Rolling Fear Factor Update

If this topic interests you, and you haven’t read my previous rolling fear factor posts, search the archives for “Fear Factor”.

This week’s observations:

I’m making good progress when it comes to squelching my monkey brain’s constant screetching about flipping over, hanging upside down, and performing a paddle float half roll from the 90 degree position. However, I still have to work on getting comfortable with the setup position for a sweep.

The warm (almost hot) water really helps.

Going off the fear factor aspect of these weekly excercises, my paddling partner ShellBack (an avid reader) gracioously offered to observe and critique as I practiced. He observed that I wasn’t keeping my head down sometimes, which I corrected, and, that I was relying too heavily on the paddle over righting with my hips, which I’ve got to work on. An educated eye sure helps with to keep the mechanics of the roll in check while I focus on making rolling practice less fearsome.

More posts to follow…Lou

Too much “thinking” and “method”!

– Last Updated: Jul-26-05 7:55 PM EST –

Here's a bit of "tough love" commentary/speculation...

I really have my doubts as to the ultimate advantage of trying to learn your first basic roll in carefully choreographed "stages" (especially spread over so many weeks!); like using a dock/poolside/paddle float for assisting a partial roll, etc. In fact, I think you're "over thinking" all of this to a ridiculous degree...from the "fear" aspect to the actual techniques.

The only reason to learn the "theory of the roll" is so that you can get to the point of transcending all the theoretical gobbledygook and irrational fears and *just do it already*! :-) I'm really not kidding! Just watching you hem and haw over this for the past several weeks makes me wonder what's really causing your glacial progress.

Perhaps you're suffering from the same thing that makes many of us adults think that learning a new language is so much harder as an adult (as opposed to how easily young children seem to pick up languages with just a bit of exposure). In fact, it's not any more difficult for adults; we've just convinced ourselves that there's an "adult way" to learn something, and that it has to be just so-and-so. Well, when we think like that, of course whatever we're trying to learn is going to seem complicated and very difficult. We still *have* the capability to learn like a child does, we've just decided to forget and/or ignore how effective it can be!

About three months after I started paddling, a friend came out to visit for a weekend. In a local bay (no pool sessions for me!), he gave me one half hour rolling instruction session. My first roll was 15 minutes into this session. We never used a paddle float, nor a dock or pool ladder, etc.

I had already spent some time reading books, looking at diagrams, and "air rolling" on my living room floor (imagining that I was upside down), so I had some idea of the basic concepts involved. Once my friend gave me some last minute pointers, and spent just a few minutes evaluating my first few attempts, I was rolling on my own! Ever since then, I've "taught myself" (well, with the help of books and videos) to roll a few different ways.

I really believe that your biggest obstacle here is your own mind; you're "psyching yourself out". Your mind can calculate to the Nth degree all that goes into a roll, but at the end of the day, it's your body that will have to do it, and have to remember how to do it again when you really do need it (and perhaps don't have time to "think").

If you're uncomfortable hanging upside down, all you can do is hang upside down enough so that you're no longer uncomfortable with it. No more whining, please. :-) And, since I'm sure you've analysed every movement of a successful roll many times over in your mind, it's time to empty your mind and finally let your body do what it knows it's supposed to do. Again...drop the props (no paddle float, no dockside or poolside ladders, no one holding onto and guiding your paddle, etc). Roll already! :-)


For some…
tough love may work. lalleluia has been working hard and been generous enough to share the experience.

A few learn easily and quickly. Many take much longer.

The most important advance in this last post from lalleluia is having someone observe to give feedback.

The two weaknesses mentioned (head up too soon and not enough hip snap) are the most common problems that kill a roll. Sometimes it requires an observer to spot the issues.

I agree Melissa
that this whole matter is only in my mind.

Just to recap a little, I have rolled before in more than one rolling class, and, no doubt, could again with an instructor beside me.

My posts are about desensitization more than mechanics, and for me, I’ve found that this requires time and repetition.

This may not make sense to you, and I think it’s because you were able to “just do it” and I have not. When I try to “just do it”, it results in a lot of non-productive trashing caused by panic. I know more than a couple of people who have gone to rolling class, learned to roll, and never practice afterwards because they are uncomfortable doing so.

I do appreciate your comments…Lou

A little patience
And little less lecturing, maybe? It’s great that someone can be comfortable enough to execute the correct manuvers for a roll within a short time of going over to start with. But it’s not correct that everyone can. Irrational responses are just that - irrational, deeply seated and extremely difficult to get control over. It often takes chipping away at them.

