During the winter, it is tempting to save all your roll practice for the pool. And for some – the winter pool sessions are the only time a roll is really ever practiced intentionally. True, winter paddling is not really conducive to lots of roll practice for most of us, given the tendency to strive for dry, ice-free hair days on the river. It is tempting to save roll practice for the nice warm swimming pool. So there you go, diligently practicing your roll all winter long at weekly pool sessions. Big confidence booster when that roll is working. If you used your time well, you made sure to practice rolling on both sides. Maybe a hand roll was added over the winter. Feeling good about all that work, you are now heading back to the river for spring paddling, only to find that the first time you unexpectedly tip over, your roll is not there. Swimming in cold water – dry suit or not, is a shock to the system. And a confidence killer. What’s that about?? And were all those nights at pool sessions over the winter a waste of time?
Rolling is one of the techniques in kayaking that is not like “riding a bike;” therefore, practicing your roll is essential. So the short answer about rolling at pool sessions: no, you did not waste your time going to pool sessions all winter. But if that’s true, what’s with having an awesome pool/flat water roll but not rolling up on the river?
First off, rolling is extremely mental. If you learned to roll/practiced your roll all winter in a warm swimming pool, dressed only in a pair of shorts and bikini top and now you waddle your way down to the river in a dry suit plus multi layers and skull cap and pogies and and and…. When you tip over it’s just not going to feel the same. So the tendency is to rush – because the water is darned cold if nothing else. If your roll doesn’t work on the first try, that full-fledged ice cream headache you end up with drives you to promptly rush the second roll even more. And then you swim.
Second, is how you practiced. Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. If you “practiced” your roll, which happens to be a pretty bad roll but gets you up all winter, or were taught a roll that got you up in the pool, but was not really good technique, that is the roll you are going to take to the river. Once you take away that warm cuddly pool water and your roll doesn’t work so well, you go back to rushing your roll. And then you swim. Practice is good. But you have to be practicing good technique.
Third, sure you worked all winter fixing/learning your roll. And technique-wise everyone was giving you big thumbs up. But as soon as you are upside down on the river, you revert to your pre-pool-sessions roll. And swim. Don’t throw your hands up in despair. You have the makings for a new-you roll. The problem is that when you were practicing the new-you roll, it was in the pool. The water was warm, you were surrounded by helpful folks ready to t-rescue you, and you only tipped over when you were good and ready. Nose plugs were on, your support staff was lined up, the side of the pool was close at hand, and after a nudge or two, you were upside down. That’s not how the whole upside down thing works on the river is it! So until you take the time to practice rolling in moving water, when you tip over you are going to default to the old bad roll/no roll at all. It is muscle memory – but that muscle memory is not stored in your muscles, but in your brain. That old roll is still stubbornly locked away in your cerebellum. It takes time to move that muscle memory out and replace it with the new-you roll. Replacing will not happen if you never tip over on the river. Or if you only practice in an eddy.
So what to do? Dress appropriately on the river and take time to roll. In an eddy. Peeling out in the current. Have support on hand so that you do not have to swim every time. And if it is not working, don’t beat yourself up. Get some instruction. The longer you practice bad rolling the more permanent it becomes. Or the less you practice your roll, the less likely it will work for you.
Rolling is an essential component to having fun on the river. And it is well within everyone’s abilities to roll on the river. You have to give the roll the time and the coaching needed to see it working for you. Once you are there, embrace being upside down as something fun on the river rather than a painful result of accidently tipping over.
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