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Technique Tips

Rolling Your Boat...To Sweep or To C?

Which to choose? An instructor teaches best the roll he has the most experience teaching. Simply put, her bag of tricks for one roll is bigger than for the other. To help determine which roll to teach an individual, instructors have also considered the learning style and body type of the individual. Mentally, the clear, four-step C-to-C roll makes more sense to some and therefore is more easily learned. For a less flexible person the sweep may be the best choice. Complicating this further, what boat a body is attempting to roll plays a big part in today's decision. The deeper and wider a boat is, the more difficult it will be for short torso-ed folks to get the back hand on top of the hull during the sweep phase of the C-to-C. There are many good resources to help kayakers learn or tune-up their C-to-C roll (the best is the DVD Grace Under Pressure), but very little literature about the sweep-roll. This article will share tips from instructors with the biggest bag of sweep-roll tricks.

First, there are many similarities between the two rolls. Both share a set-up, sweep, rolling of the boat, and recovery. The purpose of the sweep in both rolls is twofold. One, to get the paddle out of the way so that, simultaneously, (two) the body can move out to the side and roll the boat. In the sweep-roll the sweep and boat rotation happen simultaneously. What is a hip snap in the C-to-C roll is a continuous and smooth rotation of the boat throughout the sweep. Once the boat is upright, the paddle, at 90o, is in position to help recenter the body weight over the middle of the boat. This is the recovery phase, and for many people it is instinctive and never needs emphasis.

Let's look at the specifics of the sweep-roll.

Set-up: The body twists tightly to one side of the boat, chest wrapped toward the outside of one thigh as snugly as possible. The back hand is near the hip and the angle of the front blade is neutral to slightly diving.

Diving? Yep. You see, the body needs to twist out from under the boat in order to maintain the tension in the opposite knee (this rolls the boat). The body isn't very strong traveling in this direction. All it takes is the resistance of a climbing blade to stop the body, which stops the boat rotation, and kills the roll. At this point instinct takes over and the quads push hard against the foot pedals and the arms reef on the paddle, driving it deep underwater. This substitution of muscle over technique can lead to shoulder injury and an exposed face (as the body pushes to the back deck) and are two very good reasons not to set a climbing blade angle (as was taught in the old days of sweep rolling).

The Sweep and Boat Rotation: The blade slicing through the water, out away from the boat, allows the body to continue to twist out, maintaining leverage on the opposite knee while smoothly rolling the boat. A trick to get folks to continue to move the body and to keep the head down, is to watch the front blade throughout the roll. This encourages the chest to be facing upward in the set-up and twisting out from the side of the boat while facing the blade during the sweep.

Done in sync, the boat is upright by the time the paddle reaches 90 degrees to the side of the boat. A delay in boat rotation results in the paddle traveling beyond 90 and often occurs when the sweep moves faster than the boat can be rolled. The limiting factor is the boat's rotation, so a common feedback is to slow the sweep down. (The arms can move faster than the body)

A very important aspect during the sweep is that the back arm stays passive, for two reasons. 1) It is the pivot point during the sweep and this forces the body to move the paddle (rather than the arms). And it is after all, the moving body that rolls the boat effortlessly. 2) The passive back arm maintains the centered body throughout the sweep so that at 90o not only is the boat upright, but the body weight is over the middle of the boat with a hand on either side. If the back hand punches out or up, the roll will finish off balance and often fail.

The beauty of the back arm as the pivot point is that it remains at the side of these very phat and wide new playboats. There's no need to put the shaft on top of the hull because the boat starts rolling upright from the very beginning of the sweep and the back blade isn't affected by the boat. The boat has moved out of the way and the blade never hits the boat. If boat rotation is delayed, however, the sweep would stop as the back blade runs into the side of the boat.

While the back arm is the pivot point, the job of the back hand is to maintain the slicing blade. This is accomplished by smoothly rolling the knuckles back, as if giving full throttle to a motorcycle. The back hand finishes on top of the shoulder with the elbow pointing forward, as though carrying a platter of drinks. This position is often the key "fix-it" for beginners and is the classic finish to the sweep-roll. The face and torso will finish slightly twisted toward the blade.

Recovery: The blade exits the water in on of three ways. The classic sweep-roll finishes with the blade exitting as the boady twists toward the blade, just past 90 degrees. Another is that the hands have succeeded in giving the motorcycle so much gas that the blade knifes out of the water with the power face forward! The third recovery is to add a slight dink (see the article on bracing) where the ear drops toward the water and the blade slides inward toward the thigh (sweep-to-C roll). All maintain or re-establish balance to the end of the roll.

Enjoy trouble shooting and refining your new sweep-roll!

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