Friday, July 30, 2010

using three points

This concept may be difficult to illustrate without video, but unfortunately my gopro camera's lens is too wide angle to really illustrate it. I looked for a good video on the web to use but couldn't find anything. So I created a couple of pictures to use.

I mentioned earlier the risk of wind and current pushing the kayak in a direction - unperceived by the paddler - other than the intended direction. I mentioned that we used GPS to track our bearing to a point, and if the bearing changed we were moving side ways in addition to forward. There is a way to track this without GPS, and it is only difficult to explain, not difficult to accomplish.

So if you are paddling your kayak in a straight line towards a point, your bow and that point will line up. So lets say you are paddling your kayak to the tip of an island. You have a clear point you are paddling too. But lets say behind that island there is a mountain. and the summit - or in the case of the photo where the mountain meets the sea - there will be another point. So now you have three points you are keeping track of 1- your bow. 2 - the tip of the island, and 3- where the mountain touches the sea. All three are lined up. 1,2,3. But as you keep paddling, you realize point 3 - where the mountain meets the sea - starts to drift to the right, while your bow is still pointed at the tip of the island, this means your kayak is drifting to the right. Likewise if the mountain moves left while your bow is still pointed at the island, you are drifting left.

You can visualize this right now sitting in front of your computer. Close one eye. stick your right hand out with your arm straight and your index finger pointed up. Put your left hand out halfway between your right index finger and your open eye, also with the index finger pointed up. The two fingers should line up. Now move your head to the left and the finger furthest from your nose will also move to the left.

This is an amazingly useful tool. You can use any two points of land. A point of land and a summit. A buoy and a point of land. You are only limited to using things that wont move. It is an excellent way to judge your position on a crossing as long as you can find two points that line up.

image 1 - three points lined up.

Image 2 - drifting right.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

plotting a bearing

We have talked about picking a point and navigating to it. And we have talked about picking a compass bearing and paddling toward it, but how about plotting a bearing on a chart, and figuring out what the compass bearing to follow would be? It is exceptionally easy. But first we need a plotting tool. I surfed the web, and found one, but really wanted direction on how to make one. I couldn't find any, but I knew it wasn't that hard. So this is what I did.

In Adobe Photoshop I created a compass rose with an inner and outer ring. The outer compass rose indicates true north, and the inner compass rose is adjustable to indicate magnetic north.  I then spun the smaller, inner rose to the declination for Alaska, flattened the image, and too it to kinko's - which is a US based photocopy shop. I had them print it on clear acetate. I cut it into a smaller square. Punched a hole in the middle and added a string. Cost? 81 cents. I need a better round string, and I would like the acetate to be a bit thicker. But it works just fine.

So once you have a plotter, this is how you use it. Place the center of the plotter over your location, or in the case of the video, a future location. In this case using a ruler I drew a potential route on my chart, and now I am going back to add bearings and distances. Align the Star on top with vertical running lines on the chart that represent North. Take the end of the string and lay it over the line you previously drew as a potential course. You now have a choice. You can read the outer ring to get a true bearing, or read the inner ring to get a magnetic bearing. In this case I did true, and labeled the written bearing with a 'T'. But I could have just as easily read the magnetic ring and labeled it 'M'.

To get distance is even easier. Take the string from the plotter and use it to measure the distance of the leg you have just labeled. You could then take that distance to the scale on the bottom of the chart, but it is easier - particularly on these big charts - to take it to the side, near where I am working. One minute (there are 60 minutes of latitude in 1 degree of latitude) of latitude is one nautical mile. label the distance under the line with an 'NM' for nautical mile, which is 1.8522 kilometers.

This is how you plan multi day trips. plotting out bearings with distances. You can then see how long each leg will be, to give you an idea of paddling distances. 

plotting from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Global Positioning Systems

While we are discussing navigation - and I am not done yet - I wanted to talk a little bit about GPS. I am a fan of GPS units as long as they don't become the primary focus of the user. Be they hiker or paddler, I like to think of GPS as a tool to confirm good solid navigational work on the part of the user.

Early on I used GPS to see the speed at which I was paddling, because there is no better way to see if you are using your torso than the speed you are going. You will paddle faster with significantly less work using your torso and legs than you will with your arms. That said, it's been a long time since I have done this, but for new paddlers it is an effective method.

