Kayaking can be a fun experience until you encounter the scary part of it: a flipped kayak, especially if you are new to kayaking. In this article, we will discuss how to re-enter and roll a kayak, or how to get back in a kayak after it has flipped over.
So, How to Roll a Kayak?
Let’s talk about the kayak roll first, as you may experience it. We recommend that you have a physical teacher who can teach you to roll. However, you can also read this guide and practice, as it is possible to learn how to roll a kayak, or what a paddler would call an Eskimo roll, with the help of a helper.
The helper does not necessarily need to be an experienced kayaker, but they should be familiar with the process of rolling a kayak. With a sit-on-top kayak, it is pretty easy to roll as you can fall off the kayak and get back in.
Checkout our Sit on top kayak!
Ideal Water Conditions
If you are just starting out with kayaking or rolling, you should start in easy water conditions. The ideal water conditions would be:
- Waist deep
A swimming pool is perfect for fulfilling all these conditions, and it is safe to practice in as well. If you cannot find a swimming pool, then any water that fulfills the above conditions will do.
As you improve in rolling, you should start practicing in slightly more difficult conditions. Increase the difficulties slowly and steadily. Always remember that “practice makes perfect.
Tips before getting Started
Use a Tippy or Non-Stable Kayak: Always use a tippy or non-stable kayak. The more stable a kayak is, the harder it is to roll. Therefore, always try to find a low-volume kayak that is a bit tippy or non-stable. We recommend low-volume whitewater boats or sea kayaks, but they are not essential.
Wear a Mask or Goggles: It is important to wear a mask or goggles when you are learning to roll. Having goggles or a mask on will allow you to see how the paddle is moving and will help you to perform all necessary actions perfectly.
Know How to Wet Exit: It is a must-have skill. If you are not comfortable with wet exit, then you should learn it before practicing to roll. Knowing how to wet exit is a prerequisite for rolling a kayak.
Basic Principles of Rolling
There are two core rolling techniques that every kayaker should know before attempting to roll.
Head Comes Out of the Water Last: As you roll back into your kayak, aim for your hips to come up first, followed by your shoulders, and finally your head. If you lift your head too early, it will put pressure on the kayak to stay upside down.
Hip Snap: Successfully rolling your kayak depends more on your hips than your paddle. During the roll, the paddle acts as a support while you use your hips to snap the kayak underneath you.
Hip Snap Practice
Before attempting to roll with your paddle, it is recommended to practice using your hips to roll the kayak upright and bring your body out of the water.
During practice, have a helper take the place of the paddle by holding your hands and giving you support while you roll the kayak.
How to Do it?
Here are the exact steps to perform the hip snap drill:
- Ask your helper to stand in waist-deep water beside you and hold your hands.
- Flip the kayak with the help of your helper so that your head is in the water, but your face is not fully submerged.
- Using your hips, try to roll the kayak upright and bring your body out of the water.
- Repeat the drill until you feel comfortable.
Points to Remember:
Here are some important things to keep in mind while performing this drill. First, ensure that your head comes out last as you roll back into the kayak. Once the boat is upright, move your body back into the seat in the following order:
- Hips first
- Shoulders second
- Head last
Also, make sure to look at your hands as you roll, as this will help you to naturally bring your head out last.
Rolling Techniques – Sweep & C to C Rolls
There are two common rolls for beginners, the Sweep roll and the C to C roll. Both will be taught today. It’s important to note that these rolling techniques are just for learning purposes and do not necessarily reflect how you’ll roll in real conditions. After enough practice, rolling becomes more intuitive than a conscious effort. Make sure your helper stands nearby while you practice the roll.
Prepare for the Roll!
Let’s prepare for the roll…
Remember that both the Sweep roll and the C to C roll start from the same position. In the real world, you’ll need to move your paddle and body to the right position after you’re under the water. Since you’re a beginner, it’s easier to roll when your body and paddle are already in the right position. What you have to do is go from the normal upright position to upside down in the water with your body and paddle.
Note: If you’re right-handed, you’ll start with the paddle on your left side. If you’re left-handed, you’ll start on your right.
How to Actually Do It?
- Firstly, hold the paddle parallel to the kayak, flat against the surface of the water.
- Make sure the power face of the paddle blade is pointing up.
- Tip your kayak over by tucking your head forward and leaning your body toward the paddle.
- Once your kayak is completely flipped, move your head and body toward the surface of the water and far out of the kayak.
- Press your forearms against the side of the kayak, and the paddle should be above the surface of the water.
How to Sweep Roll Or Screw Roll?
This is the most basic roll people are taught while learning to roll a kayak. It’s perfect for open or flat water. Although it requires a lot of space to perform the roll, so it might not be a good option to perform in narrow space. It requires less setup, and the paddle offers support for a longer period of time. However, it’s a little harder to learn than C to C and requires a lot of space to perform.
- Swing the front blade of your paddle in an arch away from your kayak.
- Watch the blade as it moves through the water while your head is still in the water.
- Apply increasing downward pressure on the paddle as it moves closer to 90 degrees. Once it reaches 90 degrees and you feel the support, use your hip to snap the kayak back underneath your body.
- Roll your body out of the water along with the back deck of the kayak.
The C to C roll is a more reliable technique in rough conditions and is preferred by whitewater kayakers. Unlike the Sweep roll, the C to C roll requires the paddle to be at a 90-degree angle before applying downward pressure.
It’s easier to learn than the Sweep roll and is more consistent, but requires more setup.
- Swing the paddle along the surface of the water and position it roughly at a 90-degree angle.
- Keep the blade as close to the surface of the water as possible.
- Watch the paddle as it moves through the water.
- Press your left forearm (if you're right-handed) up against the side of the kayak to act as a pivot point.
- Apply downward pressure and keep adding pressure until you feel support. Once you feel the support, use your hip to snap the kayak back underneath your body.
- Roll your body out of the water along with the back deck of the kayak.
Paddle TV and Ken Whiting have created an excellent tutorial video on Sweep and C to C roll.
Common Beginners Mistakes while Rolling
Keeping your body and head too low in the water when starting to roll: You need to aim to be able to see the side of your kayak while rolling.
Applying downward pressure too early: When your paddle is at 90 degrees, that's when you get most of the support, and if you apply the pressure too early, then you may not get good support to perform a hip snap.
Head coming up out of the water: I have been repeating throughout the article that your head should come out last while rolling. Still, there are people who try to bring their head up first, which is the most common mistake.
Other Kayak Rolling Techniques:
There are some other kayak rolling techniques to follow which are slightly different from what we have mentioned. You will be amazed to know that participants of the Greenland Kayaking Championships are required to perform 35 different rolling techniques, which means there are 35 different styles of rolling that can be learned.
These are advanced rolling techniques that you should know as you never know when you might need to use them. So, it is better to be prepared and informed.
Old or Obsolete Rolls:
These are the old school rolls that used to be popular and common. You may learn these as well in case you want to tackle rolling from all possible angles and situations.
- Storm Roll
- Steyr Roll
- Pawlata Roll
While starting out with your paddling experience, it is very important for you to learn the rolling skill. Rolling a kayak is going to be a life-saving skill for you in many situations, so do spend enough time on it.
So, this was my basic guide on how to roll a kayak for you, but you need to understand that you are not going to roll in flat still water conditions. This guide is only to build your intuition. Try worsening your conditions and practice in more rough situations.