July 26, 2006

Here was the opening Email to me…


I have an interesting idea for a panel discussion debate at one of the big kayaking meetings. (AWA Annual or something like that.)

In a “Rolling and Bracing” video, a guy named Eric Jackson said (paraphrasing), “only a village idiot would ever believe that any boat is any harder to roll than other boat. I am ERIC JACKSON!!! And I say it ain’t true!!!”

On another DVD (that came with a Jackson Fun) another guy named Eric Jackson said that his boats are easy to roll. Obviously, the first Eric Jackson would find this notion preposterous since no boat is easier to roll than any other boat.

Maybe (at one of the big meetings alluded to above) the two Eric Jackson’s could have a panel discussion and debate on this point.

Actually, the first guy is wrong. People’s kayaking careers have almost ended because of switching from a Godzilla to an EZ. The Godzilla did it’s roll thing in Zoom Flume, Pinball, Three Rocks, Spikebuck (and pretty much every other named rapid) on the Arkansas. The EZ, on the other hand, led to swims in a pool (as well a kissing an offside roll good bye forever). After a lot ( a real lot) of pain and anguish (continuing somewhat in a Liquidlogic Hoss) I tried a Jackson 4 Fun last week. I actually described the 4 Fun (to another guy and my wife) as “embarassingly easy” to roll. As a PhD aerospace engineer with Lockheed Martin, I am still dumbfounded at the performance of the Fun boat. I still can’t decide whether it is due to the exterior hull design or the superior outfitting. The hull response is very slick, but I also feel like the interior design (wearing a boat rather than sitting in a boat) results in almost 100% transmission of body torque into the roll. Whatever it is, I never believed it possible. The 4 Fun is actually too small, but I am definitely going to look into the Super Fun. Interested in buying a Hoss cheap?

(As far as why I spent more time rolling than kayaking, I need to go back and view “Kayaking with Eric Jackson” again. I just need to check which Eric Jackson did that video. I’m suspicious of the first guy.)

Tom d.

Here is my response:

Hi Thomas,

All you have said is spot on and true, however, there are simply missing facts that would lead a PHD aerospace engineer to be dumbfounded. As a “self proclaimed” PHD of kayak rolling, and kayaking in general, I have this tidbit to offer you, which you can prove to be factual through video analysis of yourself and friends. (fun project!)

The thing engineers don’t study a lot of, generally, is psychology. It is the brain that determines whether or not you will successfully roll a boat or not, not the boat. Don’t stress yet, I have some explaining to do to understand why I would say your first paraphrased sentence, and still focus so hard on making a boat “easy to roll” at the same time. (I had already done the boat design of the Fun when I was making that video).

I can hand roll the Hoss, EZ, Fun, or any boat with one hand. One hand has probably 1/10th the power of a 199 cm paddle with normal blades. As I describe in my video, a paddle is like a bazooka, while a single hand is like a BB gun. You can make a bunch of mistakes and still roll with a paddle, where you must roll fairly well to roll with one hand. However, if you can roll a boat with one hand, it makes no physical sense that you can’t roll it with a paddle! You could use a variety of physics methods to prove the amount of energy it takes each boat to roll and you would be shocked at how similar they really are, and ultimately you would have to look elsewhere to why it is through general public perception, including yourself, hard to roll. You already identified one possibility, the outfitting, or “cockpit design”. While that actually does make a big difference in the “reality of whether a boat is easy to roll or not” it can be proven physically that it makes little difference.

Now- I will identify the things that determine in practice (reality, on the river, or in the pool) whether a boat is easy to roll or not. (this list is what I know today, hopefully I’ll learn more in the future)

Rear cockpit height- lower the easier- period
Backband height- lower the easier- period
sidewalls of the boat- more flaired the easier
Width chine to chine- less is easier
body contact with the boat- the more the easier

Now- All of the above, I will reiterate should not be bought into by any kayaker, because while each of them improves the rolling of a kayak by a small margin, the difference between rolling or not rolling can’t be found on that list. If you can roll a Fun you can roll a Hoss— IF…

If you complete your hip snap and keep your head down. BUT YOU DON’T, DO YOU! So the question is why do I bring my head up when I try to roll the Hoss? Is it because the boat is so hard to roll that I know I can’t make it and therefore I self destruct on purpose? No, that isn’t it:

Now here is the most important discovery I have made in rolling a kayak and in boat design and it is 100% psychological, but it can’t be ignored if you want to have people successfully rolling your kayak.

