Eskimo rolling a sea kayak, if you get everything right, is physically, at least from a perceived exertion perspective, pretty easy. Intellectually, however, there is a lot of mental gymnastics going on. First, you are upside down in water, you can't breathe and are some what disorientated. The first thing you intuitively try to do is get your head up, the second is pull on paddle, and the third, is pull on the off-side knee – generally all at once. Taken individually each of these is enough to precipitate you back into the water, and together, they are a recipe for remaining inverted.
Spring climbing in the Adamants
My own journey to eskimo rolling is long and tortuous. Last summer, I had a quasi-reliable roll under perfect conditions, but, somewhere over the winter, I completely lost the ability to roll, and, repeated attempts and learning sessions almost inevitably resulted in many more failures than successes. I was often tempted to quit, and, the only reason I didn't is that I am the classic type A personality, with that A in super big bold font. I simply don't quit.
So, as someone who has finally learned a physically easy but mentally challenging activity, what works and what doesn't:
- Persistence, practice and patience. Nothing more needs to be said. No-one ever got better at anything without these three P's.
- Accurate feedback. All that rah, rah, “dude, you crushed it,” bullshit does not help anyone get any better. You need accurate feedback on how well you are performing. There are thousands of misguided mediocre recreationalists out there thinking they are top-draw climbers/skiers/paddlers because some one once told them they were a “badass.” Unless you are at the top of your game, you're not a badass. Don't wear the tee-shirt.
- Knowing when to switch strategies. You are either in “the dip” and on your way to final success, or you are on your way down the rabbit hole to mediocrity. The key is to know when to change strategies and when to push through. This is a tough one because, if you can't master the skill in question you are unlikely to know what to do differently.
- The ability to back up and learn the things you think you already knew, but actually know jack about. I thought I knew how to eskimo roll. After all, I had done a fair number of successful rolls in the past, but, I really didn't understand the process or exactly what to do with my body and paddle. I had to back way up to the first stages of learning before I could move forward. This takes a little bit of humility and a lot of insight.
- A desire to succeed and not be satisfied with anything less than success. No excuses, not now, not ever.
Summer climbing in the Selkirks