Rolling in cold water

-- Last Updated: Dec-08-09 2:14 PM EST --

Is it any harder to roll in cold water? It is getting in the very low 40s these days with snow on the river banks...

I have not had to swim in a long time but during my last couple of outings I almost had to swim each time - my roll did not work nearly as well as it normally does (which is to say it usually works on the first or the second try, where yesterday I had to do what seemed too many tries, scaring the slalom boater who was rushing on to fish me out if necessary)...

I think there are several contributing factors, most notably that in both cases I was getting quite tired at the end of my rather vigorous paddling sessions. Having more layers of wet gear on my back is probably not helping either...

Also, the water was higher than normal - 4 foot standing waves in the rapid where I was trying to surf on the wave train (green water over my head, not considering the white splash above that). The water was more violent than I had attempted before and it almost sucked me out of the cockpit on one occasion when I flipped - and quite a bit of water gushed past my very tight outfitting that normally leaves me with a dry boat after repeated rolls in calmer conditions... I have not experienced nearly that much pull before in smaller water - a little scarry. The wave train was considerably longer this time than what it is at lower water levels. It almsot merges with the next one down, where normally there is a pool of rather calm water b/w them. So if my roll would be a bit shaky on the first wave and I flop back down, I couldn't simply wait upside down till I'm out of the worst part - it takes a good 200 feet to get to smoother section where the bouncy water is not much of a factor (but the current is still pretty strong there)...

But, besides that. Is cold water more "sticky" in some way? I know it is more viscous but is that a significant factor to make rolling harder?

It was interesting to observe my own thoughts too. I was never panicked but was concerned that I may have to get out of the boat and swim. There is not really too much danger in that area but the current is strong and I would be out for a several hundred yards swim... So here it goes -;)

- First roll fails: "no big deal"

- Second one barely gets me half way up and a wave slams me down; could not breathe-in: "hmmm, let me get some air with a half roll and try for a full one after that"

- Third attempt - got the air and flopped down determined to setup properly for the next time

- Fourth try: setting-up but I can feel I'm on the wrong side relative to the current, which is pushing my paddle down and gives me no lift. So that fails again: "not good... should I swim now or try again? that head of mine tries to stick-up, need to keep it down - I'm almost making it, so let's try again with the head down"; I can't do an extended paddle roll since the water is too vigrous and is trying to rip the paddle out of my hands so I'm holding on tight.

- Fifth try, it's getting a bit too much already... I go up but my head sticks-up too early again and after I almost make it, it drags me down and I flop over again. Now I'm thinking: "this really sucks - I don't want to swim - too cold... plus I'm getting closer to the next ledge down and it is too bumpy there... let's try a lay-back with some sculling - after all that is nearly effortless in the pool, right?"

- Sixt try: I try sculling/bracing at the end of the roll but doing it in waves does not work too good, at least I get some air: "well, you almost made it, but you have to keep that head down - you have one more try and then you have to swim as you're getting tired. Why are you still trying to keep that head up?!?!!?".

- Last try: Then I finally get it on the last try and decide to head home for the day, after I thank the slalom boater for him being right there, just in case -;)

So, time for some more pool sessions I think, as I need to make the roll more bomb-proof and finally get that off-site actually work in something other than warm flat water -;). Or else, I'll have to stick to the less "exciting" parts of the river...

for me…
I don’t paddle in nearly as cold of water, but I’ve found I had to work at rolling in water colder than I was dressed for. I had to work at doing a calm, deliberate setup before I rolled since the shock of the cold made me want to rush things.

I guess there is some shock, but it was not that cold and I was wet from previous rolls and from the water splashing from the waves anyway. Still, being immerced in cold water seems to have some disconcentrating effect…

what kind of head gear?
cold water hitting the neck is likely to stiffen up your torso.

somewhere under 50degrees it gets very important for me to have very snug head gear with heavy lycra hood liner to slow down the flow of fresh cold water into the ear canal. Regular neoprene hood didn’t seal well enough

It’s partially a mind game – the consequences of failure are highter. I tend to tighten up in cold water which hurts my technique. Cold immersion can make it hard to take a full breath. Extra layers can restrict range of motion or change bouyancy.

