Sunday, January 18, 2015

Robyn On A Roll by Robyn Byrne

A belated Happy New Year Everyone!

Mark is always pestering me to contribute to his blog but because we almost always paddle together he always writes it.  I mentioned that he hasn't blogged about our activities in the pool this winter and his response was “You do it!”  My pool experience this year has revolved around rolling and I thought there may be some paddlers out there that were going through some of the same trials and errors as I was so maybe a blog about learning to roll wasn't such a bad idea!

Mark and I both had our Paddle Canada Sea Kayak Skills Level 1 certification but last fall we had the opportunity to join Dave Nichols from Cowichan Bay Kayaks and Richard Alexander from the Newfoundland Kayak Company on a Level 3 course.  No problem for Mark but a definite problem for me. Even though it was a Paddle Canada Sea Kayak Skills Level 3 course I knew I could only get my Level 2 because I couldn't roll!  I was the only one on the course that couldn't roll so I made it my mission to learn how to roll in the pool this winter. I've been attempting to roll in my Delphin for the past year even though somebody said my Delphin would be easier to roll than my Delta. Hmmmm.

Mark's comment: Robyn has never backed down from trying anything in her short kayaking adventure. Anytime that I have pushed the envelope a bit she has been right behind me giving it a try. However ... her self confidence in her own ability I think allows her to talk herself out of being successful. After acquiring her PC Level 2 certification and Conditional PC Level 3 I noticed a change in her attitude towards taking on new challenges.  

I have actually rolled on occasion!  I’ve had a lessons from Yves from Go Kayak, James Manke in a Greenland kayak, Dave Nichols and recently Richard Alexander on the Level 3 course but I still couldn't get it.  There are so many things to remember – get out from under your kayak, keep your paddle on the surface of the water, use your core to sweep, don’t rush, follow your paddle with your eyes, try to get your head on your back deck. I always have an excuse why I don't practice too – I’m petrified of coming out of my kayak, the water is cold, I wear contact lenses and don't want to lose them, I don't want someone to have to rescue me, I've got too much stuff on my deck, I forgot my goggles.  I’m not sure why I’m afraid of coming out of my kayak because when I’m practicing rescues it’s actually quite fun!  

Everyone tells me rolling is all about muscle memory.  Repetition is key to learning.  That becomes a problem for me.  When I’m practicing my roll, I almost always have to do a wet exit because I blow the roll and then I have to have someone rescue me and empty my kayak, climb back in and get all sorted out, try it again, blow it again, repeat.  After the 4th or 5th time climbing back into my kayak I’m so exhausted that I have to take a break!  When I've had lessons, my instructor has helped me right my kayak when I blow the roll so I do get to try rolling over and over but then I get dizzy and have to stop!

Mark's Comment: See what I mean ... mentally Robyn was setting herself up for failure without even knowing that she was doing it. As Yoda would say“You must unlearn what you have learned.” and so the journey began during our first fall pool session. There was a determination that I have never seen before in Robyn and less verbal thinking about all the things to remember when rolling.

So, at my first pool session last fall, I was determined to get my roll.  I took a Gravol, put on my mask and started practicing .  .  .  and blowing it.  Super frustrating!  My friend Beverely watched me for a while and said “Why don’t you try extending your paddle?”  So I tried that and guess what?  I rolled! All the way around this time......Halleluiah!  So I tried it again and Bingo!  Easy-Peasy!  Now I couldn’t be stopped!  Everyone else was out of the pool and getting ready to go home and I was still in the deep end rolling with my extended paddle! I left a very happy girl.

It's looking good from under water. Paddle diving a bit but who cares ... I got out of the water!