Generally I use a gps to make waypoints at important locations. A put in/take out. The start of a crossing. a good campsite. But I tend to make a waypoint, and then turn off my GPS. This saves batteries, and also helps me keep my focus where it needs to be. On my paddling and the environment around me.

I want to relate two stories about the use of GPS. the first is a hiking story.

I was hiking in an area with terrible maps, only slightly less terrible than the trail markings. I had made a waypoint at the trail head, As well as a swimming hole I thought I might go back to, and a stream crossing. I soon realized that I was seeing things in the real world that weren't lining up with the map, and things on the map didn't match the real world. I started to get that little feeling in the pit of my stomach that things weren't right. So I literally sat down in the middle of the trail, spread out a map, and based on where I thought I was, figured a bearing to where the car was, and also calculated a distance. When I was done, and thought I had a pretty good understanding of what was going on, I took out a GPS and told it to 'goto' the car at the trail head. This gave me bearing and a distance. I was off by a few degrees, and the distance was close enough. It told me that I knew where I was. It confirmed the map work, and let me relax a little. This is a good use for GPS, in my opinion.

The second story is a paddling story. At the end of a week of paddling, along a group of barrier islands with a friend, we decided to skip our last campsite, and cross a sound back to our car and put in. It would only add 3 or 4 miles to our days journey, but we were tired, and wanted a real meal. As we were getting close to our crossing the weather changed. We got an unexpected squall, and we hunkered at a small island at the beginning of the crossing. We waited about 45 minutes, once the squall passed - even though we still had some wind, and swell - we realized that this was our opportunity to make the crossing and get to safety. We picked a landmark on the far shore - slightly upwind of our destination - agreed on a compass heading, as we both had deck compasses and headed off. We had a fairly big swell, and my biggest fear was a power boat, trying to get home in lull after the squall - as we were - not seeing us, and running us over. I told my friend to keep his head 'on a swivel' so we could see everything happening around us. The last thing we did was this. He had a waypoint for the car, and I created one where we were. He told his gps to 'goto' the car waypoint, and I told mine to 'goto' the point I had just created at the start of our crossing. So his GPS would tell us distance, speed and bearing in relation to where we were going. My GPS would tell us distance speed, and bearing to where we were coming from. At any point we knew - if we had to retreat - where safety was closer. In front or behind. We knew how long the crossing would take because we were monitoring our speed. But here is the most important piece of information that we got from the gps units.

Kayaks are small craft and very susceptible to being pushed in a direction other than that intended. It is a concern on crossings that while we paddle forward, a current may push us sideways. With the two GPS units telling us bearings to our way points, we could see how we were moving in relation to those waypoints. We could tell if we were moving sideways instead of forward - though sometimes it can be both.

The only time I am a fan of using gps with the unit on for a long period of time and in front of the paddler where it may cause us to lose focus on our surroundings is on crossings. In part because it is good to know how fast I am going, and how long the crossing will take, but it is that potential for side to side movement that I am most concerned about, because without a gps, or careful sightings with a compass - which is not easy to do in the middle of a crossing - You may not be aware of that unintended direction.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Getting Oriented

The key skill in navigation is more art and less science. And that skill is orienting your map to your surroundings. There is no trick to this. It comes from practice, like so many other things. Take a chart of your favorite paddling location, and before you get into your kayak open your chart and hold it out in front of you. You will need a baseplate compass for this next step. Take a baseplate compass, and spin the rotating bezel so North is aligned with the direction of travel arrows. Then Align the long side of the baseplate with the left or right side of the chart.

So now you are standing, holding the chart flat in front of you with the compass on the side of your chart. Now turn in a circle until you 'box the needle' which means put the red end of the needle in the box on the compass. Your map is now 'oriented' to your surroundings. You can put your compass away.

Now when you look at your chart North is aligned with north in the real world. Mountains should be where mountains are in the real world, lakes and rivers as well. You can then fold the chart, put it in a waterproof map case and kayak with the chart in front of you, and keep it aligned to the world in front of you.

The Art is being able to look at two dimensional representations of land and water, and in your head convert them to three dimensional so that it agrees with what your seeing.

The key to doing this effectively is to be constantly doing it. So as you are paddling, every ten minutes or so glance at your chart, and figure out what you are seeing in the real world, and finding them on the chart. Doing that consistently is what keeps you from getting lost.

