Learning your first roll Part two – The Standard Greenland Roll

At this point a friend can be very helpful. It can be useful to have someone in the water next to you to haul you out of the water when you inevitably capsize and fail to recover. They can also help you by guiding the blade during your sculling, and helping you to make sure your sculling angle is correct to keep the blade on the water’s surface. And occasionally it can be very helpful if they just support the tip of the blade giving you just a little bit more support as you learn the muscle memory.
If you don’t have a partner to help you then a good learning tool is to fix a paddle float to the right blade and then as you get more confident to reduce the amount of air in the float over time.
While learning to roll it can be exhausting to wet exit every time you capsize and can’t recover so the partner or float is a great way to avoid the constant cycle of capsize, empty the kayak, re-enter and try again.
Next step practice the full sweep. Sit up straight and point the right end of the paddle towards the front of the kayak, now sweep the paddle out and back in a big arc ending with you lying back on the rear deck with the paddle on your chest sticking out at right angles. Throughout the movement keep your left hand relatively static holding the paddle blade you your left pectoral muscle throughout this motion. When you start with the paddle at the bow rotate your core so you are facing leftwards as much as possible, and as you sweep the paddle out and back unwind your core. Throughout this motion keep your right knee raised and your left leg as relaxed completely. When comfortably completing this big sweep motion and recovery it is time to try half a roll. It is half a roll because you are going to fall in on the right side and recover on the right side. Set up with the paddle hooked over the left side of the bow – this ensures that when you fall in the blade is actually still on the right side of the kayak as the left side becomes the right side when the kayak is upside down. Remember to twist your core to the left and hold the left end of the paddle to your chest, then fall in backwards….. As you fall in start your sweep outwards, arch your back to help the kayak upright and lift your right knee hard as you unwind your core and swinging your body round onto the back deck.
Now if you are like me your head will try desperately to stay above the surface and instead of sweeping the blade out you will just heave down on it in a vain hope/ mild panic. So after failing set up again and think of two things; look at the sky and sweep out and back. Looking at the sky forces your head to stay in the water and remain low – lifting your head will make the roll ten times harder. Keep that head low and in the water as long as possible and sweep out and back.
As you become more comfortable with this half roll try to do two things; slow it down and start to watch the end of the paddle. When you are comfortably able to recover the half roll make it harder by not starting your sweep until you are in the water and eventually don’t start the sweep until you are completely upside down.
The trick to recovering from being completely upside down is to ensure your right knee is in good contact with the deck and also to ensure that the paddle blade is on the surface before you start the sweep. As you start the sweep arch your back and raise you knee, both these actions will help right the kayak so that as you swing your body out and aft the kayak will be upright and ready for you to recover onto the back deck. You may have heard the term hip flick, there is no flick in this roll, no aggressive/violent jerk of your body to right the kayak, there is instead a smooth progressive roll that relies on the strong sweep, the lift of the paddle, the unwinding of the core and raising of the right knee.
Rolling is a very weird thing to do to your body, the position and motion you put it through are unnatural and forcing yourself to overcome your instincts to get out of the water as quickly as possible go against everything your mind and body will want to do. You need to practice this half roll until you are executing it fully and confidently then progress to the full roll. At this step you are going to really have to train your mind more than your body, you already know how to recover, you just have to realize that you are in the correct position and relax enough to let your muscle memory take over from your minds desires to save you!
Start now by holding the paddle on the left side of the kayak and tuck forward a little, rotate your core to the left and roll head first towards the left, now wait… repeat “don’t panic” to yourself and by then you should have rotated 180 degrees and your hands and paddle should now be back in the air and you should be rotated towards the surface. Start your sweep, arch your back and raise your knee… and recover with the big sweep. If your blade sinks check its angle on the surface, remember to rotate your right wrist forward to twist the blade so it skims the surface. Try not to rush to start, allow yourself a moment to make sure the blade is on the surface and angled right, remember to sweep out and back not to heave down. If you fail go back to the half roll and repeat three times, then try the full roll once more. Remember that you should get to the same position with the full roll as the half roll you just are rotating 180 degrees to the left rather than the right. Let your mind have the time to work out it is in the same place prior to trying to roll up, it will help trigger the muscle memory.

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