The moment you have done 50% of your hip snap and your boat is going from upside down to its side, and passing that point, you are in the position where you will do one of two things.

1. you will perceive that things are going really well and your brain will remain focused on the task at hand (upright the kayak with your hips) or:

2. you will perceive some difficulty or challenge and go to autopilot (self destruct mode) where your intuitive response is to get your body out of the water (which means lift your body and head with muscles that are on the opposite side from the muscles that create a hip snap, which turns your boat on top of you (left knee for righty rolls). While you may try in vain to save yourself by pulling as hard as you can on the paddle diving it until there is nothing left and crashing back in the water, you have self-destructed, you have not tested two boats equally.

Here is where different boats succeed or fail in passing the psychology test that allows you to get to the end zone without self-destructing and failing on your roll (not because the boat doesn’t roll, because you stopped using rolling technique and go to head lifting, anti-hip snapping mode)

1. flat side walls, no flair- Flair in the sidewall means that once you get 50% of the way up the boat tries to upright itself, with maybe 5 pounds of pressure or less. That 2-5 pounds of assistance is a mental stimulus like a hand of god that allows you to go the distance and continue your hip snap. Throw the same person in the same basic boat with no flair and they get to that point and feel 2-5 pounds of ‘resistance’ (actually just less assistance) and resort to self-destructing technique.

2. Rear cockpit, backband- these truly do make a difference, if you are hand rolling, by more than 5 pounds. Since Work = ForceXDistance; anything that prevents you from being able to keep your body low to the water during the roll increases the difficulty of rolling, assuming you would otherwise have taken advantage of the low body position. You can measure the minimum body height you can stay upright in (laying on the back deck, head arched towards the water). The Fun is on the water, while some boats are at least 1 foot higher (or more), meaning 130 foot/pounds of work if your body weighs that. This makes a big difference if you only have 140 foot/pounds of energy in your hands and need 130 of them just in extra effort.
3. Width of chine to chine- the water resistance you feel pushing the extra volume and moving the water with a wider hull can be measured by the brain and it works against you. There are magic numbers for the size of the boater to make a planning hulled kayak “roll like a displacement hull” and have that work in practice, even though it is also mental.

Summary: If you got in an EZ today- you would roll it no problem, (sound like a money bet or what?!). however I can only assume you went from a Godzilla to an EZ. Do you really think that the EZ was hard to roll? Not what the general public would say if you polled them on Boatertalk or any chat board, so why you?? Because the Godzilla had more flair, a narrower chine to chine measurement, and similar cockpit/backband heights. You have since had a Hoss, which has a high backband and little flair you have been conditioned to that feeling, even if you didn’t have any success in it. Get in the EZ today and you will not self-destruct at the 50% point unless you are still very borderline as a roller in your Fun and even the most subtle changes cause the mental click from hip snap to/ head up self-destruct.

So the Eric Jackson in a rolling video would never say empower someone to use their boat as an excuse, because it ISN’T. Learning to roll is important, and learning to focus on the task at hand, even when things don’t feel just right is part of bombproofing your roll. As long as you can’t paddle a Hoss without swimming, you can’t paddle a Fun without eventually swimming too. HOWEVER>>>

Eric Jackson who makes and sells kayaks knows that when we are on the subject of equipment, and that a Fun is “embarrassingly easy to roll” he can make the paddling careers of countless paddlers better by allowing those boaters to be successful today, without bombproofing their rolls. In addition, by increasing their successes, and confidence, it is, in itself, a step towards bombproofing their rolls, where hopefully they can get over the hump to where when they get back in that “hard to roll” boat just for kicks, they find that they can use their rolling technique past the 50% point and stay on task, finishing their hip snap, rolling up and no longer having a delicate roll that can be broken down by a simple 2-5 pound impulse that is less than 1/10 of their pulling capacity.

There is a method to the madness and more than anything I want paddlers to have fun on the water and truly enjoy each outing, which a MAJOR part of this requires confidence in their roll.

That is why, “EJ’s Rolling and Bracing” is out there and why any boat that says Jackson Kayak on it is easy to roll. (the Star series is harder than the rest, but priorities prevail in those boats- playboating first, river running second, everything else is river running first, playboating second) Don’t get me started on the design concepts and mental aspects of the Fun series!

I hope that my answer is what you are looking for. I appreciate your direct questioning and that it was well thought out, not just a rant. Feel free to post this anywhere you want.