While I am not a math person I tend to think of 'lost' as an equation. It is the difference between where you are and where you think you are multiplied by time. So if you are only off by a few degrees in your navigation it isn't a problem if the error is noticed after ten minutes. Whereas after ten days, a few degrees is disastrous.

An excellent book - Deep Survival: who lives, who dies and why by Laurence Gonzalez talks about the mistakes that people make with maps and how they get into trouble. Mr. Gonzalez talks about people needing to constantly update their internal map. You can walk from your bed to the bathroom, to the kitchen in the dark without bumping into anything because you have a good internal map in your head. You can create the same type of internal map when your paddling simply by looking at a map and saying - okay this is here on the map, and there is that mountain peak.

You will get to a point - with practice - where you can orient the map to your surroundings without a compass. Simply by being able to convert the two dimensional map or chart to the three dimensional world in front of you. The more you do it, the easier it will be.

While we are talking about charts and maps (Charts show water and details with minimal information about what is happening on the land, Maps show land form (topographical maps) and minimal information about what is happening on the water. It is important to note that as coastal sea kayakers we really need both, Topo maps and Charts to fill in all the information that we need. We need charts to show us currents and depths, and tidal flats, among other things, but we need topo maps to show us good beaches where we can get off the water. When planning a trip I will use both, and when I find good landing sites or useful landmarks on my topo maps I will mark them on the chart. Then I will use the chart annotated with my marks on paddle days.

In the video below, I am orienting a map with a suunto baseplate compass. It is actually a topo map in a waterproof case from a recent trip, but the process is the same with a nautical chart. I align north with the direction of travel arrows, then align the side of the baseplate with the side of the chart, and then rotate in a circle to box the needle.

orienting from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Soft Skills

So by now you should have the basics of paddling a sea kayak. We have gone over both basic, and advanced skills, In terms of both strokes, braces, and rescues. those are hard skills, and by hard I don't mean difficult. I have mentioned before, and can't stress enough the importance of practicing those skills. The key is getting in a kayak, and making yourself do strokes, and braces and rescues over and over again. Rolls, you also have to do, but I really think the key is either video, or a trusted set of eyes until you 'feel' the way it is supposed to feel. Do 2 or 3 hundred rolls in a week and you will get it. All it takes is time. We are going to progress now into soft skills. Primarily, for now, simple navigation.

Tomorrow I want you to go out, and get into your kayak, and practice your forward stroke. It should be a part of your ritual any way. When you get into a kayak, you should think for a bit about your forward stroke. Do you have five points of contact? Are you rotating with your belly button going from 10 to 2 and back again? Are you reaching with your fist to the front and center of your cockpit? Are you pushing with your feet on each stroke? Perhaps, like me, you like to Frankenstein every now and again, just to make sure.

Now I want you to add something else. I want you to pick a point of land, It can be an actual point where water meets land. It can be a mountain peak in the distance. It can be a buoy a mile away. It can be a dock piling. It can be a red car parked on a distant shore. What ever it is, pick it in your head. Line it up with the tip of the bow of your kayak, and paddle for it. Work on keeping your nose on that point of land. It may drift slightly back and forth across that point of land with each stroke, but over all it should be fairly direct.

Next, think about the wind and water and how they effect your movement towards that point. Is the wind pushing you, does the water have a current that is pushing you? Are they pushing in the same direction, or against each other? If they are pushing against each other, how does that effect the surface of the water? learn to feel those effects on your kayak, and with those five points of contact, how they feel to your body. You know I love to quote Bruce Lee, 'don't think, FEEL'.

If you have a rudder or a skeg, paddle with them both up and down, and see how that effects how much your kayak swings past that point of land with each stroke. Then try and use edging to control how much your kayak moves past that point of land. We have to develop an intimate level of understanding as to how our kayak performs, and how our movements effect its performance, and how its movement effects our performance.

the last thing to add to this lesson is a deck compass. Mount a deck compass to the front of your kayak. (A deck compass can be had for as little as $25US - though the $65US Suunto Orca is a classic) Watch the heading on your compass change as you paddle, and your bow drifts back and forth across the point you have chosen. Then do the same thing with your rudder or skeg down, if you previously had it up. Notice how much less your bow swings - in degrees - with the skeg or rudder down.

Navigation is about three things. Picking a point, and being able to get to it. Orienting the map to your surroundings - next lesson - which means understanding what you are seeing in the real world, what your seeing on the map, and having the two agree. And finally combining those two things, being able to pick a point - either on a map or the real world - and navigating to it.

Navigation isn't that difficult, however it is made more difficult when you are doing it in a small kayak, on a rolling sea, The wind blowing one way, the current a different way, in the rain, as your running out of day light, and you can't get off the water.

Monday, July 19, 2010


First I need to explain that this blog was envisioned purely as an instructional resource. I didn't want to get into many of the things - at least until I was done with instruction - that so many other blogs do, and do well. I am at my core a kayaking instructor. But some recent events occurred that I feel I should address.

It has been my privilege to teach for an amazing outdoor school. I work for them on occasion and have done so since becoming an instructor - for them - in 2006. I was also a student of theirs in 2000. When I work for them I teach in Alaska's Prince William Sound. One of the most beautiful places I have ever been, certainly one of the best paddling destinations in the world. It is full of wildlife, both marine and otherwise. It is surrounded by glaciers and mountains. It also bears the scars of the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill. The Valdez spill - which many thought, until recently was the worst spill in US history, was in fact relatively small (not even in the top 20). 32 million gallons is the high side of the estimate for how much oil was released into the sound. It occurred on March 24th 1989. The scars are still visible today. At low tide, in some locations - particularly the east shores of certain islands - you can smell oil. This happened to me, as myself, two other instructors, and 13 students were moving boats for the days paddling. I smelled it, and wasn't sure what I was smelling. I asked another, more seasoned instructor and he confirmed what I was thinking. He then pointed above our heads to the rocks, where a black line was clearly visible. This was an oil scar from floating oil at high tide. This interaction occurred 17 years after the March 24th spill.

Several days ago I was interested to see that the Deep Water Horizon well had been capped. 86 days after the explosion. I had planned on doing this post if it made it to 100 days without a cap occurring. And while it is good news that the well is capped - I refuse to call this a spill - It still pumped oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 86 days. Compared to the Valdez spill - 32 million gallons - DWH pumped 4 million 2 hundred thousand gallons of oil per day. That is 357 million gallons of oil.

While PWS has recovered in terms of tourism and fishing, though fishing is still smaller than before 1989 - in fact, I have been told that all wildlife visible to the paddler is about one tenth of what it was before the spill. I weep at the thought of what havoc that oil in the Gulf of Mexico will bring. Between tourism dollars, and the income of commercial fisherman, not to mention the death of sea life, and impact on the ecosystem.

This is something that we need to think about if not as kayakers than as inhabitants of planet Earth. I am sure fewer people will be kayaking in the gulf coast for the remainder of the summer, and likely for years to come. I read an article in the NYT about the impacts on the oyster industry, which is having impacts on the burlap sack industry, and the chicken feed industry. Everything is connected, and I think that most people don't realize that the things they do have an impact on the environment as a whole.

Yesterday I was on a NYC subway and saw an advertisement for Shell oil. it was something to the effect of ' lets change the future, starting yesterday' to which my first thought was - too late! Change is difficult. But the time for change has come and gone. I am proud to say that people all over the world read this blog, and I can only speak for Americans, but we need to make dramatic changes to our lifestyle and reduce our dependence not only on foreign oil, but on all oil. We must as a species change the way we do many things. The way we drive, the way we shop, the foods we eat and so on, and so on. As an aside, I am in no way perfect in terms of impact. But it is something I am pretty diligent about. Even so I have room for improvement.

This is a good article on how to boycott BP without helping Exxon, but that is really only part of the problem. We need to change the way we do things. The one thing that is encouraging is that even little changes make an impact when done by many people. This is a video I ask my Leave No Trace students to watch, and if you haven't seen it yet I encourage you to as well.

There are so many things that you can do that are simple that make an impact. Please think about making changes to the way you do things before we have another Deep Water Horizon type of incident. The next one will be worse, and this one is pretty bad.

