Reflections from the Cockpit
Eyes Opened or Eyes Closed?
October 2004

I am often asked "do you keep your eyes open when you capsize or do you close them? My standard reply is "why on earth would you want to see what is down under the water? If there is anything down there, I don’t want to know about it." My answer is meant to be humorous. In some humor there is a grain of truth. In this case there is a sand dune of truth to my answer.

Opening your eyes or closing your eyes is a personal choice. I am a firm believer of keeping one’s eyes closed. My preference is based upon the following:

1- There is really nothing I want to see when I am upside down. The chances are if there is anything that can be seen it will probably be something that I don’t wish to see. Last month I wrote about the mental game of rolling. If I did see something I didn’t like it has a chance of throwing me off my game. In this case ignorance is truly bliss.

2- When I have opened my eyes the turbulence, the bubbles, the lack of water clarity and the changes in light do more to confuse me and even disorient me.

3- If I am looking around that is less time I am using to set up properly for my roll.

4- When I open my eyes there are different levels of discomfort depending on the water in which I find myself. Yet another element that can throw me off my rolling game.

5- The water quality of the world has declined as we humans continue to pollute our precious resources. There is less of a chance for eye infections if eyes are closed.

6- Most likely I would be wearing my sunglasses (on a safety strap of course). If I did open my eyes I would just see my wet sunglasses so why bother. Speaking of glasses, if you wear contacts keeping your eyes shut is a necessity.

7- My rolling skills are based upon a series of movements and routines not visual cues. Once I learned my rolling skills I always practiced with my eyes closed so I can feel the skill and not have to depend on any visual cues because there are times when visual cues will be misleading or non-existent.

You can see why I prefer to keep my eyes closed when I capsize. However, I have found visual cues to be important during the "learning to roll" phase. I find it very helpful if my students wear a dive mask as they learn to roll so they can watch their paddle blade. Once they learn their roll I encourage them to stop using the mask for a number of reasons. The two main reasons are, not depending on visual cues and experiencing a roll with water up their nose.

I will admit, during one of the few times I did open my eyes it proved to be very educational and frightening. I was playing in a river hole and I capsized. When I tried to roll up my arms felt trapped. I eventually rolled up and I found my PFD unzipped and over my shoulders thus constricting my movement. I paddled to the eddy and zipped my PFD while thinking "how on earth did I forget to zip my PFD?" I went back to the play hole and I eventually flipped again. As I reached up for a roll I felt my PFD starting to restrict my movement so I opened my eyes. Amongst all the bubbles and swirling water I saw the whistle attached to my PFD main zipper being pulled to the surface while it unzipped my PFD. I never would have believed it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes. At the same time it made me nervous because I had visions of not being able to roll and as I often reference one of my favorite quotes "argue for your limitations and sure enough, they’re yours." (Richard Bach – Illusions) Even though I learned a great lesson about attaching whistles to PFD zippers, I almost blew my roll due to anxiety. As a side note, another lesson learned is not to wear a whistle on your PFD zipper.

The USK motto is "do what works best for you". If you get a benefit from opening your eyes or closing your eyes do what you like. If you don’t have a preference and your are learning try it out and see if it works for you. As you have read above, keeping my eyes closed works best for me, until I find a darn good reason to open them.

Wayne Horodowich


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