The Fun Side of Upside Down


IMG_9172This summer I’ve worked with quite a few women and men on refining their rolls and their combat rolls. Every paddler who has come to me struggling with their roll has one thing in common – they don’t like to go upside down. Now, there are definitely times on the river where it’s not ideal to go upside down and you want to get up as quickly as possible. I get that. The thing is, if you want to have a bombproof roll you can’t go into panic mode when you flip over, you have to stay relaxed and focused. And that’s why the key to getting a bomb-proof combat roll is actually having fun going upside down. That goes for learning your off-side roll, your hand roll and your back deck roll too!

I’m not saying that you should practice flipping over in bad places and learn to like it. The best place to practice getting comfortable underwater is in a pool or flatwater on the river. Even if you’re an experienced paddler I highly recommend having your friends spot you while you go upside down and hang out– counting to 3, 4, 5 or longer before attempting a roll – or maybe having a friend spot you for a t-rescue. Taking a step back and just playing around underwater will do wonders your roll.

Once you feel comfortable underwater in flatwater and you have refined your roll in that element, it’s time to move to moving water. Choose a piece of current that is deep and friendly and have a friend or instructor spot you who will/can actually get to you if you mess up your roll. If they can’t or don’t get to you then you’re just reinforcing the unpleasant feeling of being upside down instead of creating a feeling that it’s ok to be upside down. Eventually move to hanging out upside down in that current and count/hang out before rolling. Repeat as many times as you can until you get tired or feel really good about being upside down and about your roll.

The other aspect of developing a bomb-proof roll is facing any fears that you have or any past experiences that have made you fearful about rolling. If you hold that inside and never deal with it or release it then it becomes a big elephant in the room and hinders your ability to improve. Here are some steps to facing those challenges:

~ Acknowledge your fear/nervousness

~ Acknowledge that the situation or belief that has made you fearful is in/from the past and that the past does not have to determine the present or the future

~ Remember why you love to kayak and bring to mind the feeling you want to have when you roll successfully and notice where that feeling is in your body

~ Create a word or phrase that is believable, feels good and helps you to keep your focus on a successful roll. It can be ‘I’m ok,’ ‘set up,’ ‘reach,’ ‘sweep,’ ‘relax.’ Whatever it is be sure that it is believable and feels good. Repeat the word or phrase EVERY TIME you practice your roll in flatwater and in moving water until it becomes second nature. This way when you flip over unexpectedly in whitewater you will automatically focus on this positive phrase and the positive feeling it brings up in your body.

As you work through these steps take the time to be with any emotions that come up. Don’t keep denying that you’re nervous or that you had a bad experience in the past. Stay with it and it will pass. Then head out with your friends and have fun flipping and flopping upside down as you develop that bombproof roll or hand roll or offside roll!