Friday, July 16, 2010

On Edge

I have written several posts about edging, but just wanted to follow up on something. I talk frequently about unlocking the bow, as a method for turning, or adjusting the course of your kayak. Essentially, what I am saying is that by putting your kayak on edge You are taking the bow out of play - the bow which is designed to help your kayak go in a straight line, and in fact does a better job the faster you go, as the water that your bow is splitting and sending down opposite sides of your hull is exerting more pressure on that very same bow and hull. So while I put a lot of emphasis on the bow, there is another factor in play.

When you put your kayak on edge, taking the bow out of play, or unlocking it as I like to say - you are also changing the apparent shape of the your kayak hull at the water line. These two things combing to help turn your kayak.

I wrote two previous posts, both in April about Edging, and Unlocking the bow. I think that both of these concepts are very important, I can't get into details about what your kayak will do when on edge, because it really depends on the shape of your kayak, its new shape at the water line after you edge it, and how comfortable you are holding your kayak on edge.

I bring this up because I was recently flipping through the current issue of Canoe and Kayak magazine, and there is a short article on this very topic. The article written by the Kayak instructors who own Body, Boat, and Blade. They describe this process almost exactly as I do, with the only difference being that they talk about 'unlocking the stern' whereas I say 'unlocking the bow'. This may seem like semantics, but I think there is a big difference, as the stern locks you in place a lot less than your bow, as anyone who has had a kayak lee cock can tell you. When under power, the bow wants to go straight - and as I mentioned above, the faster you are going the straighter it wants to go. The same can not be said of the stern. But they do say that the key is removing the keel from the equation which I whole heartily agree with. If you have the opportunity pick up the magazine as it's an interesting read. I would also say that if you have the opportunity to take lessons from the folks at Body, Boat and Blade do so. While I haven't had the privilege their reputation is fantastic.

Another topic that has been coming up recently about edging is this. Do you lift with your leg, or do you unload one side of your bottom. I am not sure why, or how this debate started, But I wanted to take a position since I talk about edging a lot. I think it may have started with Ben Lawry, who is, as I have stated an amazing paddler and teacher, but I am not sure that is the case, maybe it is just here say that Ben started this discussion. I thought I was a 'leg and cheek together' kind of paddler, but this morning I was playing with edges, and I thought about it and discovered that really I un-weight the appropriate cheek to edge, However I found that I do lock it into position with a knee lift if I am going to hold the edge for any amount of time more than just a second or two. I would like to hear the reasoning's for preference of one over the other, but I think the most important thing is that you can edge, hold the edge, and make it work for you, to accomplish whatever you want to accomplish.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Good rolling days, and bad rolling days.

Preparing for these two weeks of rolling on the blog took a lot of work, and unfortunately came at a time when I have been very busy. I wanted to have great video for lots of great rolls. I shot video of a student named Heather working on her hip snap, but the camera placement wasn't very good. So I re-shot the hip snap of myself. And then, just as I was writing how easy it was to roll, my roll fell apart.

I went last week with my whitewater friend, solely to shoot rolls, and while I could roll, I didn't miss any, I wasn't happy with them. They weren't fluid, and flowing the way they should be. My head would come up a little, My sweep roll - which is generally my emergency roll because it is so fast - didn't want to work. I never swam, but I wasn't very happy with the outcomes. And the reason is simple, I was thinking about it. I wasn't taking my head out of the game.

Today was a different story. Again Andy - my whitewater friend - wanted to go for a paddle, but it was just a very different environment. We talked for a while about our families, while splashing about in the water, we did some rolls, he in his whitewater kayak, me in my Delta. Everything flowed beautifully. I worked on balance bracing which is the beginnings of my forays into Greenland rolling - I could use a Greenland teacher if anyone knows someone - and even moved my seat around. My Delta has an amazing seat which not only adjusts at the back band, but can slide forward and back on tracks. I have never moved the tracks before, just leaving it where it was when it came from the factory, and after playing I may keep it an inch or so further forward. What I loved though was when I was doing the balance brace I let my seat back recline as much as I could to get my back close to the back deck, and it was a lovely amount of freedom. It still supported me lower down, but really increased how much back deck I can reach. I will continue to play with this feature.

