Both sides of the story

Scottish summer weather

Scottish summer weather

Let me start by mentioning the weather situation here on the west coast of Scotland. This past August was the second wettest on record, as measured at Benmore Gardens near Dunoon. A full 410 mm of rain fell. For a kayaker, of course, getting wet isn’t necessarily an obstacle to enjoyment. Indeed, a river kayaker may positively relish such conditions, at least in terms of their impact on river levels. But for the sea kayaker of less-than-advanced skills, aside from visibility issues, the real deterrent is the wind which has accompanied the torrential rain, with gusts of anything up to 50 mph. This doesn’t exactly entice one outdoors, let alone on to the sea (or on to the rapidly developing patch of wilderness/swamp formerly known as the garden, for that matter). Not only that, the average maximum temperature for August was 18°C. I know that my overseas readership is finding this difficult to believe, especially those in, say, fiery California or sweltering Spain, for whom August is still officially classified as summer.

So perhaps I may be forgiven if I don’t have exciting blog posts filled with details of multi-day trips to beautiful, sun-baked Hebridean beaches. Or even wee jaunts down the Clyde. Instead, the conditions have only served to encourage our preoccupation with rolling practice in the pool and at the loch. At the risk of being a tiny bit boring – and going on the premise that a boring blog entry is slightly less boring than no blog entry at all – allow me to return to that very topic.

Alan has come on in leaps and bounds, finally mastering a sweep roll – on both sides. Months of working on his “bad” side have been followed by him discovering that his other bad side, ie the injured side (bear with me here) is actually now his good side. A pool session at Garnock last week, coached expertly by Harvey, produced great results which saw my role as rescuer becoming entirely redundant. Also thanks to the efforts of Harvey in teaching me what a decent sweep was really all about, and to the many suggestions from other experienced folks, my sea kayak roll has improved markedly. Three things have been key:

  • aforementioned sweep
  • watching the paddle blade
  • blade angle

On that latter point, I made an astounding discovery. When I first learned to roll at the pool, I found that my blade angle was improved by tweaking my leading wrist away from me, and I’ve been doing that ever since. Last weekend, I discovered that in my Nordkapp LV, possibly due to the differing body position upon set-up (ie I’m up much higher in the water than when in the pool kayaks and in other sea kayaks), I have to tweak my wrist towards me. This flat out surprised me as I realised that this especially had been my undoing all along. Whenever I’d been trying to “improve” blade angle, I’d actually been hindering myself further. Finally, I started rolling consistently.

On the other hand (so to speak), I have been completely neglecting my off side, choosing instead to try to make my right side “bombproof” first. I am a very right-sided person. Doing anything on my left feels weak and/or weird. So I knew that I would be starting essentially from scratch when I did move over to rolling up on the left. What I hadn’t factored in was the revival of an old mountain-biking injury from a few years ago.

I recall it was a March morning up on the forest trail. I was cruising along on the flat when suddenly my bike wiped out from under me upon hitting a patch of ice. I slammed into the trail, which caused me to writhe about helplessly in pain. I still have the shin dent to prove it. The worst of the injury was the tearing of the (rhomboid) muscular tissue between the shoulder and the spine which took some time to heal. And, at a certain age, one might argue that healing of such injuries is never quite complete or perfect. So it goes when attempting to engage a sweep roll on my left side that I cause whatever patchwork repair that occurred to start to unravel and my best friend soon becomes an ice pack. Of course, this only adds weight to my suspicion that I should have learned all this rolling stuff at age 12 (hi Jessica!).

Now I am facing the awareness that rolling on both sides may be a higher mountain to climb than I’d previously thought. When checking off the mental skills chart, in the entry against “rolling” I see a little asterisk beside my name which translates to “one side only”. Getting back to reality (I remember that!), there is also the annoying prospect of being unable to roll up against the waves because they are not on my “good” side.

I can’t help but note how, in rolling, my personal goalposts keep moving and it thus becomes rather like an emotional rollercoaster. It goes something like this:

  • Starting to learn to roll –> fear
  • Overcoming fear –> moderate contentment
  • Still can’t roll –> frustration and lowered self-esteem
  • First roll at the pool –> ecstasy!
  • Growing awareness that roll could be better –> dose of reality
  • Can’t roll sea kayak –> frustration and lowered self-esteem
  • First sea kayak roll –> ecstasy!
  • First sea kayak roll in rough water conditions –> best day ever!
  • Difficulty rolling own sea kayak –> frustration and lowered self-esteem
  • Continued difficulty rolling own sea kayak –> meltdown/tantrums
  • Rolling own sea kayak consistently –> happiness moderated by growing awareness of inability to roll on both sides
  • Can’t roll on both sides –> frustration and lowered self-esteem

That’s a lot for the old nerves to handle. Or should I say, the old ego. Good job that, at the end of the day, I can take a step back from it all and realise that it’s really the be all and end all only rolling.

If less is more, just think how much more more could be.” Frasier Crane


  1. Alice says:

    I’d love to see the emotional roller coaster list marked up like a snakes and ladders board. There would definitely be more ladders than snakes.
    I am at the first square on the board and intend to get myself to the local club pool session to get myself on to the first rung of the first ladder. Keep the posts up.
    Those bike crashes really hurt btw

  2. pamf says:

    Alice – I love the snakes and ladders idea! I was thinking of a line graph – it would look a bit like the Cuillins! I can tell you are a bike crash veteran. Wouldn’t it be easier if we just sat in and watched telly? 😉

    Good luck with your pool sessions. My tip is, if you ever feel like you’re not making progress (or maybe you will be a natural!), put it to one side (or “park” it) and just keep going back. I wasn’t convinced I’d ever roll until the night I finally did. No-one was more surprised than I was! Even when it all seems to be going wrong, more is being added to muscle memory each time.

    May your path be filled with helpful ladders 🙂

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