Sunday, February 10, 2008

RICKA pool sessions

Rolling. I’ve been paddling for almost 8 years now and I’ve never “needed” to roll. Yes, it would have been nice to roll in the surf. And yes, I have needed to be rescued when I could have otherwise rolled but at no time has my “lack of roll” put me in danger.

So why am I talking about it again? Because I just finished my third RICKA pool practice session. Why do I do it? It’s fun. But that’s not the only reason. It’s probably the most tangible measure of competency level for kayakers. Hardly the most important one but clearly the most recognized. So there is an element of pride in there. And some showing off. I must admit I like to casually mention to the boys at work on Monday that I rolled a few times in 38 degree water.

Practically however, it’s a bomb-proof roll that matters. Rolling in the pool or when setting up ahead of time is fun and games. Rolling when the water conditions put you upside down is the real goal. In 2007 I wanted to master rolling in the surf. I didn’t achieve that goal partly because I didn’t have many opportunities to paddle in the surf. But I did roll on almost every paddle I did. It served to build my confidence. A confidence that is needed to think through and then execute the series of motions that are required to get yourself right side up. For some natural athletes it’s mindless. For most of us it’s a practiced skill.

I did have a little lapse in skill this summer. My roll was 90% for most of the year but for about 3 weeks it dropped to more like 50%. It was frustrating and the frustration just made the roll worse. But the months of reliable rolling leading up to the lapse did give me the confidence that I’d get through it and I did. I also set up and executed some rolls in current and chop. I learned there that getting back up doesn’t mean you’re done. If the water is nasty enough to put you over it’s not going to be any friendlier when you pop back up from a roll but are still not well balanced. It doesn’t wait for you to finish celebrating before knocking you about again.

Four weeks ago the pool sessions started. I popped my boat in the water, paddled around a little, tipped over, and blew my roll. I was disgusted. I hopped back in and rolled many more times. I got my offside roll back and never came out of the boat again that day. 12 months earlier I would have been thrilled by that performance but I was disappointed due to my high expectations. While driving to the pool the second week the radio was playing great music (George Thorogood). It put me in a great mood and my rolling was spot-on. I even rolled Tim’s Explorer HV both on and off side despite the fact that I was totally loose in it and couldn’t even touch the foot pegs. I skipped the third week to paddle outside. The forth week was going great until I jumped in Kevin’s Ellesmere. I own an Ellesmere so my anticipation was high that it would be like getting back together with an old friend. But it was uncomfortable and I blew 2 of three rolls. Why? Who knows. I had rolled about six different boats this year. Many that I wasn’t well fit to. I quit trying with Elly and, with confidence, returned to rolling the white water boat. I left a happy paddler.

Such is rolling. It’s why I practice a lot. It’s why kayakers are impressed when they see others do it with ease.

Thanks to RICKA for letting us "almost competent" rollers play in the pool. And thanks to the coaching staff for foregoing their own rolling fun to help the next generation learn the skill. Your dedication is what put many of us in the deep end!

January and February 2008. Air temperature 75, water temperature 75 in the pool. Air and water sub 40 degrees outside.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

February on the water

RICKA rolling pool sessions only occur 4 times a year. Sunny, 45 degree, weekend days in February occur even less frequently. So faced with a decision between those two options I hesitated but the decision wasn’t hard.

Carole, Bob, and I met at the Narragansett town beach just after 10AM. The temperature was already 40 and there was a gentle swell of less than 2 feet rolling onto the beach. I had arrived early and had time to watch and see that there was an occasional larger wave, in fact they seemed to come in pairs. It was not a major concern to me but I didn’t want to dump in the surf right off the start.

We loaded up our boats and dragged them to the water. Bob jumped in first and paddled in and out of the small surf. Carole was still finalizing the loading of her boat so I waited for the two large waves to pass and headed out through the gentle surf. Bob went back in towards Carole and the two of them paddled out while I watched. Just as they passed the break zone they met the next set of two larger waves. They were steep but still rolling and they easily passed over them. 20 seconds later however and they both would have started the day off with a least a face full of cold water.

