2 questions about rolling a sea kayak

1.) Is it easier to right the kayak when loaded? I’ve read something about the righting moment based on ballast.

2.) Just how much flexibility is needed to roll a kayak? Due to injuries my lower back is not very flexible, as in partially fused. Most videos I watch of people doing various rolls looks like they have far more flexibilty than I have.


– Last Updated: Jun-12-13 6:25 PM EST –

A loaded kayak can help or impede a roll - really depends on the distribution of the weight. If the heaviest stuff is right on the bottom along the keel, the boat will feel like it's rolling itself if you're a proficient roller.

If the heaviest stuff is up against the deck....the boat may even feel tippy when it's upright, and will be harder to roll. Pack your boat carefully.

As to your back, there are many different rolls you can learn, and the only way to find out for your situation is to try a few, and see which one works the best. My guess would be a C-to-C roll might be a place to start, and then go from there to find what works best for you (As much as I dislike a C-to-C, it does have its place).

Get some good instruction, and you'll be OK.

slower roll

– Last Updated: Jun-12-13 6:45 PM EST –

I have found some sea kayaks easier to roll than some whitewater kayaks, as long as they are outfitted to provide adequate knee, thigh, and hip bracing. They can be easier because they are virtually always longer and narrower than whitewater boats, both of which are conducive to rolling.

Having said that, some large volume sea kayaks with a lot of depth in front of the cockpit can be a bit challenging for people with limited flexibility to roll, especially if they use the C-to-C roll. I am a fan of the C-to-C roll and find it is easier for some to learn because it can be broken down into discrete steps, each of which can be worked on individually by the student. But in the C-to-C roll, no rolling up of the boat occurs during the sweep. This requires one to "wrap around the boat" at the conclusion of the sweep before the hip snap is executed in order to keep the paddle blade at the surface. That requires some flexibility and can be difficult in a boat with a big, fat front end even for those with good flexibility.

If you have such a boat and have limited flexibility, and you don't already have a roll, you might want to try the sweep roll as demonstrated in "The Kayak Roll" and other instructional DVDs. The advantage of the sweep roll is that the rolling motion commences just after the beginning of the sweep phase and this gets the fat part of the boat out of your armpit before you get out to 90 degrees. The sweep roll is somewhat harder to learn for some because it is done in one fluid, complex motion.

As for rolling a loaded sea kayak, I have never done it. But I have rolled both open canoes and kayaks full of water (after my skirt blew off in a hole) and I'm sure the weight of that water was as great as any load you are likely to haul. Rolling a heavy boat full of either gear or water can in some ways be easier, because the whole boat lies lower down in the water and less has to come up out of the water, but it requires a slower, more deliberate roll because the boat has a lot of inertia to overcome. Once you get all that mass rolling up you will come up as long as you keep your head down, but if you go for a real explosive snap, your roll might run out of steam well before you are up past the point of no return.

My Experience
1.) Is it easier to right the kayak when loaded? I’ve read something about the righting moment based on ballast.

I Find it no harder. Just a bit slower.

2.) Just how much flexibility is needed to roll a kayak? Due to injuries my lower back is not very flexible, as in partially fused. Most videos I watch of people doing various rolls looks like they have far more flexibilty than I have.

If you’re sitting in a chair, can you reach down to tie your shoes? That’s about all the flexibility I require.

Going for instruction
this weekend. Any thoughts on the benefits of wearig a scuba mask since this will be in a lake? I’m thinking the mask may make it easier to watch the paddle or anything else I may need to see to aid learning. I’m fine without a mask or nose clips when underwater as I used to be a scuba instructor and am OK with getting water up my nose or not being able to see real well.

I think it can be helpful for students to wear either a mask or swim goggles with or without nose plugs at least initially when learning to roll. Although you may have a good understanding of the body mechanics required to roll, it is very common for students to become “dyslexic” with either their body or the paddle or both when inverted. It is not unusual for beginning rollers to not know which way is up (to the surface).

Wearing a mask or goggles allows one to see the surface and the paddle blade clearly. By focusing your vision on the paddle blade as you sweep, you insure that your head (and therefore your body) will follow the blade and not get out in front of it.

But as soon as you start to get the basic mechanics down, I would ditch the mask or goggles.

Using a mask
A mask is quite helpful in a pool where chlorine tends to sting the eyes. The nose plugs (or the full mask) are helpful anywhere when trying to learn to roll because water gets up your nose in a somewhat different - and for me significantly more bothersome - way when your head is upside down to the surface of the water. I find it bad enough in fresh water that I come up with a major headache unless I get the roll in really fast, salt water is much easier.

