Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Interesting Post

Mark Tozer has a great post about the ills of modern life here.

Just one more reason to believe kayaking is good for the world.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Rolling Thoughts

Last Sunday was the second of the RIC/KA rolling sessions. These sessions are a great way for members to work on their roll. The newer members get a chance to get some instruction. The more experienced members get a chance to practice their rolls. They also get a chance to try their hands at instructing.
I was instructing again, so I wanted to make sure I got some Euro paddle time before working with a student. While I'm a proponent of traditional paddles, I know that most paddlers are not going to use a traditional paddle. So, I wanted to make sure I remembered what it felt like to roll with a Euro paddle. It was an odd thing. I had to think about having an onside and an offside. I had to think about how the roll would look. I was nervous that I just couldn't roll using a Euro paddle. I had to think about blade orientation.
I flopped over, hoping I had picked my "onside", forced myself to settle down, and unwound. I popped up without a hitch. I then tried the other side. The effect was the same. One thing I noticed was that my roll became more of a screw roll when I use the Euro paddle. I tried to do a sweep roll, but for some reason (it is all in the head) my body wouldn't execute it.
I spent a little time processing and then found my student for the day. We talked about what he remembered from the previous session. We did some bracing practice and some hip flick practice and then we got down to some serious rolling practice.
We did some dry runs and broke down the roll into three parts: set-up, unwind, hip flick. Then I put a paddle float on the end of his paddle so he could work on the motion. We both found this exercise rewarding. The student liked it because he could execute a roll with the help of the float. I liked it because I could watch what he was doing and try to see what needed to be improved.
It was fascinating to analyze a roll and try to find the pieces that are not working right. I find that when I'm doing a roll it all feels like one fluid action. I cannot break down what I'm doing. In the past when I've helped people with their rolls I've been spotting them and didn't really have the wherewithal to see what was happening with the roll. I think I learned as much as my student did.
After the session, PB and TM had an interesting discussion about rolls. The basic gist of the conversation was that all backward finishing rolls are essentially a screw roll. PB was saying that when he feels like his roll isn't working, he goes back to a sweep roll. He thinks the sweep roll is the base form. It is all about learning the motion and the body position. Once the base form is mastered, you can modify it to fit your needs.
After my experience with the Euro paddles earlier in the morning, I gave some consideration to the idea. The basic set up and movement are the same. The end result is the same. I'm not sure though. A screw roll is a fast, short, powerful stroke. I sweep roll is slow, graceful stroke. Anyway it is something to think about.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Teaching is Hard

It is RIC/KA rolling session season again. This year JS asked me to help teach people to roll. Despite some misgivings about my ability to teach rolling to another person, I agreed. I figured it would be a learning experience for myself and for anyone I helped.
So, I got to the pool this morning and assembled my Lendal paddle. If I was going to show someone how to roll with a Euro paddle, I should at least refresh my memory about rolling with one. The combination of the strange paddle and the tiny kayak made rolling a challenge. Part of my struggle was mental; I knew that using a Euro paddle and being in a strange kayak would hurt my chances of rolling. Part of my struggle was just adjusting to the reality of using a Euro paddle instead of a stick; the Lendal does not have the floatation of my stick, it needs to be oriented to the surface of the water, and it doesn't feel right extending it, I managed to negotiate with the Lendal and do a few rolls.
With my rolling memory reawakened, I was ready to teach!! The man with whom I worked was a rolling newbie. He was eager, unafraid, ready to work hard, and wasn't daunted by the fact that he may not learn to roll immediately. Since I had such fond memories of my course with Turner and Sherri, I figured I'd take the same approach and start with learning to balance the kayak and not emphasize the hip flick much. It is much harder to explain this stuff than a good coach makes it look. I struggled and I'm sure it showed.
The student did a great job with the torso rotation and practicing on the side of the pool. When I got him a paddle float to practice with, it all fell apart. Instead of sweeping around from the front of the kayak to the back deck, he started pulling the float in when he got to about ninety degrees. After a couple of reminders about sweeping onto the back deck, he continued to pull the float to the side at ninety degrees.
I was not sure what to do. I could continue working the sweep thing. I could change tactics and jump to teaching him a C to C roll. I wasn't confident in my abilities to coach the student to understand what I wanted him to do without frustrating both of us. So, I decided that I would switch to teaching him the C to C roll. I started encouraging the hip flick and pulling the float to the side of the kayak.
After working with the float for awhile and having some success, the student was ready (in my mind) to start using the paddle. I showed him the basic motion. Tuck, roll, unwind, hip flick. Then I had him practice while I guided his paddle. I suspected that I had missed a step, but I couldn't remember what that step was.
The student eager flipped over and practiced the roll. At first he was hip flicking too late. He was also not keeping his back elbow tucked. He was also having a hard time keeping his blade oriented. He was struggling with the things that everyone struggles with when learning to roll. Each time we practiced, I gave him pointers. Then he'd go over and try again.
He was a great sport and a hard worker. The fact that he wasn't just getting it didn't seem to bother him.
It was beginning to bother me though. I was not certain what to do to help him pull it together. I just kept pointing out the same things and holding his paddle when he tried. I tried to remember all the tricks the people who taught me to roll used, but kept coming up with what I was already doing. I tried channeling Carl Ladd and hoping that one of his insightful comments would come out of my mouth.
The student and I both kept muddling on until he needed to take a break. At that point I slipped off to process and let PB take over with the student.
Teaching is hard. I know how to roll. I visualize my roll every time I attempt to do it. I logically know all the things involved. Breaking it down and communicating it to a student is a whole different ball game.
Next week I'm going to do some instruction again. I'm going to spend a lot of time reviewing the steps and thinking of ways of communicating them.

Fool's Errand

In my post "Chasing Stars" I wrote that I felt chasing stars was a "fool's errand". Based on feedback in both the blog comments and feedback delivered in person, I think I may not have been clear and led people to misunderstand what I was criticizing.
I was not saying that pursuing training, continually learning new skills, or any other means of growing as a paddler (or as a person) was foolish. Nor was I discounting the fact that some people learn better with formal instruction or by following a highly structured regimen or by watching videos or by whatever method works. Continual learning is highly valued in my book. Having spent years teaching, I also understand that people learn best in wildly different ways.
I was questioning two things:

  1. The wisdom of pursuing "ranks" as a recreational paddler. My answer here is personal. I do not see the benefit of spending the extra time and money to be evaluated and ranked. Other people find value in the evaluations and the ranking. I do not understand it, but I respect it.

  2. The value of a ranking system that is based on high stakes testing. This does not diminish the difficulty of the tests, nor the achievement of passing the tests. It just reflects my belief that a high stakes test is not an ideal way to evaluate a person's skills. I know people, myself included, who excel at taking tests without learning much beyond how to pass the test. I also know people who actually learn the material and choke under the pressure of taking a test.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Starting the Year Off Paddling