Finally Tom’s response:


I want to sincerely thank you for your response. You are, of course, correct in everything you say. When the roll is right, there is no perception of effort. A simple body motion and everything works and the paddle seems superfulous to the whole thing. I saw your point today on the river. On the majority of rolls, everything started well, went well and ended well. But several times (for whatever reason) the flow of karma got interrupted and:

2. you will perceive some difficulty or challenge and go to autopilot (self destruct mode) where your intuitive response is to get your body out of the water (which means lift your body and head with muscles that are on the opposite side from the muscles that create a hip snap, which turns your boat on top of you (left knee for righty rolls). While you may try in vain to save yourself by pulling as hard as you can on the paddle diving it until there is nothing left and crashing back in the water

(Actually, there was no crashing, just a lousy roll. Got up, but zero style points.) As I continued I focused on “the task at hand” and, realizing when a difficulty had arisen, concentrated even more on “hip snap, head down”. Guess what? Good rolls.

Having now put the 4 Fun into some more aggressive whitewater, I am even more impressed with the design. The handling and control are awesome. You definitely have a good thing going.

I suspect you have heard this before, but your contributions to kayaking are genuinely appreciated. You are an articulate (and pretty humorous) spokesman. The videos are great (especially the jumping fish and curious dogs) and, as my wife and I are finding out (she loves her Fun), the products are great. What is hard to put into words is how much it means that a hotshot like Eric Jackson really seems to care whether or not the schmucks at my level “get it”. We have our collection of other tapes/DVDs, but in many cases it seems like it was “I have a skill I can market, so I’m marketing it.” You, on the other hand, seem to genuinely care about the sport and all participating in it.

(An introverted engineer is one who looks down at his shoes when he passes some one in the hallway. An extroverted engineer is one who looks at the other person’s shoes when he passes them in the hallway.)

thanks again


Ok… so bomb proofing your roll:

