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Eskimo roll

lähettänyt Mame Meloja 21.1.2012 klo 11.29   [ 21.1.2012 klo 11.29 päivitetty ]

My head is upside down below the water, my body is squeezed into a sea-kayak, and after a few tries to upright it I feel that I am fast running out of oxygen. It is time to pull the security handle of the spray skirt and make a wet exit. I am a bit too eager to get air into my lungs and I swallow enough water to make me cough.

But no, I am in no danger. Around me, in the pool of the Pirkkola swimming hall, a dozen of other kayakers are training the eskimo roll and other security exercises.

I had thought about learning it when I became a member of the kayak club of Marjaniemi about six years ago. The admittance procedure included a week-end in eastern Finland spent going down white-water rivers in very short kayaks. It was early June, the water temperature was not much above 10oC and I was regularly capsizing, having then to swim after my kayak, empty it on the shore and go back into it, shaking with cold. Whilst most of the others, experienced practitioners, were smoothly eskimo rolling if they happened to be taken off-guard by a wave or whirlwind. It was therefore very tempting to learn the same trick. But the training sessions organised by the club, during winter Sunday evenings, were not convenient.

However, about a month ago, while I was surfing internet, searching for a second-hand kayak, I came across a message by Marjaniemen Melojat, indicating that two rescue training sessions would be organized during the fall, on Saturday afternoons. Since this coincided with a period of renewed interest for this sport, I put my name on the participants' list by e.mailing to Monique Piquet, the person in charge of courses at the club.

I continued surfing internet where I found on YouTube a short but well-made video clip, clearly showing the movements of the body during an eskimo roll, in a double C-shaped motion.  That is first the positioning of the paddle perpendicularly to the kayak with one blade on top of the hull and the other as close to the water surface as possible, requiring the upper-body to form a sharp angle to the capsized kayak (the first C shape), with the head nearly upright. And then to make a vigorous pull on the active blade synchronised with a rocking of the hips to roll the kayak by 180 degrees but without moving the upper-body, therefore forming an opposite C-curve, and lastly to lift the head out of the water before taking back a vertical position.

I then started an intense mental training, picturing the succession of movements in my head, a tricky exercise given the starting position, upside down. But after a few days of repeated visualisation, I felt ready and self-confident.

But on this Saturday October 22nd, floating next to my kayak with my lifejacket uncomfortably up to my chin, I am not sure about anything anymore. I start the rescue process with another participant, the two kayaks in opposite direction, and after having relatively smoothly re-entered the cockpit, I scoop the water out ... before making a new attempt. After following the instructions and pulling vigorously the paddle, I can get my head enough outside of the water to take a quick gulp of air, but I inexorably fall back. And I try again and again until I have to pull the security handle and start the whole process from scratch.

Monique who is luckily (for me!) having a flu and not practicing today, comes to help. Under her supervision, I train along the pool-side the double C-shaped motion and then continue with a flotation balloon attached to the outer blade. It seems easy, until I try once more without outside support, just to miserably fail again and again.

After an hour and a half of non-stop training, I am exhausted and shivering with cold. I decide to take a break, lift the kayak on the pool side and watch the others who effortlessly practice different kind of complex exercises. It looks so simple, so easy. We are only three new-comers and the two others do not seem to be more successful than I. Meagre comfort!

There is hardly half an hour left. I would happily give up and go straight to the sauna to warm up. But it is not my style; I will try until the very last minute. I therefore re-enter the cockpit, attach the spray skirt around it, put on my swimming goggles and nose squeezer, and sit there for a while, motionless. Until I finally regain enough will power to tip over again.

And a miracle happens, I found myself suddenly outside of the water in an upright position, quite surprised of what is occurring to me. I scream out of joy, I did it, I have eskimo rolled, I am a pro!

I could stop on this success, but I start to doubt. Was it just luck? I therefore capsize again to clear the matter up. And despite my numerous attempts until nearly suffocating, I find it impossible to right the kayak up. I therefore have to shamefully exit, empty the water, go back into the cockpit and re-install the spray skirt. There are only a few minutes left and the others have started to come out of the pool. Ok, I won't be able to pretend that I master the eskimo roll, but I have at least succeeded once, it is already something.

But I however try a very last time... which happens to be another success. Good! I calm down, take back my breath and try again, only to achieve my third eskimo roll. Now I can reasonably pretend that luck is no longer the explanation. I then follow the others to a heartening sauna before bringing back the kayaks to the club's house. When I reach home, quite late, I am hungry, exhausted, but beaming with joy. I am also very thankful to Monique and the other volunteers of the kayak club who arrange such sessions.