Subtlety not strength

When you don’t have one, a forward finishing roll can seem like a huge mountain to climb. Retraining our bodies to rotate forward and not layback is a challenge for many.
I learned the storm roll first. Alex taught me it in the pool a couple of winters ago. After the storm we moved onto the reverse sweep. That winter ended with forward finishing norsaq rolls.
The paddle can provide tremendous power in forward finishing rolls. This allows one to get away with poor technique and use speed and strength rather than subtle supple movements. This isn’t necessarily a good thing.
I like to teach the art of rolling rather than the mechanics of rolling. Just getting someone to roll is not satisfying enough for me anymore; I want to help people roll well.
My body tells me when I am rolling well. If I am doing a reverse sweep and I feel tension or pressure in my arms or shoulders I know I am doing it wrong. If after a forward-forward norsaq roll my triceps are burning, I have used the wrong body position.
A new roller will celebrate any roll that ends in success. Success being defined as ending upright. Finding ways to help them be successful and yet have great form is the current challenge.

This weekend I spent some time afloat filming forward finishing roll practice, in order to show some of the techniques I use to train myself to become less dependent upon paddle leverage and more dependent upon my own body.
I was watching “This is the Roll” recently and liked the language that Turner was using to describe the motion your body goes through during forward recoveries. He used the yoga poses of Cow and Cat to describe the concave to convex curves: chin up to forehead down. Applying this underwater really allows you to exaggerate the motion that you use to recover. Exaggeration can be a useful training method, in that it can help us to feel the range of motion that we can use and the subsequent effect it has on righting the kayak. Then when we apply the motion in smaller doses we understand the impact that it has on the recovery.
If you intend to progress to more advanced rolls with paddle-less recoveries tucked forward, then learning to float is critical. Floating face down in the chest sculling position allows you to understand how much buoyancy you have to work with. If you lie face down in the water and get your chest flat you can experiment with crunching your abs and curling your back into the cat pose and see how far you can right the kayak before its desire to be flat (upside down) overcomes the righting moment of your buoyancy. If you can identify this turning point in the roll then you can use it to ensure you don’t use your valuable arm movements too early. Rolling the body first with your abs and then following up with your arm motion will allow you to recover more consistently. I also use this concept in the reverse sweep roll. Roll the kayak with your abs while sweeping your body and arm forward up to the point where you have maximized the return on your buoyancy then sweep down and under the hull.
Recently I was discussing the storm roll and trying to explain how to move your body from the tucked reaching up position to the shoulders flat looking down position. In the forward finishing hand and norsaq rolls this becomes a vital skill to ensure that you are able to maximize your body’s inherent buoyancy. You could, if you wanted to, pause every forward finishing hand roll in the floating position. Simply roll into the chest scull and then recover from it. This though is neither desirable nor is it the best form. Instead we can fluidly move our body through the same positions and achieve a much more natural roll if we concentrate on maximizing the advantages we have through buoyancy and arm sweep.
When we start tucked we tend to reach up to the surface with our bodies twisted, coiled up like a spring. Unless you are very flexible your shoulders are probably at a slight angle, not quite parallel to the keel, with your chest towards the hull. You need to go from this position with your chest pointed towards the kayak to a position where your back is arched the other way and your chest is away from the kayak. Simply unwind the spring, and then continue that motion until the spring (your core) is wound up the other way. The recovery then uses the core spring to unwind as you rotate forward again into the unwound position with your shoulders across the kayak.
The rewinding of the spring is all part of the setup. The initial tuck you perform simply allows the kayak to invert. The real setup occurs underwater where you rewind the core’s spring. From this position your abs now can be used to rotate the kayak, and your arm is positioned to provide maximum leverage as it sweeps out, down and forward.
When learning this motion it is unlikely that you will pause in the float position long, as it is a transition that you will make during the roll. By being conscious of the position that you are getting into, you can exaggerate the motion and then learn how much or little power you need from your abs and arms to make the recovery be successful.
There are other ways to complete forward finishing hand and norsaq rolls. I can recover by simply hugging the kayak so my nose touches the deck throughout the roll and simply use the norsaq or my hand to sweep down to maintain the rotation. However, this approach requires considerable arm strength. The cow to cat, winding core approach requires far less strength and in my experience has a higher success rate.

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