Rolling Progress as the 2015 Season Wanes

posted Aug 30, 2015, 11:53 AM by Richard Sevenich   [ updated Sep 20, 2015, 5:02 PM ]

At the start of the 2015 season I was reasonably confident that my embryonic roll would mature. However, quite the reverse happened – my roll regressed. Successful rolls became more infrequent. I was disappointed, stopping just short of weeping bitter tears. At age 74, perhaps rolling was out of reach. It certainly became clear that the old saying "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" needed revision. The more accurate saying would be: "You can't teach an old dog new tricks, but bad habits come easily."

In August, I decided to try the layback roll, considered by many to be the easiest roll to learn. So I watched a highly recommended DVD, “This is the Roll”, featuring Cheri Perry and Turner Wilson, produced by Justine Curgenven. This was quite helpful and I began to have some success, particularly when using a Greenland paddle. However, my roll didn't feel rock solid and had areas I felt were weak, but I couldn't diagnose the weaknesses. I decided that the time was right to seek professional instruction before bad habits became ingrained. A DVD is inferior to a good instructor.

Finding good instructors is a crap shoot. Web sites for such folks invariably quote happy, satisfied customers. I had taken roll classes in the more distant past and was not that impressed. In fairness, because I was an older learner, it was likely true that I wasn't ready for that level of endeavor. On the other hand a truly excellent instructor will find where the student is at and proceed from there.

So I rolled the dice and contacted two outfits. One was not particularly responsive (perhaps too busy), while the other found a two day time slot to fit my schedule. So I signed up with the Salish Sea Kayak School in Bellingham, WA, operated by Ted Wang and Kelly Patrick. The lessons were held on Lake Whatcom, not long after Labor Day.

So how did it go? For starters, both Ted and Kelly were my instructors – nice, friendly people, inspiring confidence in their competence and teaching style. They started by asking me what I was looking for and then evaluated where I was at. They attempted to assess my learning style, which is slanted toward the verbal and sequential. I performed one of my pseudo rolls so they could make a diagnosis. To their credit, at no point did they cry.

Next they started to construct a sequence of steps they expected to lead me to a successful layback roll. Kelly would demonstrate with her magical kayak, then they both would instruct and diagnose my attempts. We got to a point on the first day where my brain was full and had lost all flexibility. I persuaded them to quit for the day. On the next day we started back up. By the time we finished on the second day, I had what I had come for – an understanding of each sequential piece of the layback roll.

The bottom line is that Ted and Kelly were the perfect instructors for me – what a piece of luck! My task now is to integrate what I have learned to achieve a dependable roll. The day after my 8 hour drive back to North Idaho, I had a rolling session with my friend Matt. I thought it went pretty well, considering I was suffering from automotive jet lag. But he's off to Antarctica and I'm off to Austria, ending our kayak season. When I return it will be time to shovel snow, tune skis, and find my winter equipment. So stay tuned for next season's episode of rolling oldies.