Breaking through the glass ceiling – elbow rolling

Yesterday evening I ran a mentoring session at the cabin, helping people to develop their kayak rolling. Two other mentors, Mike and Renee, came to help. A few people showed up early, Mike being one of them. Mike and I don’t get enough time to play together so I leapt at the opportunity to get afloat for an hour with Mike and roll together. Mike is a quiet guy, highly supportive and someone I consider a great friend. We each worked through our rolls, twenty feet apart, occasionally failing but generally succeeding. With Mike there is no competitive feeling, just one of support and mutual challenge, holding each other accountable to try harder rolls than we necessarily would try if we weren’t together.

I have been working on my yoga practice for many months now it has been increasing my flexibility both for forward finishing rolls and lay back rolls. My forward finishing norsaq rolls have become very consistent. This past evening I was successfully performing chest sculling with a norsaq and recovering and reverse sweep rolls with a norsaq. I was feeling the benefit of really paying attention to getting drive out of my legs.


I have tried the elbow roll sporadically for the past five years. My friend Renee and I have both found it a tough roll to master, Renee has had more success than I of late, probably mainly to do with her rolling practice throughout the winter, something I did not maintain. Yesterday though it was my day. I had watched the latest “This is the Roll” DVD from Justine Curgenven, there is a section that focuses on the elbow roll. In it Cheri Perry describes how to use your offside leg to finish the roll. Yesterday it finally made sense. The moment it clicked I didn’t quite believe it. There I was, my hand still behind my head, lying on the back deck, I hadn’t slapped my hand out to save myself and yet the roll was done. I sat up and yelled, expletives flowed freely, my mother would have blushed. I found myself slapping the water like a drunk porpoise in celebration. I couldn’t quite believe it.

Occasionally I had made the roll work previously, but nothing like this time, this time I knew I had found a stable powerful way of completing it. The key to my success was using my oblique abdominals combined with my offside quads. Re-positioning myself in the qajaq so I did not slide into the gunwale, but instead pulling myself upwards across the kayak during the recovery using my offside leg and abs. This wasn’t marginal, this roll was solid. I asked Mike if I was ever going to be able to do it again, doubt creeping into my mind. It his calm mid-western manner he assured me that he knew I could do it.


I positioned myself within my qajaq and rolled again, then again, then again until I completed the roll five times in succession without failure. If my face hadn’t been soaking wet from the lake water it would have been more obvious that there were tears of joy running down my face. Five years of work and waiting culminating in success. Lynette, Mike’s wife, paddled over and high fived me, wrapping her arms around me in a hug, she celebrated too. They both knew how much this moment meant to me. The glass ceiling had been broken. We all had dinner together last night, Lynette grilled up burgers and cooked cheesy potatoes, my favorite dish of hers. Renee assured me that I was not about to give up rolling now I had reached this goal, but instead now I had a world of newer harder rolls to aspire towards. The double elbow and the straight jacket.

I feel so happy to be amongst people who honor Greenland paddling by freely sharing their passion, life is a good teacher, but my friends are great mentors.

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