Shed the Resistance when Learning to Roll


When teaching the sweep roll to students I talk about cocking the right wrist during the finish of the roll to shed any resistance being applied to the water with the paddle.  This technique helps the paddler move her energy from pulling down on the paddle to centering and finishing the roll with a strong hip-snap.  As with so many kayaking techniques, what we teach about physical skills can also be applied to our mental game.  In this case, successful rolls also require a shedding of psychological resistance to the fact that you’ve flipped over and are upside down.

Lifting the head is the most common inhibitor to a good roll.  The head lifts because the paddler is punching out with the left hand, pulling down with the right blade or maintaining a tightness in the left hip (not allowing the left hip to relax so that the right hip can perform a good hip snap).  In addition to these physical causes that lead to the head lifting there is also the underlying emotion of fear that essentially manifests all of these physical reactions.

Considering the fact that humans can’t breathe under water it’s understandable that we feel fearful when we flip over.  However, if we want to learn the roll and develop a bombproof whitewater roll we need to change our reaction to being upside down from one of fear to one of acceptance and maybe even of fun (at least when practicing).  Here’s why:  When we resist flipping over we are sending the message to our bodies that we don’t want to be in this position and that makes our bodies tense which in turn leads to all of the physical reactions previously mentioned that in turn make us miss our roll.  Shedding the resistance and fear will physically manifest as loose hips, light paddle, strong hip snap and head down.

At first glance it may appear that acceptance implies apathy; however, there is a big distinction between the two.  By acceptance I mean accepting that the situation is what it is in this moment without judgement of good or bad.  The judgement is what creates a story in our heads which can, in turn, lead us to believe things that just aren’t true.  For example, when we flip upside down and panic because we don’t want to be there it can seem like we’re under for 30 seconds when really we were only under for 5.  Because it seems like we’re under for 30 seconds we get scared and rush our roll which leads to tight hips, head coming up and missing our roll.

In the same situation if we just accept that we’re upside down without the story of how scary that is we could say to ourselves: “OK, I’m upside down and now I’m going to try my roll.”  The situation is much more relaxed and you are able to set an intention to roll.  In this scenario you’re mental state is relaxed and so is your body.  Feeling relaxed is the first step in accomplishing a roll.  When we accept what is and act from that place of acceptance our actions are more intentional and powerful.  Acceptance actually empowers your actions.  So the next time you flip upside down accept that you’re upside down and then do something productive about it — roll!

This same concept applies to situations off the water as well.  For example:  A few weeks ago the city of Veracruz in Mexico experienced an upsurge in drug-related violence that prompted us to move our winter paddling trips to Costa Rica.  In the beginning I resisted the whole situation because I didn’t want it to be happening.  I love paddling in Mexico and I didn’t want to have to change my plan.  My resistance to the situation caused me suffering and stress.  Once I accepted that the situation is what it is and that I had to take action to ensure safe and fun trips the prospect of new opportunities in Costa Rica became exciting!  I took action and changed our plans and allowed for new experiences to flow in.  Now we have amazing trips planned in Costa Rica!

The next time you feel that life throws you a curve ball by flipping you over in a rapid or introducing change accept what is happening and then take action that will bring you in the direction you want to go — usually up!

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