Finally, finally, after many months of effort, it has all come together. I knew I was getting closer, and even felt a little nervous in a now-or-never sort of way as I travelled along to the pool last night. Picking up where I left off at the last session, and with one last tweak, it happened – my first unassisted and successful sweep roll! The joy is indescribable. No, really. I know that, in the grand scheme of things, in the middle of a global economic meltdown for example, being able to roll a kayak might not be considered to be very important. But for those of us who love kayaking and have worked diligently towards achieving this skill, it is a very big deal indeed. I haven’t stopped grinning. Not even the news that the country is bankrupt could upset me. Oh wait …

I think on my first attempts to learn rolling and on the panic and disorientation experienced back then. My presence in a pool full of proficient paddlers felt like sacrilege, like the embarrassing drunk at a wedding. It was quite some time ago, but yet not that long ago really. All those weeks of capsizing and using a float or Alan’s hands to right myself, working on the building blocks until the movements became imbued in muscle memory, until the disorientation diminished and the brain was able to engage – all have amounted to something at last. Many are the times I thought I might never roll, so it is with some disbelief that I reflect on last night’s success.

Perhaps it is that disbelief that causes me a little trepidation. After one roll, for example, I was gripped with a fear that it might be my first and last, that I’d never be able to repeat the feat. After several rolls, however, I started to believe. Then the drill turned towards more unpredictable capsizes, with no opportunity to set up – and still I could roll. The joy! It felt a lot like learning to ride a bike – hard to explain, but something just clicked.

For anyone who is in the process of learning to roll, and especially anyone who has felt dejected on occasion, I hope that my experience might encourage you. I had no natural ability or raw talent – indeed, as noted, I was markedly averse to the prospect of repeated underwater dunkings when I started out. It took lots of perseverance, patience, an occasional rest, and a reminder that self-doubt is merely an empty and unnecessary distraction. It also took the assistance of many people: all the folks at Garnock Canoe Club who got me off and running and, more recently, the Benmore Outdoor Centre coaches who have been providing training at the Riverside pool in Dunoon. The latter training sessions have been a terrific bonus, being a mere 10 minutes from our house. And what better way to learn than via a pool full of enthusiastic coaches. Our little sub-group’s excellent coach was able to spot the 2 main impediments to my roll. For the record, they were an inadequate torso extension/sweep, plus incorrect blade angle. Correcting those 2 things was like flipping a switch for me.

But the coach who helped me the most, and to whom I am most indebted (sorry for getting all Oscars night here) is Alan. He isn’t a qualified coach of course, but he’s the one who’s stood by me night after night, ready to rescue me after my many, many failed rolls, and to offer a word of encouragement, to guide my paddle, to listen to me dissect my mistakes every Saturday morning ad nauseum. His patience knows no bounds and this is not the first time that he has helped me to achieve a goal that I’d previously thought to be nigh impossible.

Of course, the work is far from done. My next big task is to translate my new skills over to rolling up on both sides (ha!), to new and different boats (sea kayaks even – imagine!), to perfecting all the finer points, to doing kingup apummaatigut … ok, getting carried away, will stop here.


  1. Ignacio Wenley Palacios Iglesias says:

    A sweep roll? Congratulations, Pamela. I fumbled with the Pawlata roll for a year before learning the sweep roll.
    Now, practice and go for your offside sweep roll.

    All the best,

  2. pamf says:

    Hi Wenley – Good to hear from you! Well, it’s taken me since late 2007 to learn, albeit I’ve had a few breaks from practice in that time. I dare not try any other type of roll just yet as I want to bask in the glory of having achieved this much – for a little while at least. In reality, I might only be able to sweep roll the boats specific to my local pool (on one side only), but in my imagination, I am working my way up to the Greenland rolling championships! (I’m sure the dream will be shattered soon enough ;))

Leave a Reply