Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Rolling is all in your mind … Why you should know about “Choking” in sport by Tavi Murray

Rolling is all in your mind … Why you should know about “Choking” in sport.

How many people do you know who have lost their roll just before an assessment? Maybe it’s happened to you? If so you probably experienced what is called “choking” … Intrested, then read on to find out what happens in your head and how to prevent it …

I have a pretty good roll in my sea kayak. Last year I swam just twice, once pinned against a wall at the Falls of Lora and once surfing. I lost count of the many rolls I did in anger, mostly in the surf.

I decided it was time to go for my 5* sea assessment … I worked hard in preparation … practicing things like map reading in the dark and surfing, and I took countless friends off around Ramsey Island, St David’s Head and to the Bitches tide race (thanks all!). Last winter I got Roger to run some 5* weekends based around mock assessments. Everything felt on track.

But one weekend this February it nearly fell apart: I lost my roll.

It was supposed to be an “advanced” weekend with another provider. Saturday morning we were deliberately rolling on both sides while side surfing … some of mine were 2nd or 3rd attempts, I wasn’t thinking much about it – I was up and paddling again after all.

Then I let the person coaching into my head … “Hey Tavi, your roll isn’t bomber at the moment, do you want me to have a look?” Doubt started, after all I was acutely aware I had an assessment looming. “Ok” … I rolled offside, set up … effortless.

“That was perfect, try this, I find it usually breaks a roll …” and it did. Within minutes I was over thinking, trying to concentrate on sweeping, on blade angle, on set up … on whatever would give me that effortless roll back … and all the time doubts about assessment and the fear of losing my roll crept into my mind. That day I was a rolling beginner. I could roll maybe one attempt in 10 on flat water and it wasn’t my effortless roll at all.

Overnight I was really stressed. I had an assessment in a few weeks. Maybe I should cancel it? Maybe I’d lost my roll? How could I enjoy paddling without a roll? Sunday my roll was worse, so in the end I just got on with surfing …

Monday I was in the pool, playing polo with the teenagers I’d been coaching. My roll was back, effortless again. And the next day I took my sea kayak to a pool session, and rolled and self-rescued maybe 50 or 100 times, no thinking, no pressure, effortless.


A chance encounter with Roger led to an email exchange (I’m in the Coastal Spirit mentoring program – which I highly recommend!), and in his answer Roger suggested looking at “choking” in sport. It seems this is what I had experienced. Choking is the phenomenon that causes famous golfers under pressure to miss easy shots that will win them major tournaments, and causes footballers to miss the goal posts entirely during championship penalty shoot outs.

Choking causes loss of automatic behaviour, turning an expert into a beginner. It is caused by focussing on the uncontrollables, which includes “am I losing my roll” or the outcome of an assessment, rather than the “now”. It isn’t helped by thinking consciously about the process (overthinking) – in fact that makes it worse. But reading around I found there are research-evidence based methods to reduce the risk of choking …

One method involves thinking about a holistic, positive description of your roll (after all it’s impossible to not think at all!) … For me this would be “effortless” which is what all my good rolls are. So I concentrate on the word “effortless” as I roll. For you the description might be very different! I suspect the phrase Roger has mentioned he uses, “I’m coming up” fits this well.

The other sounds a little odd to start with … but is to do with activating the right-hand (RH) side of the brain. This is the part of the brain that controls automatic behaviour such as an expert undertaking a task (rather than consciously controlled behaviour). The RH side of your brain also controls movement of the left side of your body. Before you try and roll squeeze your left hand on your paddle – that should activate the RH side of your brain and help reduce the risk of choking.

I found the experience of “choking” pretty scary and very stressful. It was a real relief to discover this wasn’t just me and that I wasn’t losing my roll. This was a well-known and understood phenomenon. And what’s more – I passed my 5* assessment last week. My roll on assessment? It was just fine.

The moral of this story for paddlers? Think about trying these techniques – maybe one will prevent you experiencing choking under pressure!

The moral of this story for coaches? Celebrate every roll you see.  Each roll is a victory, and the product of a lot of hard work, but each one is also a potential trigger to doubt … And think about informing paddlers about choking and how to prevent it.

