Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sea Kayak Rolling Traditions

The ability to roll one's kayak is probably the single most effective rescue technique there is in the event of a capsize at sea. By learning and practicing a wide variety of rolling progressions, a paddler's confidence, safety and thus enjoyment of being on the ocean can improve immensely. One of the key principles to bear in mind is that it is the body, rather than the boat or blade, which controls the roll. However, having an appreciation of how rolling has evolved is of value too.

When time is taken to study historical records and well documented text such as Eastern Arctic Kayaks: History, Design, Technique by John Heath and Eugene Arima (2004) or Kayaks of Greenland by Harvey Golden (2006), it is possible to relate to and gain insights about how the rolling skills we teach and utilise today owe so much to our paddling ancestors from the Arctic regions, with Greenland being of particular importance. So regardless of which school of thought you follow in terms of learning how to roll, its worth taking the time to appreciate the heritage behind it.

The Inuit have used 'qajaqs' as a means of hunting and fishing for centuries. Tradition being that a qajaq would be made of seal skin stretched over a wooden frame. These qajaqs tended to be extremely buoyant as well easy to self-right in the event of turning completely over. Rolling a qajaq was considered an essential self-rescue skill that was learned and practiced on a regular basis. As a consequence, various rolls were developed to handle any and all situations that might arise. This included being entangled in fishing lines, losing a paddle and perhaps needing to roll using the available hunting equipment. 

David Crantz, writing his book History of Greenland in 1767, describes a number of methods by which an Inuit righted his craft, including full and half-paddle rolls, and rolls using the harpoon or hands. And not only were these skills observed by explorers and visitors but practiced also. Records show that the first non-Inuit known to have learned to roll was the Austrian, Edi Pawlata, who taught himself in 1927 after reading accounts by the explorers Nansen and Jophansen. An English explorer, Gino Watkins, learned directly from the Inuit in 1930, though unfortunately he disappeared on a trip to the Arctic soon afterwards.

Ironically, as rolling became popularised within a number of recreational paddling disciplines across Europe and America at the start of the 20th century, kayaking itself was loosing its value amongst the Greenlandic people as power boats became the chosen vessel to hunt from. This decline in use of the qajaq meant a whole generation was growing up with almost no knowledge of the craft or the associated skills and concern grew that the history and culture associated with the qajaq could be lost forever. So it was, in 1984, the Greenlanders started kayaking clubs across several regions and Qaannat Kattuffiat, the Greenland Kayaking Association became established.

The Greenland Kayaking Association is dedicated to keeping the traditional kayaking skills alive. This includes rolling, paddling techniques, kayak building, tuilik making and other aspects of the Greenland kayaking culture. Qaannat Kattuffiat holds regular training camps where this knowledge is taught and practiced, and organises an annual championship. Today there are approximately 25 local Greenland "qajaq" clubs affiliated with Qaannat Kattuffiat. There is also a chapter in Copenhagen (Qajaq Copenhagen) and the United States (Qajaq USA). The word "qaannat" is the plural of qajaq (kayaks) and Kattuffiat means "club or organization". Therefore the term Qaannat Kattuffiat literally means the kayaks' club.

The Greenland National Kayaking Championship takes place over the course of a week with all ages from children to the elderly competing. The event include racing, harpoon throwing, rolling and rope gymnastics. The purpose of these competitions is to keep tradition alive, and to teach the skills that the Greenlanders have used for so many years. Perhaps the discipline that draws the most attention is the rolling of which there are 35 listed techniques of increasing difficulty and hence points awarded. You can read more about each manoeuvre and the competition rules on the Qajaq USA website.

So whether you prefer the quick and forceful recovery of the C-to-C roll or choose to practice rolling techniques that rely more on flexibility and finesse, try to remember that both were born out of sea kayaking imperatives where reliability of technique for survival was paramount. For the Inuit hunters whose lives depended on their kayaking skills wet exits were just not an option in the frigid arctic waters. By way of contrast, modern day kayakers roll as much for the sheer pleasure of mastering an array of techniques as they do out of necessity to prevent an inglorious swim. However you chose to do it, take care and enjoy.

Sources and acknowledgements

Helen Wilson - Greenland or Bust

Greg Stamer - Kayak Vagabond

Mark Whitaker - Columbia River Kayaking

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Conway Ascent

The Conwy Ascent is an upstream canoeing event, taking advantage of the flood tide to start in the Deganwy Narrows and finish at Dolgarrog Bridge approximately 15km away. The river offers many challenges in reading water and weather conditions as well as being is rich in wildlife and beautiful scenery such as the imposing Conwy Castle.

The event is run by Dyffryn Conwy Paddlers and comprises both a marathon race and a tour, and paddlers may race or tour in any canoe or kayak of their choice. Following the successful introduction at the 2009 Conwy Ascent, there is also a race for Stand Up Paddleboards.

I found myself with a rare Saturday off from work and so decided to enter the tour, rather than the race, to give myself a chance to blow the cobwebs away. Its been a while since I have paddled competitively and I didn't really fancy the 'Le Mans' start, but registering for the event and wearing the bib did remind me of days gone by as a sprint and marathon paddler with West Cumbria Canoe Club.

The Afon Conwy is a beautiful river in North Wales flowing through the picturesque Conwy valley from the Snowdonia National Park to the sea. It meets the sea at Deganwy after passing under the walls of the 13th century castle and through the harbour at Conwy.

