Big water question #2: Suggestions for rolling in big waves - Mountain Buzz

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Old 06-09-2004   #1
Join Date: Oct 2003
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Big water question #2: Suggestions for rolling in big waves

The lower canyon of the Middle Fork was flowing at 10,000 cfs. While my roll is pretty solid in creeks, it was a different story in the continuous big waves. The waves were 6-12 feet peak-trough.

If I hit the roll at the right time on the wave, the roll was easy, if not the roll failed.

Do you want to roll just before the top of a crest? Or, it seems that it depends on which side you are rolling on--if your paddle is down river, you want to roll going up a wave so you get more water, and visa-versa if your paddle is up river.

Any suggestions on how to roll at the right time in a wave?


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Old 06-09-2004   #2
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The top of the wave. If you are at the top, it doesn't really matter what way you are facing, just use your best on-side roll and be ready to high-brace IMMEDIATLY with the next wave till you get your bearings. If you are not sure if you are at the top of the wave yet while in the wave-train, wait for the next wave. You will feel the unjulation (up and down) of the waves, feel the pattern, and pop a roll when you feel that little "stall" sensation up top.

Remember, the fact that there is a big wave-train tells you that the water is probably pretty freaking deep, so you do not need to roll super fast. Take your time and make your first (or second) attempt a good one.

Know that most wave-trains end with flat water, and the waves nearly always get smaller as the train progresses. We have all seen people (or done so ourselves) freak out by missing rolls in the bigger waves only to panic and swim in the FLAT water. Don't do that. Being upside down in the water isn't the worst way to go down the river. Swimming beside your boat is the worst way to go down the river. Remember, wave trains are deep water so relax and count some fish.
"So in two seconds, away we went, a sliding down the river, and it did seem so good to be free again and all by ourselves on the big river and nobody to bother us." -Mark Twain (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)
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Old 06-09-2004   #3
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I agree with Ed's assessment of waiting for the peak of a wave, but must share one experience that has caused me to change strategy slightly. I am hesitant to offer this b/c I am not a "seasoned veteran" by any means, but I think this experience is worth sharing.

Earlier this year, I ran Shoshone at about 2500 cfs. On Superstition (the last big wave train rapid after Tombstone), the first wave was over 10' and flipped me b/c I was just plain being lazy, before I reached the peak. I set up in a tuck position, and waited for the first pause at the peak of the next wave to get my timing, and then prepared to hit my roll on the next pause, which I was fully anticipating (all in line with Ed's description). However, as I accelerated down the trough, I smashed my head with such force on a rock that I am very suprised I was not knocked out - I mean HARD. I still hit my roll, but was very disorientated (had to roll again on the minor run out waves), and was seriously trying to remember the day of the week when I caught the first eddy.

In my case, all of the impact was absorbed squarely on the top of my helmet, however this did transfer into my neck, leaving my neck and upper shoulder sore for about a week. Had the impact occured off to the side, or to the front on my forehead, I am sure there would have been severe damage to my helmet rendering me unconcious.

My main point is that even in the better scenario of deep water in big wave trains, there is still lots of danger. I know this rapid well - I thought I was in the middle, in very deep water, and I still found a rock. I suspect the waves were so big and the troughs so deep (and therefore creating shallower water), that the rock I hit was usually covered at the "normal" flows I run Shoshone at around 12-1800. In addition, the water was moving so much faster due to high flows, and my acceleration down the back side into the trough was so great, that the impact was very, very hard.

The only thing I offer is how this changed my strategy. If I am fully set up, and ready to go at that first pause, I am going for it. Had I hit my roll on the first pause (which I was basically ready to do), I would not have a story to tell. I am not staying soft side down any longer than I have to anymore. The most important strategy is to wait for the pause at the top of the wave, but I maintain to attempt a roll ASAP at the first pause if you are ready.

Just my 2c for what its worth.
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Old 06-10-2004   #4
Boulder, Colorado
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Ed's suggestion of "take your time" is key. Make sure you are fully set up and the boat is squarly upside down. The latter seems to take longer in big water.
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Old 06-10-2004   #5
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protect yourself

stay upside down in the wavetrain...I usually keep one hand free to feel for bottom coming up and what direction the push of the current is running to know what side I will roll up on. you can feel the calmer water or shift to an eddy. A lot of people think they're going to be under forever waiting for the right moment to roll up. But it's really maybe 3 or 4 seconds at the worst. Use a storm roll if you really get worried. It doesn't require a paddle really, just lay back and torque your body.
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Old 06-10-2004   #6
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Generally good advice.

But, the advice of riding out the wavetrain doesn't really work. The wave trains are long, continuous with something ugly at the end--like a wall or another rapid. I've got 10-20 seconds, but not 30.

Too bad there isn't really a place to practice this kind of rolling. A play park doesn't really do it.

What's a storm roll?
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Old 06-10-2004   #7
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Practice, Practice, Practice

IMHO if your roll is strong on both sides it shouldn't matter whether you initiate on the crest, trough or anywhere in between. I do agree that one should remain calm, and if there is any doubt hesitate somewhat to allow the boat to settle and be one with the speed of the current. On the practice note, the best advice I was ever given re: rolling, was if you miss on one side and tip back over then immediately set up to roll on the other side. A strong on and offside roll are obviously required. The principal here is that if you miss, the tiping back over creates perfect momentum to set up and roll to the other side. About 6 years ago when I started using this theory I would go after a roll immediately and regardless of where I was in a wave train or other feature, I knew that I would usually be upright on the first try, but if not the second try was golden.
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