Tuesday, February 28, 2006

BCU/Greenland Week – Day 1, Tuesday, Feb. 21st - plus a little history,

the history being both of kayaks themselves and of my two-steps-forward one-step back efforts to get beyond the basic Greenland rolls. I started out with the intent of just talking about what I worked on the first morning but, er, it turned out to be impossible to even start to talk about that without talking about my earlier encounters with Cheri & a very different kind of boat than the ones I'm accustomed to. This is the nature of learning to paddle well, though - seems to me like everything I learn eventually becomes a step to learning something else, it's very hard to isolate steps, it's all been a flow - it doesn't always go as smoothly or as fast as I'd like it to, but even the most frustrating moments turn out to have been building blocks when I look back at them. OK 'nuff philosophical bs, on to the post...

After a good night's sleep, I was up at 7:30. Started the day by breaking in my new camp stove with some tea & hot cereal, and talking with Russell (one of the Sweetwater staff, all very nice folks) about a boat (he had a lot of boats & people to deal with & mine was one of a couple that somehow wasn’t around, but he worked everything out fine - as it turned out I didn't even need one of Sweetwater's boats that day), I joined the “Greenland Dream Team” in a morning yoga warmup & introductions. Cheri Perry, Dubside, Greg Stamer, Turner Wilson, and Freya Hoffmeister – it was actually this particular combination (especially Cheri & Dubside, both of whom I’d met & from whom I’d learned a lot before, and the others I’d heard nothing but good about), along with Nigel Foster for the Euro side, that got me down to Florida; I’d been trying all winter to figure out how to get up to the pool sessions in Connecticut where Cheri & Turner have been teaching – oddly enough, it was actually easier to get to Florida. Go figure.

After introductions, we sorted out who was doing what; originally there’d been things on the schedule like “Greenland Rolling” and “Greenland Skills” but how it really worked out was that everybody talked about what they knew and what they wanted to learn, and the instructors talked about what they could teach, and then we split off based on that. This change of plans was quite reflective of the differences in teaching styles between more formalized, syllabus-driven American Canoe Association and British Canoe Union type classes and the more unstructured approach favored by Greenland kayakers – I may go into that a bit more in some other post. Or maybe not, we'll see where this all goes. At any rate, as it worked out, in the morning, those of us who were a little more experienced at rolling (including Ross, the very nice spy from Kayak Wisconsin) went with Cheri, Turner & Dubside for work on our rolls, while those who were less experience rollers started the morning with Greg & Freya with work on the basic forward stroke.

This first session, for me, started out with simply getting my mind wrapped around the concept of how a Greenland boat fits, and how you use it. Greenland kayaks tend to be very svelte, trim, low-volume craft; there was quite a bit of discussion about Greenlandic kayak culture, along with the skills, and one point that was made was that a lot of the West Greenland kayaks were made strictly for hunting & there would actually be a support boat that followed the hunters – the umiak, rowed by the women (although steered by some old codger who couldn’t hunt anymore). That would be the boat that actually carry all the extra gear & tents & thermoses of hot cider & what have you. All that the kayak had to carry was a paddler and all of his hunting gear, all of which was carried on deck. That low-volume plan modified as it spread & was adapted by Europeans to more recreational uses; my Romany is not exactly a tub but next to one of these West Greenland slivers, it’s downright portly. When I sit in mine, my feet are on adjustable foot-braces; my knees are slightly raised & apart & comfortably flexed; the insides of my thighs hold onto the thigh braces that are built into the cockpit.

The first time I ever rolled Cheri’s boat – nicknamed “Stealth” because it’s gleaming black & angular – at the Greenland on the Hudson day in, what was it, May 2004 I guess, I was permitted to sit in it in a similar fashion. My knees were lower, but I was able to rest my feet on the bulkhead, basically the posture was the same & therefore there was no change in the basic mechanics of rolling. I was using the exact same set of muscles, applied in exactly the same way, but in a boat that rolls a LOT more easily than a Romany (which has a well-earned reputation as an easy-to-roll boat anyhow). It was phenomenal – Cheri started me with basic stuff & then gradually worked me through the gradations of hand rolls as far as an elbow roll (hand roll with the “outboard” hand clasped to the back of the head throughout the roll). Really incredible. But not really Greenland-style as far as boat fit!

The second time I got a lesson from Cheri was the following winter at the pool I haven’t been able to get to this year. My #1 Greenland mentor Jack Gilman gave me a ride up - I was so psyched to get to learn from Cheri again & also to get back into that fabulous boat. Turned out there was a catch, though. By then, she’d been to Greenland, and now there was a change to how she set a student up in the Stealth. The addition was a simple flat piece of closed-cell foam that went between the deck and the tops of the thighs – you’d get into the boat with the foam down around your knees, then you’d reach down, grab it, and pull it up on your lap to literally wedge yourself into the boat! This pressed your legs down flat with your knees together – which totally changed the basic mechanics that I’ve been using to right a kayak ever since I first learned how. With my legs more or less immobilized inside the boat, I felt nearly paralyzed – even a basic sweep roll felt mushy – the difference between this new situation & the dreamily effortless hand rolls I’d pulled off in the same boat was flat-out demoralizing. It was like being totally sure that you were heading off to take a test on a subject you were really good at, and expecting that you were going to breeze through & get an A+ only to find that you’d been studying English lit and the test was on astronomy. AGH! I spent an awful lot of the time Cheri wasn’t actively working with me simply laying out in a balance brace & gradually turning the boat further & further up on edge – just trying to figure out what muscles had to do what to roll the boat from this very different setup & feeling like a complete klutz the whole time. Can’t say I came anywhere close to figuring it all out that day – didn’t have long enough for my poor bewildered muscles to really “get it”. I guess I did learn a lot that day, just not what I’d thought I would be learning – but although that was over a year ago, I think what I learned then really carried over to now.

For starters, this time I was FULLY EXPECTING the adjustment period that I did need when Cheri had me get into Turner’s skin-on-frame and pull up that lap foam to lock myself in...

ok that's plenty for one post. To be continued.

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