I’ve done one lesson on rolling in my entire life. I’ve practiced a bit on my own of course, on no more than 8 occasions, and would say I hit about 1 in 3 attempts. I’d still be what you call a beginner. Therefore I was really excited about heading to the pool in Thunder Bay Canada for a rolling class with Helen Wilson, an expert in the Greenland rolling style and producer of the rolling DVD “Simplifying the Roll with Helen Wilson“.
We had a class of 6 and two hours in the pool booked. The class started with a bit of a discussion on paddles, rolling concepts and positions before pairing off in the pool to practice the general body movements required for the rolling and bracing we were about to learn. Helen switched from person to person, checking each paddler’s movements and offering advice on how to improve, before finally climbing into her boat to demonstrate the basics of rolling, bracing and, well then some more difficult rolling!
For a beginner it is astounding to watch someone at that skill level. Helen could roll in ultra-slow motion so we call all see the exact body position and movements of the roll. Then she’d let go of the paddle and do the same rolls in slow motion with just her hands, demonstrating how the techniques are all about body position rather than about power and paddle placement.
The lay-back roll (a high-brace style) is the standard of the Greenland rolls and the one I am able to do (at least sometimes!). I still struggle with it a bit and after watching my technique and difficulties, Helen suggested that perhaps a low-brace forward finishing roll might suit my physique a little better. The roll she wanted to teach me was the Storm Roll, a roll that relies on explosive power as well a body position, so we went to work on learning how.
The way to learn this one is to do it by feel – basically she’d roll me upside down, then guide my hands into the right position on the paddle, and then guide the paddle as I’d lift the knee fast to complete the roll. It was a really odd feeling but after several guided-rolls I started to get the feel for what my hands were supposed to be doing, and I was able to practice it on my own (aided by a float bag on the paddle) as she moved onto the other paddlers.
Each individual had different skill levels and techniques and Helen easily switched between the beginners and more advanced rollers, helping the beginners learn to feel how the water works with them, before finessing the skills and techniques of the more advanced crew. She’d continue to cycle through the group, increasing the complexity with each pass and making sure the techniques were settling in properly.
My own storm roll was coming along nicely, and as I got the hang of the action, Helen gradually deflated my paddle float until in the end I could practice without it. The roll is hard and I was definitely starting to struggle a bit, but at least I now knew the action. By my second lesson I was starting to hit them more regularly, and now had plenty of exercises to practice and specific areas to remind myself on.
To finish up Helen demonstrated a number of the more complex Greenland rolls for our enjoyment. It was a fantastic way to see first hand where the development of rolling can end up with enough practice and a good teacher. I can’t recommend an event like this enough – a brilliant way to really iron out those techniques and get you moving in the right direction. Cheers – FP
You can find out more about Helen Wilson and her rolling DVD on her site GreenlandorBust.org.