Perfecting the 'Eskimo roll' on the Deerfield River

Friday May 11, 2012

It’s so easy to get caught up in the things that you have to do and put aside the things you want to do. Work, school, house, family, friends all make demands on your time. But now that warmer weather is here, if you can manage to grab some outdoor time, doing something that isn’t on your "chores" list, it’ll make your world a better place.

The hiking has been wonderful (at times) this spring. The drought dried the trails out nicely, black flies have yet to appear in some places (though they are out in force in others ... ) I have found some time for a few short hikes this spring. Back in late April, for example, while Mari lyn was busy with a social commitment, I took a Sunday stroll on the Lincoln Trail up the flanks of Mount Kearsarge in Sutton and Warner, N.H., (the trailhead is just off I89 Exit 10).

This is part of the Sunapee-Ragged-Kearsarge Greenway ( loop of day-hiking trails (no overnight camping permitted). But it doesn’t get much traffic. On a beautiful, sunny, breezy day, perfect for hiking, I saw one other group of three hikers. Otherwise had the trail to myself. I didn’t have time to make it all the way to the summit of Kearsarge and return, but I did make it up Black Mountain, a hill with a wonderful view of Kearsarge and north to Cardigan. Good exercise, great fun, a perfect way to escape for four hours. I really think you should have been there with me.

This past weekend, I was in Charlemont, Mass., at Zoar Outdoor (www.zoaroutdoor. com), where I saw lots of other folks grinning from ear to ear as they came off the aerial adventure zipline canopy tour. Other groups were whitewater rafting. And if it had been just a little warmer, I’m sure others would have been floating down easier stretches of the river on sit-on-top kayaks. I’m pretty sure they were enjoying life more than if they’d been home mowing the lawn.

I was at Zoar for a whitewater paddling clinic on Fife Brook and the Deerfield River. These rivers are dam-controlled and flood on schedule. This is the perfect place to learn whitewater paddling, which requires a whole different set of skills, is more technically difficult, potentially more dangerous, but also faster-paced and much more adrenaline-charged than flatwater kayaking. It’s not something you want to try to learn on your own or from well-meaning friends who may not be skilled teachers.

This is the second clinic I’ve taken from Zoar and, both times, I’ve spent two consecutive days in the company of excellent teachers, who also happen to be really skilled paddlers. Step by step, I’ve learned how to safely paddle on swiftly flowing water. I’m still not a strong or skilled whitewater paddler, but each time out I get a little better, feel more confident, and have a little more fun.

I could have stayed home and worked or done chores, I suppose. But I’m really glad I didn’t. Honestly, can you think of a better way to spend a day of your life than to be outdoors, challenging yourself to be better today than you were yesterday?

Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

On a roll ...

OK, if it sounds like I’m braggin’ here It’s because ... well, I am! After a number of learning sessions, both in groups and with solo instruction, and failing at all of them, I finally learned how to roll a kayak upright after (deliberately) flipping it.

In certain situations (whitewater paddling, big waves on the ocean) and certain boats, it’s really easy to find yourself suddenly upside down in a kayak. At that point, you can do a "wet exit" (unfasten your spray skirt from the boat’s cockpit coaming, wriggle out, float to the surface, hopefully with your paddle in one hand and the other holding the boat). Then you have to either swim to shore and dump the water out of the boat, or wriggle back in, pump the water out of the boat and resettle yourself.

An "Eskimo roll," which flips the kayak upright with you still in place, is much more elegant. It’s also safer in flowing water or waves. Trouble is, a roll isn’t easy to learn. It’s like a gold swing -- you have to do many things at once.

Fortunately, my instructor at Zoar, Ben Natusch, was extraordinarily patient. He took the time with me to break the whole process down into tiny increments, which I could learn one at a time, and he didn’t get discouraged (as I did), when I failed miserably on the first day. On the second day, we tried again. Suddenly, all the pieces clicked and I rolled my kayak upright eight times, failing only once (Ben was right there to save me when I failed)

Can’t wait to get back on the water and turn my rudimentary skills into an absolutely reliable roll I can count on with any boat in any situation. I’m psyched! Thanks, Ben!

Demo days

If you are thinking about taking up kayaking or buying a kayak, be sure you get yourself to one of these on-water demos, where you can compare lots of boats .

Saturday -- New England Backpacker ( at Eagle Lake, Holden, Mass.,10 a.m. to 4 p.m..

Saturday, May 19 -- Kittery Trading Post ( Paddlesports Demo Day at Spring Hill in South Berwick, Maine, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Kayaks from 15 manufacturers, plus canoes and stand up paddleboards (SUPs).

Sunday May 20, -- Contoocook River Canoe Company ( demo/sale event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Merrimack River near Concord, N.H., with over 200 kayaks, canoes and SUPs, plus demo paddles by Werner and Bending Branches.

Saturday, June 9 -- EMS ( Eastern Connecticut, Bluff Point, Groton, Conn., 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., they’ll have kayaks and SUPs to try.

June 22-24 -- Zoar Outdoor (www.zoaroutdoor), Charlemont, Mass., a three-day event complete with barbecues, films, mini-clinics and the opportunity to paddle the latest whitewater kayaks. Pre-register for mini-clinics at 800-532-7483.

Tim Jones is the executive editor of the online magazine and writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email:


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