Mats Bengtsson kayaking and kayak techniques

Learning the kayak eskimo roll when old and not limber

Mats Bengtsson mib over the years

Learning the kayak eskimo roll when old and not limber

Why should you learn the Eskimo roll in a kayak? There are different interests. My interest for the kayak roll is similar to the rest of my kayaking. I will be able to enjoy the kayaking a lot more if I feel I can handle the situation. The eskimo roll is thus something I see as a solution when the initial handling of the situation was not good enough to keep me on the surface, and when I need a better way to get up than just getting out of the kayak in the water (doing the wet exit).

There are many resue techniques from the wet exit and back into the kayak. If you exclude the eskimo roll, the most reliable of these builds on you having a fellow close to you, helping you (this assumes that whatever caused you to go around is not enough for your helper to go around, or preventing him from coming to you). Of the others, two really worth mentioning is the reentry and roll, and self rescue with paddle-float.

Someone doing the kayak eskimo Roll and hanging upside down in the kayak under the water during the lowest part of the kayak rollDoes it then matter if you are old and no longer limber? Well it does if you acknowledge that your mind was faster and less scared (or if you so prefer, careful) when you where younger. Also if you acknowledge that your body was stronger, more flexible and more enduring. However, those factors are the important factors, age is not.

There is nothing actually in the word "old" that puts a hindrance in the way to learn the Eskimo Roll except through the effects of old compared to young. So if you at your age is more enduring and more flexible than others that are younger, then you will be likely to have a better chance on rolling a kayak than them, in spite of age. If you are not limber, well, there is a need for a certain body movement, but not so very much, coordination is more important. So extreme lack of flexibility is a true problem, but that is not often the real problem.

Independent of age though, if the picture here (found through google, originally from somewhere) gets the adrenaline boiling, then what is needed besides physics and pure technique, is to calm your mind by accepting the Eskimo Roll and the wet exit as non freightening events.

Additional advantages of being able to roll the kayak

Besides the possibility to come up without a wet exit if you can do the kayak roll, and the added comfort of of knowing you have a good chance to get up without help from others, and being relaxed when doing the wet exit, there is other important advantages of learning to roll:

  • If you can roll, you will become better at avoiding the need to roll your kayak, since you will also become better at high braces (the hip movement is needed in both high brace and kayak roll)
  • If you can roll, you will become better at avoiding the need to roll your kayak, since you will find it easier to practice sculling braces, they are hard to practice without falling in the beginning. Getting up through a roll again makes practice easier.
  • If you can roll, you will become better at avoiding the need to roll your kayak, since you will find it easier to relax, which will improve your kayaking buy moving with the waves.
  • You get an additional rescue technique. If you have done a wet exit, and need to get back into the kayak, a wet re-entry followed by a kayak eskimo roll is a method to get up that works well also in rougher waters.
  • You do not have to spend as long time in the water, which is important if the water is cold.

I feel there is a huge difference between the relatively easy to learn low brace, and the above braces. The above braces are strong braces for tough situations. They are harder to learn than low braces, but useful in situations where a low brace is not enough. One reason they are harder to learn is that in order to practice them, you really have to be leaning your kayak way outside the normal range, which feels a lot more comofotable to do if you know you have a good chance to just let yourself sink down in the water and then do the eskimo roll to come up again, should the brace fail during practice or in real life.

Neccessities for learning the Eskimo Roll (or kayak roll)

Rolling a kayak is done in many different ways. There is two roll methods more commonly used as the first learned way of rolling, but there is no definite "this is how a roll should be done". From that follows that a definite "this is how to learn to roll" is hard to define as well. However, there is a number of common featuresm which all has to do with relaxation and knowing where you can trust yourself.