Lou, I suspect that you will find that you can keep your head down and rely more on your hips to finish the roll at about the same pace that you get more relaxed hanging around under water, and/or going back under for repetitive tries. It really makes sense that those are your issues considering that anxiety is a starting problem. If you think about it, the last half of the roll where your body is closer to the surface is exactly where the flight response is most likely to kick in. So the head wants to come up and the lower body gets distracted and stops the roll.

Just one easy thing that I forget to do half the time, and am working on remembering myself for resolving roll problems… between tries, kinda wrap up around the side of the boat, relying about half on the flotation of your PFD and exposed body and resting a hand lightly on the bottom of the boat. Take a few calm breaths, think about what you are doing next physically, then go down for another try. It’s a very basic Greenland manuver which I wish I hadn’t been too dim to figure out myself when I was starting.

This Sounds Great!
I’m trying to visualize the Greenland maneuver. Is the paddle parallel to the boat, or have you angled it out a bit to get your hand on the hull. This sounds like a wonderful next step.

Thanks much Celia!


You’re far more gracious than I would be. So now you’ve impressed me not just with your diligence and effort in learning to roll but with your composure on this board, as well.

Best of luck to you. I don’t have any advice to offer, but I’ve followed your saga, and am rooting for you.

all sorts of ways…

There’s a wide range of styles and techniques for learning rolls.

A paddle float can be a useful tool.

It helped me by allowing me to focus less (a lot less) on the paddle. It also let me focus on the head lifting problem.

Once you get a roll, you can use the paddle float as a reserve (ie, keep it in bound).

Petrussen Maneuver
I think she may be referring to the Petrussen Maneuver a great idea.

However, you should realize that it is difficult for many people to do. If you can’t do it (and I still can’t) you could keep a float nearby (or better a spotter’s boat) and hang onto it to rest between attempts.


Lose the paddle float

– Last Updated: Jul-26-05 3:51 PM EST –

I know it's a personal preference and people have had success with the paddle float method, but my personal opinion is that it prolongues the learning process by inhibiting understanding of one of the top reasons a roll fails, namely blade angle (the other reasons are death grip, lifting head, and not following the blade with your body). If you don't become comfortable with how the water pressure is affecting the blade and how the angle affects a sweep, you are doing yourself a disservice. My recommendation is to grab a buddy, lose the paddle float, use an extended paddle and work on false sweeps until you get the feeling of the sweep. Then work on extended paddle rolls in its entirety with a buddy to bow rescue or flip you up in shallow water. If you don't have a buddy, wet exit, dump and try again. A paddle float actually fights the motion of a sweep roll and it's a pretty poor training aid in regards to learning the motion. Just my two cents.

It’s the Petrussen manuver and
Re the manuver I indicated - yes it’s what is in the picture. Can’t tense up though - if so I put too much weight on the boat’s hull and pull it back over myself. Hence making it kinda hard to get that deep breath unless I grow gills.

For it to work, I have to be careful to relax and let the water itself float some of my torso weight. The rest of the position I hold a little less purely than in the photo by using my abs more and having the hands less aligned over the bottom of the boat than pictured. (One holding the paddle.) I take any hand and torso position that keeps my nose above water.

Granted it takes some flexibility and practice to float off the side of the boat. But it provides a huge opportunity to stop and get your act together without having the drag the boat out and dump it. It also gives you a chance to collect your thoughts in the riskier situation of having abandoned the paddle float. And I think it’s easier than the static brace, which I just recently got down but takes a ton of flexibility and is a learning effort in itself.

Annd re use of the paddle float - I agree that at some point you have to let it go because it teaches bad habits in terms of paddle angle. It doesn’t teach the sensation of correct resistence on the paddle blade, or penalize the paddler for not holding a cocked wrist, and I ended up having to resolve a bodacious diving paddle problem when I took it off.

But fixing a diving paddle, or lifting head or any of the other stuff that can kill a roll requires that you be able to relax enough while doing it to see what your body is doing and make the corrections. Until the brain is sufficiently desensitized that upside down activities don’t involve near panic all the time, it’s darned near impossible for the paddler to make those corrections. So the downsides of using the paddle float may be the price that has to be paid to get to the right state of mind.