We headed north by the rocks that guard the entrance to the Narrow River. We paddled along Boston Neck towards Bonnet Shores. There were a couple of locations where the swells stood tall over the bottom features and Bob was attracted but Carole and I held our distance and he seemed to get the point that we didn’t really want to go in and get him. It was warm with a gentle breeze at our back. And it wasn’t long before we were approaching the beach at Bonnet. Bob surfed a few waves and Carole and I headed to the east end for an easy dry landing.

We set up for lunch against a concrete sea wall which protected us from the wind and faced us directly into the warmth of the sun. We shared tea and snacks and ate our sandwiches. Adults, small children, and various sized dogs were frolicking on the beach. We weren’t stripping out of our dry suits but it was awful nice for February.

After lunch we discussed whether we would paddle further or just head back. I kind of wanted to touch the rocks at Bonnet point but for some reason we just headed back towards Narragansett. While we had stopped for lunch the wind had picked up a bit. It wasn’t strong but it was enough to slow us down and start up a random chop. As we passed the corner where the shore starts to bend westward it was a strange mix of swells, chop, and reflections which confused the waters. It almost felt as if the tide was moving against the waves but I knew in fact the tide was coming in. For me it was just enough to make it a bit exciting and get me thinking that this was February and no time to be doing something stupid. This slop continued until we reached the area near the outlet of the Narrow River.

At the river we passed inside the rocks and paddled just outside the surf rolling in on the beach. From the back sides they looked a little bigger than I had remembered at 10 AM. But as we had discussed, if we dumped while returning to the beach we were close to the cars to warm back up. Plus, the further up the beach we went the smaller the waves were.

As we approached the cars I was dealing with a strong urge to stand by a tree. While Bob stopped to talk with a WW boat surfer I just hopped on a wave and headed towards shore. My new Impex Force 4 seems to hold a nice straight line in the surf. In fact it tends to accelerate and stay ahead of the wave with the bow sinking just shy of the point of burying. This is in contrast to my Ellsmere which had a habit of burying the nose and inviting the back end to come around. But I should qualify this with a disclaimer that I’ve only been in relatively small (less than 3 foot) surf with the new boat.

I relieved my need, donned my helmet, removed my sunglasses, traded pogies for gloves, and headed back out into the surf. On my way back out I plowed through three or four waves that broke strongly onto my chest. I set up and rode another nice wave back into shore. For reasons I don’t fully comprehend I tripped the boat as I was turning to head back out. Over I went and I started to think about rolling. As the words swirled about in my head I started dragging my head and back along the sand. I started to set up my paddle but it was all too shallow and I fell out of my seat. (I still need to foam the boat.) The water was cold. As it slid down the ear canals underneath my neoprene hat I got a hint of that coldness disorientation. It wasn’t bad but it was clear to me that my neoprene hat (over the ears with a strap) was not nearly the same level of protection as my neo hood.
Carole and Bob seemed like they were done so despite the fact that I had only ridden one wave I decided maybe I should be done too. I decided to walk out and test the effectiveness of the insulation layers I had under my dry suit. I was comfortable in the water and floated about for a bit. Then, after a conversation with B&C I figured I’d try it without my hat on. I dove into a wave and experienced instant ice cream head ache. Not a killer one but enough that I didn’t want to stay in the water.

This whole neoprene hat thing is a conundrum. I would have over heated had I paddled all day with a hood on. On the other hand I would have really wanted it on had I gone over for some reason out in front of Bonnet.
It was great to load the boats in the warm parking lot with bare hands and light jackets on. Normally an immersion by the put in would have me scrambling for a warm car and dry cloths. Pretty nice for February!

After the paddle we went to chez C’s where we were treated to strong coffee and Panini. It was just a wonderfully relaxing day to be on the water.

Narragansett Town Beach to Bonnet Shores. 8.2 miles round trip, sunny, air 44, water 39, winds SW at 10.