The House of Flying Norsaqs

Mutant ninja midgies

Ninja moves ... don't work on midgies

Duly inspired after our training weekend with Kayak Ways, we’ve been busy working on our Greenland skills, averaging a couple of rolling sessions a week and/or paddling exclusively with sticks. Our dedication is now sufficient to withstand torrential rain, thunderstorms, cold water and – worst of all – tuilik-piercing midgies.

It occurred to me that keeping existing skills intact whilst acquiring new ones is a lot like spinning plates. For me, the flow has gone something like this:

  1. Master the balance brace.
  2. Work on layback rolls: Standard Greenland, butterfly, norsaq, hand.
  3. Start work on forward finishing rolls: chest scull/reverse sweep and continuous storm.
  4. Investigate disappearance of hand roll. Go back to 2.
  5. Throw in a few new layback rolls: shotgun, elbow crook.
  6. Address ongoing neglect of offside. Go back to 1.
  7. Reverse Sweep set-upWork on storm roll.
  8. Keep working on storm roll.
  9. Work some more on storm roll.
  10. Hand roll has gone again. Back to 2
  11. Discover offside storm roll is several light years behind onside. Back to 7.
  12. Try all rolls in full paddling gear (with BA/PFD). Back to 1.
  13. Move on to more advanced layback rolls, starting with the elbow roll. Back to 1 and 2.
  14. Try all rolls in a different kayak. Back to 1.
  15. And so on.

I’m certainly never bored. And this is all very good for me. No longer do I descend into a tantrum of frustration when a roll fails, although norsaqs have been thrown. With Greenland skills, failure and success are like sunshine and shadows – you can’t expect only sunshine. Although, it’s actually all sunshine.

Chest sculling

Alan chest sculls with the Olympic torch

For research purposes, we recently attended a Kayak Bute demo day at Loch Lomond. I can well recommend going along to one of these if you’re in the area. It’s a great opportunity to not only drool over some beautiful, state-of-the-art Tiderace kayaks, but to try them out and have some fun. Typical of our “summer” now (after Kayak Ways took the much more desirable weather experienced during their visit away with them), it was a pretty dreich and murky day. What better thing to do than embrace the dampness and try rolling a few of the Tiderace fleet. Roddy and Alice joined in and tried out their Greenland skills too. Indeed, fun was had! And, as seems to happen with such sessions, I’ve no idea where the time went. Afterwards, a very kind onlooker took the trouble to tell me how much she had enjoyed watching our practice. This certainly helps me to finally move beyond my silly “people are  looking” hang-ups. It now seems quite feasible that not everyone is pointing and laughing.

Despite at times feeling a little isolated in what might be called a more niche area of kayaking, our skills development benefits greatly from the help of others, many of whom are in far-flung places and we know them only virtually. This assistance manifests in the circulation of photos, videos, advice and encouraging comments. We’re a strange little group and there’s nothing we love more than to watch each other’s clips, whether it be an expert’s well-executed rolls, or a beginner’s first attempt, it’s all good – even the flying norsaqs.

A weekend with Kayak Ways

Cheri and Turner of Kayak WaysIt’s not every day that 2 of the world’s leading Greenland kayaking instructors land on your doorstep, but that’s exactly what happened this past weekend – perhaps not our actual doorstep, but very close! We had been booked on to their Greenland Intensive course for some time but, I confess, there was a part of me that was only half believing that it would actually fall into place and that we really would have Cheri Perry and Turner Wilson teaching us personally. It seemed too good to be true. Some things are, however, meant to be, and we arrived at Loch Lomond-side on Saturday and then Largs on Sunday to enjoy the pleasure of their company.

Some weeks ago, Alan and I purchased the excellent DVD, “This is the Roll“, which features instruction from Kayak Ways. I’ve never used an instructional DVD quite as extensively or known one that produces such tangible results. As if by some sort of advanced holographic technology, it was slightly surreal to find the DVD’s stars beamed live to us on the water and offering personal tuition.

On Loch Lomond

On Loch Lomond with Mackayak

First, I must point out, the weather for the weekend was ridiculously abnormal. With typical pessimism/realism in all matters related to Scottish weather, we’d been anticipating that an intense low pressure system would move in to exactly coincide with our activities. Abandoning all precedents, however, the opposite happened and the weather gods smiled upon us. In fact, they weren’t just smiling – they were laughing! The temperature rose to 27°C and the sun beat down hot enough to fry eggs – or at least boil the contents of a drysuit. Cheri and Turner seemed a little bemused that our normal rolling attire was a neoprene tuilik over a drysuit in such an evidently tropical clime. Perhaps the giddy crowds at both locations and the unveiling of vast swathes of blue-white flesh provided a hint that our shores are not usually quite so sun-kissed.

Practising off Largs

Practising off Largs

A good part of our instruction focused on Greenland paddling technique and this was of great benefit. Herein I discovered that my skinny stick paddle-stroke has been, er, less than perfect (Turner’s cries of, “It’s not square!” are still ringing in my ears). On the Sunday morning, we were out on the high seas off Largs practising forward paddling, winged strokes, turning with bow rudders and more, in a north-westerly breeze. It was most interesting to swap around Greenland sticks and I certainly got a feel for which ones were “talking” to me and which ones weren’t. This was a very enjoyable excursion and I related entirely to Turner’s almost spiritual observation of how fortunate we were to be out there on the water in that moment.