And frankly, just about everyone I’ve spoken to who hard a real tough time with the roll eventually got madder than they were anxious (including me) and blew thru a lot of problems very quickly. I suspect that’ll happen with Lou at some point, but there’s no way of making that happen sooner by advice. It’s a very individual reaction.

Not wrong but…
I agree that the paddle float won’t help too much with the blade angle (an important element). It can help with the other components.

A important part of a successfull roll is low pressure on the paddle. One can use a float to explore this. If you use the float as a reserve (on the in-bound side), you can explore the blade angle stuff.

My problem is that I don’t necessarily have people who can assist me.


– Last Updated: Jul-26-05 4:52 PM EST –

Definitely a good idea to explore sweep braces!

If you are using a "Euro" paddle, an extended paddle is unnecessary (and a crutch) (in my opinion).

I suspect that a common cause of the "diving paddle" problem is pulling down on the paddle. The paddle float helped me with this because I could take the time to move the paddle across the surface rather than trying to pull myself up by pulling the paddle down.

One problem I had was trying to do things too quickly. The paddle float lets you slow things down.

Of course, the idea is to lose the float!

regarding extended paddle
Yes it eventually becomes unneccesary but if someone is trying to learn alone, it provides them the best chance of success as it is more forgiving of poor form. Once you have the extended paddle, it can become your backup roll for learning other rolls. In regards to a diving paddle, along with pulling down/across the body, a big problem is that many people put a climbing angle on their paddle in order to sweep which results in a diving paddle.

Sure, what the heck…
Try that too!

Very difficult for some…
…and as with many things - equipment matters.

I cannot even beging to do this in my kayak, yet I can roll on both sides with any paddle I’ve tried. I can’t balance brace my boat either - but it’s a snap in lower volume boats.

Most commercial skirts don’t allow you to come out enough to do this and still keep a seal like a tuliq will either.

Float make people do pull ups!
That in itself is counter productive. Lack of paddle feel is secondary to the damage it does with getting a decent hip snap and timing.

Sounds familiar
In person is always better but these are the same pointers everyone else has been giving you.

I really liked watersprites rather concise: “drop the props”. As I and others have noted before, they are WHY you are still using your arms too much!!!

If repetition really works for you - you’ve got to be close to a breakthrough because many people keep telling you the same things.

The people who keep chiming in with comments about how some just learn things easy, as if they don’t count and their advice doesn’t apply, are NOT helping you. Those quick studies are the ones you need to listen too most. The only thing they had an easier time with was ignoring all the things that DON’T roll you up.

Lou, you DON’T have a rolling problem
Fact is - you have water related issues that prevent you from using the rolling advice you are given.

Water issues - not rolling issues.

REALLY back this up and go to square one. You keep hammering at steps 3-8, but never got OK with 1 & 2. Until you do, it can’t work. Even if the roll comes, and fairly well - it will likely leave again unless you get the other issues under control.

You need to work on comfort in the water, underwater, swimming, in and out of the kayak, taking your time, extending how long you can go on a breath, more wet exits, more non-roll rescues, and most importantly - NOT ALONE.

People with water issues should NOT practice alone. Always have at least an observer.

I am concerned your valiant efforts may actually be ingraining and strengthening your fears. The harder you work the more at risk you feel and the bigger the fears get. This is the only thing that can explain such diligence and lack of progress.

Water work first. Then come back to the roll. I know you think this is what you’re doing with the ropes and floats - but these complications are just diversions/crutches. Back up and do this right. It should not be this hard. Once you’re more OK in the water in general things should come much more easily.

Most of the other hard cases were the same way. Water issues that got in the way. Some of them here are only enabling your fears to go on with their well meaning support, while playing down clear and simple advice from those who learned more quickly. Yes the other slow learners can relate to you, and you to them, but they keep you in the same struggling mindset.

All of this is exactly as hard as you expect it to be. Right now, that’s a lot harder than it needs to be.

Greyak’s right
For once.

You’re a kayaker who’s scared of the water. This is definitely a problem. You need to master the skills in dealing with a failed roll (wet exit, swim, re-entry) until you’re comfortable with your ability to deal with “NOT BEING ABLE TO (((IMEDIATELY))) ESCAPE THE WATER BY ROLLING”. You are so uptight and obsessed with GETTING OUT OF THE WATER AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE that you are rushing and blowing your rolls.

Work on capsizing, wet exiting, wet re-entry and wet exiting… back and forth until you are comfortable.

Forget the roll.