Mark's Comment: Up to this point I have always watched and assisted Robyn in her attempts to roll. I was there to perform assisted rescues and try to keep her positive that she was so close to completion, which she was. It has always been a 50/50 thing and usually it was her head and paddle position that were her greatest enemies. That night she completed her first extended paddle roll we went to work on refining some of the mechanical things that would smoothen the roll sequence and the rest was history. Every second I looked at her that night she was rolling on her own .... over and over again!  She was kinda possessed that night but I wasn't going to stop her. LOL  

Since that revelation I haven’t had to do a wet exit (so far).  I’m a rolling machine!  I spent half of pool session number two confirming that I could indeed roll with an extended paddle and concentrating on following my paddle with my eyes and keeping my head on my back deck.  Then I started moving my hands up the paddle shaft so I wasn't using the extended paddle any longer.  The thing that pleased me the most was knowing that if I missed my roll (which I did quite often) I could just extend my paddle for my second attempt and up I came!  Practice, repeat, practice, repeat.  And oddly, I don’t get dizzy anymore!  I think that’s because I’m in control instead of someone else rolling my kayak for me.

I can roll, I can roll, I can roll!!!

Back in the pool for session number three.  Mark is pretty happy with me at this point.  Reconfirm I can still roll .  .  check.   I tried a re-entry and roll (extended) .  .  no problem. Practice and repeat.  I tried a tow, release and roll.  I put on my tow belt and Mark stood on the pool deck holding onto the tow rope as I paddled away.  Then he gave the rope a yank, pulling me over in my kayak.  Once under the water I released my tow belt from around my waist, got my paddle in position (extended) and rolled up.  Piece of cake! Practice and repeat.  Both the re-entry and roll and the tow, release and roll elements are a requirement for Level 3. 

Mark's Comment: The 3rd pool session was really the turning point in Robyn's rolling progression. She was nailing every one of them the first time and I actually sat on the pool deck coaching her through refining the roll by making sure she was set up right, don't rush, follow the paddle blade with her eyes instead of looking up through the pool skylights and spend more time sliding onto the back of her kayak. 

Roll after roll got better and better and I thought OK, let's try something different to see how she would adjust. Keep in mind that I was still sitting on the edge of the pool and simply explained what I wanted her to do and how to do it. How about a reentry roll? Heck ... No problem! How about a tow and release? Heck .... No problem even when I was pulling the tow rope from a 90 degree angle to her and aggressively pulled her into the pool. Whatever I threw at her that night she did it and did it well! I was all smiles just like she was! 

Pool session number four.  Mission:  Rolling with my eyes closed!  This is really important to me because I wear contact lenses and I’m afraid I’ll lose them.  When I’m in the ocean and I roll over in my kayak I won’t have goggles on like I do in the pool.  Plus, I don’t really want to see all that's waiting for me under the surface of the ocean!  If I ever saw a seal swim by while I was under there I’d probably freak!  So back at the pool my goggles are now in my day hatch.  Now I can’t see my paddle position. Yikes!  But I managed, and if I missed the roll I just extended my paddle and came up.  I even managed the re-entry and roll with my eyes closed!  Such a good feeling. I also tried paddling quickly down the length of the pool and capsizing my kayak.  It took me a while to organize my paddle position but I did it eventually and rolled up.

Mark's Comment: Now it's time to transfer these skills to the ocean where the water will be moving, it's cold and if you end up in the water the energy drains out of you pretty quickly. We'll see how this goes over the next few weeks but I'm pretty confident that Robyn's own confidence will allow her to succeed.
Mark says our next pool session mission is ‘extreme edging’ and combining paddle strokes. He's says I will end up in the water as I push the envelope a bit more but edging is a big part of Level 3 as well. Because I was afraid of coming out of my kayak I was always very timid about edging my kayak over too far, but now that I know I can roll back up I’m feeling much more confident!  Now I know what you’re all thinking .  .  .  it’s going to be a whole different story doing all of this in the ocean. That will definitely be another scary moment for me.  But at least now I know I can roll back up! Once I do it the first time and experience the ‘brain freeze’ I think I’ll be OK.  I’ll let you know how it turns out!  Stay tuned.


  1. Congrats on the re-entry and roll you did at East Sooke .... smooth, confident. Good on you! Keep on rolling.