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July 26, 2006

Here was the opening Email to me…


I have an interesting idea for a panel discussion debate at one of the big kayaking meetings. (AWA Annual or something like that.)

In a "Rolling and Bracing" video, a guy named Eric Jackson said (paraphrasing), "only a village idiot would ever believe that any boat is any harder to roll than other boat. I am ERIC JACKSON!!! And I say it ain’t true!!!"

On another DVD (that came with a Jackson Fun) another guy named Eric Jackson said that his boats are easy to roll. Obviously, the first Eric Jackson would find this notion preposterous since no boat is easier to roll than any other boat.

Maybe (at one of the big meetings alluded to above) the two Eric Jackson’s could have a panel discussion and debate on this point.

Actually, the first guy is wrong. People’s kayaking careers have almost ended because of switching from a Godzilla to an EZ. The Godzilla did it’s roll thing in Zoom Flume, Pinball, Three Rocks, Spikebuck (and pretty much every other named rapid) on the Arkansas. The EZ, on the other hand, led to swims in a pool (as well a kissing an offside roll good bye forever). After a lot ( a real lot) of pain and anguish (continuing somewhat in a Liquidlogic Hoss) I tried a Jackson 4 Fun last week. I actually described the 4 Fun (to another guy and my wife) as "embarassingly easy" to roll. As a PhD aerospace engineer with Lockheed Martin, I am still dumbfounded at the performance of the Fun boat. I still can’t decide whether it is due to the exterior hull design or the superior outfitting. The hull response is very slick, but I also feel like the interior design (wearing a boat rather than sitting in a boat) results in almost 100% transmission of body torque into the roll. Whatever it is, I never believed it possible. The 4 Fun is actually too small, but I am definitely going to look into the Super Fun. Interested in buying a Hoss cheap?

(As far as why I spent more time rolling than kayaking, I need to go back and view "Kayaking with Eric Jackson" again. I just need to check which Eric Jackson did that video. I’m suspicious of the first guy.)

Tom d.

Here is my response:

Hi Thomas,

All you have said is spot on and true, however, there are simply missing facts that would lead a PHD aerospace engineer to be dumbfounded. As a “self proclaimed” PHD of kayak rolling, and kayaking in general, I have this tidbit to offer you, which you can prove to be factual through video analysis of yourself and friends. (fun project!)

The thing engineers don’t study a lot of, generally, is psychology. It is the brain that determines whether or not you will successfully roll a boat or not, not the boat. Don’t stress yet, I have some explaining to do to understand why I would say your first paraphrased sentence, and still focus so hard on making a boat “easy to roll” at the same time. (I had already done the boat design of the Fun when I was making that video).

I can hand roll the Hoss, EZ, Fun, or any boat with one hand. One hand has probably 1/10th the power of a 199 cm paddle with normal blades. As I describe in my video, a paddle is like a bazooka, while a single hand is like a BB gun. You can make a bunch of mistakes and still roll with a paddle, where you must roll fairly well to roll with one hand. However, if you can roll a boat with one hand, it makes no physical sense that you can’t roll it with a paddle! You could use a variety of physics methods to prove the amount of energy it takes each boat to roll and you would be shocked at how similar they really are, and ultimately you would have to look elsewhere to why it is through general public perception, including yourself, hard to roll. You already identified one possibility, the outfitting, or “cockpit design”. While that actually does make a big difference in the “reality of whether a boat is easy to roll or not” it can be proven physically that it makes little difference.

Now- I will identify the things that determine in practice (reality, on the river, or in the pool) whether a boat is easy to roll or not. (this list is what I know today, hopefully I’ll learn more in the future)

Rear cockpit height- lower the easier- period
Backband height- lower the easier- period
sidewalls of the boat- more flaired the easier
Width chine to chine- less is easier
body contact with the boat- the more the easier

Now- All of the above, I will reiterate should not be bought into by any kayaker, because while each of them improves the rolling of a kayak by a small margin, the difference between rolling or not rolling can’t be found on that list. If you can roll a Fun you can roll a Hoss— IF…

If you complete your hip snap and keep your head down. BUT YOU DON’T, DO YOU! So the question is why do I bring my head up when I try to roll the Hoss? Is it because the boat is so hard to roll that I know I can’t make it and therefore I self destruct on purpose? No, that isn’t it:

Now here is the most important discovery I have made in rolling a kayak and in boat design and it is 100% psychological, but it can’t be ignored if you want to have people successfully rolling your kayak.

The moment you have done 50% of your hip snap and your boat is going from upside down to its side, and passing that point, you are in the position where you will do one of two things.

1. you will perceive that things are going really well and your brain will remain focused on the task at hand (upright the kayak with your hips) or:

2. you will perceive some difficulty or challenge and go to autopilot (self destruct mode) where your intuitive response is to get your body out of the water (which means lift your body and head with muscles that are on the opposite side from the muscles that create a hip snap, which turns your boat on top of you (left knee for righty rolls). While you may try in vain to save yourself by pulling as hard as you can on the paddle diving it until there is nothing left and crashing back in the water, you have self-destructed, you have not tested two boats equally.