Paddling my Tiderace Xcite and using a Greenland paddle, I was pleased with my progress and completed the ascent in 1 hour, 24 minutes. I was surprised at how competitive I got after having passed several paddlers in the early stages. Maybe next year I'll give the race a go.

And for those who are looking for a bit more punch to their paddling then consider participating in the Menai Challenge as established by John Willacy, an accomplished racer and Anglesey circumnavigator. There is also the ‘Swellies Extreme’ Sea Kayak Race to participate in over 29th/30th October weekend organised by Kayak Essentials.

Pictures of the 2011 ascent can be found here

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

MCA Annual Canoe & Kayak Report

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has just published its annual canoeing and kayaking report which gives national statistics for 2010. 

Last year there were 456 canoeing and kayaking incidents in the UK. These included incidents where people got into difficulty due to underestimating weather and tidal conditions, lacked skill or were ill prepared. Abandoned kayaks and false alarms are incorporated within this statistic. Sadly, nine fatalities are also included. 

Report highlights include:

If boat owners put contact details on their craft and joined the CG66 small boat safety scheme the coastguard would be able to identify owners quickly and easily. This would result in fewer needless searches.

Kayakers and canoeists are encouraged to report their proposed activities to the appropriate coastguard maritime rescue coordination centre by routine telephone call or marine band radio.

If canoeists and kayakers are planning to leave their vehicles in public places for more than two days they should contact the coastguard.

The coastguard is receiving increasing reports of paddlers in difficulty which turn out to be kayakers fishing. If people are fishing they should contact the coastguard, by VHF radio if they have one or by telephone using the routine telephone number, to avoid wasted searches.

Some canoeists and kayakers are not wearing buoyancy aids or lifejackets – these are essential safety kit.

Participants who hired canoes and kayaks got into difficulty because they did not check weather and sea conditions.

Considering the total number of incidents throughout the year and the increasing number of paddling sport participants there were relatively few fatalities related to canoeing or kayaking incidents. 

You can download the complete report here

The following statistic were recently published within a thread on UK Sea Kayak Guidebook by an RNLI representative

2010: RNLI launched to paddlers 253 times out of a total of 8,713.
2009: RNLI launched to paddlers 274 times out of a total of 9,223.
2008: RNLI launched to paddlers 241 times out of a total of 8,293.

And here's a break down of the causes of those launches to paddlers:

2010 launches to paddlers:Adverse weather and conditions 114
Equipment failure 0
Man over board 24
Stranding/collision/nav failure 11
Person in difficulty 1
Other 103

2009 launches to paddlers: 
Adverse weather and conditions 138
Equipment failure 0
Man over board 26
Stranding/collision/nav failure 13
Person in difficulty 6
Other 91

2008 launches to paddlers:
Adverse weather and conditions 116
Equipment failure 2
Man over board 24
Stranding/collision/nav failure 6
Person in difficulty 9
Other 84

The 'other' category includes false alarms with good intent and malicious hoax calls, assistance by other people, searches where the casualty is not found or found by others, and incidents where the casualty has sorted out the situation themselves.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Leaders...Born Of Nature or Practice?

Leaders, born or made? Scholar Richard Arvey found that among twins, leadership is 30 percent genetic/born and 70 percent learned/environmental. A pretty interesting thought to start with. We can also turn to the work of K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues which may get to the heart of developing leadership in yourself and others…

“People believe that because expert performance is qualitatively different from normal performance the expert performer must be endowed with characteristics qualitatively different from those of normal adults. This view has discouraged scientists from systematically examining expert performers and accounting for their performance in terms of the laws and principles of general psychology. We agree that expert performance is qualitatively different from normal performance and even that expert performers have characteristics and abilities that are qualitatively different from or at least outside the range of those of normal adults. However, we deny that these differences are immutable, that is, due to innate talent. Only a few exceptions, most notably height, are genetically prescribed. Instead, we argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a lifelong period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain” (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Romer, 1993, pp. 399-400).

One key seems to be intentionality and one problem is that many people are not deliberately “practicing” effective leadership. There is often no coach and it’s hard to get a real perspective on effectiveness, and even more difficult to get unfiltered perceptions of others. Feedback (personal, 360, coaching from supervisor or consultant) is one way to gauge progress. However, the interventions listed above are somewhat rare in organisational life. For instance, other than the annual performance review, what kind of ongoing coaching do you receive from your supervisor? Hopefully, a lot. Maybe not though.

Do some have a certain level of natural talent? Likely. Can others get better over time? Sure. Are you practicing the right stuff? Hopefully. 

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

6th UK Storm Gathering - Contributors

The following people have offered their services to help coach and guide at the 6th UK Storm Gathering that will held on Anglesey this October.

I would recommend spending time on the water with any of them if you wish to expand your skills or increase your knowledge of sea kayaking.

Nick Cunliffe - Kayak Essentials

Helen Wilson - Greenland or Bust

Roger Chandler - Coastal Spirit

Jeff Allen - Sea Kayaking Cornwall

James Stevenson - Adventure Elements

Tony Hammock - Sea Freedom Kayak

Ollie Jay - Active4Seasons

Dave Simpson - Plas y Brenin

Aled Williams - Tiderace Sea Kayaks

Richard Rogers - Professional Paddlesports Ambassador

Richard McEvoy - Professional Paddlesports Ambassador

Ali Othen - Oswestry School Adventure Education

......and finally, but by no means least

In the coming weeks their profiles and picture will appear on the UK Storm Gathering blog to give you an insight into the folk who will be on the water with you, and more guest coaches are expected soon.