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  • Phil Keetley

Learning to roll

Updated: Jun 27, 2019

For most of us, learning to roll is hard, really hard. It takes time, courage, commitment and usually the immense patience of a great coach to get there. The combination of darkness, being upside down, cold, lack of oxygen and general fear make it a highly complex task! I vividly remember having a pretty good roll on my onside, and thinking that I could just start to roll on my off-side...oh no! I was hopeless. Upside down with no idea what to do with my arms and legs. I was a complete beginner (again).

I do not believe in a 'bomb-proof' roll: we are all between swims! What we want to get to is an instinctive reaction, where in the event of an accidental capsize, our body simply reacts and we pop back to the surface - almost without thought or effort. This is what I call a 'combat roll.' A combat roll does not have to be slick, or smooth - it just needs to allow us to breathe! There is, of course, a great joy in rolling well, the feeling of an effortless and lazy roll is fabulous, so much so that some people can get quite carried away with rolling.

Committing to the roll

I also do not believe in any particular type of roll. Too many coaches insist on inflicting their own style of rolling on to their students. Everyone is different, everyone has different levels of flexibility, and each combination of boat and body is unique. I try to understand the individual, and work with them to work out the best solution for that unique combination.

Didn't make it this time - next time!

We also take a slightly different approach to learning. We run a one day rolling course here in Argyll. We start in a classroom with some yoga style stretching to get us moving and provide a basic understanding of the range of motion required. We move on to trying to learn the physical mechanics of the roll whilst still indoors on yoga mats. True learning requires understanding, and these exercises start to cement the physical movements, along with the rationale behind them. Once fully warmed up, we move on to our unique rolling simulator - a kayak strapped to a metal frame with wheels! It allows a more natural sense of rolling, but whilst still warm and dry - and with the ability to really feel the movements.

Learning the movements in the simulator

This sets us up for a move to the local swimming pool, where we deliver two intense hours of coached practise. Finally, we head back to the clubhouse to don the dry suits and take the plunge to the sea. Where necessary, we also do water confidence training as it is essential to be relaxed upside down.

We certainly do not guarantee that anyone can learn to roll in a day, but we do, firmly believe that this course provides a firm foundation and starts to key in the necessary movements. We have been impressed with the rapid progression of our students thus far, and have had some great feedback on the methodology.

Well set up for a successful roll

We often use video to help the learning, which often provides the visual feedback necessary to understand mistakes. In this clip, the roller prefers a back deck style roll which works brilliantly for her. The video analysis allowed for confirmation of some simple mistakes, which enabled a more smooth and elegant roll - which is also therefore more effective.

Take a look at our Events page here for a course, or contact us directly to book coaching session. Happy rolling!

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