Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Kind of Music That Grooves the Soul

I spent three days on lakes trying to teach myself how to roll my kayak. I was cold. I kept getting water up my nose despite my nose plug. And I was spending much too much time upside down in my kayak trying desperately to right it much like a turtle would his shell, except turtles can hold their breath for hours.
So I hired a friend of a friend, John from Kayak East, to teach me to roll. He gave me a lesson during which I used his whitewater kayak. He was good and by the end of the lesson I was successfully rolling the kayak on my own most of the time.
The YPRC is a paddling club in Yonkers that boasts “Home to Olympic Champions” and is more importantly home to some really friendly folks. I was scheduled to join them at 6:00 for an evening paddle to be followed by a BBQ (traif) up in Yonkers. So I put in the water, again under the GWB (this time I left my car in a real parking space) and paddled up to Yonkers. I got there a couple of hours early and began working on my roll. I was getting most of them at first, but as I continued to practice I was getting less and less and not more and more. This may have been because I was getting tired, and it may have been because my technique was bad and getting worse. I didn't know.
On Wednesday I spent a couple hours on the water and finished with a successful roll. I was confident that I was getting it.
On Thursday I got my gear together for an overnight trip, the first of the season, and was on the water by late afternoon. I paddled north for a couple hours, fighting against the current, and made camp at the northern end of the Palisades Park. At 4:30 the next morning I was up and out at first light. Again heading north and against the current. I struggled all day in this fashion to get to Croatan Point for the Clear Water Festival. Without knowing much about it, I had agreed to volunteer for the YPRC at the festival.
Croatan Point is a one mile peninsula of parkland into the Hudson in a section where the river is two miles wide. The shores are beautifully forested with the palisades opposite the park creating one of the lower Hudson's most scenic locations.
I had read in my guide book that there is an out of the way campsite at Croatan Point that is maintained by the Hudson River Trail Association (HTRA) and marked by an HTRA sign reserved exclusively for the use of paddlers. In anticipation of campsites overcrowded by festival goers, I began to look for this more remote option. Paddling along the beachy woods in search of the sign I soon found a woman swimming with her dog. She asked me how far I had paddled to get there and seemed satisfied with my answer. Apparently, in her judgment, I had in fact come far enough to be worthy of the hidden campsites nestled into the thickly wooded hill above, near enough the festival grounds to be convenient, yet far enough away to be completely hidden and provide total privacy. I was shown the well hidden sign I was looking for and the woman explained to me that she was on the beach every day because she's a professional dog nanny, sadly the sweet fellow in her charge is getting on in years and limps from arthritis. Together they had the self appointed task of helping the many paddlers in my position. That task is a worthy one and I hope that fine dog will continue his good work for a while longer before he retires.
A note to other paddlers, the site is being overrun by poison ivy so be careful where you step.
One of my missions there was to know and learn from the more experienced paddlers in the Yonkers club so I ended up moving my gear to the location set aside for us. The club was there trying to get as many of the festival goers as possible to get some supervised time on a sit on top kayak on the river. The more people love the river and have fun on it, the more they will try to protect it.
After my gear was moved and I had helped with moving boats about I returned to work more on my Eskimo roll. I missed the first two rolls but got the last three. With my successes I took a moment to reflect on the situation, and then frantically capsized again and made a wet exit in pursuit of my glasses. I swam down against the buoyancy of my life jacket, then came up to take it off and in a moment was again searching the floor of the river. It's called the clear water festival, but the Hudson isn't very clear and I soon gave up.
Later that evening, as I was on my way to my pre-sabbath shower I talked to a woman who told me that I had a very cool hairdo and that I must have worked very hard on it. When describing what my hair looks like after a roll, the word “swirl” comes to mind.
On the sabbath itself I was helpful by standing on the beach and instructing people how to get into their boats, not to go past the buoys, and not to stay out too long. It is a sin to enter a boat on the sabbath (as I understand such things) but an obligation to pursue at all costs the saving of someone's life, so when early in the afternoon a kayaker from the club said he had lost track of his partner in some extremely challenging surf I was out on the water as quickly as possible in the direction of the missing paddler. I had only been out for a few moments however when he was finally reached by radio, so I returned my boat to the beach and left it there for the remainder of the day.
