How to get out of a hole by Luke Whelan

Reading a couple of the last swim reports it seems that getting out of holes without swimming is a bit of an enigma to some (don't worry Brad, you'll get there some day). And I definitely can relate to that (more so a few years ago) - it is a tricky exercise both physically and mentally. There is also the fact that people generally focus on avoiding/boofing/plugging holes to get through them, which is good because eliminating a risk is always better than relying on your back up system (in this case surfing out of a hole).


There are definitely steps you can take to improve your chances of getting out of a hole once you're stuck in it, and here is a good place to talk about that. First of all, I would point you in the direction of some videos...

$ $ $ Lit Review $ $ $
A nice video by EJ regarding reading holes and a little bit about getting out of them in your boat:

A great technical breakdown of holes by Chris Wing (hole movement starts at 4:08 but I recommend watching all of it when you have time):

The Mental Game
One thing that's not really covered in all of this is the mental aspect. What goes through your head when you're stuck in a nasty side surf? Probably not much more than "oh god, oh fuck". The difficulty is that side surfing a hole can overwhelm you with sensory information. It can be surprsingly loud and powerful, sometimes triggering a bit of a freeze/deer-in-headlights response. This doesn't really lend itself very well to thinking clearly.

Similar to training muscle memory for freestyle for example, you need to train your mind to avoid this very natural reaction. A good time to do this is during a freestyle session, or during a river run when you see an easy hole (relative to you). Drop into the hole, and run through the set of instructions in the checklist below, in your head.

The Checklist
For me, if I drop into a hole that triggers that stomach-lurching feeling of "I might not get out of this", I just think of the word "checklist". It's one easy action that is easy to remember that can help focus your mind. Next, think about each item on the checklist:

1. Bow rudder to try to get out of the hole on the front side
2. Back sweeps to try to get out of the hole on the back side
3. As a last resort: tactical capsize (with tucked elbows)

The tactical capsize is interesting because it sounds dumb but can work surprisingly well. I can't count how many times I've watched someone hang on bravely in a side surf, accidentally capsize, and then swim immediately as their boat floats out of the hole with them. If only they had waited another second or two after capsizing! I think it comes back to the mental game. And purposefully capsizing can help remove that element of surprise from "oh shit I capsized, time to GTFO" to "ok, time to capsize, wait and roll". This also gives you a chance to take a breath before you keel over. Maybe this only works for me though...(see attached academic graphic).

I would still like to emphasise that this should be used as a last resort - you should always try to surf out first!

The Aftermath
One last thing I'd like to mention is why I think it is harder to roll after a hole than in flatwater. The water is very aerated, meaning it offers very little resistance when you pull your blade through it. For me, this means I need to take a longer path through the water to get the same amount of support - i.e. skulling after the initial rolling stroke is completed to keep continuous pressure on your blade while you bring your body up . If you spend some time capsizing in holes, you will start to expect this effect and compensate accordingly. Shameless self promotion of me doing this after making a balls of left line on top drop:

Closing Words
Hope this sheds some light on my thought process for dealing with holes! There is a lot more that could be covered (reading a hole while you're in it (i.e. finding exit points), purposeful/accidental enders, taking the downstream environment into consideration etc.) but I think I'll leave it at this for now. Would like to hear other people's thoughts on this :-)

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