Learning your first roll – Part one, the sculling brace.

The first rolls I suggest you learn are the lay back rolls. I belong to the group of people that think the standard Greenland roll is the first roll to learn, and not just because it is tradition, instead because it teaches you many of the techniques that are essential to complete the more advanced rolls. There is however another school of thought that proposes teaching first the angel or butterfly roll as this roll does not require you to learn to sweep or scull the paddle. I prefer learning the standard roll first as it is possible to get there through a progression of maneuvers, rather than big banging the entire things end to end.
The Standard Greenland Roll is a high brace roll, what this means is that your palms face upwards and your elbows are held low down your body, in low brace rolls your palms face down towards the water and your elbows tend to be above the paddle.
Lay back rolls get their names frpm the ending position where your body is laying back on the stern (rear) deck of the kayak. This is the first position to practice. With your paddle extended out to the right side of the kayak, with the blade resting across your palms and your left hand holding close to the end of the paddle up near your left pectoral muscle, lay backwards onto the deck. Arch your back and see if you can get your head to touch the deck. The right paddle blade can touch the water and will act as a stabilizer for you. You want to be able to comfortably lay back into this position and rise up under control when ready to return to the normal paddling position.
As you practice getting into and out of this position it is a good time to learn if you need to adjust your cockpit and fit it out with any padding as you will inevitably find some part of the coaming will be digging into your back or hips. Similarly you may find it helps with the comfort if you add thigh or knee padding under the foredeck as you will be levering up against the deck to raise your body. Also your PFD fit and thickness will have a large influence on your ability to get in and out of this position. Don’t be afraid to lift your bottom off the seat in order to get as low as possible on the deck, you may also find it helps if you make sure you are sitting forward and not pushed back against the back strap or back rest as this will ensure you have a more gentle angle between your back and the rear cockpit coaming.
Once you have found the position that works for you practice, practice and practice some more until you are comfortable and stable getting into and out of this position, this will be the finishing position for many of your upcoming lay back rolls.
Step two in the progression to the full roll is to learn to scull the paddle. First practice it sitting up in a relaxed position, hold the paddle extended to the right and while keeping your left hand still use your right hand to rotate the paddle forward and back in a slow graceful arc across the water’s surface. The paddle blade will inevitably sink down at first. This is because as you sweep you need the raise the leading edge of the paddle slightly to help it slide across the surface without diving. Use your right hand to twist the paddle blade not your left, rotate your wrist down to raise the front edge of the blade as you push the paddle forward and then reverse your wrist rotation as you pull the paddle back towards the rear of the kayak. With practice this sculling motion should become second nature and you should instinctively twist the blade with each scull of the paddle. Next lay back again on the rear deck and hold your left hand near your left pectoral again, then practice the sculling motion again, keeping your left hand still and letting your right arm and hand do all the work. Practice this position until you can successfully scull the paddle without looking at the blade. You are now ready to put a little bit of trust in the paddle…. You should feel that the paddle is providing a great deal of potential support during the scull now due to the lift being created by the blade as it moves across the water’s surface. This is the power or the force that is going to help you not just right the kayak but also to support your body as you move on and off the back deck.
Once you are confident of this sculling motion and can feel the support try trusting it, try swinging your body out to the right side of the kayak off the back deck using the paddle’s lift as support. While trying to do this keep you right knee pressed up against the deck and relax your left leg. As you sweep the paddle forward swing your body out, rotating at the waist and then as you swing your paddle back slide your body back onto the rear deck. Keep your shoulders flat both on the deck and the water with your chest pointing to the sky throughout this movement. Once able to swing out and back using the paddles lift for support try slidg out and then while you are rotated outwards try to scull the paddle a couple of times before returning to the back deck on the final sweep backwards. Keep repeating this process until you can swing your body out to be nearly at right angles to the kayak, keeping yourself in that position supported by the sculling action of your paddle blade and then recover to the back deck in the lay back position.
You have now completed the recovery portion of the standard roll.

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