The next morning I was up early and practicing my roll. Initially the method I would use to reenter my boat after a wet exit (a failed roll) is called cowboy style since it involves straddling the bow of the boat like a horse and very carefully inching my way up towards the seat. I was now only getting my roll about a third of the time, however I did make significant progress with my reentry. Instead of getting back in the boat cowboy style, which is said to be impossible in rough water, I was now getting back into the boat by inserting myself underwater into the upside down cockpit and then completing the roll. As it turns out, a boat that's full of water is much easier to roll then an empty one despite well meant claims to the contrary that haunted me later on that day.
Mid morning had come and I had the job of perimeter, which meant that I was supposed to sit in my kayak and make sure everyone on the water was safe and didn't go past the buoys risking the current.
While I was out there on the water being bored I thought I would instead work some more on my roll, and began to do so. No luck, I had made several attempts. While some of them were close, I was soon out of air and made my wet exit. A fellow kayaker who shall be called the Captain was watching me. And now the Captain began talking to me. He had a lot of unhelpful things to say, like “You should be doing an extended paddle roll and not a C to C roll.” and it became clear that saying unhelpful things was something he was very good at, with the best of intentions.  (This was unhelpful because it in no way improved my C to C roll which is what I was working on.)
While this was going on, another kayaker, Ginger rolled her boat to show everyone else there, all the inexperienced kayakers on the sit on tops, how it should be done. This would have been more discouraging if Ginger wasn't gorgeous. She then offered me some tips, which I used as an excuse to ask her to meet me later in the day for additional coaching, but some how she knew I was hitting on her and politely declined.
My boat had taken on some water and in order to reenter cowboy style I would need to get the water out first as it made the boat more unstable. The Captain told me that I couldn't do it and that removing water wouldn't help. In his defense he did offer to help me get back in my boat, but I wanted to do it on my own.   So, thanks to the Captan's string of almost helpful comments I had not removed the water from my boat as I should have and was soon again holding onto my boat while floating next to it.
I had considered reentering it underwater and finishing the roll but I had been asked to cease any additional attempts to roll since it was important that we give the public the impression that we knew what we where doing and I clearly didn't. I had now been caught up in the current, much further out then I had realized. For a time I tried to use my paddle to swim against it but once I realized how strong it was I instead swam perpendicular to it and ended my disgraceful adventures for the morning.
A righteous fellow named Harley heard about my shame and worked with me that afternoon to fix my degraded efforts. He then told me that I would forget again and taught me what I would need to do to reteach myself. That evening I did some on my own and while I still wasn't getting every one, I didn't need to make a single wet exit. A tremendous victory.
There's an interesting person at the Yonkers club. I shall call him here, River Man. Often without a shirt, this fellow of indeterminate age (between 30 and 85) and too much time under the sun regularly paddles his canoe solo with a double bladed paddle of his own design. River Man was the only other person from the club to have paddled up and on Monday morning we both headed South with the current and made it home with only half a day under the hot sun. I was told that River Man knows more about the tides and currents of the Hudson then anyone else out there.
On Tuesday I again headed out to paddle with the YPRC and work on my rolls. I was still nailing almost all of them and some experts from the club were able to provide me with some genuinely constructive criticisms to get my technique close to perfection. The BBQ afterward was still trafe, but when the Commodore of the club (I didn't make this one up) realized that I was not partaking in their weekly festivity due to my dietary restrictions she declared “I am the commodore damn it, and I insist that a watermelon be opened” So I ate watermelon and it was good.
The other point of interest that evening was that I did meet a person of Olympic prowess at the club. A young lady, Eli, who had competed on the Italian Olympic fencing team until recently has offered me what assistance she can for when I'll off her native shores. I'm always happy to get invitations along my route.
My roll is not yet perfect and once I do manage to get it every time on flat water I'll have to learn to do it on my left side. And then I'll need to start trying it on rough water. It's an ongoing process, but thanks to help from the good patient people at the YPRC and elsewhere, I have in the last couple of weeks learned a great deal.


  1. Can you roll in choppy water?

  2. Yes, thanks for asking. I have now practiced rolling in choppy watter, at night, and on both sides with complete success.