So I had decided to dabble in whitewater kayaking.
The only thing standing in my way was the idea of getting in a boat that I didn't quite understand and launching myself out onto a river I didn't know.
I took the best advice anyone has ever given me and started attending roll sessions. Learning to roll your boat in the event that you flip over (and you will) is a fundamental skill of any whitewater kayaker.
Roll sessions are put on weekly in the winter, spring and summer by the Bluegrass Wildwater Association. Volunteer instructors teach the art of rolling a kayak to anyone who wants to learn. The classes are mostly populated by new boaters, but many seasoned kayakers attend to improve their roll, or just to get out of the house.
For the record, it took me six weeks to work up the nerve to attend a roll class. You may remember that I mentioned
I didn't have a boat or any gear. I was afraid I wouldn't know anyone. Sure, I had met quite a few boaters by this point, but as it turns out, the BWA is a pretty big group.
I had NO idea what to wear.
But in February of last year, I found myself standing awkwardly by a heated indoor pool, surrounded by strangers who all seemed to know what they were doing. It was pretty much as uncomfortable as I had imagined.
I'm sure there are people who are completely unfazed by the idea of this. And I hate you. But to anyone else who finds themself in this situation, don't worry about it. Lots of people show up to the roll sessions with no boat, no gear, and no experience. The beginning of each class is a bustle of boats being brought in, instructors taking a few minutes to practice their own rolls, and new students standing around assuming that everyone knows everyone else. My advice: Introduce yourself to the person next to you.
After meeting a few people, getting paired with an instructor, and borrowing a boat that sort of fit me, I was ready to go.
I loved roll classes from about 30 minutes into my first one, and a full year into kayaking, I still attend them. But I'd be lying if I said they weren't some of the most frustrating, anxiety inducing experiences I have ever had. As someone once told me, "It takes a certain amount of confidence to get into kayaking.That confidence usually comes from a lot of previous athletic success. So when it turns out to be a lot harder than they thought it would be, it's extremely frustrating."
I had a lot of previous athletic success. It took me four effing classes to get my first roll.
For everyone out there trying to master that elusive roll, here is some advice that helped me:
-There is absolutely nothing natural about the feeling of being suspended upside down in a boat. Be prepared for it to freak you out a little. Relax and take some time to get used to it.
-Your instincts will fail you. Everything about it is counter-intuitive. Focus on the correct steps, rather than your end goal of reaching air and you just may find yourself upright.
-Work with different instructors. They can all teach you something different. I would like to thank Jeff for my hip snap, Robert for my sweep, and Hanley for telling me to stop making excuses.
-You'll get your roll. And then you'll lose it. Then you'll get it back. I think of it like a basketball player's free throw shot. It's largely muscle memory, and highly succeptible to mental blocks.
-Once you do get it, practice it about 100 times each session. The ability to roll on the river will open up kayaking to you faster than anything else.
-Hang in there, kids. You've got this.