The moral of this story for assessors? Don’t judge too quickly if someone fails a roll … maybe you are witnessing choking? Maybe suggesting one of these techniques could help trigger automatic behaviour and success? Maybe if you think you have seen choking you might point to this information in your feedback?

Happy paddling to you all, and may all your rolls be effortless (or whichever descriptor you choose)!

You can find further information on choking on the web – if you can’t get the original papers and would like to read them feel free to drop me an email:

A quick search on “choking in sport” will lead you to lots of articles describing what choking is.

The specific research I mention above is at:

The holistic description word technique:

Hand squeezing technique – there’s a great lay summary here: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2009/jul/26/sports-psychology-choking

The original research:

You can find information on Coastal Spirit’s mentoring program (which I highly recommend) here:

And if the psychological aspects of paddling are of interest check this course out:

Tavi Murray

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Menorca - a sea kayaking paradise and an open crossing back to Mallorca.

Following our successful paddle around Mallorca, we took a day off and managed to stay and catch up with my good friend Pete and his family.  This also allowed us to wash and sort out kit, charge phones/cameras and pause for a moment.  

Now I had heard of this but I hadn't really realised how significant this wind was ...

The strong Tramontana wind is a fairly regular feature of the region in all seasons except summer. This variant of the French Mistral wind blows NE-SW across the landscape for 3-12 days at a time, and can be bitter when the Pyrenees are covered in snow and ice. 

This we experienced the day after paddling on to the North coast of Mallorca, with big swell and increasing winds.  Yeah, it was cold too...

The forecast looked good for Tuesday and a ferry on that evening could also work.  We had the one trolly, so we would try and walk the kayaks on, one at a time.  Getting them on from Alcudia was fine and free, getting them off was more difficult!  When we arrived we had to move the sea kayaks as one unit and with full kit and 12lts of water that was going to be challenging. We got the impression the Boss guy wanted to go home!!

Theres a special feeling walking a sea kayak on to a ferry, which feels like a real adventure ...

Wishing we had brought two trollies ... after realising it was a 2km portage to the beach form the ferry port!!

Into the beautiful setting light of the day 

We played with the swell and the light on the wall, savouring the moment ...

Rounding the Southern tip, with the top light of the lighthouse and looking for a place to camp!!

Bay after bay just looked amazing and with so much wild camping potential

And yet more magical colour and clarity ...

The cliffs were smaller than Mallorca, but still stunning

Clear evidence of cave dwellings ...

A beach bar at Cala Binidall with Wifi for forecasts and a cool beer ... perfect!

Super little camp ...

Crossing the entrance of Mahon

Time for lunch ...

The final push back to our start point, and into a head wind, but with some fun swell

With the evening paddle on the first day and 3 further days we were around Menorca and to be honest i felt like going around again and this time much slower.  After Mallorca, finding places to easily camp/bivi was such a relief and the island was so green and softer.  We had been told that camp/bivi was almost part of the Menorcan culture and the problems were more with the incomers who now own property!!

We made it about 120km around, but again we were able to cross from headland to headland on the North coast, if you had to keep closer in the mileage would go up. 

We landed back at Ciutadella and discussed options.  I was super keen for the crossing, so headed off for more lunch type food and some more water, while Barry went off to the ferry port to clarify times.  We both met back at a cafe with Wifi and decided to find a sheltered bay, to camp again for the night and if the forecast held for the morning we would go for the crossing.  

Open Crossing to Mallorca

The wind was a f3 East, there about, but 3-4km limited viability.  Not ideal, but at least the wind was in a helpful direction.  The main channel was about 40km across so we felt 7 hours and that would be done, then it was about getting back to Alcudia and were my van was.  We set off on a bearing and after 1:30 hours we lost sight of land and worked on finding some rhythm ... as we left the shelter of the island swell got more confused and running at two different angles making my sea kayak more difficult to manage ...
It felt good to see the ferry from Mallorca ... 

The confused swell that was running ...

And now the ferry from Menorca ...

Now we hadn't been able to get a map that had both islands on.  This was the best we could do ... ;)

Around the 5 hour mark we saw Mallorca, but to be honest it was confusing and disorientating.  What part of the island was it?  I'd left my Mallorca map in the van.  Well it was sunny before and I could see the whole island from Menorca!

