My first time in a kayak was my 16th birthday. Boyd asked me if I “wanted to try something fun.” We had been dating for about a year by then and so the logical choice was to put me in an Eskimo Salto and send me down the Nantahala for “fun.” Of course I’m not so sure the rest of this kayaking crew was too excited to take a 16 year old girl down the Nanty for her first time ever in a kayak, but I survived- without a swim- and knew immediately I wanted to learn how to kayak. That spring I let him teach me how to roll at the Memphis Whitewater roll practice. I’m sure it was quite entertaining for everyone else to watch this spectacle, but let’s just say that there’s a reason it’s suggested that couples don’t teach each other to kayak…
It took me many, many weeks and hours to learn that stupid roll. Much longer than a lot of my students usually take to learn, I wish I was kidding about this. I finally got a consistent roll in the pool, but we all know that its a whole other story when we hit the river. We’ve all been there: we think we’re doing great and then BAM! you flip suddenly, are at the mercy of the river, disoriented, and although you try your roll your head comes up. You forget your T-rescue, pull that skirt and before you know it you’re out of the boat and can finally breathe. You think it lasts forever under there but your friends tell you it was only like 3 seconds. Now with GoPro it can be documented and proven easily.
I went to Boyd, my ever patient instructor, and asked how to go about bridging the gap between the pool and the water. It’s not like you flip in a perfectly calm eddy and are set up for the perfect rolling scenario, completely prepared for the flip as you are in the pool. (If this does happen then perhaps we should talk.) Anyway, Boyd got this semi-evil grin on his face and said “I have just the thing!” Next thing I know he was throwing me around in the pool. Relentlessly. I’d roll up and go right back over: end to end, side to side. He’d stall me then flip me the moment I think I can brace up… kind of like a window shade, or thrashing in a hole. I’m sure he enjoyed this way more than I did. It helped me so much though, and I was so determined to get the roll down pat that I spent all summer in his pool letting him throw me around for both my onside and off side roll. That’s love. It wasn’t long before I could handle a thrashing in a hole or flip in a rapid and remain calm enough to keep my head down for a perfect roll. It also makes life much easier on the river as you’re more willing to try new things. You have less fear when you have a bombproof roll.
This being the time that most roll schools are in full swing, getting ready for spring and summer paddling, I thought it’d be a good time to share this story. When you think you have your roll consistently enough in the pool find a friend or instructor that is willing to throw you around (you’ll have your choice of willing volunteers, believe me..) It truly is an excellent way to get used to the real life scenarios of flipping that you’ll experience on the river. Here’s a little video, mostly for your enjoyment, to help motivate you to get that bombproof roll