At work the new year started off with a bang of the wrong kind. It was a short work week that ended up feeling like two. So when PB e-mailed to see if I was interested in paddling today I jumped at the chance. I needed to do something to rebalance the scales and the forecast looked like a winner.
JS had suggested Hull as a possibility and PB and I were keen on taking him up on the idea. Hull is local to Waltham compared to most spots on Narragansett Bay. It is also a spot we don't often paddle. There is too much boat, and beach, traffic during the summer. The Gut also dictates the days it is appropriate to paddle out of Hull.
PB e-mailed JS to see if he was still up for the trip, but JS said he was feeling under the weather. However, he also said he could make himself feel better if we were definitely going. A few e-mails and phone calls later, PB and I decided we were definitely going to go. We hoped that JS, and a few other stalwart RI paddlers, would make the commute to the northern wilderness. There was always the chance that an MA based paddler would see the message board post and show. However, we decided that even if it was only the two of us we'd paddle.
While the standard wisdom is "on the sea always three," we figured that there were conservative routes inside of Hull's protection that would be reasonable. We could circumnavigate Peddocks or explore the Weir River. If other paddlers showed up, we could change routes and explore the outer harbor.
After getting a little lost on the way through Hull (I always get lost getting to the Hull put-in), I found PB and JS getting ready. We had the magic number.
The weather was sunny and calm, but still cold. High tide had just passed so we'd have the current with us. PB wanted to possibly paddle around Lovells, but JS pointed out that it was pretty boring. So, we turned our bows towards Green Island. The rough plan was to lunch on Green. Then we would make our way back to Hull meandering through the Brewsters.
The current pushed us towards Green at a fast clip. JS estimated that we were moving at 5 miles an hour and were not paddling hard. We arrived at Green much earlier and less tired than expected.
Graves Light was looming in the distance and calling in us. Fortunately, JS and PB had their sensible hats firmly attached. We decided not to the extra distance. There is no place to land on Graves and the winter is no time to take silly chances.

Instead, we spent some time wondering if there were any seals in Boston Harbor and then turned towards Outer Brewster to find a lunch spot. Outer Brewster offered plenty of cliffs, frozen rocks, and spots to play. JS and PB found a nice run through some rocks along Outer Brewster and decided to enjoy their new kayaks. PB made the run but scuffed up his bow. JS took a different line through the slot but also managed to scuff his kayak. After watching the other two and the slot, I picked a perfect line and slipped through without a scratch. (It is good being last!!) My scratch free status didn't last long. We found a few other places to play in the rocks and I found a rock that was happy to scuff the Q-boat. I misread how fast the water evacuated an area and rubbed the rocks.
After we played in the rocks and determined that we were not going to lunch on Outer Brewster, we started to move onto Middle Brewster. Before we got very far, we encountered a pod of about six seals. We hadn't seen any seals all morning and thought that Boston Harbor may not have a seal population. These seals seemed curious but kept their distance.
Middle Brewster was also inhospitable for lunch. So, we paddled over to Boston Harbor Light. The landing there is not great, but it is serviceable. I was hoping that their would be a light keeper home so that we could get a tour of the light!! Or just a sheltered spot to eat. Instead, we found a no trespassing sign.
PB found a nice sunny rock ledge, with a back rest, along the beach. We ate a leisurely lunch and had interesting conversation. It was very relaxing, but the sun had slipped behind the hazy clouds and a slight breeze started. We needed to get moving before we got chilled.
The paddle back to Windmill Point was slower than the paddle to the outer islands. The current was against us and the slight breeze chilled us. To pass the time we talked about teaching people how to roll. JS, who is a certified instructor, said to share your own experiences with learning to roll - but not scare the students too much. I was not a roller who picked it up the first, or the 20th, class. We also talked about different ways to approach the technique. JS is a Euro blade paddler and felt that the standard start with hip flicks and move to a C-to-C progression worked best. I had taken a Greenland rolling class where they started with learning how body position effected the balance of the boat and the hip flick was never mentioned. I found the Greenland course to be more helpful than any of the more commonly taught classes. Different strokes for different folks.
Back at the put-in, I felt compelled to do one roll. It is a silly compulsion and today reminded me of just how silly a compulsion it is. I did the roll; it was hardly smooth; I rushed the whole thing. When I popped up my head felt like it was in a vice grip. I wasn't disoriented and could think clearly, but I was in pain. I was very happy to have to excellent paddlers nearby for support and the beach a few feet away.
Once off the water, my headache subsided. We all changed into warm clothes before dealing with the kayaks. The kayaks were quickly car topped. Once our gear was stowed and the kayaks secured, we headed to a nice bakery for coffee and pastry.
With a kickoff like this one, 2008 promises to be a very good year.