbow roll, or a straight jacket roll.
Culturally within sea kayaking there has been a long standing misconception about eskimo rolling. As coaches we have created a mystique around a very basic skill. We have made it seem as if learning to roll is a mystical power not unlike Yoda lifting the X-Wing fighter out of the Dagobah swamp.
Sea Kayaking coaches have made the roll seem like a herculean, obscure, and dangerous power, rather than the necessary simple gateway skill it is. Part of this is due to the dynamic conditions under which ocean paddlers may voyage forth. Some days may be calm and temperate, some days may be tempestuous, windy and downright gnarly. Based on these shifting conditions coaches wisely instruct paddlers to watch conditions, know your limits, dress for immersion, stay close to shore, and never paddle alone. All sound advice. A capsize would be an unlikely event if you were smart enough to avoid big waves, high winds, and strong tides correct?
Before I tackle the bizarre assumption of an unlikely capsize at sea in a boat that is 20 inches wide. Let’s look at what the moving water crowd does.
Good white water instructors teach every paddler that comes through their programs to roll. It is a necessary skill. It is not an unlikely event that one will be capsized while paddling down a Class III or Class IV rapid. It’s going to happen. So you better be prepared for it. The risks of a wet exit in rapids are fairly high. There are strainers, logs or trees fallen across the river to get yourself or your boat wedged within. Falls or nasty retentive features to suck you under and hold you down also come to mind. Reputable white water schools require that before the students leave class; each must do a roll to run the river. Or they go in a raft. Sounds reasonable right?
So my question is: why don’t Sea Kayak instructors approach teaching the student to roll the way white water instructors do? If we are truly preparing paddlers to kayak on the sea in long skinny boats (at any distance from shore) why don’t we approach teaching the student to roll the way white water instructors do? The risks are no less serious than river paddling. If you go in the drink at sea (or Great Lakes) you can be blown far from shore in cold water and drown within a matter of twenty minutes. How is that less risky than white water kayaking?
Is it the truly unlikely event of a capsize? I performed a google search on kayaking deaths for Washington State and found at least three in the top 10 searches within the Seattle and Bellingham area for 2008. There are four for Michigan. So really how unlikely is it?
Press for paddle sports and specifically kayaking is great. We need more press pointing people to the joy of getting out on the water. Especially getting out on the water under human power. There are far too many people who opt for the cheap thrills of gasoline powered endeavors. For me whether it is cycling, paddling, running, or swimming, I enjoying getting there under my own power. There are certain risks associated with this endeavor. The Bellingham Herald wrote an article Entitled, Sea Kayaking and White Water Paddling as different as night and day. The phrase that really got me thinking was this statement from Dave Johnson of Johnson outdoors about Sea Kayaking,
“Ideally, you should be able to re-enter your boat if it flips,”
And then most poignantly this was said by Dirk Fabian in the article about white water paddling:
“Having a good, solid roll is important; having an experienced group to go with is the most important.”
I do not blame the Bellingham Herald for this misconception. I am happy paddling is getting press. I blame us as Sea Kayaking Coaches, we need to take the Yoda out of the roll and get serious about teaching it as an essential skill to all students who will go to sea. Even if the student is struggling with it, we still need to stress it’s importance. We need to stop making it appear that it is an optional, or nice to have skill. You know…if you were maybe thinking about going to sea. We need to stress the risks of going to sea without a roll in the way that white water instructors stress the importance of the roll for moving water on the river.
Let me know your thoughts on the subject.