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Rolling at the Y

There comes a time for all kayakers when we begin to think about learning how to roll our kayaks. Maybe it would be better to say, learn how to roll our kayaks back upright, as it's pretty easy and straightforward to simply roll them over. For me that time came when I lived in Hartsville. A flyer from the local YMCA listed 'Eskimo' rolling classes as one of their offerings. Believing this skill was required of all true kayakers, I signed up. Fortunately for me, the cost of the class was not only nominal but open ended. A great deal for me (as it turned out), but not so much for the 'Y' or my instructors. Besides, I reasoned, how difficult could mastering this skill be? I'd read that Dubside could roll a kayak 60 plus different ways, but there has been no indication he is able to drive a car. At least I could already drive a car!

At the appointed time and date I reported to the 'Y' in full paddling gear ready and eager to learn. There I met Den and Allison Latham who would be my instructors for the next several weeks. Great folks and both experienced in the kayaking field - with Den being a world ranked surf kayaker. Neither had reason to believe (initially) that they couldn't teach me the techniques required to master this relatively simple skill. They offered me a pirouette kayak to practice in, which is about as long as I am tall but seemingly a tad narrower. My first issue was fitting myself into said craft. As I recall, I could wiggle a toe or two but that was about it. To say it was a snug fit would be an understatement. My first lesson went pretty well (from my perspective) and before long I was hip snapping myself upright from the laying on my side position. As the session ended I came up with a great idea. Never having done one, this would be as good a time as any to practice a wet exit. Just as I was rolling the boat upside down I noticed both Den and Allison had their backs to me talking with someone poolside. About the same time I began to wonder, if I had such trouble fitting into the kayak, would I be able to get out? At that moment, neither of these things bode well for a happy outcome. But, as it turned out, the grab loop was found, the spray skirt came loose and out I slid. Note to self - don't make up your own training syllabus and it's always better if your instructors know what you're up to before you do it!

During the next few weeks I continued to learn and practice new and exciting skills. Hip snaps and head dinks were difficult for me to coordinate but I continued working on them. Truth be told, a bunch of things proved difficult for me to coordinate. But as Allison explained to me - younger more athletic men have more 'body awareness' so they can learn these maneuvers more easily. I, of course, thanked her for her enlightening assessment. But even the old and decrepit occasionally have their day, and I finally did put it all together and began to roll their pirouette (upright) with some regularity. Now it was time, thought I, to learn to roll my own boat.

The following week's class began with me toting my boat through the 'Y'. As was custom, I seated myself in my craft, secured my spray skirt and 'seal launched' from the side of the pool. A couple of things then happened in pretty quick succession - my boat flipped first 90, then 180 degrees, as it angled into the water and several pounds of sand began to settle to the bottom of the pool. The first phenomenon was brought about me not taking into consideration that my boat has a keel (which caught on the pool's edge) and the pirouette didn't. The second, because I hadn't checked under the kayak's seat for any residue from previous outdoor expeditions. Den seemed to be more than a little unnerved by what had just unfolded before him. Not, as it turned out, to see me flailing around in the water after executing yet another unscheduled wet exit, but because of all the sand I'd dumped into the pool. A goodly portion of that week's training session was spent vacuuming the pool's bottom to ensure the filters wouldn't be clogged with the river muck from my boat. After that unfortunate episode, scheduling conflicts always seemed to arise which prevented us from getting together. I did have to wonder why, all of a sudden, both of them had something else to do during our scheduled training times. Ultimately I had to accept that rolling a kayak upright probably wouldn't be in my future. And I'm okay with that, because I now have confidence in my abilities to wet exit whenever required. At any time and place, I can still fall out of my boat with the best of them.

Update: Den is now a practicing Tai Chi instructor. It is unclear whether this change in instructional curriculum had any direct correlation with his attempts to teach me to roll a kayak


Written by: Andy Anderson


For more great stories: See the Archive!


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