NSW Sea Kayak Club – Kayak Essentials For Women Part 2 [62]

The Eskimo Roll

By Sally Jacobs

For some peculiar reason, all kayaks share a major design fault. They capsize. Apparently this is all down to physics. If you want a boat which is capable of moving at any tangible speed, then it has to be narrow and long. The faster you want to go, the longer and narrower it has to be. But the faster it is, the more unstable it gets, so more speed equals more time upside down. So why do we buy a boat that we know is designed to tip over and drown its occupants?

Well, if you want a kayak that doesn’t flip over, it needs to be wide. If you really stick your neck out and demand guarantees in this matter then you are looking at something the width of a football pitch and your own personal fleet of tugs to manoeuvre it.

Apparently it was the Eskimos who first devised the solution to this problem. For centuries, kayaks have been their chosen form of transport for commuting between their igloos and their office. They figured out pretty quickly that being upside down in frigid water with the odd Orca or two probably wasn’t the best recipe for the survival of their race. Somehow they discovered that if they twisted their torso one way at the same time that they twisted their hips in the opposite direction, that by some miracle, their upturned kayak would right itself. Perhaps it is their apparent surprise that this manoeuvre actually works that explains why the head is the last part of the body to leave the water. This strange phenomenon is called the Eskimo Roll.

Having ascertained that physics is behind most anomalies that surround kayaking, it will hardly surprise you that learning how to Eskimo Roll involves several illogical, counter intuitive actions:

To start with, your instructor will insist that you don a PFD, spray deck, and dive mask, and if the water is particularly cold, a wet suit, too. Any sensible person will immediately realise, before setting foot in their kayak, that something sinister is about to beset them. Why would anyone strap themselves into a kayak with all this safety gear, designed to keep them warm, dry and hopefully upright, just to be told they are expected to voluntarily capsize, and get wet, cold and upside down, and oxygen deprived? Which leads me to ask – why stop at a dive mask? Why not go the whole hog and include the full sub aqua regalia?

If you proceed lemming-like to the next step, you will find yourself attempting to master the knee lift and hip flick. If you are going to try this at home (which I can’t recommend for reasons of legal liability) then I suggest you first measure your room to ensure it is at least twice as long as your paddle. Clear the surrounding area of all breakables, including family members and pets, and tightly draw the curtains – practicing the Eskimo Roll in public, on dry land is definitely not socially acceptable and could get you arrested or sectioned.

I recommend that you try the knee lift and hip flick in the standing position as you are less likely to concuss yourself or remove any vital body parts. Hold your paddle out in front of you, arms and legs slightly bent. Keep your hips and legs facing forwards and rotate your body with the paddle parallel to your chest around to your left. Adopt a limp-wristed “I’m a teapot” pose with your hands and imagine you can feel the side of the kayak on your forearms and wrists. Now slowly start to rotate your body and paddle to the right and your hips to the left, watching the forward blade of the paddle all the way. Avoid doing this to music, especially not “Let’s twist again” by Chubby Chekker, you could be overcome by 50’s nostalgia and find yourself performing a vertical take off. Most of the power comes from the torso, not the arms. Try balancing something valuable on the end of the paddle to discourage excessive arm movement. Be careful in your choice here. I started with a pint of Tia Maria but on polished floor boards it was a disaster and I had to be rescued from a close encounter with the gold fish.

In order to try the hip flick in the kayak, you will need:

A stiff scotch, a competent instructor (see Kayak Essentials for Women Part 1), a pool or ocean and of course, a kayak. The role of the instructor is to provide physical & moral support and clear concise instructions. Don’t let him bully you on matters of self preservation. It is perfectly natural to experience several urgent calls of nature just prior to commencement of the exercise and for your eyes to roll back in your skull as you try unsuccessfully to faint. If you catch him playing solitaire on your upturned hull as you struggle to orient yourself under water, you may need to find someone that is more attentive.

Try to meditate before you begin, putting aside all the silly notions about the great white shark wriggling up through the drains and marauding around the pool, or the instructor’s insistence on being the sole beneficiary of your life insurance policy. You need to fill you head with positives such as:

As you saunter toward your kayak, you know you look your sexy best. The PFD lingering tauntingly over a rubber clad thigh, your face mask turning your eyes into saucer like windows to your soul, and your upper lip drawn up under your nose to tantalisingly reveal your Mosman mudcake teeth.

And, as you climb aboard, you know that things can only get better. The effects of gravity are reversed when you are inverted. There are many cosmetic benefits here, starting with your eyelids, boobs and butt. The average person only weighs approx 16kg in water. This is the fastest weight loss program ever! Very few people can eat underwater – what better way to diet! And lastly – thousands of Eskimos can’t be wrong.

You’ll begin practising the hip flick by placing your hands (and life) either in the hands of the instructor or on the side of a pool, or the bow of another kayak. Moving and sinkable objects such as dead classmates, sharks etc. are not suitable for this exercise.

For practice purposes, if you are right handed you will push up from your right side. As you rotate your face and torso towards your right, bring your right knee up and rotate your hips to the left, pushing your face down into the water. Pretend it is your favourite beverage and you are very thirsty. With luck you will find yourself upright again. If you don’t, fire the instructor, and go and find some of your favourite beverage.

After mastering the hip flick, the next step is the sweep stroke. Again from an inverted position with some support from the instructor, you rotate your body, which sweeps the leading blade back to your right hip, at the same time as you execute your knee lift/hip flick. Watching the blade constantly means that you will always know exactly where it is. If the angle of the blade is wrong you will be on the bottom of the pool, but at least you will be fully aware of it. If you get the hip flick and sweep stroke right, you should end up in the upright position. Beware of getting over excited here. It’s quite easy to fall straight over again and without the controlled conditions of a voluntary capsize, it’s quite likely you will lose your composure and drain the pool of its contents in your efforts to resurface. This is a common form of mid boat crisis that afflicts thousands of kayakers every year. Learning to roll is all about practice, stiff scotch, practice and more scotch.

The benefits of the Eskimo Roll:

  • Increased confidence: soon you will be able to venture out of the kid’s paddling pool and into the ocean proper where you will quickly realise the merits of the kid’s paddling pool with its predictable tide and surf conditions.
  • Increased credibility: your kayaking peers will respect you, novices will be in awe of you, everyone else will think you are stark raving bonkers.
  • Increased freedom: you will be able to explore the new limits of your universe and all that is great in it – cappuccino, mud cake, sea sickness..
  • Increased oxygen perfusion: breathing is good, it enhances endurance so you can get yourself into serious trouble more efficiently.

Disclaimer. This article is meant to be taken with a pinch of salt, a vodka sour and an olive. Any resemblance to actual fact is entirely coincidental and not my fault. The author accepts no liability whatsoever for injury, death, damage to property or third parties, or marriage breakdowns resulting from attempts at any of the manoeuvrers described herein. Before learning to Eskimo Roll it is recommended that you see your psychiatrist.