When paddling a kayak, it is often important to keep your head above water, due to the rather inefficient manner in which your body breathes liquids. Unfortunately, most kayakers spend a significant amount of time dangling upside down from their boats. In order to right oneself in a kayak and supply one's lungs with a more suitable respiratory fluid, one performs what is known as an Eskimo roll.

    An Eskimo roll is accomplished through a carefully executed set of muscle movements, and may or may not involve a paddle or auxiliary flotation device. The most frequently encountered version of the Eskimo roll is executed using a two-bladed kayaking paddle for support and balance. The Eskimo roll is preferred to the wet exit for a number of reasons. In a river, a wet exit can be hazardous or fatal. Also, performing an Eskimo roll allows you to continue your paddling trip without pausing to bail the water out of your boat. Finally, a snappy Eskimo roll impresses the men/women you're paddling with, and could result in showers of praise and lavish displays of affection. A babe magnet, in other words (assuming a heterosexual male reader).

    Strangely enough, the Inuit have little to no need for an Eskimo roll. Though they've been paddling kayaks for thousands of years, submersion in the frigid northern waters typically means hypothermia and/or death. They developed such prowess with kayaks so as to be able to hunt narwhal and sea lions from sea kayaks, all the while remaining upright and in control of their craft. For the rest of you, I offer up this brief tutorial on how to execute an Eskimo roll. First, a few words of caution. Do not paddle by yourself unless you are skilled, experienced, and aware of the possible consequences. There is safety in numbers. Wear adequate flotation at all times. If you're paddling whitewater, wear a helmet. I assure you the rocks on the riverbed are harder (and pointier), even, than your thick skull. Stick with Class I-III rapids until you have a feel for your whitewater Eskimo roll. Practice your roll on flatwater or in a swimming pool first. At sea, carry an extra 'breakdown' paddle. Carry inflatable paddle flotation and a bilge pump. Know how to use same. Use common sense. Floss. Wear sunscreen.

    The rest of this writeup deals with one way to execute an Eskimo roll in a whitewater kayak. It assumes a righthanded paddler, familiar with wet exiting, using a two-bladed paddle with less than 90 degrees of dihedral and alignment ridges under the knuckles, setting up on the left side of their body. Everyone else will have to go buy a book or something. Ready?

    There are four stages to a successful Eskimo roll. They are the setup, sweep, snap, and settle. Each can be practiced separately. Combining the four into a fluid motion is the end goal. You should, however, draw distinctions in your mind while you're executing to keep the stages separate. You don't want to still be setting up while you're sweeping, for example.

    To setup, get yourself in a kayak. Attach your sprayskirt. Be certain the sprayskirt's pull loop is on the OUTSIDE. This is important. If you have to ask why, you'll understand when you learn to wet exit. Remember, that was one of the assumptions. Affix a noseclip if necessary. Grab a paddle. Flip yourself over. Hang there for a little while (a few seconds). Look at the bottom of the swimming pool (you are practicing in a swimming pool, aren't you?). Feel the exquisite beauty of being suspended upside down under water. Most people never experience this. Now, contract your stomach muscles to bring your head down towards the surface of your sprayskirt. This is the same motion as trying to kiss your ass goodbye. Place both hands on the left side of the boat, as far under the boat as possible. Try to get your left hand to be just under your backside. Try to get at least your right hand out of the water, if not both hands. Assuming a normal grip on the paddle, and about a 60-90 degree dihedral, curl your hands 60 degrees at the wrists, as though you were trying to gesture to someone (with both hands) to put something down. Pause. The reason you're in this position is twofold; your helmet and back are protecting your face, forehead, and chest from rocks on the bottom of the pool (err, river), and your right paddle blade is now resting on the surface of the water, parallel to the waterline. Splash your right paddle blade a little to check it out. Nice fat flappy splash, right? Good.

    To sweep, consider the top-down view of your craft. Your paddle, when the bow of the boat is pointed at 12 o'clock, is oriented such that the right blade is at about 1:30. The right blade is the blade of interest, because it's the blade you're going to rely on a little for support and balance. Take the right blade, and skim it over the water's surface, to about a 3:30 or 4:00 position on the clock face. Do this smoothly, and open your body a little as you do so. This is quite a bit harder than it sounds. When you get this maneuver correct, your paddle won't 'dive' down into the water, and you'll be ready for the next step. At the end of the sweep, curl your head down onto your right shoulder.

    To snap, simultaneously curl your head onto your left shoulder and flail your hips (hard!) from curled to your right, into curled to your left. This hipsnap is the single most important aspect of the roll. You can practice it by the side of the pool by gently holding the side of the pool, inverting your boat, and trying to right yourself using only your hips (and no pressure on your hands). If all goes well, your right paddle blade will give you just a little extra help if you need it. Since it is oriented parallel to the water, leaning on it gives you what is essentially a low brace. You have now (hopefully) flung yourself upright. The next stage involves making sure you stay that way.

    To settle, slowly regain equilibrium using your right paddle blade for torque. Gently, slowly, let your head come off your left shoulder and back to its upright and locked position. Open your eyes as soon as possible to avoid oncoming rapids. Once you've regained equilibrium, you're done.

    Congratulations, you just completed an Eskimo roll.

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