Learning to Roll in The Murrelet

This past fall was the first time I ever flipped my boat on purpose.  The only other time I had actually flipped my boat over was when I was 6 years old  and was taking my newly designed and built GoldenEye 10 foot out on the water for my very first time (see image below).  I was racing in front of my parents, about 5 feet from shore,  and strutting my paddling abilities when suddenly I found myself upside down and in the water.  Naturally I popped from my boat, and just at the moment I was trying to decide if I was going cry or smile, my father started whooping from shore. He was clapping his hands, whistling and yelling, “Yay Freya, great wet exit!” Other bystanders joined in, clapping, smiling and cheering me on. I decided not to cry. I rose from the water a little shaken, but grinning at my accomplishment.  Now, 18 years later, I decided it was high time to do it again.

5 year old Freya in her kid sized kayak

5 Year Old Freya in Her Goldeneye 10

Two years ago my father designed the Murrelet, a sleek touring kayak designed to roll.  That winter I was the first person to build the Murrelet. By late summer my boat was finished and I took her out for her maiden voyage at Deception Pass with a friend, Mark Barron.

I have been a passenger in kayaks since I was 6 months old, riding in my dad’s lap out in Port Townsend Bay. I have spent weeks and months of my life on the water, but my father always took great care to keep me out of danger. Paddling was always a family activity where we explored wild and remote places but never pushed the boundaries of safety.  My father has learned to roll many times but his trips are always centered more on reaching remote places and the pleasure of paddling and playing in the great outdoors, not pushing the limits of what a person and boat can survive in. For some time now I have been wanting to gain more paddling skills, take my kayaking to the next level and go on trips that require more technical skills so I can reach even more remote and spectacular locations.

As Mark and I put in at Bowman Bay a friend of his was putting in at the same time.  Mark yelled at her, “Hey Adrienne, this is Freya.  She has never rolled before. I’m going to try and teach her here soon!”  Our plan was to go out and play with the current at Canoe Pass.  It was not a very major tide but Mark is a kayak instructor and had offered to teach me more kayaking skills.  Rolling was not part of the day’s plan.
We paddled over to Canoe Pass and Mark showed me how to cross an eddy, laying a low brace in the water and letting my bow get swept sharply by the outgoing tide. A lot of technical paddling moves are things I have done naturally for years. I instinctively know how to brace and counteract what the water is doing to my boat.  But having these motions explained and doing them on purpose was great fun.

Soon Adrienne Worah and another paddler, Warren Williamson, paddled up and joined us on the eddy.  I asked Adrienne about her paddling and she said she did competition Greenland rolling.  I was very impressed.  She was paddling with this long stick that I had seen before but thought silly.  She explained how the Greenland paddle was the traditional paddle and much older than my Euro blade.

As we bobbed on the water chatting, Adrienne looked at me and said, “Hey, why don’t we try to teach you how to roll right now?  Warren says he can teach someone how to roll in only 20 minutes.”  I was intrigued.  I didn’t think it was very likely they would be able to teach me in 20 minutes, but I was game to try.

We paddled over to a little exposed beach by the bridge where the water was calm and welcoming. I went into it with no expectations.  Warren gave me his paddling hood, which was loose but added some warmth, and the three of them began explaining how to Greenland roll.  First, Adrienne got in the water and instructed me to lay on the back deck of my boat.  Then she asked me to swivel my torso off the deck and into her hands in the water.  I did as I was told.  I found myself lying comfortably in the water with my boat on its side.  Then she asked me to try and swivel my body from the surface of the water back onto my rear deck.  I did.  They were very excited and explained that I had just completed a static brace, the first step to a roll.

static brace

Freya Static Bracing in the Murrelet 4PD

With Adrienne and Mark in the water, and Warren adding corrections from shore, the three of them then coached me back into a static brace, placed a Greenland paddle in my hands and directed my hands into a sculling brace. My face dipped under water and their hands pulled me up, guiding my paddle and showing me the blade angle required for sculling.  I sculled.  They were more excited.

Then they showed me how to go from a static brace to a sculling brace and then sweep my paddle towards the back of my boat.  As I swept my paddle my body and boat rolled up.  My body ended up on the rear deck of my boat, and my boat was upright.  They cheered, “That is a roll, all you have to do now is tip over and do that!”
I was dumbfounded.  “Really?  That is rolling?”

The next step was a half roll.  I got into a tucked position on my boat  with my paddle stuck to my side panel and my hand clamping it in place.  I flipped over, cold water covered my face.  I felt my body under my boat and I felt my hands on my paddle at the boat’s side.  I pushed the paddle up to the air as instructed.  Adrienne’s hands guided my body into a static brace and I grabbed a breath of air.  Adrienne and Mark helped me get my paddle up, out and into a sculling brace.  I then swept my paddle towards the back of my boat and I was up– a half roll completed!

kayak rolling

Freya setting up her paddle for a layback roll.

“Next a complete roll,” they encouraged.  I setup, tucked my body, held my paddle to my boat and tipped over.  I walked my hands down the paddle shaft so I was in an extended paddle position and sculled a bit.  I then swept towards the back, pushing my back to the rear deck.  I came out of the water and Adrienne, Warren and Mark all cheered, “That was a roll Freya! That was a roll!”

I was grinning from ear to ear and questioning my accomplishment, “That can’t be a roll!  That was too easy.”

We stayed there in the shallow water for a bit.  I completed some more successful rolls and failed others, but in 20 minutes, like Warren had promised, I was actually flipping my boat over and getting back up, all in the maiden voyage of my Murrelet SDC.

Editor’s Note:  Since learning to roll Freya has now mastered 11 different rolls and has taken part in multiple rolling demonstrations (as is seen in the video above).




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