Sticking with tradition

Tuilik testYou can only go so far learning traditional kayak skills before you find yourself staring enviously at photos and videos of Greenland devotees and coveting their tuiliks. The tuilik is an Inuit-designed, all-in-one paddle jacket and spraydeck combined. The original tuiliks were made from sealskin, but modern-day commercial ones are made from neoprene and other manmade fabrics. Reflecting on all the days spent shivering with cold (in the summer!), or impersonating an immobilised Michelin Woman, I somehow found myself on the Brooks Paddle Gear website hitting the “Buy Now” button.  Our tuiliks finally arrived from Canada last week after spending 5 days in Customs. I dare say that HM Customs must have to do research when such esoteric items come their way, and complicated spreadsheets must be consulted in order to calculate which particular level of the stratosphere to target the associated charges.

Balance braceHaving been immersed in matters Greenlandic for some time, it’s easy to forget that such attire might not seem quite so “normal” to other paddlers (let alone non-paddlers, yegads). Greenland kayaking doesn’t have a massive following in Scotland and, as much as I’d like to think that we might be viewed as trendsetters, the reality is that we are probably viewed as just plain odd.  Undeterred, we hit the water for our neoprene baptism and started putting the tuiliks to the test. As our faces recoiled from the icy cold, the rest of us remained toasty and we started on what’s become our usual rolling routine. All layback rolls were present and correct. Indeed, the predictions of Steen in Denmark of “pure neoprene doping” held true – which left me feeling a little like a Tour de France rider on EPO. We stayed warm through a fairly lengthy practice session. The reduction in the number of layers worn underneath, and absence of a torso-hugging spraydeck, allowed for increased freedom of movement. I achieved my first storm roll, while Alan nailed his repeatedly. Being able to get your nose to the deck helps. And finally, I could get the rotation going that Cheri Perry references in the excellent “This Is The Roll” DVD. The most astonishing part was when it came to emptying the kayak at the end of the session – there was scarcely a drop of water! No more rolling in slosh!

Hand rollI should add that I had a bit of a wake-up call the other weekend. I’ve been merrily paddling on trips with my Northern Light Paddlesports Greenland paddle, happy in the knowledge that my Standard Greenland roll had never failed me and could therefore be relied upon in conditions. Which was all fine and dandy … until my Standard Greenland roll failed me (er, in the flat). We’d been on a day trip and decided to do a bit of rolling before coming off the water. In I went quite optimistically, only to get stuck under my kayak. I crunched forward and wiggled and was eventually released from the aquatic forces that had held me in their grip. My resultant roll, however, was all to heck and I was reduced to accepting an “eskimo” rescue from Alan. After more drysuit venting, a couple of further attempts revealed that my roll was still on a little holiday. Finally, I removed my PFD/BA and everything was all right.  In an attempt to salvage my wounded pride confidence, I decided that I couldn’t not try some hand rolling. Mistake! Now I was back to having that “raised water level” experience that I encounter in the pool.  In other words, the water surface is somehow that much higher above me without any buoyancy and I can’t quite make it all the way up. It took several tries before success, when everyone breathed a sigh of relief (because they could finally go home for tea).

So, two things were going on here. First, I’d never actually done Greenland (versus Euro) rolling with a fully loaded BA (including radio, phone, knife, snack bars, lip salve, empty wrappers …), and it’s a bit of a different experience.  Second, if my hand roll fails without the buoyancy assistance of layers or a tuilik, then something needs fixing. And the big lesson from all of this is: more practice is needed, including changing up the variables.

I’m glad it happened, because it keeps things real. Traditional rolling skills should not be confined to flatwater lochs. They should be a living tradition, employed in the seas that they were designed for and in a variety of circumstances. Few illustrate this better than Warren Williamson: