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Creating A Reliable Roll- Finish What You Start

What is a roll anyway? It’s a movement. It’s a complicated movement that relies on being synchronized, but it isn’t hard. If your pool roll isn’t effortless, get a tune-up to perfect your technique. (Video is invaluable.)

So now you’ve got a great roll in the pools. It’s effortless. Although you’ve practiced many drills to simulate combat, in current it isn’t there. Instead there’s a sloppy, difficult roll that often requires more than one try, if it works at all.

What can you do to keep the smooth roll with you when you hit whitewater? Finish the movement. That sounds too simple, but it’s true. It is not enough to start it. 80% is not enough. You have to finish the whole movement.

What tends to happen in combat? Most often, your roll doesn’t fail, it’s that you fail to do your roll! During an unexpected flip, the mind can fill with fear or analysis, “this roll doesn’t feel right” or “I’m not safe” or “I don’t have enough air.” This negative commentary short-circuits the roll movement and results in instinct taking over. You’ve seen it; the head pulls up and the blade dives down.

If you want a reliable combat roll then you have to do the roll movement 100%, start to finish.

So, how to stay focused? Fill your mind with a mantra and the intention to finish every roll. Having a mantra that takes you to your finish position is invaluable. “Back hand to ear” is a common one to keep the back hand from punching. “Watch the blade” keeps the head from jerking up. This attention to the positive keeps your mind from being overwhelmed by fear.

Here are some exercises to clear your mind. This is a process called desensitization, intended to reprogram fear into comfort.

First off, being underwater is part of our sport. Can you accept that? Mentally embrace that in the kayaking world of mere mortals like us, being up-side-down is to be expected. Moreover, it is OK to be underwater. If you expect to be underwater and you are comfortable there, even in the rapids you will roll.

Find some mellow place where you know you’ll roll up. Have a friend there with the insurance of a bow rescue. You want to feel 100% confident that you are OK. Decide on a mantra that puts you at ease, like, “I have lots of air” or “I’m OK”. Then, with lots of air, your nose plugs, a mask, whatever helps you feel comfortable, tuck, flip and stay under for a while.

Open your eyes. Look around. Be curious! What does the water feel like? What’s the temperature? Move out of and back to your set up. Is the water pushing you? Is it putting pressure on one of your blades? How is your body responding to the current? And then take a bow rescue. Describe your exploration. Keep your adjectives in the physical realm –cold, bubbly, green. Don’t let your mind say it was scary or dangerous.

Using your mantra that keeps you at ease, flip again and purposely do the whole roll movement, from start to finish.

Choose different places to practice being up-side-down and rolling up. Your goal is to get comfortable everywhere. You want to get so familiar being under water that you almost don’t even notice when you flip! Hang around on mild eddy lines and at play spots. Spend time in deep, tail waves at the bottom of rapids. Gradually move to safe spots within rapids. You are training your mind to stay calm and clear, and focusing on finishing your roll, no matter what. This desensitization process loosens your mind’s hold over you, replacing the chatter and filling your mind with intention.

Use your roll often. Once one side is reliable, learn your other side. You won’t lose your on-side roll! You’ll come away with two rolls! Use them equally. It is mind over matter, so be sure your mind is trained to support you to finish every roll you start!

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