Qajaq Q&A


For the past three weeks I have started a new project called Qajaq Q&A. It was inspired by a marketing “guru” whom I follow on Twitter who has for the past year been answering questions everyday on camera about marketing. I thought it would be a fun experiment to try doing a similar show but focusing on Traditional Paddling, and this Qajaq Q&A has been born. I am trying to maintain a cadence of one show a week. The level of effort to write, shoot, edit and publish on my own prevents me from increasing the frequency. But hopefully people will enjoy the entertainment factor and maybe I can spread some love of Greenland paddling and rolling along the way. The first show answered the question “Is there a practical purpose for the hand roll?” show two addressed “How to use a storm paddle?” and this week’s show looks at what is going on with the Butterfly roll. Rather than just keeping the show as a straight video activity I am instead going to use the video as a light weight intro to the subject and then augment each video with a blog post about the question. So going forward look for a combo video + blog post approach each week. So here is this weeks video and subsequent commentary.


Qajaq Q&A Episode 3

What is going on at the beginning and end of the butterfly roll?

As I understand it the butterfly roll is not a roll that has been documented as originating in Greenland. That said, so many of the principles behind the roll align beautifully with the rolls we all commonly associate with Greenland rolling that it has become synonymous with Greenland rolling.

The Butterfly roll is also known as the angel roll. Both the names derive from the motion or position of the arms as they travel through the roll. Think snow angels – children lying, waving arms in the snow to create the beautiful shapes. This position articulates nicely the optimum way for the roller’s arms to be positioned at the midpoint of the roll. The butterfly metaphor really describes the initial underwater motion where the paddler surfaces and uses the motion of opening their “wings” to elevate their chest to the water’s surface and arch backwards in to the floating position.

Now back to the actual roll. The butterfly roll is one of the more common first rolls to teach. Many people prefer to teach the butterfly over the standard Greenland roll as it can help teach better body position and more naturally leads to the advanced rolls such as the hand roll. The butterfly teaches the value of torso rotation and because of its lesser dependency on paddle force it ensures that the roller is unlikely to overpower and hurt themselves.

Many people over think the setup for the butterfly, obsessing upon paddle position, or more accurately fretting about the rotation of the paddle so that it is in the perfect position when it surfaces on the far side of the kayak and is positioned to provide maximum support. I believe there is a better way, and I will explain that in a moment. The first decision to make when setting up for the butterfly roll is to decide if you want to cheat or not. There is a really easy way to help make sure the butterfly roll has the greatest chance of success – twist first. The crux to a successful butterfly roll is to ensure that you are able to float with your back flat on the water during the opening phase of the roll. This requires that you can rotate your torso at the waist and get into the chest high back flat position that causes your body’s flotation to be maximized. One of the best ways to get the body into this position is to take the hand closest to the back of the kayak and hook it under the gunwale. This causes your rear shoulder to drop, and in effect level your shoulders. Now image starting in this position. Sit upright rotate to face the water in the direction you are going to roll and take your rear hand and hook it behind you onto the opposite gunwale. This moves your torso into the position of maximum rotation in advance of entering the water. This setup causes many people to magically pop up and discover they are able to balance roll into a balance brace. It is really good training but isn’t really considered “good form” so I generally only use it to get people started.

Back to the over thinkers. The paddle blade angle used initially will determine how controllable the paddle is as the kayak rotates upside down. The water flow over the blade will move it around aggressively of the angle is not setup right. I like to hold the paddle tightly against the side of the kayak with the blades flat against the top-sides. This has two benefits, one it allows me to have a register, or location where I know the paddle is fixed and secondly it allows the blades to be relatively undisturbed by the water flow as the kayak spins. When the kayak completes rotation and is sitting upside down the paddle is now definitely at the wrong angle. This puts many people off this approach. They prefer instead to hold the paddle at the angle such that when they are upside down the blade is flat on the water and provides the maximum resistance to a downward pull. Rolling doesn’t need to be dynamic and explosive, I like to learn to pause in many stages throughout the roll. With the butterfly roll the first pause for me occurs when the paddle first surfaces. At this moment I release or at least relax my grip on the paddle and let it float. This causes the blades to float flat and find that optimum angle before I want to use it – it completely removes the guesswork for me.

As I learned more about what makes layback rolls work I developed a habit of exaggerating my hand motions, I found it really helpful with my hand roll to do this as it forced good body position. For the butterfly roll this causes me to concentrate not just on the arm with the paddle but to examine what I am doing with both arms. If you have ever watched a movie about the legend of King Arthur you will probably remember a scene where the “lady of the lake” lifts the sword out of the water and all you see s this arm rising up. I like to imagine this happening with both my arms during the roll. I raise them both up and out. This ensures I am dragging my chest up high, then once my arms are up high I spread them apart – the opening of the butterfly wings. The paddle bearing arm moves away from the qajaq, the rear arm travels parallel with the keelson towards the aft deck. Now pause and hold this position. You should be in the balance brace position, chest high, head back arms spread apart, paddle loosely gripped in the forward palm.

Recovery from here should be effortless, but in the stress of learning we will tense up and make it way harder than it should be. The ideal mechanics are to push your head downwards towards the seabed. This causes the upper back to arch and helps initiate the motion of the kayak righting. Then rotate your torso towards the back of the kayak while maintaining pressure with your thigh to bring the kayak with you. There should be no need to heave down on the paddle. But if you do you fill find this recover very powerful. Try not to heave, or at least train yourself to depend less and less on the power that you can create by pulling down on the paddle. You should eventually find you need no support from the paddle, and at this wonderful time you are ready to hand roll.

So that’s what the butterfly roll is all about. Three distinct phases; the twist and surface, the arch back and float, the rotate and recover.

As with each Greenland style roll you can find a complete guide to this roll written in both English and Spanish along with the video segment from the Rolling With Sticks DVD in the Greenland Roll section of this website. If you enjoy this content and wish to support the project please consider purchasing Rolling With Sticks though the online store. Thanks.

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