Failure is the path of least persistence

Avocet at poolHaving learned that sea kayaks are allowed in the Riverside Leisure Centre pool (as long as they’ve been thoroughly washed), we decided to bring one along to practice some “real” rolling at the Club session on Friday night.  Of course, I was keen to take my Rockpool Isel, but this was not conducive to letting other folks have a shot, being that the Isel’s footplate takes a bit more work to adjust than foot pegs. And so, we took along Alan’s Valley Avocet. This choice caused me a little trepidation as my history of rolling the Avocet has not exactly been one filled with glowing accomplishment. I have had the odd moment of success, but it’s been exactly that – odd. And, of course, after the arrival of my Isel, I was in no rush to go back and engage in further self-torture. I managed, however, to delude myself into thinking that I had been making decent progress in improving my skills in the pool boats, so perhaps rolling the Avocet would be a scoosh now. Or perhaps not …

The moment of truth arrived. Alan jumped in and rolled in his usual style, with grace and poise. Next up, it was my turn. After a particularly ugly roll, I then went for a little swim. This was followed by a couple more laboured efforts and some more swimming. Sigh …

Meantime, various other members of the Cowal Kayak Club (mostly river paddlers) jumped in for a go, and each one of them rolled the Avocet with ease.  By the end of the evening, it was as if my ego had imbibed a shrinking potion and  promptly jumped down the rabbit hole into a distorted wonderland of neurosis and despair. Through the haze of blind rage chlorine, I heard a coach’s voice advise something about giving it more “oomph”, fixing my hand position … oooh and look at how good Terry’s (first ever) roll in a sea kayak is … it’s so good, he doesn’t even know how good it is … yada yada yada (I hate Terry …*).

We did of course bring along a camera and I have now reviewed the video evidence.

Readers who are bored senseless at this stage can skip.

For the remaining 2 of you, I give you Exhibits A and B (and C and D):

Alan at set-up

Alan at set-up, note that kayak has started to rotate already

Pam at set-up

Pam at set-up, note that kayak is not rotating at all

Alan rolling up

Paddle at 90 degrees, and Alan's well on his way

Pam not rolling

Paddle at 90 degrees and kayak only just starting to rotate

So, what’s up with that? Yes, yes, I know what you’re all thinking – HIP FLICK! But I swear I can’t get it going any sooner in the Avocet.  Is this a connectivity issue (with thanks to Julia for supplying that technical term), or am I just rubbish?  My most successful roll was the one that involved an absence of noseclip which resulted in a degree of urgency, or “oomph”. I am now inclined to learn a C-to-C roll for those kayaks with which I have difficulty, being that the first half of my sweep isn’t achieving anything anyway.

Fast forward to Saturday and I awoke to a disinclination to go anywhere near a kayak. The prospect of sulking at home all day, however, was even less appealing, and so we trundled along to meet up with our friends and then made our way to Strachur.

Hebridean Princess

Hebridean Princess

It was a pleasure not to be warding off frostbite as we got our gear ready for going on the water, and we were soon heading south towards Strathlachlan, with some slight wind coming from the northwest. There were few other vessels on Loch Fyne, and we were passed by the Hebridean Princess (HM The Queen was not on board). Alan took a photo of her (the ship) with me in the foreground and said he was going to label it “Hebridean Princess and cruise ship”.  I simpered obligingly.

Castle Lachlan

Castle Lachlan

We stopped for lunch at the Inver Cottage Restaurant, whose welcoming fireside is always appreciated.

Upon departure, I took the opportunity to surreptitiously dip my hands in the loch to test the temperature. It wasn’t exactly bath-like, but I speculated that I could perhaps handle a little dunking as long as I kept my drysuit on. In other words, I needed to regain my rolling mojo. I read a book recently that dealt with how the brain attaches to negative associations, being that primitive peoples had to place great focus on matters such as not being killed or starving to death, versus the more positive matters of finding a mate, or a flat-screen telly.  And so we are hard-wired to attach to negativity. The book recommended that, when something negative occurs, you should immediately replace it in your mind with something positive and, in so doing, you can effectively rewire your brain.  My intention, therefore, was to replace the painful associations of the previous evening, with the memory of a perfect, effortless roll in my Isel.

Loch Fyne

Loch Fyne

It didn’t work out exactly as planned. No sooner had I capsized than I became aware of a complete inability to surface. Convinced that I’d been snagged by the Loch Fyne Monster (or at least an especially vicious piece of kelp), I went for yet another frantic swim. On my next attempt, Alan pinpointed the problem. My drysuit was full of air and I was resembling the Michelin Woman upon immersion. Lesson No. 1: always make sure to fully purge your drysuit. Alan helped me deflate by hugging me (which Julia mistook for a romantic gesture – as if!).  Finally, I nailed the roll and it felt exactly as it should – effortless. I love my Isel.

I cheered heartily, however, not as heartily as Alan did. I’m sure I heard some utterances about finally getting some peace. Well, I can take a hint.

Now, I wonder if I should take my Isel into the pool next week …

* With apologies to Terry, it was the chlorine talking


  1. Julia says:

    Those photos are really useful Pam. Must do more of this… Rest assured that once the romantic expellation of air was complete, your roll in your Isel closely resembled exhibits A and C and looked effortless (despite the cold shock).

