The Ever Important but Often Elusive Combat Roll

Maren walking down the river trail in front of Small World Adventure’s lodge to paddle the Pica Piedra section on the Rio Qujos
Combat Rolling—the mental game. 
The combat roll to a kayaker, is the like dribble to a basketball player.  It should be instinctual, reactionary, a thoughtless process.
Michael Jordan never worried out on the court if he pushed the ball to the floor, would it bounce back up?  Would he hit it off his shoe, or trip and fall?   Sure, any of these things could theoretically happen, but I’d be willing to bet he was never concerned about any them during a game!
Once you find this Michael-Jordan-Zen with your combat roll, your skills will progress in a way you never imagined could be possible.

Gunnar blasting out of one of the large waves in the rapid just out in front of SWA’s lodge
Your kayaking life will improve greatly once you no longer spend every minute on the river worrying, “will I tip over?”  Or saying, “Be careful, don’t hit that wave, you might flip”  “all my friends are learning to surf, but I shouldn’t try, I’ll flip.” 
Once these thoughts no longer pervade your thinking your kayaking will explode in a series of awesome breakthroughs and cause you to have a hell of lot more fun out there on the river!

 The crew enjoying a blue bird day on the Upper Misahualli
So, how does one master the combat roll?  It’s a very individual question and takes different training and different periods of time for everyone, so the number one thing is to not get frustrated with yourself.  This is very hard to do, but don’t beat yourself up.  You won’t gain anything from that.  So what if Jenny got her roll before you did, that doesn’t matter.  What’s important is that you eventually master the skill, and if you keep working at it you will.

 A cool perspective of Milling in the chaotic river waters
One mistake that most kayakers make is to learn the basics of a roll, maybe get a shaky one or two in the pool and then head to the river.  It’s natural; we are kayakers, we want to go down river, not to sit in some boring pool!  But, if you have a crappy pool roll, how do you ever expect to get a roll in the river when currents are doing strange things to you and you’re nervous because there might be rocks or big waves or holes coming?
So the number one thing to do is get a SOLID, BOMBER, AWESOME pool roll down.  It’s a safe, controlled environment so you need to take the time to hone in your technique here—not on the chaotic, uncontrolled river. 

Dropping into Lower El Chaco Canyon–enjoying a little scenery before hitting the rapids
I didn’t have the 1st clue about rolling for the first 3 months of my kayaking career.  I swam so much that I became an expert at pulling all my gear and my crushed ego out of the water.  But, finally, I got really sick of swimming, sick of holding up the group, sick of being afraid to try things, that I said I wasn’t going to kayak down a river again until I could roll.  I went to the pool and learned my on-side roll.  Then I learned my off-side roll, then I learned a hand roll on both sides.  I’d do 25 rolls in a row on each side because that tired me out and I felt like maybe it began to simulate a river experience.  Once I was so bored with my pool roll and felt confident because I never missed anymore, I went back to the river.  

 Some local school girls from Cotundo checking out the kayaks and posing for photos
I didn’t swim after that (well, I swam a LOT less often).  I could tip over in rapids, in surf waves, in holes and I rolled up!  It was the most liberating feeling I could have imagined.  In a matter of months, I went from “that girl that swims everything” to a respectable kayaker all because I could now push myself without the fear that tipping over = swimming.  I began to surf waves, play in holes, try harder lines in the rapids, try harder rivers and it was such an amazing feeling—I’d recommend it to anyone!

 Dee taking advantage of the warm weather to paddle in just her rash guard and PFD!
To get your solid pool roll you should:
–take a class from someone who really knows how to teach.  (someone who knows how to roll, is much different than someone who knows how to teach the roll)
–video yourself so you can see what you are doing right and what you need to work on
–spend more time than you think you need to in the pool

 Larry looks on as Claire and Gunnar contemplate surfing the “Thing”
But, having a solid, flawless, awesome pool roll doesn’t always translate into automatic combat rolling.  Getting over the fear of being upside down in a moving river is still a big hurdle.  But there are ways you can train yourself to overcome this fear.
A few things you can do:
–take that pool roll to the river eddies.  This is a nice and relatively controlled space, but it will feel different.  It’s probably colder than the pool, and you might feel some movement, so do tons of rolls in eddies.  Always be practicing every time you catch an eddy
–Flip over in moving water—not necessarily a rapid at first—just moving water and roll.
–Once you are comfortable, have your friends flip you over in moving water (when they know it’s deep)!  This will give you the “unexpected” feeling you’ll have when you accidentally tip over
–Find a small and deep rapid on your home river and purposely flip in it.  You’ll feel the different currents tugging at your body, your boat, your paddle.  Roll up; are you facing up river, down river?  Either way, be ready to paddle and prepare for what’s coming up next

 The group chilling on the banks of the Quijos enjoying a sunny lunch break.  From the left:  Tarquino, Claire, Maren, Larry, Gunnar, Kim–front row–Dee, Phil, Milling
Once you feel comfortable with everything here, you’ll be ready.  You’ll probably find at this point that combat rolling ain’t so bad after all.
But it all takes time, practice, and hard work.  It’s going to be boring, it’s going to be frustrating and it will piss you off.  But if you can persevere through all this, the reward will be well worth the suffering.

Ummm…I don’t even know what to say

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