Here is where different boats succeed or fail in passing the psychology test that allows you to get to the end zone without self-destructing and failing on your roll (not because the boat doesn’t roll, because you stopped using rolling technique and go to head lifting, anti-hip snapping mode)

1. flat side walls, no flair- Flair in the sidewall means that once you get 50% of the way up the boat tries to upright itself, with maybe 5 pounds of pressure or less. That 2-5 pounds of assistance is a mental stimulus like a hand of god that allows you to go the distance and continue your hip snap. Throw the same person in the same basic boat with no flair and they get to that point and feel 2-5 pounds of ‘resistance’ (actually just less assistance) and resort to self-destructing technique.

2. Rear cockpit, backband- these truly do make a difference, if you are hand rolling, by more than 5 pounds. Since Work = ForceXDistance; anything that prevents you from being able to keep your body low to the water during the roll increases the difficulty of rolling, assuming you would otherwise have taken advantage of the low body position. You can measure the minimum body height you can stay upright in (laying on the back deck, head arched towards the water). The Fun is on the water, while some boats are at least 1 foot higher (or more), meaning 130 foot/pounds of work if your body weighs that. This makes a big difference if you only have 140 foot/pounds of energy in your hands and need 130 of them just in extra effort.
3. Width of chine to chine- the water resistance you feel pushing the extra volume and moving the water with a wider hull can be measured by the brain and it works against you. There are magic numbers for the size of the boater to make a planning hulled kayak “roll like a displacement hull” and have that work in practice, even though it is also mental.

Summary: If you got in an EZ today- you would roll it no problem, (sound like a money bet or what?!). however I can only assume you went from a Godzilla to an EZ. Do you really think that the EZ was hard to roll? Not what the general public would say if you polled them on Boatertalk or any chat board, so why you?? Because the Godzilla had more flair, a narrower chine to chine measurement, and similar cockpit/backband heights. You have since had a Hoss, which has a high backband and little flair you have been conditioned to that feeling, even if you didn’t have any success in it. Get in the EZ today and you will not self-destruct at the 50% point unless you are still very borderline as a roller in your Fun and even the most subtle changes cause the mental click from hip snap to/ head up self-destruct.

So the Eric Jackson in a rolling video would never say empower someone to use their boat as an excuse, because it ISN’T. Learning to roll is important, and learning to focus on the task at hand, even when things don’t feel just right is part of bombproofing your roll. As long as you can’t paddle a Hoss without swimming, you can’t paddle a Fun without eventually swimming too. HOWEVER>>>

Eric Jackson who makes and sells kayaks knows that when we are on the subject of equipment, and that a Fun is “embarrassingly easy to roll” he can make the paddling careers of countless paddlers better by allowing those boaters to be successful today, without bombproofing their rolls. In addition, by increasing their successes, and confidence, it is, in itself, a step towards bombproofing their rolls, where hopefully they can get over the hump to where when they get back in that “hard to roll” boat just for kicks, they find that they can use their rolling technique past the 50% point and stay on task, finishing their hip snap, rolling up and no longer having a delicate roll that can be broken down by a simple 2-5 pound impulse that is less than 1/10 of their pulling capacity.

There is a method to the madness and more than anything I want paddlers to have fun on the water and truly enjoy each outing, which a MAJOR part of this requires confidence in their roll.

That is why, “EJ’s Rolling and Bracing” is out there and why any boat that says Jackson Kayak on it is easy to roll. (the Star series is harder than the rest, but priorities prevail in those boats- playboating first, river running second, everything else is river running first, playboating second) Don’t get me started on the design concepts and mental aspects of the Fun series!

I hope that my answer is what you are looking for. I appreciate your direct questioning and that it was well thought out, not just a rant. Feel free to post this anywhere you want.


Finally Tom’s response:


I want to sincerely thank you for your response. You are, of course, correct in everything you say. When the roll is right, there is no perception of effort. A simple body motion and everything works and the paddle seems superfulous to the whole thing. I saw your point today on the river. On the majority of rolls, everything started well, went well and ended well. But several times (for whatever reason) the flow of karma got interrupted and:

2. you will perceive some difficulty or challenge and go to autopilot (self destruct mode) where your intuitive response is to get your body out of the water (which means lift your body and head with muscles that are on the opposite side from the muscles that create a hip snap, which turns your boat on top of you (left knee for righty rolls). While you may try in vain to save yourself by pulling as hard as you can on the paddle diving it until there is nothing left and crashing back in the water

(Actually, there was no crashing, just a lousy roll. Got up, but zero style points.) As I continued I focused on "the task at hand" and, realizing when a difficulty had arisen, concentrated even more on "hip snap, head down". Guess what? Good rolls.

Having now put the 4 Fun into some more aggressive whitewater, I am even more impressed with the design. The handling and control are awesome. You definitely have a good thing going.

I suspect you have heard this before, but your contributions to kayaking are genuinely appreciated. You are an articulate (and pretty humorous) spokesman. The videos are great (especially the jumping fish and curious dogs) and, as my wife and I are finding out (she loves her Fun), the products are great. What is hard to put into words is how much it means that a hotshot like Eric Jackson really seems to care whether or not the schmucks at my level "get it". We have our collection of other tapes/DVDs, but in many cases it seems like it was "I have a skill I can market, so I’m marketing it." You, on the other hand, seem to genuinely care about the sport and all participating in it.

(An introverted engineer is one who looks down at his shoes when he passes some one in the hallway. An extroverted engineer is one who looks at the other person’s shoes when he passes them in the hallway.)

thanks again

tom d.