So, if someone with a solid roll, can have a bad day, how are you supposed to be sure you are going to have your roll when you need it? The answer is simple. Practice practice practice. But PO you say, you practice, and you still had a bad day. A valid point, but here are a couple of takeaways for you. Even on my bad day I didn't swim. When my sweep roll didn't work, I switched to a C to C and was upright. But what has to happen is when you are unexpectedly underwater you have to say - STOP - now relax. Now four steps:

Dragon Bows Head - Even if you are underwater you can start here. Just get your hands out of the water and your paddle parallel to the kayak, and you are ready to go.

Dragon Spreads His Wings - left hand over your bottom resting on the hull, right hand 90º to the keel

Dragon Flicks His Tail - hip snap, head down.

Dragon Flies Away Forward - paddle away.

You need to be able to turn that switch on, that is the skill. and that is the hardest part of rolling. You're not thinking about what if, you are thinking about what next. When I spar there are also good days and bad days. Generally the days I am thinking about how to strike, I get punched in the nose. Whereas days when I just strike, I don't. That is a great incentive to stop thinking. When I think, I get punched in the nose - don't think. In rolling it is the same, but the punishment isn't quite as obvious. You just don't get back up. I bet if someone punched you in the nose every time you lifted your head, you wouldn't lift your head.

Four steps, then paddle forward, because everything comes back to the forward stroke.

Monday, July 12, 2010

No Set Up

So our goal is to get to a point where our roll is solid. Where we can do a roll at any time with no prep. Our goal is to get to the 'no set up' roll. Basically it entails paddling along, putting the paddle up around your shoulders, and flopping over into the water. So you are upside down without being in your predetermined setup position - Dragon Bows His Head. So you find yourself upside down completely out of position. Then you just follow your steps. I tend to not skip step one, even when not set up. Because rolling is a chain of events. If I skip one portion, I wont be sure the other three are correct. But it does take time, underwater, with a paddle in your hands to get to 'Dragon bows his head'. Everything moves slower underwater - amplified by the fact that you want everything to go faster, so you can get back to sweet precious air. Just take your time. A good way to transition into this is something Andy had me do at the whitewater center - which I mentioned last post - which forced me to slow down, and just roll. He had me set up on my offside, and roll on my onside, which meant that I had to switch sides underwater. I was surprised how quickly the movement happened - with the reason being that I was not so much moving myself around the kayak, as moving the little whitewater kayak around me. That is not the case in a seventeen foot long sea kayak. The kayak offers more resistance to the water than me and my paddle do, So I will be moving around the kayak. But in the whitewater kayak it happened fairly quickly. It was actually more than a no set up roll, it was a wrong set up roll, and it made my mind focus on the present. Which is really our goal. To be in the present - I am upside down in my kayak, fix it - versus not being in the present - I am upside down in my kayak, what happens if I don't fix it, I will drown, or get hurt, or what I think is the biggest fear, I will look like a stupid kayaker who can't roll. That is proabably the biggest driving force in missed rolls. Worrying about missing your roll, will make you miss your roll. Everytime.

Stop thinking, just roll.

In this video you will see the wrong side set up roll twice, a regular roll, and a combat roll.

wrong set up roll from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Take your head out of the game

The key to the roll is your mind. There is nothing terribly physical about it. It doesn't take great strength or great flexibility. But you need to be in the moment. You cannot be thinking about the 'what ifs'. If you think, 'What if I don't make this roll', you won't make the roll. The only thing that is real at that moment, is that you are in a kayak that must be righted.

When I went to the National Whitewater Center, when I tried to roll, I was thinking about the what ifs. What if I missed my roll, I would be in the next set of rapids upside down. So guess what happened. My friend made me slow down. He did something that was very interesting. He had me do a roll, then he had me set up - Dragon Bows his head - on the wrong side. Roll the kayak upside down, move to my strong side, and roll. If you have ever tried to move your set up underwater, you know how long it takes. It is a slow process. But that slow process slows everything down. It made me stop thinking, and just roll. And the rest of the day I rolled just fine.

The other aspect of the trouble I had at the USNWCC was the nature of the water. Upside down in a sea kayak, even in surf is fairly peaceful - unless your upside down in surf that happens to be crashing on a beach or rocks - It is relatively quiet. There is little turbulence even in a rolling swell. But in whitewater there is a fair amount of water rushing around you, it's noisy, and that was increasing my adrenaline and making me rush. So the biggest advice I can give to some who is learning to roll, is slow down. That, and keep your head in the water as long as possible.