  • You need to relax while in the water. So practicing the wet exit until it does not feel frightening is a good idea. In fact, it is a good idea even if you are not going to learn to roll the kayak.
  • In the beginning, a kayak paddle will be helpful for making your roll, so learning to keep the paddle in a good grip when falling into the water is a good idea. In fact, if you can not keep track of the kayak paddle while doing a wet exit, you are probably not yet calm enough for learning to roll.
  • You need to roll the kayak with your hips, and keep your head low until the end of the roll. You will not get it up using only the kayak paddle and a lot of force. So practicing braces is good, as long as you practice the hip and head movement as part of the brace. It is not helping to practice the low brace and only using paddle force to straighten yopu up (it works quite well, but does not lead to the needed hip movement). Low brace is easiest to practice, high brace is harder to learn, and thus harder to practice, but the roll (as a get back up technicque) and the high brace, are very similar, so it is beneficial to try. Doing that will teach you where your limit is, and thus make you calmer while not over your limits (and maybe better at avoiding to be over your limits).

With the above in place, next step is learning to be under the water during the roll (if you immediately learn the eskimo roll, next step is about learning the technical parts of the roll, but it is noit likely). How to learn that depends on you as a person. Either look up a method to roll you believe is good, and start practicing it. Or approach someone willing to assist with training. Both ways works, but different individuals prefer different ways. Myself, I attended a kayak roll course by Kajakevent. It was held indoors during the winter, protecting us from the cold water and thus making it both safer and easier. It included a nice intermediate step, being undere the water and gripping a kayak to draw yourself up. This teaches you to be under the water and orient yourself, while the chance of actually getting up is very high.

I am rolling using the "sweep" method. The reason is that when I started practicing, the teacher considered my body to unbendable to fully go through, and thus concluded that best chance to get up was to use the sweep.

Video showing a successful mind and kayak eskimo roll in a tough situation

Whatever route you take to learn the roll, I think watching the enclosed video is giving a good background on the base elements (not the rolling technique though). I do not know it the video is tricked or true, but it is a perfect demo video any way. Look at the yellow kayak to the left in the video. Look at the person and admire the fact that after the unexpected event, he:

  • Is still holding onto his paddel (dropping it would be understandable)
  • Has not done a wet exit (trying to escape of the kayak would have been understandable)
  • Is waiting for the right moment to try to roll (rolling too early would not have helped)
  • And succeeds with the roll, even after something that probably sent some adrenalin from him. That is having a reliable roll.

The event in the video might not be that usual, and nothing to especially prepare for. But even then, it is a good reminder on the essential part of the roll. It is the surprise of the situation that you need to handle.

It has happened, and will happen, that people who knows how to roll and practices it need to do a wet exit without having even tried to roll. When an unexpected event occur it is easy to in surprise let go of the paddel and do a wet exit, just because of the surprise. If that happens in cold water, the situation is very different to after a roll.

The technical part of the kayak roll

I am intentionally avoiding the technical traning, as well as the technical description of the parts of the kayak roll. This is because there is already so much good material available around that, I do not have that good roll, and I am trying to focus first on the reason to want to learn, and then the mental prerequisites for having a chance to succeed. With those in place, the technical parts can succeed, and most likely will, if you are giving the training some time and focus.

Theoretical insight in the movements needed may help the training, even "dry practice" where different parts are practiced without actually rolling in the water, might help. The way to learn will be individual, different methods suit different persons.

  • But if the mind is not yet willing and ready to learn to roll the kayak, then the technical part is most likely to fail, due to fear, resistance, hesitation, ...

With that said, the main factor for me in order to learn has been:

  • Getting the body back in better shape
    • Exercise for lungs and muscles in stomach and arms (simply paddling kayak)
    • Better flexibility (with stretched legs bending the back getting the upper part of the body limber)
  • the teaching of someone else with the possibility to get to feel how it feels when the roll is done with the right movement
  • Focus on a factor often referred to as the key to succeeding with kayak roll, namely "look at the paddle blade through the whole kayak roll". This is to ensure the head stays low and is the part that last come up out of the water. But I think it also gives the mind a simple calming focus point, allowing the body to make the other parts work by routine.

All of the above helps both mind and body to succeed.


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