That said, I often have my eyes closed even with the mask. It is habit - aside from an intro scuba class I took with a first dive, my eyes just don’t open under water. So my process was (and will be again, have to get my left side back) to use the mask to confirm a good initial position then actually do the roll completely on kinesthetic feel.

I might have gotten it faster if I had been able to keep looking thru the roll. Unfortunately my eyes have never cooperated. But then again, I was not discomforted the first time I had to roll in fading light or dark water like some either. For me it was no different.

Fused Back
My lower back is fused. I was taught (a very slow process) a left hand foreward sweep roll. My roll is not bombproof or pretty but it does work. You can roll with a fused back. It may take time and you will have to work out the techniques based on your backs quirks.

Wear the mask

– Last Updated: Jun-14-13 7:01 AM EST –

i get together with a group that meets at a lake every week to practice. Many have been rolling for a long time. Almost everyone wears a mask or goggles, ear plugs, dry tops etc. Why... people don't want sinus infections or ear infections and there's no benefit in tormenting yourself. If you ever capsize, you will not be thinking about water up your nose, you will just do what you know how to do and hopefully roll up. Make your learning sessions as enjoyable as possible.

As you gradually develop a good hip snap, you will be less and less dependent on spine flexibility.

wearing a mask
I agree that comfort is key to learning to roll, so noseplugs are often useful (particularly in fresh water). But if someone is comfortable being upside down without being able to see, I find it no help to wear goggles.

In fact, I think goggles encourage people to focus on what the paddle is doing, and that leads to poor form. My greatest successes come from teaching people what it FEELS like to roll. The more we try to get the brain involved, I think the more it gets in the way. Better in my experience to build the kinesthetic movements until they all add up to a roll that happens mostly by muscle memory, not by willful thought and visual feedback.

also add ear plugs to your list of things to use. The inner ear is your center of balance. Keep the inner ear warm and cozy:}

Best Wishes


That’s your choice. There are a lot of good arguments to wear one, especially when you’re first learning.

I never have worn a mask, and I learned to roll with my eyes closed, so I roll by feel, and not by sight. It’s a benefit if you capsize in murky water for real. But as Jay points out, I have had a few sinus infections that can probably be linked with rolling for fun and having my noseclips fall off.

Everyone has their own preference.

Loaded kayak - for me it rolls easier, the roll itself is slower. In general, when rolling one has to adjust actions depending on kayak’s response

Rolling - yeah, wear a mask, whatever makes you comfortable. You are learning, why add additional discomfort of water running up your nose and eyes.

Flexibility - yes, some flexibility is required. There are a few elements to a successful roll, due to your possible limitations, you will need to figure out what works for your body. C2C, sweep - they might, or might not work for you - prognosticating over internet is more art than science. The only recommendation - find an instructor who has experience teaching a few rolls, not just one, be it c2c, sweep, or a particular Greenland roll.

Additionally - slow everything down, take everything one step at a time. If taking a class with other students, do not measure your progress on their achievements!

Your comment
brought back a memory from my scuba diving days. I went through a pretty drastic thermocline right around 50 feet and for some reason got some very cold water in my right ear. All of a sudden I felt like I was spinning out of control. It was really weird to be looking at a stationary object and know that I was stable and motionless yet feeling so strongly that I was spinning. Once the water in the ear canal warmed up, all was well and the dive continued without further ado.

Can you discuss
or explain what a roll feels like? That might be quite useful at this stage.

a roll
is the same as rolling over in a mummy sleeping bag and having it roll with you…it’s the same as rolling over in bed, putting your feet down and THEN sitting up.

Rolling is truly “Swimming with a boat” The twist and nudge of the hip is the same as doing the rumba and allowing your hips to be properly involved. It’s a slow sultry dance or a fast salsa…you are doing the roll, you get to chose the dance:}

Best Wishes


Different rolls feel different

– Last Updated: Jun-14-13 8:51 AM EST –

but share certain common features. The two most common rolls done in whitewater are the C-to-C roll and the sweep roll. Both are rolls coming off the front deck.

Initially when you capsize you will be asked to tuck forward with your upper body approximating the front deck as closely as possible. The water providing buoyancy to your body will assist this somewhat. You will want your head at the side of the deck toward which ever side you intend to set up on. The majority of right-handers start learning to roll by setting up on the left side of the boat but there are exceptions. If you set up on the left, you will want to have your right side paddle blade forward with the paddle centered on the cockpit, the shaft parallel with the boat, and both hands as far up out of the water as possible. In the following discussion, I will assume you have set up on the left side of the boat.

