Height of the back deck in relation to rolling

Question: I recently built a Black Pearl kayak for rolling practice. I really like this kayak, but I misinterpreted a plan, and have a back deck height (cockpit coaming included) of 20 cm instead of 17 cm. I am wondering what influence this can have on some more advanced layback rolls. I still have to learn the norsaq roll and the hand roll, and wondered if it is worthwhile correcting this building error.

Answer: Without seeing the kayak it is difficult to know how the raised back deck will effect layback rolls. It is often the hull shape, and not the height of the deck, that influences how a kayak rolls. Some kayaks with high back decks roll very easily, while some kayaks with low back decks can be tricky to roll. The best thing to do is to try it out and see how it feels before making adjustments.

– Helen


Posture and Efficiency

Question: When I’m forward paddling I have a tendency to slump, and I suspect this makes me much less efficient. I have your excellent DVD, and would be glad to know what yoga exercises would help me tackle this problem.

Answer: Posture is definitely important when kayaking. With good posture you’ll find that the power comes from your core, which will make your strokes stronger and more efficient.

Try the following:

– Place the crease below the palm of your hand on your natural hairline with your fingers pointing toward the top of your head. Wherever your middle finger naturally falls is the crown of your head.

– Now think about a string pulling up from the crown of your head. You’ll notice that your spine straightens.

– Now think about a second string on your tailbone pulling straight down into the earth. You should now notice that your spine is long and straight, and your chest is open.

– When paddling, try to maintain this posture, paying close attention to the crown of your head, your tailbone and your chest.

It might feel awkward at first, but with time it’ll help you develop better posture both in your kayak and on land.

– Helen


Strengthening the Shoulders with Yoga

Question: I have your DVDs. Are there any routines that you think might help strengthen my shoulders?

Answer: I’d suggest doing the three routines on the DVD. A lot of yoga poses benefit numerous parts of the body, and many of them help the shoulders. Something as simple as holding a Plank pose can increase shoulder strength, which decreases the chance of injury. When kayaking remember to always keep your elbows bent. This is important when paddling, bracing, doing rescues, etc. When the elbows are straight, pressure is put on the shoulders, and your chances of injury are greatly increased. – Helen

Rotating the Kayak (the “hip snap”)

Question: I’m having problems with my hip snap.  I’m fit, strong and flexible but can’t seem to get the hang of the hip snap, especially when the water is cold.  Do you have any recommendations for dry land practice that could help this and translate to when I’m practicing in my boat?  I really want to add a roll to my skills but I’ve stalled out at this point much to my frustration!

Answer: The problem that you’re having likely has nothing to do with strength or flexibility. It’s probably just a timing issue and understanding what needs to happen with the leg. Try to think of applying pressure to the kayak as opposed to “snapping” the kayak with the hip. I think that the best place to learn this motion is in the water. Here I’ll describe an exercise with a right side recovery. Adjust as needed.

Begin by placing an inflated paddle float on your right hand. Let out enough air that you feel confident that you can take it off easily underwater. Stash your paddle so that it doesn’t block your sprayskirt and make your way into a Balance Brace. Keeping your body flat in the water, start to apply pressure to the kayak using your right knee, your right thigh and your right hip. Get the kayak to rotate so that it is as upright as you can get it. Then, using control with your right knee, thigh and hip, rotate the kayak back to its starting position and continue to rotate it until it is almost upside down. Keep rocking the kayak back and forth in this manner using only your right knee, thigh and hip. Make sure that your shoulders stay flat on the surface of the water and that your head is relaxed, with your eyebrows slightly underwater. You should start to notice the impact the right side of your body has on the kayak’s rotation. This is the motion for the roll. – Helen

Crook of the Elbow Roll

Question: When I try to do a Crook of the Elbow Roll, the paddle shaft floats up out of the grip of my arm. How do I keep it in place? Grip it harder?

Answer: Unfortunately, simply gripping the paddle harder won’t help. Keeping the paddle shaft in the crook of the elbow has to do with torso rotation, and for this roll, flexibility plays a huge part. When performing the roll with a right side recovery, during the above water set-up position the paddle needs to be in the crook of the right elbow and hooked over the left side of the bow of the kayak. If this rotation feels easy, then the paddle should stay in place throughout the roll. If this rotation feels difficult, then the paddle is likely to slip up the arm toward the wrist during the roll itself. The best way to increase the necessary flexibility for this roll is to practice it. Over time flexibility will increase, and the roll will become easier. – Helen

Yoga Mats

Question: Can you recommend a yoga mat? What size should it be?

Answer: My favorite yoga mats are made by Manduka. For me, the size doesn’t matter as much as the thickness. Thick mats are gentler on the knees. I also look for mats with a good non-slip fabric. I’ve had my mat for so long I’m not sure what specific type it is, but it is made by Manduka, which is a fantastic brand. Here’s a link to their mats: www.manduka.com/us/shop/categories/products/mats/?dd – Helen

Forward finish rolls and PFDs

Question: My PFD prevents me from crunching as close to the front deck as when I’m not wearing it. Will wearing it prevent me from progressing through the rolling list? It was suggested that I remove some of the foam, but I don’t want to do this.

Answer: Picture a bowling ball stuck in your forehead. Let your head hang down naturally, and picture where you’d be if you fell asleep in this position. That’s where you should be. It’s not so much a “crunch,” it’s where you hang naturally. Many things can influence this, including clothing, the kayak you’re using and flexibility. There is no set rule for how close you need to be to the deck, and if you strain to get closer than you would naturally “hang,” then your rolls will be less effective, not more so. Foam should never be removed from a PFD that you use for paddling. It’s both unsafe and against Coast Guard regulations. With good technique, any of the rolls on the rolling list can be performed wearing a standard PFD. – Helen

Recovery from the Balance Brace

Question: My Balance Brace is now better, but I don’t always succeed in getting back up to the normal position. Are there any tips for this stage?

Answer: It’s great to hear that the Balance Brace is getting better for you. It’s very common to get “stuck” in it, and have problems recovering. Something that might help is to allow your upper body to drift forward (toward the bow) before driving back. Keep your upper body relaxed while doing this. Think of it as “winding up” for the recovery, and the more forward you are, the more power you’ll have to make it onto the back deck.

The inconsistent roll

Question: Should I push the recovery knee all the way throughout the roll? I kind of stop head down, and use lots of time to set up for the roll. Also, watching you roll in the video, it seems that you lean with your arms fixed and your hands on the side of the kayak in the set-up position from the start. It also seems that you bend your back elbow and already have your recovery arm up high when starting the roll. Is that right? The water kind of stops my upper body going around. What exercises can I do for flexibility? I am 56 years old and not at my strongest right now.

Answer: It is common for the roll to be inconsistent at first, but with practice, it will become consistent. The recovery knee is engaged from the underwater set-up through to the recovery onto the back deck. Essentially, the roll starts from the underwater set-up position. If you are finding that you are stopping head down, bend forward so that your face is just below the surface. Make sure that your shoulders are square to the ground and push your right hand above the surface (if rolling up on the right side). This is the position that you are referring to on the video where the arms and hands are on the side of the kayak.

Here’s a link that might help with the problems that you’re having capsizing: www.greenlandorbust.org/problems-capsizing/

As far as exercises to increase flexibility, please check out our new DVD, Yoga for Outdoor People, which will be available in August.


Question: Thank you for a very interesting and useful class. I got dizzy because of the cold water entering my ears. What kind of earplugs do you recommend.

Answer: We recommend Doc’s Proplugs. They come in several sizes, so they fit well and stay in place. If possible, get the ones with a leash and not the clear variety (this helps prevent them from getting lost).

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