  2. Mackayak says:

    I recommend taking your Isel to the pool! I bet you leave the pool with a positive mental attitude!

  3. pamf says:

    Thank you for the feedback, Julia, and the moral support. The roll really felt good too. Sometimes you just know what’s working.

    Mackayak – but think of the horror if it somehow goes wrong. Not sure I feel strong enough to go there. The potential benefits are significant though … am torn!

  4. I’ve never learned to roll. Next month I’ll be taking my first class. I’ll share with you my adventures!

  5. Pam last year at the Skye symposiun, back to back I did about 20 rolls each in an Isel and an Avocet and I found the Avocet easier to roll. Could the problem be that you have the Isel padded out for your hips and in Alan’s Avocet you have too much hip room?

    Anyway I wouldn’t get too hung up on rolling, it’s really only something to do if you are not getting out sea kayaking enough, it’s most certainly not the be all and end all of sea kayaking.

    I have not rolled, in fact I am totally incapable of rolling since I dislocated my knee last June. I don’t miss it a bit, especially not all those nasty sinus rinses! Has it dimmed my enjoyment of sea kayaking? Not a bit!! Not being able to roll has not even stopped me going out in gnarly tide races:
    What I do miss, after my operation, is going out sea kayaking! So since I have got too much time on my hands, I am going to give you some advice, forget rolling and just go sea kayaking!

    Easy, all that “failure”, self torture, trepidation, stress and angst gone in a flash! Life is for enjoying, not pursuing masochistic activities! I used to love climbing, windsurfing, skiing, snowboarding and mountainbiking, well I certainly can’t do them now But I don’t even think about it, I have moved on. I am certainly hoping my knee operation will allow me to get back on the water soon. If it doesn’t, then I will move on again and find something else I enjoy doing.

    I never liked rolling much anyway, even when I could do it!


  6. pamf says:

    Hi Kellie – Good luck with your class. I will look forward to hearing how you get on.

  7. pamf says:

    Douglas – To answer your question, one (or rather 2) of the things I love about the Isel is the thigh braces, which are of course absent in the Avocet (and Nordkapp – with which I have similar difficulty). It’s also a great fit. I’m fairly sure I’m just not connecting with the Avocet well enough. So yes, therein may lie the problem.

    Before I go any further, I do hope that you are progressing well after your op and that it’s not too long before you are back out on the water. I am really inspired by your philosophy and, indeed, you’re not the first person to remind me that kayaking should be enjoyable! With your positive attitude, I am sure that you will heal well.

    I can relate to the concept of “moving on”, as that’s how Alan and I arrived at kayaking. Alan has had 5 knee surgeries (and he only has 2 knees, honest) so he had to come off of the hills and on to the water and, being that I quite enjoy his company 😉 , I followed him.

    I think the reason that I get hung up on rolling is because, against my expectations, I’ve come this far and I don’t want to lose that. I also came to realise just how very difficult doing a self rescue in turbulent waters is, so working on my roll seemed like the better option. Of course, learning to avoid capsizing is even better and I am turning my attention to bracing too.

    You have certainly supplied huge inspiration for just getting out there and, indeed, everything is better when you learn to let go. Thank you for the reminder 🙂

  8. Dan Thomas says:

    The difference between exhibits A and B is easily explained. It has nothing to do with hip flick – it’s too early in the rolling sequence for that. How can I put this delicately? Is it possible that Alan is just a teensy bit bigger than you? There is enough of him that the bouyancy of his torso is sufficient to overcome the weight of the boat. In your case, the boat wins.

    The difference between C and D is that Alan may be doing a screw roll but, intentionally or not, you are heading towards a C-to-C – and a perfectly good C-to-C at that. What happens next is pretty much down to the quality of your hip flick. If it works in the Isel but not in the Avocet I’d be perfectly happy to believe that the difference comes down to those gorgeous Rockpool thigh braces. Definitely take your Isel to the pool. There’s no reason to go destroying your confidence by struggling with a boat you don’t paddle anyway.

  9. pamf says:

    Dan – Thank you for the encouraging feedback. That makes real sense to me. I am actually attempting a sweep roll, but in view of the late start to the kayak’s rotation, I run out of sweep towards the end. I definitely think a C-to-C would be useful here! And yes, the Rockpool thigh braces are fab – I feel so much more connected to my kayak. Did I tell you how much I love my Isel? 🙂

  10. Julia says:

    I agree with all the above, bar your reluctance to take the Isel into the pool Pam!

    BUT most important is Douglas’ advice “just go sea kayaking!” to which I’ll add please keep on taking the photos, writing the blog, and do drop around for a post paddle cup of tea when you have the chance!

    I’m looking forward to making it back out with you as soon as… like you say, Douglas is an inspiration, both before and after I managed to do damage to my knee!

  11. pamf says:

    Julia – We are gutted that you are injured, just when Alan got back on the water too. I had such fun going out all winter with you. But we are holding out the hope that the MRI won’t result in bad news and that this will just be a short intermission.

    Meantime, as and when you might be ready to get back out on the water, remember that you have friends who can help you with getting in and out, toting the kayak etc etc.

    We’re very much looking forward to your return!

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