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A reliable combat roll

Roll, click to enlarge

Sometimes you'll have to roll.

Ahhhhh . . . the roll, often a grey area amongst the skills of a canoer. Though, if you have been practicing for a while, you probably already have a pool roll. Now you need to make it a reliable combat roll. Not only because it saves you from taking a swim, but because you greatly limit how hard you push yourself, how hard you train, when you are afraid of going over and taking a swim. When you know that you can roll in almost any situation, then you're not afraid of going over, then you're not afraid of challenging yourself, training, and trying difficult moves. And by trying difficult moves, I mean making comfortable rapids and comfortable moves . . . more difficult, not necessarily more difficult rapids. And that's how you train to become better. More difficult lines, tighter eddies, bigger waves, harder ferries, etc. I emphasize a reliable combat roll, as opposed to a reliable pool roll. So how do you make that transition? Go surf a large wave or an intimidating hole, then when you go over, attempt your roll. Do this endless times. In calm water, your fully planning and expecting your roll when you practice it. In a rapid you're not, and that's what messes you up and scares you. But in a hole or wave, you sort of are expecting it, yet you don't know when. So then when you've done enough surf initiated rolls, your combat roll will start to happen instinctively. And the variety of turbulent water you will find around a hole or wave will also help train you for the real deal.

Side surfing.

Side Surfing, click to enlarge

Side surfing, lots of it!.

Lots of it. Get in the bigger holes, the ones you think will definitely drop you. This will teach you how to roll your hips instinctively, how to stay loose at the hips, and how to balance the boat. (So many people avoid this necessary skill builder, but with a reliable roll, you'll be less intimidated.)

Work up front

Work Up Front, click to enlarge

Work up front.

Where you put your body, and where you work your strokes, make a large difference in performance. I like to think of my boat as having three different zones. The rear zone, center zone, and front zone. Sounds funny, but it's really good to keep that in mind, helps you to be conscience of what zone you're in. Okay, so what's so important about these zones? Well, you want to spend the least amount of time at the rear of the boat. Most strokes placed back there are inefficient, and hurt your momentum. That stern pry that all of us canoers have a love affair with, needs to be used as least as possible. It helps a little, but hurts a lot by stalling the boat's speed and putting our body posture back. Every time you feel like doing that corrective stern pry, try to do a stroke up front in its stead, like a bow draw or a cross forward stroke. You really need to keep your momentum up in pushy water. Momentum is what allows you to go where you want to go, make the moves you want to make, and stay stable. My personal reminder regarding current has always been, "catch it, or its going to catch you." When you start slowing down in pushy water, the current, waves, holes, all start catching the plastic on your boat with their sticky little hands, rolling and spinning you in all directions. So you catch it with forward strokes, and go! Strokes at the far rear also cause you to have a slight back leaning body posture, which is the other reason to avoid strokes back there, because even leaning your body a little back greatly compromises your stability and balance. It's a vulnerable place to be. Of course there are exceptions, an occasional strong stern pry when you have a lot of speed can be nice, and it's often essential to throw your weight back after a hard forward stroke to get a boof or unweight the bow for encountering a large wave or hole.

Cross Strokes, click to enlarge

Cross Strokes, not stern strokes.

The next zone up, the center zone, is an okay place to be. Having your upper body and paddle strokes there should mostly only be used for moving the boat laterally across the water, for casual forward strokes, and for braces, all of which are necessary. And as I said, its okay to be hanging out in the center zone for those reasons, but its not as good as being up front!

Put your game faces on, lean forward, and work up front! This is where you want to be most of the time, on the offense, and driving. Strokes placed up front lend toward keeping good momentum and good control of your tracking and direction. You want to be on the offense and driving the boat quite often, and you want to be doing it from the bow as much as possible. This means doing a lot of cross forward strokes, get used to them, you will. In addition, just a little bit of forward lean makes a large difference in your stability and control over the boat, by not only lowering your center of gravity, but also by weighting the bow and engaging the forward chines. The next paragraph explains even more on the advantages of leaning forward and working up front.

Steer With Your Hips

Carving, click to enlarge

Steer with your hips.

Of course we do most of our boat steering with paddle strokes, but our co-driver, hips, should be steering at the same time. You do this by leaning forward, tilting the boat onto one edge or the other, and therefore engaging the forward chines. The boat then will favor following the edge that you have engaged. So, if you're tilting the boat on its left edge, it will want to turn left. The same concept works with just tilting the boat and without leaning forward, but by leaning forward on the forward edges, you will have more precise control over the turning and better tracking over all. Remember this though, its not as simple as tilting the boat in the direction you want to go, steering with your hips is much more involved than that. For example, lets say that you are driving toward river left for an eddy. Initially you tilt the boat on its left edge and engage that chine, but along the way you find that you are turning to sharply to the left, and the slight adjustments in your paddling strokes are not making enough difference because the boat is stubbornly following an arc dictated by the chine. So you tilt the boat over to the opposite chine, the right side chine, to decrease the amount of turning the boat is doing while still heading to the left. Now that you have made your adjustment in course, you tilt the boat back over to the left chine. Almost to your eddy, a small rock suddenly pops in your path. You decide to go right of it, so you throw the boat over to the right side chine combined with a few pivoting paddle strokes, to quickly dodge the rock. Immediately after your evasive maneuver, you throw the boat back over to the left chine, and toward your river-left eddy. That's steering with your hips. So by combining pivot and turn strokes with hip steering, you will have better and more precise control over your direction, turning, and maneuvers, and also you avoid having to do frantic, momentum-harming paddle strokes.

Up: Class V Next: Timing Prev: Class V