Cold water is slightly denser than warm water, but not enough to be significant.

What they said
I don’t find it any harder to roll in cold water. But I think anything that distracts or hurries you makes it harder to get the roll right, especially if your roll isn’t that automatic-muscle-memory-maneuver that we all aim for it to be. I definitely found that to be the case last February, when I’d often spend Saturday evening rolling in an 80 degree pool, and some day later that week doing the same thing in murky, moving 35 degree water. It was always harder to just relax and do it right in the cold water. Hopefully this winter will find my roll becoming more intuitive in really cold water.

In your case, it sounds like especially cold water was just one of many factors that might have been making you rush. You were in bigger water than you had rolled in before too. That makes me tense up some too. The key for me is to try to relax regardless of the conditions. (emphasis on try)

Rolling in warm water is slow and relaxing. Rolling in cold water is… FAST-AND-GET-ME-THE-HELL-UP-NOW! Some good hand and head protection along with a drysuit helps a lot. I use Level Six mitts and a hood I found at a dive shop.

Not harder but less practice time
The ice cream headache is hard to tolerate. Even if you avoid the ICH, I think the sheer coldness just reduces endurance in the water.

In warm conditions, I could do 80 or more rolls in a session. The last time I went out (day after Thanksgiving) I did only a dozen plus some static braces. No failures or other difficulties–just got tired of the icy bath.

With big waves, maybe adrenaline helps you buy more time. I still don’t think it’d be a lot more time with water in the mid-30s and air in the 50s.

Head gear
NRS Mystery Storm under a paddling helmet. Ear plugs and nose plugs. Not yet cold enough for the full hood…

So, only my face is getting cold underwater for the time being…

Thanks for the replies

– Last Updated: Dec-08-09 8:44 PM EST –

I think it is definitely a combination of being heavier with all that gear plus some tenseness from the cold. The water being so bumpy is also a contributing factor - harder to figure out the right moment...

And as Kudzu put it - "nerves" or should I say "fear" -;)

Lately I really think I need to take a class and generally work somehow on bracing in rough conditions. Most of the times I capsize in the first place I should be able to avoid with a relatively simple high brace that I know I can do if I am planning for it, but it is not an automatic reflex for me yet. The problem with the white water is that it, ahem, moves and moves fast. The eddies and currents where I paddle are no longer a problem (used to scare me and cause me to stiffen-up a lot last year, where this year they are fun). But sprinkle some unpredictably changing waves that errupt behind me from an odd angle while the kayak is trying to broach and that does it -;)

Cold Water in the Ear …
Very cold water flushed suddenly into the ear can really disorient some people. I know I experienced that a lot my first couple of winters in the surf. I now shove my head underwater when I paddle out and I have a helmet that offers some head warmth, it is really cold water I wear a hood. Cold water on the face and neck and back of the neck kicks off the flight or fight instincts, you have to practice to get over that.

Get bombproof first.

– Last Updated: Dec-08-09 9:59 PM EST –

I run ww every and all winter, when the water's not "hard." The freshwater streams near me? Forget the temps, you don't wanna know...I usually alternate between boats: Sometimes I use my Wavesport Diesel, sometimes I use a Custom Inflatables Thrillseeker(Ducky, reasonable speed, provides a warm layer of air under me bum--And no rolling necessary--So stop snickering y'all.)

My own roll is solid on-side, but questionable offside, mostly due to an old injury and not "where my head's at." In combat, oh excuse me, "in conditions" you can't be choosy or have time to think about which side you're going to go with. Your roll has to be as fluid and natural both sides, as Tiger Woods golf swing(Okay, wrong guy to use for analogy at the moment.)

The fact that I'm weak on my offside, doesn't stop me from paddling hairy mountain streams up to Cl. IV. But up this way, after October, myself and almost no one I paddle with(many guys younger and much more athletic than me)ever practices rolling in frigid freshwater if they can help it--Even though we're all drysuited, skull-capped, Doc's earplugged, helmeted, and neo-gloved/mittened, out the friggin' wazoo.