Bombproof your Roll (by Eric Jackson)
Here is how to take your roll from where it is to 100% effective.
Everyone learns to roll, then goes through some kind of regression, forgets their roll, then gets it pretty good again giving them 90% confidence in it, then oops, what happened. At this point, where you are, you will either rise up, or go down forever. There is no medium ground here. You know you have the skills to roll, it is a head game, here is what you do. (I have taught thousands of people to roll, and they never swim!)
You must be confident and proficient in your basic technique. So start at the beginning. Go to the side of the pool, practice the hip snap. You must pay attention when doing it (no going through the motions). Keep your head in the water until the cockpit hits you in the side (you have done a complete hip snap) then bring your head out. Remember, you body is weightless in the water, 1″ out of the water and you weigh 150 pounds (or what ever you weigh) So upright the boat while weightless, then bring your body out.
Do the same exercise, but with your paddle on the side of the pool, drop in the water, hip snap up. Open your eyes and look at the bottom of the pool, don’t take your eyes off the bottom until your boat is upright..
Do the entire roll a couple of times having someone watch for proper technique.
If you can roll again, with 75% proper technique or better, you are ready for the next step, becoming a roller for life.
Rolling vs. swimming is a no compromise mental decision!
When you are underwater, your ability to make quality decisions is limited. In fact, I wouldn’t want to rely on any decisions I make underwater. So it is critical to make all important decisions in advance of getting in your kayak.
#1 Decision- When I flip over, I roll up. This is an easy one. If you are walking across the street and you fall down, you just stand up and walk to the other side. You don’t lay there and wait for someone to help you. Why? Because you know how to stand up. If you try to get up and fall again, what do you do? You stand up and walk across the street before you get run over by a truck. If you tip over, you roll up, if you miss a roll, you set up and do it right the next time.
Rolling is easy- you know how to do it on both sides. The only time you don’t roll is when you aren’t focused on the task at hand- SET UP, COCK UP, HIP SNAP, HEAD DOWN. That is all you can do when underwater.
Important facts-
All you can do underwater is roll up.
If you think about anything but rolling up, you will have more trouble rolling.
You tip over and your paddle hits a rock underwater— Set up and roll
You are set up but your head bounces on a rock— roll up You feel a huge boil and swirly water and you are having trouble setting up– Set up and roll (it may take another 5 seconds)
You are up against rocks on one side— Set up and roll on other side.
Get the point- Everytime you are upside down, you focus on the roll and roll up.
The option- Swim (It takes at least 5 more seconds to get air than rolling, you bang your legs, waste 5 minutes, get cold, endanger yourself and everyone with you) So swimming is not an option.
How do I practice my roll to have total confidence it will always work?
Once you are confident in a pool that you will get back up if you tip over (you can roll) you can begin your real roll practice.
Never, never, never tip over with your paddle set up in roll position!!!
This will never happen in a river, so practicing this way means every time you tip in a river it will feel different to you then in practice. Your goal is to get comfortable with every conceivable position to start your roll from underwater.
Examples: Tip with your paddle behind your back, over your head, holding with one hand, backwards, bad grip, etc. Tip with your paddle off to the side of the boat, look for it and swim to it, grab it set up and roll.
Time your self underwater- practice extending your time underwater with a reasonable comfort level. (The average person is comfortable for 10-15 seconds on the first try and 15-30 seconds on the second try. This means it is possible for you to double the time you have to be comfortable underwater with a little practice (underwater is no big deal unless you feel panic, extending the time you have before panic is easy and critical)
Learn an “intuitive roll”- You can now roll any old which way but loose. You no longer roll set up. You can pass your paddle over the boat while underwater, etc. Awesome. One more step…
Getting past the “learned, mechanical roll”. You do a sweep roll, or a C to C roll. Fine. Rolling though is simply getting a bite on the water and hip snapping up. (you should take your roll past the beginner phase and learn to roll in all kinds of positions of paddle and body)
Here is how you do it-
Flop in the water with your paddle in the high brace position and roll back up (deep high brace).
Same thing but let the paddle go underwater to a 30 degree angle then roll up.
Do it again letting the paddle go deep to 60 degrees, then roll up.
go to 90 degrees then roll up. (miss a roll?, no problem, set up and roll normally)
What you are trying to achieve in the above exercise is to learn what you can get away with and still roll up. It is not necessary to “set up do a CtoC roll” everytime. In fact, most of the time you should be able to turn a flip into a quick hipsnap back up. Why? Because you generally tip over with the paddle in a position that is similar to one that your are practising above (60 degrees into the water for example)
You can always set up and do the “proper roll technique” if you miss a quick roll up. However, if you don’t learn that you can roll from any position, you won’t ever have an intuitive roll.
Decide that you NEVER swim. (The only time swimming is safer than staying in the boat is when the boat is pinned solid to something)
Practice “combat rolls” only- that is the only kind you will ever have to do.
Extend the amount of time you are comfortable underwater (a bath tub is good for this too)
Learn an “Intuitive roll”- rolling any which way, (it is all about getting a bite on the water with your paddle and doing a good hip snap, keeping the head down.)
Imagine every possible situation that could possibly occur in the river and try to simulate it in the pool (use the sides, use other kayakers, use a broken paddle, etc)
Learn a hand roll after the intuitive roll.
Rolling up forward
One more thing, time to put an old wives tale to rest once and for all!!!! It is not better to roll leaning forward vs. leaning back!
The last three years there has been some kind of underground cult that has ruined the rolls of thousands of boaters, endangering them in the river, ruining their confidence, and their on the water enjoyment. This cult has been teaching that you should ALWAYS roll up leaning forward. BS, NO GOOD!
Their theory is by rolling up leaning forward you protect your face from hitting rocks. Wrong!! By the time you have done your hip snap and are coming up, if you are leaning back your face is pointed at the sky, not the bottom of the river.
Leaning forward during hip snap hinders your hip snap by 50%. This means you will be missing many more rolls than if you lean back. It also raises your centre of gravity on the roll by 50% taking more energy to roll up.
You want to nail your first roll everytime! This means good hip snap (leaning back a little or all of the way), keep your centre of gravity low (leaning back) and finish every roll in bracing position (leaning back, paddle out to the side)
Leaning forward means missing rolls, slamming rocks on your way back in, coming up out of position for a good brace to keep you up, etc. Say no to the cult!
With all of this said remember….
You will see me, and all of the best boaters breaking all of the rules mentioned about (except the swimming part) because our rolls are so intuitive that we just “roll up” with no regard to technique or a consistent approach. (I rarely ever set up and roll, I often lean forward so I am in position to take my next stroke, I will lean back if it is important that I stay up) etc. You too can get there, but a breaking out of the “mechanical roll” mould is the first step.
I hope this was a worthwhile rolling article for everyone.
See you on the water,
Here is a video from this past summer teaching a beginner to roll in less than 15 minutes…
Here is a video on how to improve your roll, once you have learned to roll…
Here is a video on improving the brace, which is a BIG help in improving your roll!
 More coming when I get back from Africa!