And this is why we say your roll is solid when you have done it two hundred times on each side. By then it is muscle memory. By then it is instinct. By then it is a reaction. And that is our goal.

Just like I have a fall back for what to do if I miss my roll, I have a fall back within my roll, as a contingency. So as I said previously, If I miss my roll, I try a rodeo re-entry. If that doesn't work, the tried and true paddle float re-entry. But before I abandon my roll, I have a system that I work through.

So I find myself upside down under water. I try my roll, on whatever side I may be on. If I miss my roll, and I am not on my stronger side, I move to my stronger side, and try again. If that doesn't work, I switch to a sweep roll. Which I will detail in a later post. If my sweep roll fails, and I am not exhausted or out of breath - I can usually grab a breath on a failed roll attempt - I try one more thing. The extended Sweep roll. If all of those fail, I wet exit. I can then gather my thoughts, asses my situation, and move onto the rest of the out of the kayak progression, primarily the rodeo. But all the while that I am attempting to roll. I am staying focused, and slow, and in the moment.

There is an expression I like very much, Slow is Fast. By going slowly, we don't make mistakes. The mistakes we make when we rush something. The outcome is faster than if we rush something, and make mistakes.

This is just some rolling fun, but look behind me for Andy doing his 'dead man roll'. He is really quite good, and yes, he does that without a paddle.

rolling fun from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Trouble shooting

So, four steps. Four easy steps. what's the problem? Lets look at the steps one more time.

Dragon Bows His Head - easy. right? Lean forward, get your hands as far beneath the water as your arms will allow. This well get them out of the water once you are upside down, making the next movement easier.

Dragon Spreads His Wings - Also pretty easy. Left hand above - or depending on your point of view below - your bottom. Right hand out. Paddle parallel to the water surface, maybe even above the water. Feet relaxed but thighs tight in the braces. When I was learning it helped to have someone - while I was upside down - move my hands into the correct position. In my boat I feel for the hard chine as a landmark for my hand. This is why it is nice to go slow, see what everything feels like. Confirm a land mark with your left hand, confirm that your right hand feels air on it. Confirm that you aren't pushing with your feet, but that you are nice and tight with your thighs. If you are lucky you may even feel the cockpit coaming pressed against your left side, which means you have a good bend in your torso - the first C.

Dragon Flicks His Tail - easy. If you can do it on the bow of someone elses kayak, you can do it holding onto your paddle. Keep your head down. Your head comes up last, or it will be the first thing back in the water. Can you feel the cockpit coaming on this side - the second C?

Dragon Flies Forward - In order for you to fly, the boat has to be in a position to move forward. If the boat is not flat or close to flat on the water, you're not going anywhere. The only way to get the boat flat, is to move your head above the kayak dead last. If you are getting part of the way up, and then falling back in the water, you are lifting your head. Concentrate on keeping your head on your shoulder as long as possible. Until you feel the water slide off your face and onto the boat or the water. If you are falling over with your paddle near vertical, you are pushing too hard on the paddle, and probably also lifting your head. Here is another example where video taping yourself doing a roll is a great way to learn. Have a friend video tape you with their cellphone.

In the video below, you will see the four steps in slow motion.

Rolling in steps from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Rolling, The steps.

I break rolling into four steps, and I give each step descriptive names like the movements of Tai Chi.

Step one, Dragon Bows His Head.

Bow your head as close to the deck of your spray skirt as you can, while putting both hands in the water, with the paddle parallel to the kayak. The further you can reach into the water with the paddle, the better. This is what many call the set up position, and it comes from whitewater, as it's designed to protect your head.

Step two, Dragon Spreads His Wings.

If you set up with your hands in the water on the left side of your kayak, you can then roll your kayak to the left. You are now upside down, and underwater, but you are in the same position as you were before you rolled. If your hands were under water before, they should now be above water. Reach for the sky, and get your hands as high out of the water as you can. You should feel the cool breeze on the backs of your hands. The keel of your kayak is dry, It is time to spread your wings. Your left hand will move as close to the center of your kayak as you can, it should be somewhere above the left cheek of your bottom. Your right hand comes out and away from the side of your kayak, so the paddle is now perpendicular to the keel line of your kayak. In other words, your paddle and kayak now make a 90º angle. Your left hand is resting on the hull of your kayak, your right hand is gently holding the paddle shaft, hopefully just out of the water. Your wings are spread. You are ready to fly.