Cheri teaching Alan forward finishing norsaq roll

Cheri teaching Alan forward finishing norsaq roll

Then there was the rolling, of course. Cheri needs no introduction and her demonstrations of perfect technique, right down to the straitjacket roll, provoked admiration and inspiration. Soon, it was our turn and Cheri and Turner worked with each of us at length, providing valuable correction and feedback. Everyone came away with something. For me, it was a brand new reverse sweep roll, and a ton of learnings on the storm roll which are all coming together nicely. For Alan it was the foundations of a forward finishing norsaq roll (which he hadn’t even realised he desired!).

Throughout the weekend, one thing that struck me was how much it felt like we were making an authentic connection with kayaking, and not just the Euro-fied version of the skills. As I came off the water on Sunday, another paddler who had been observing our little class asked in a mystified tone what the point of the Greenland paddle was. I confess to being a bit taken aback, but managed to explain that this was kayaking in its true, original form, as designed and perfected over hundreds of years and passed on from the Inuit people. He went on to question how we could get any support from our skinny sticks. My mind filled with thoughts on how my paddle had allowed me to overcome a fear of capsize and was helping me find a myriad different ways to recover, of  how it had increased my confidence and made the water my playmate, and of all the fun I was having in the process of learning. The best I could do was to respond that the stick was, well … magic.

A big thank you goes out to Bruce Jolliffe for co-ordinating the weekend. We’re also indebted to Mackayak from Orkney, whom we finally met, and who had got the ball rolling. And it was great to meet others who had taken up the way of the stick. I hope that we shall roll into one another again.

As the Kayak Ways slogan says, the living tradition continues …

Upside down, and round and round

Balance bracePool sessions have been very beneficial in reviving our Greenland rolling skills after a winter break but – even better – we have also been practising those skills outside again. This makes us happy! The weather threw a complete wobbly (of the good kind) last week and we were hurtled straight into summer – in March.  It was actually a bit strange and disorienting but, all troubling thoughts of climate change and weather modification aside, we decided to make the most of it. I should add that, before everyone gets too weirded out, it’s now snowing and blowing a gale.

As soon as the temperature edges above, say, 12°C in Scotland and the sun comes out, everyone is dressed in their shorts and tee-shirts (and the glare off of white skin can be seen from space). So, at 20°C, it did seem a bit odd to be layering up for immersion, but the water temperature confirmed that this was quite necessary. After a couple of standard Greenland rolls, it became apparent that the layering system was effective and that the water’s iciness was not penetrating much at all. I moved on to butterfly, then norsaq then hand rolls and realised that the contrast with the zero buoyancy at the pool was huge. It almost felt like cheating – so much so, that I took my BA off and have now consigned it to the “not required while rolling” gear bag. This is progress and has made the struggling in the pool worthwhile. It’s true that failure is a stepping stone to success.

We’ve started working on forward finishing rolls and have made some inroads. After watching Maligiaq and Dubside’s DVD, we are going through the “progression” steps and Alan is off and running on his own, whilst I need someone to hold my hand/paddle as I fumble about trying to get my head around this whole new technique. If ever there was a roll that would benefit from yoga (paschimottanasana in particular), it’s this one. Working our way through all of the official Greenland rolls is going to take a while, but we’ve been working on a few more now, including the elbow crook, shotgun and paddle-behind-the-head (presently aka stuck-under-the-kayak) roll.

It’s interesting to note that we both feel real improvement in our Euro rolls. The nuances of blade angle are less important and now it feels like we have a big blade surface to help (versus impede) us.

As we count down towards our much anticipated training with Kayak Ways, we are not short of resources to help us learn. Any day now, 2 DVDs will be released:  as already mentioned, Justine Curgenven (of the excellent “This Is the Sea” series) has produced “This Is The Roll“, featuring none other than Kayak Ways’ Cheri Perry and Turner Wilson. Christopher Crowhurst (of “Qajaq Rolls” fame) has produced a “Rolling With Sticks” DVD to accompany his very handy book of the same name. We are getting spoiled!

For the past several days, it so happens that I’ve had a tab open in my browser window directed to the “Buy now” page for a Brooks tuilik. I’m not sure how that happened – I mean, I am coping without a tuilik. Although, I do feel a little restricted when rotating. And maybe it would allow me to ditch a fleece or two. And I don’t mind whatsoever being compared to a seal (in fact, I’d be flattered). I don’t want to be impulsive … but I am open to persuasion.

Greenland comes to Scotland

Cheri Perry and Turner Wilson

Cheri Perry and Turner Wilson of Kayak Ways

Before I started paddling, my only association with Greenland was flying over that country and marvelling at its Arctic beauty from high above. I’ve still never been there, however, slowly but surely, we are pulling more and more bits of Greenland over to Scotland. Not the actual icy bits, but some of the traditions, craft and skills of the Inuit people. We have kayaks and paddles, and now we are going to be learning skills from 2 of the best-known traditional paddlers in the world, Cheri Perry and Turner Wilson of Kayak Ways. They aren’t actually from Greenland (at least not in this life), but their status as traditional skills experts is recognised both in that country and throughout the world. You can imagine my excitement to be booked on to a weekend course with them when they come to Scotland in late May. What a privilege! (You can pre-order their “This is the Roll” DVD here, by the way).

Greenland paddlingNow that Spring is springing, my thoughts are turning to rolling in the sea again and I’m looking forward to sharpening up existing skills so as to not look like a numpty have a good foundation to work on when Cheri and Turner arrive. We have had the good fortune of attending pool sessions lately and I’m having fun playing with my Greenland stick there. Gone are the days of spending the entire evening stressing over that one perfect Euro roll.

My only concern is from witnessing where this Greenland path leads, as demonstrated by Mackayak in Orkney. She started out in a colourful drysuit and an Isel (which sounds awfully familiar), but can now be found in a tuilik and a shiny, black beauty of a kayak. I am feeling a bit gaudy …