Rolling your kayak, why should you learn it?
You don’t have to. Basically, you can use your kayak any way you want.
That said, many sea kayakers want to learn how to conveniently get up out of the water if they happen to tip over. As you settle into the kayak and get better at handling it, the Greenland rolls are natural to be interested in.
The kayak roll is a good aid when practising other things in the kayak. It all becomes much easier if you don’t have to get out of the kayak every time you get a little too bold and find yourself head down in the water, or if you capsize on a trip out to sea.
The splinter in the Arctic Ocean
However, a lot of us kayakers feel drawn to the kayak roll itself, which is very natural since it is part of the way the kayak is constructed.
I recently listened to a podcast with Dubside in which he pointed out that the sea kayak is the only craft designed in a way so if you happen to capsize, you can immediately get back up again by your own power alone.
This little sliver of a vessel far out in the Arctic Ocean. Not made to fight the elements, but to move smoothly through the waves, between the ice floes and the prey animals, and bring food back to the igloo.
How the inuit kayaks came to be, and how someone figured out to roll them, is lost in the mists of time. Even the myths don’t tell us much, but there is some evidence that kayaks evolved by covering open skin boats. If you’re interested read more here.
Roll the kayak first
Kayaks today are no longer a hunting tool for the artic ocean, but a delightful pleasure craft. Still, if your kayak tips over, and you’re suddenly upside down, you naturally want to get out of the kayak and up from the water – it’s a good thing to breathe.
The first time I found myself involuntarily lying face down in the water was on one of my first trips in a sea kayak. We were paddling under a low bridge where I managed to knock the paddle into the underside of the bridge, lose my balance and humiliatingly topple over into the water. I tried to roll the kayak up, but I did it by using the paddle to pull my head and upper body out of the wet, and ended up having to drag myself out of the cockpit.
The instructor could then very conveniently take the opportunity to have one of the other students practice an x-rescue.
I later learned that it’s all about turning the kayak around first!
Rolling my kayak, but not in the Arctic Ocean
In 2021, I started training my kayak rolls as soon as the ice broke in the Port of Copenhagen. It was in the end of February, and the water was still cold – between 2 and 4 degrees.
It took a bit of persuasion to get the first few rolls done, even though I was dressed well and knew I could stay warm: dry suit with wool and fleece underneath and a really good neoprene hood. The forehead in particular, despite being almost completely covered by the hood, is exposed. It takes four or five trips into the water before the icy pain behind the eyebrows subsides.
But it is great. The water is crystal clear in early spring, the season for rental boats and kayaks hasn’t started yet, and there are virtually no other boats on the water. Everything is peaceful.
Rolling in the spring
A little later in spring – before the big crowds begin – the first green appears in trees, bushes and reeds on the far side of Erdkehlgraven, and there are plenty of coots and both small and red-breasted grebes. Ducks and swans pass by along with other birds, the first fry swarm near the jetty – the harbour is a hive of activity. There’s even a small group of anglers who regularly turn up and catch cod in the canal near the club.
I alternate between periods of rolling and small paddling trips to get warm again, and I am pretty much alone on the water, especially if I arrive a little early in the day.
Even though I’m tired and cold when I’m done, I still feel invigorated – happy and peaceful.
The summer of 2021
In August, I participated in the Danish Championship for Greenland rolls in the 50+ class.
In previous years, my plans for the summer have always been to go on a trip, for a few weeks or even longer. In 2021, the uncertainty of the pandemic made me think differently.
The year before I managed against all odds to get on a lovely trip to the coast of Helgeland (See a post with lots of photos here), but it seemed a bit pointless to start planning something that might be cancelled at the last minute. The kayak rolls had already caught me, so it seemed the thing to do to delve into that aspect of life in a sea kayak.
Niels Kyhn, who has trained a number of others, including the current women’s champion, Ida Nielsen, has kindly helped me with my training.
Rolling my kayak at the Danish championship
When I started to train my rolls in the spring, I decided that if I could do a hand roll and a storm roll, I would compete in the 50+ class. I quickly got to that level and signed up.
Taking part in the competition was a natural part of the process that started when I really got into learning the many different kayak rolls.
I ended on the podium and won a silver medal, but the most important thing for me was that I did all the rolls I planned in good style. That was a perfect step in the process, and the medal was the crowning achievement.
I also plan to participate in 2022 competition – hopefully with an even better result.
Watch a short video of some of my rolls from the competition here
The magic of water
Why am I so drawn to water? Out to the coast, out to sea, along a small gurgling stream, a rugged mountain stream, a large river meandering through the landscape and into the water. The sea in all its might. Water in general. In short, I get happy when I’m near water (except maybe on a bike in heavy rain and headwinds).
When I come home from a kayak trip, from a beach trip, from a walk along the coast or a hike along a river or around a lake, I am in a new state, usually happy, maybe not jubilant, dancing down the street, but more in a quiet, contented sense of being a more whole being. A state that brings a calm, inner joy.
Ok, that sounds a bit lofty, but it’s hard to describe otherwise.
Rolling your kayak brings peace.
The water is my friend
I’ve been at and near the ocean in various ways since I was a kid, and of course I’ve had experiences that were unpleasant, exhausting or terrifying. I’ve been in mortal danger and close to drowning, but always – when all is said and done – I end up at peace, at home with myself.
When I’m out at the ocean in my kayak, or when I’m rolling, I’m close to the water and the ocean in a manner that feels natural to me.
The kayak is a vessel that allows me to be with the sea, to be in and on the water, in a way that isn’t a struggle. As Dubside says in one of the episodes of The Dubcast: “The water is my friend.”
“I can’t come. I have an appointment.”
“What’s so important that everything has to be cancelled?”
“It’s an appointment with the sea.”