Around 7hours, 30 minutes we had reached the Southern headland of Alcudia Bay and now the job was to paddle and find the van.  10 hours 40 and over 60 km paddled,  the job was done.  Wet tired and hungry we changed and loaded the kayaks.

Pleased to be in dry clothes and on the way to find some food.  Happy days  ;)

Big thanks to P&H Custom Sea Kayaks for the Cetus mv and Hilleberg the Tent Maker for my solo tent.  For support from Reed Chillcheater for my deck and cockpit cover, Mitchel blades for my paddle and Kokatat for paddle wear.

And once again Mr Shaw, it twas fun fella  ;)


PS:  keep your eyes open for a sea kayaking expedition back out to Menorca in October 2016, with warm seas and settled winds - email me if interested - roger@coastalspirit.com

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Paddling around Mallorca 2016

Back in 2007 when i attempted to paddle around Mallorca with good friend Pete Evans, we climbed a lot together, managing 2 weeks in the French alp's and even sailed across the English Channel but never done the sea kayaking thing together.  Well we had some mixed and mainly bad weather and we run out of time but we did manage to paddle the North coast.  Which is truly amazing!!

So when i was talking with Barry Shaw about my initial thoughts about a solo trip he was interested and suggested the Balearic's.  I didn't need much convincing and over the next week or so, as we created a plan.

It was over 1500m drive and two ferries (2 hours and then 8 or so).  We decided to go for Dover to Dunkirk and drive through France to  Spain and get the 2nd ferry from Barcelona to Alcudia on Mallorca as it was 100 euros cheaper.  We left at 0500 on the Saturday and arrived on the Monday morning at 0500, and looked for someway to park up and wait for the morning to begin!

Driving on down and some super cloud formations

Now with over 400 photos, yep ... its difficult to decide on those that paint our story.  So Ive done my best and hope you enjoy our adventure.  I'll try and keep the words to a minimum!!

We started on the SW side of the most Southerly point and this was our first lighthouse of many!!

Thankfully we explored and stopped at this small Cala, which made for a perfect
nights camp and with enough time to dry kit!

As we moved up the East coast (were going anti clockwise), we had some super assistance form the wind.

Honestly it is that kind of blue ...

This magic blow hole was so much fun ...

Day 2 had been a long day.  Not through choice, just that we couldn't find a wild enough camp.  
Time to be up early then!!

The variety and colour along the coast was fantastic

just had to be done!

having a floating break before crossing the bay of Alcudia

Whoop, whoop... Cap de Formentor, the most Northerly point

As the North coast unfolds, it was time to look for a camp!  

Do your stuff Mr Baz Dundee....

Cala Figuera and my trusted kit!

Next morning was chilly and atmospheric!!

Heading for Cala Sant Vincent for more water

Just leaving Cala Sant Vincent, in an increasing swell and wind ... we turned back, due to the next section of coastline was to be the most committing, with no landing until Sa Calobra, which even then we were unsure about.

The next day, rest and ready

The morning sun really brought the coast alive ...

We had a gentler increasing wind on our backs and smiled our way along the coastline ...

Entrance to Torrent de Pareis
Just trying to capture the height!!

The cost was that good  ;)

Getting a fly by with a large flock of Shearwater's -it was such a great sweep through  

One of many we passed along the way

Now on the SW side and on the way to the Bay of Palma!

We found it ... just a little to close to Magaluf!

Beautiful start to the next day, although 45 minutes into the crossing and the wind suddenly increased to Bf4 -5 the f5 gusting f6, offer and out of the bay!!  Thank fully 1 hour latter the aggressive front had passed  ...

We can get this at home ...

Final on the water lunch ...

Seven days in total which wasn't through choice.   It was difficult to find wild camp spots and we found out afterwards, you can get fined for wild camping!

We made the distance to be 280km although we tended to go from headland to headland and overall we were fairly lucky with being able to do that

Big thanks to Hilleberg  for the solo tent, Reed for the deck and cockpit cover and P&H Custom Sea kayaks for the demo Cetus mv - much appreciated Mathew  ;)  Further thanks to the support of  Mitchel Blades  for my paddle and Kokatat, for paddle wear.

And nice one Barry - thanks for the company  ;)


Having a good run along the coast in my Cetus ...

Claa Sant Vincent and a 4km loop before returning ...

Landing in Cala Sant Vincent