Step three. Dragon Shakes His Tail.

Hip Snap. If your left hand is on the hull, and your right hand is hopefully just out of the water, you are bending your torso to the left. Snap your hips, and bend your torso to the right. Snapping at the waist, not the feet. Your feet are just along for the ride. Your head must be the last thing out of the water. This is the mistake that most people make. It is completely natural for instinct to make you pull your head out of the water, but it must be last. The boat must be mostly upright, before you raise your head. If you have done your hip snap, with the kayak mostly upright, the paddle should still be parallel to the water - as much as possible - and your head is just about to leave the water, you have shaken your dragon tail.

Step four. Dragon Flies Forward.

The kayak is mostly upright. Your head is in the water. Your paddle should be close to parallel to the surface of the water, Give the gentlest push with the paddle, and straighten your torso. You are now upright in your kayak, ready to do a forward stroke, because everything comes back to the forward stroke, because that is where we are most stable.

This is the C to C roll, called that because of the shape your body makes in the water, A C to the left (Dragon Spreads His Wings) and a C to the right, at the end of the hip snap, with the kayak mostly upright and our head still in the water. I think it is the easiest roll to learn, and is a great foundation for other rolls.

In the video you will see the same roll, on the same side, from multiple views. From the bow, then the paddle shaft. Then from a camera mounted on the bottom of the boat, so you can see what my hands are doing when the kayak is upside down, then the side of the boat for a slightly better view of my hands. And finally from the top deck, on the stern of my kayak. This last view is in slow motion, and something to notice is my head. It comes up last, and deposits a large amount of water on the back deck of my kayak. This is a good indicator or your head coming up last. When you do it, it feels like a sheet of water sliding off your face.

Because I can be a touch hyper-critical of myself, I would like my paddle to be a little more parallel to the water. There is always time to practice.

rolling from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Rolling, The beginning.

So, I said rolling is easy. It is. Before we can break down the roll to its four steps we need to talk about the high brace again. Remember how we do the high brace? I wrote this several months ago.

With your hands about shoulder width apart, and the paddle parallel to your body, roll your knuckles back so they are facing up to the sky, with the paddle face down. Slap the powerface down onto the water, at the same time that the blade slaps the water, arch your back to the left and push down with the left side of your bottom, and push with your left leg as well. When you are back, upright and stable, straighten your spine back to your neutral position, and commence a forward stroke.

The high brace, with it's hip snap, is part of our roll. Most people practice a hip snap before working on a roll, because without it, the roll wont work.

Many people will practice the hip snap on the side of a pool at a rolling session. I have done this myself, and it is a setup for failure. Why? because the side of the pool is solid and offers no real feed back.

Now if someone was standing in the water next to you, holding your hands, they could tell you if you were using your hip snap, or pushing with your hands. If you don't have someone to hold your hands, you can use a paddle float, or the bow of another kayak. A floating bock is better than a pool because at least you will see it move, but honestly, it's not much better.

So for clarity sake, you are on your side, in the water, in your kayak. You have good solid contact with your kayak through your feet, thighs, and bottom. You are wearing a tight spray skirt. Your body is in the same 'upright' position as it would be in if you were doing the forward stroke, meaning you aren't reclining in the seat. Your torso is at 90º to the keel of your kayak. Your hands are in the hands of a trusted friend. Your head should be right at the water line.

Now is the time to hip snap. Arch your back to the right side of your body, making a C shape with your body. You don't want to do this with your feet, that will push the bow away from your head, moving your back more parallel to the keel. You want to do this at your waist, like your trying to wiggle, or do a hula dance. When you arch your back to the side it will force your head underwater as the kayak slides into a more upright position. You can put a little pressure on your friends hands, but if you push, you will end up relying on your paddle. So have them tell you how hard they have to work to support you. The top and side of your head should end up underwater. Using the hip snap you should be able to keep your head in the water, and get the boat mostly upright. When you reach the limit of how far you can raise the boat, come back, and do it again.

You should be able to do this over and over again, and on each side. This is the hip snap, and is the step 2 of our roll. Practice this, and when you are comfortable with a hip snap, feel free to move on.

Hip Snap from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.