It's not that the water's "sticky"--it's just insanely hypothermically cold. (No nice gulfstream flowing at high mountain elevations to warm up all the melting snow and ice.) So being "downunder" when you don't have to be, just makes no sense(If I flip during the run itself, that's another matter--My roll either connects or I swim. I accept this as no big deal personally, as almost all the the creeks I run are only 75 to 100 feet wide at best.) One can usually find a way to muddle or crawl out fairly quickly. That is uh, if the ledges haven't killed ya.

In this brrr case, Practice = pool sessions.

PS- "Surferz Ear" does suck. I know. I got it.

Learn to scull on the surface
There’s no technique that can bail you out better than sculling. Last time I got hammered in surf, I was out of breath, disoriented and a bit anxious. I sculled up, got a breath or two and finished with a hip snap up. On the surface you can see what you’re dealing with as far as waves and most of all… you’re breathing. It’s the most undervalued skill in kayaking and the one that is often forgotten by good paddlers who could use it.

Cold water is not fun in your ears and up your nose and can get you nervous enough to retreat to crummy, rushed technique and screw up the roll.


– Last Updated: Dec-09-09 2:09 PM EST –

That's more or less how I got up the last time - sculling then a little push and up. But in bouncy water it's hard to get too much benefit from it since the waves come over me too soon again (not like in surf where you have periods - in the WW it is all much quicker and somewhat more random).

Earplugs? Yup. Always have them once it gets cold and sometimes earlier (and definitely during "practice" rolling). I too had experienced the disorientation from cold water in the ears during some practice rolling last year and it is not a good feeling.

Last winter I paddled through out but I don't think I ever rolled once the water got below 40 - just never flipped as I paddled more protected waters. Was prepared to but it just did not happen. This year I'll give it a try but I'm not particularly looking forward to spending excessive amounts of time underwater once it gets near freezing for sure -;) If it feels too cold, I'll probably switch back to the tamer waters where the chance of going upside down unintentionally is slim to none and if it does happen it will be extremely unlikely that it will happen again soon enough to matter...

surfer’s ear
Did you get surfer’s ear from kayaking? How long dids it take to develop? I’ve been doing more ocean paddling in the winter and spring and wonder if I should worry about it. If I’m messing around in surf and know I’ll be rolling a lot, I wear some cheapo foam earplugs. But other times I won’t bother, and I’ll occasionally roll without them, and then there’s just cold spray coming in the ear every once in a while. Is this something to be careful about if it’s a dozen times a year?

Many good points here. Your description

– Last Updated: Dec-13-09 8:19 PM EST –

sounds like you were calm and rational. You might want to ask yourself if you were feeling as calm and rational in the water as you were in your accounting of it. If so, then some minor technique reinforcements will likely clear things up. If you are not as calm and rational as you sound, then it is time to go make friends with the river. Skip the pool and get in the freezing water and think it out. Cold water is no different than warm, unless it is dialing up your sense of urgency, which will defeat your training. Make friends with the cold, practice in it, and it will be no different than the warm water. I strongly agree with Jay on the use of the scull. It can be a safe zone or purgatory like rest stop. Lay back, take in some air, look around, game plan, and move on. I frequently spend time in breaking waves both facing into, away, and perpendicular to them while sculling to practice a kayaking "time out". I was wondering why you did not come up from your scull?
For the record, you're a bigger man than me, I won't paddle white water. Scares the *hit out of me. I also only paddle with a greenland stick, so this may explain some of my perspective. Bill

isn’t the storm a full hood?


– Last Updated: Dec-10-09 6:34 PM EST –

Thanks for the note. Not that brave -;) I only go out when the river wouldn't be so high as to scare me. But it still startles me quite often since it is moving fast and my reactions are like slow-motion compared to what they should be at times...

The reason I picked-up WW lately is that it is more dynamic and only 15 min. from home or office. The next best nont totally flat water is the Bay (sometimes), but that's 2hrs in driving that I could bo something else with; so I only do if there when ther is a good group of paddlers to enjoy the waters with -;)

easier practice with skullcap + PVCpipe

I picked up a skullcap and manufactured a pvc pipe from a snorkel(w/goggles) up & thru a floating ball. Gives one all the time to breathe, to setup & mentally relax…and the skullcap seems to head off the ICH.

Seems to work…fwiw.