I’ve had what an optimist would call mixed success with rolling instruction. Ok for clarification of the data pool I will say that I’ve tried to help twenty or so people with a first roll. Which is not many. But out of those twenty, only two actually rolled while I was helping them.

Now I am up to three.

The Kalamazoo Canoe Kayak Club has been sponsoring pool sessions once a week since November. Gabriel, Isabella and I have been going almost every time. Gabriel is getting close on his hip-snaps. But he resists the notion that the kayak should come up first. I think I got the concept across to him when I gave him a kick board and told him to try hip flicking off of it. If he hip flicked hard enough and brought his body up last I would let him come up, and if he tried to sit up first, I would let go of the kick board and he would sink back into the water. Pretty cruel isn’t it?

After I tried this technique on Gabriel, I applied it to a slightly more savvy 13 year old girl named Olivia. I worked with Olivia holding onto my hands while I stood in the water next to her. She would hip flick off of my hands bringing the boat up first and then her body over the back deck. After she did this half a dozen times, I gave her the kick board. I held the kick board at first while she tried to roll. I noticed she didn’t seem to need it very much, so I let go. Next I worked her up to being able to capsize on one side and come up on the other with the kickboard. She got that after a few tries. So I decided to graduate her to the paddle. The big difficulty was getting the paddle to stay at the surface. After I guided her paddle a few times, she got it on her own and was rolling easily. I felt like a champ, despite the fact that I wasn’t the clever one. Her mother was in the stands above the swimming pool watching her roll. The girl’s mother in the stand watching her roll reminded me of _All the Pretty Horses_ by Cormac McCarthy. There is a part of the story where in Mexcio John Grady Cole spends months taming this wild horse he found, and rides it around the pen on the ranch where he works. He wants his mother and his girl to see him ride this horse he just tamed. Mainly because it was the one thing where he was eloquent and beautiful, rather than an uncouth cowboy from Texas with no prospects. When I roll I always look up to see if Laura might be watching. She hasn’t been impressed yet, but I am still trying.

Kids are just easier to teach, especially girls. Boys even at nine, are beginning to think they know everything. At least mine does. I was trying to explain to Gabriel that everyone while surfing/white water paddling should be responsible for themselves. He tried to argue that I could just eskimo rescue him everytime he went over instead of learning to roll. I told him it wouldn’t work. He doesn’t get it now, but I hope he will. Learning to roll is pretty much like the rest of life. It’s about being responsible for yourself when you fail. Being self reliant enough to come up on your own. Of course, if you fail and you really need help, your mates should be there to scoop you out of the drink and put you back in your kayak; but you shouldn’t come to depend on it.

I may use this kick board method with some adults to see how it works. But I think it is a pretty cool toy. The foam board has a lot of flotation, more than the paddle really. It doesn’t complicate things as much as the paddle in terms of: where to put it, how to sweep, etc. And after the student gets the kickboard roll they can graduate to the paddle.

One Comment

  1. Interesting post. I’m not really a fan of the kickboard for rolling instruction as it places more emphasis on a dynamic hipsnap versus a sustained knee pull but that’s just a personal preference. I’ve been fortunate in that I have had a really strong success rate in teaching the roll (~19 out of 20 with a bunch of them hand rolling even). I definitely do the hand holding hip snap exercises to get a feel of how much they need me to focus on hipsnap versus technique. After that, I give my whole speech about not lifting the head (engages non-rolling knee), pushing out with the paddle to start the sweep (prevents the “pulling down” problem), and that a climbing angle is bad (neutral or diving is good as it counterintuitively prevents diving paddles). From there I have them do a few rolls with me moving the paddle and the student simply providing the hipsnap while focusing on the body motion. I have them practice the motion while upright with their eyes closed to understand the sensation of the torso sweeping motion. I constantly emphasize that they will never be able to figure out why and how they are rolling until they already know how to roll. I say that rolling isn’t a thinking activity and stress the importance of trusting the body motion we are practicing rather than what “feels” right. Form there, I have the student roll over, I double check their setup positioning, and then signal to them to roll up. About 70% of the students will roll up on their first real try and I naturally give them a high five and cheer. At that point, rather than immediately going on to a full roll on their own (unless they are particularly picking things up quickly), I take a step back and focus in on the small details regarding the torso, elbow positioning, etc. to really build the foundations for good rolling habits. Above all else, the emphasis is that rolling is EASY and that I KNOW and EXPECT the student to roll easily. I think the students pick up on this and they tend not to psyche themselves out. Young folks are easier to teach due to the lack of fear and their flexibility. It isn’t uncommon to teach a young person to roll in as little as 10 minutes. Heck I recently had two younger students (relatively since I’m almost always younger then them), and within two weeks of working with them (15 minutes each session), they both had onside and offside rolls, hand rolls, and several greenland rolls. Crazy. 🙂