Text: Frode Wiggen
Photos: Wivian Strand Wiggen
I am not afraid to admit it
I have been afraid of the water my whole life! I have never been a good swimmer and as a youngster I was always in shallow end of the swimming pool at school, so I could put my feet on the ground if needed. In fact, at the age of 41 was the first time I have been swimming in the ocean!
And now, here I am rolling in a tight low-volume Greenland style sea kayak in deep water with the paddle beneath the hull! The pieces of foam inside the kayak ensure that I am really stuck.
If you had asked me a couple of years ago if I was going to do that, I would have laughed out loud – that would of been totally insane!
So what happened?
I started to paddle to overcome my fear of the water and soon realized kayaking was going to be a big part of my life, but I had to do something to feel safer as I felt very uncomfortable under the water. I was even out of my comfort zone being in the kayak with drysuit and PFD with small waves. At the same time I wanted to learn how to roll. As first of all, it seemed like a smart thing to know how undertake one if I flipped over and secondly, it looked as cool as could be!
So I sketched out a plan, which started with getting some advice from friends and the rest I sorted out in the jungle of tips and tricks on the internet!
The most important thing to get in place is a partner. A partner that knows and respects your fear of the water, a partner you trust, that will support you to reach your goal. Lucky for me, my wife has the same interest as me and she also wanted to learn how to roll.
So with the most important thing in place, it was time to get started! We did not want to make it more difficult than necessary, so we put away all the gear that we did not need: PFD, helmet, float, pump etc. All that gear can be added after you have done your first roll. Then I bought a pair of swimming goggles, nose clip and a hood.
With the goggles I could see what was going on. Try to relax, see if I could see some crabs with nice shells while hanging upside down with the nose clips allowed me to stay under water longer when I was upside down and the hood prevented water from getting in my ears. Some people can become very dizzy if they get water in their ears so the best option is to wear a tuiliq – it keeps you completely dry!
Then we found a place with as flat water as possible – again, do not make it harder than it need to be. So with my gear in place and my partner ready to help, it was time to get started!
Here is what I did…
- Tuck forward on the front deck with the hands under the hull.
- Turn your head to the side, so you can see what is going on.
- Let your partner count to three, then turn your kayak 360 degrees slowly and controlled. Repeat this exercise until you feel safe and are ready to move on.
The next step is to expand the time under the water. Let your partner turn your kayak 180 degrees, hold it there for three seconds and then flip it up again. Soon you will realize this is no problem. So your question is now how long can I stay upside down? Well let’s find out!
Your partner does as usual, count to three and flip you over. Then he/she will wait until you knock at the hull before he/she flips the kayak over again.
Do this exercise over and over again, until you feel comfortable. Try to expand the time under water each time. How long can you be upside down?
Now, you really want to overcome your fear. Do the same as you did in the beginning. Roll 180 degrees, and then do a wet exit. Expand the time with three seconds and then try to stay as long as possible upside down before you exit. When you do this, your partner will be beside you to secure. You are safe, try to relax and do all the movements slowly and controlled.
Repeat this exercise as many times as you need to feel safe and secure.
Then sign up for a rolling class! Not just a rolling class, but also a rolling class with a great instructor. Don’t be afraid to tell your instructor that have been afraid of the water so then he/she will have this in their mind on the class.
If you already have this in place, you will get much more from the rolling class, and you will feel much safer! Get out there, practice and roll!