It all started last summer when my father proposed we paddle across the Columbia River at its leanest constriction, between Rowena and Lyle, to the mouth of the Klickitat River. He was in a kayak and I on a paddleboard. During the crossing the waves were manageable, even when considering what little cumulative experience in swift water we shared. After exploring the Klickitat for several hours, an afternoon gale kicked up the chop in the main channel. Though Dad was quite calm for the traverse, when we docked, each of us was shaken with the suggestion of capsizing.
Thankfully, Bend has a wintertime remedy for those seeking to gain kayak skills during the cold months: the Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe (TCKC) Brace & Roll Class at Juniper Swim & Fitness in Bend. The course is organized to teach students a series of dynamic body positions that when combined in a sequence allow the kayaker to roll through an inversion or capsized position and back to upright. Dad and I signed up.
The three-hour course starts at TCKC where novices watch the informative "The Kayak Roll" video by Kent Ford. They're also introduced and fitted to an assortment of gear, everything from kayak and paddle to spray skirt.
Though the newbie might be surprised to hear a skirt is involved in paddling, this isn't the pleated or pencil kind. Instead, the neoprene device snugly latches to a lip along the perimeter of the cockpit and simultaneously around the waist of the paddler. Austin Bunn, our American Canoe Association-certified instructor, explained that the skirt keeps the kayak afloat by preventing water from pouring into the cockpit.
After the gear and video introduction, we headed to the heated pool at Juniper. Our first maneuver, the wet exit, required removal of the skirt while suspended upside down in the kayak. Intimidating at first, within minutes Bunn had us styling spray skirt pulls like professionals.
Next, we were on to concepts such as the "hip snap," "centering over the boat" and "the rolling knee." Bunn explained that when all these techniques were applied together, the result was a beautifully executed roll. Many of the cues Bunn gave for body placement (i.e. looking at the paddle blade, hands curled back, elbows forward) emphasized shoulder safety. Bunn went to great lengths to break down the movements resulting in the safest and most efficient kayak roll.
As the class progressed, I kept up and became reasonably proficient at many of the moves. By class end, I was ecstatic that I could roll my kayak upside down on command and hang out underwater for seemingly an eternity without panicking. Having a very attractive nose plug from TCKC made all the difference.
The best part of the class was when my father's progress exceeded my own. My dad, Douglas Collins, reflected: "It was fear conquering. First thing I'll do on the next warm day is head out to Lost Lake and practice what I learned. From now on, I'll definitely wear a spray skirt if there is any chance of rough water."
Because it can be challenging to perfect a roll in one class, we opted for a special three-pack roll session, allowing for three back-to-back pool sessions and a discount on future courses such as Full Immersion or the Women's White Water Weekend.
Alex Scagliotti, a former OSU-Cascades student, loved the course as much as we did. "The roll sessions were a great way to overcome the biggest obstacle to becoming a competent kayaker—learning how to roll your boat," Scagliotti said. "During the class, students are able to meet others who are just getting into the sport and are able to build kayaking friend groups to go out and learn together with."
When Dad and I walked into the Brace & Roll Class, we didn't even know what we didn't know. After all, most of our paddle trips had been leisurely on the Deschutes and Tualatin rivers. Armed with the tools Bunn gave us, we're now prepared for another paddle on the Columbia and who knows what else. Being ready for something epic is always a good thing, no matter how small the epic. Plus, I never thought I would get to try on skirts with my dad.
Brace & Roll Classes
Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe
Sundays 3-6pm or 4-6pm through April