The set up position feels a bit as if you are bending forward and trying to put your head between your knees. You will also feel some stretch in both arms as you reach up toward the air. You will feel the side of the hull against both of your wrists, and (hopefully) you will feel air on both hands.

Both the sweep and the C-to-C roll start from this position. It is possible to do the sweep roll with an abbreviated set up position and it is possible to do the C-to-C roll without any set up at all (by simply slicing the paddle blade up to the air at 90 degrees to the boat) but when you learn you will want to go to this tuck/set up position each time. The set up is really critical to either roll. If you don't get your body up toward the surface of the water and your paddle up out of the water your roll will be much weaker.

For the C-to-C roll you must now sweep the paddle out so that the shaft is at right angles to the boat. The sweeping blade should be relatively flat to the surface of the water and out of the water if possible. You will need to stretch with your sweeping blade hand. The other hand will slide under the hull (actually over the hull when inverted) and your non-sweeping blade hand will be under (over) your butt or as close to that position as your boat and flexibility allow.

The sweep in the C-to-C roll is sort of a weird sensation. You must not pull down with your sweeping hand during this motion which is a very common mistake. If you have set up on the left side of your boat, you will need to really stretch the muscles on the right side of your torso to keep the sweeping hand and blade at or above the surface. You will use pressure on your left thigh and knee on the left knee hook of the kayak to get your upper body as close to the surface as feasible. Your right elbow should be straight. Contraction of the muscles on the left side of your torso will facilitate keeping the paddle blade at the surface and your upper body high. You must relax pressure on your right knee and thigh and avoid tensing the muscles on the right side of your torso. You will feel curiously wrapped around the boat with the hull tucked up into your left armpit. You should feel the left hand slide along the underside of the hull as you sweep. Contract your left neck muscles to get your head as close to the surface as possible.

As soon as the paddle is swept out to 90 degrees you will execute the so-called hip snap. To do this you instantaneously reverse everything you have done with your torso and hips/thighs/knees. You will now relax pressure on the left thigh and knee, contract the lateral torso muscles on your right side, relax the torso muscles on your left side, engage pressure on the right knee hook, drop your head onto your right shoulder and try to avoid pulling down on the paddle with your arms. The contraction of the lateral torso muscles puts as much downward pressure on the sweeping blade as you want. I have found that it helps some beginners to imagine trying to drop your right ear toward your right hip during the snap.

You can mimic this torso movement somewhat by doing lateral torso stretches starting by bending straight laterally toward your left side with both arms draped to that side and your head dropped as close to the ground on your left side as possible. Then quickly reverse the stretch bringing both arms and hands directly over your head to the right, stretching laterally to the right, and dropping your head as close to the ground on your right as possible.

If you have done everything correctly so far the hip snap feels sort of magical. The boat rotates and pulls your upper body and head out of the water with it. As you come up concentrate on keeping your right ear pressed down against your right shoulder. As the boat rolls up, most of your body weight will be on your right buttock but as the boat rights you will shift about 80% of your body weight to your left buttock. You may need to slide the paddle laterally across the boat toward your left to center your paddle and your weight. Try to have your hips lead your upper torso throughout this motion by "slinking" your body across the boat. You will find that as you come up, your paddle will be on the right side of your boat, but you set up on the left. How can that be? It's because the boat rolled 180 degrees beneath you.

The main difference with the sweep roll is that the boat roll commences very shortly after the sweep begins. To accomplish this set up in the same way. As you sweep you will once again want to stretch to get the sweeping blade at the surface but as you begin the sweep you will now engage the right knee against the knee hook and use a sort of a cork screw motion of your lower body to right the boat as you sweep. As you sweep you want your head and upper body to remain aligned with the blade. You don't want to lead the paddle blade with your head or vice verse.

You will probably wind up sweeping the blade somewhat beyond 90 degrees as you complete the roll. You will need to roll your right wrist back during the last part of the sweep to keep the sweeping blade properly aligned with the water surface. End with your right hand cocked back close to your right shoulder, both elbows jutting forward a bit, your chin touching your right shoulder (instead of your ear touching your shoulder as in the C-to-C) and you should be looking down toward your sweeping blade.

When done correctly, the sweep phase of the sweep roll feels fluid and smoother than the C-to-C. The so-called hip snap is integrated with the sweep. Again, you should not feel downward pressure on the sweeping blade as you sweep and you must not pull down with your arms.

There are lots of variations. You can do either roll with a lean toward the back deck. You can finish either roll with a paddle scull and lean toward the front deck. And you can do a hybrid roll that is part C-to-C and part sweep by engaging the right knee a bit as you sweep out for the C-to-C roll or even using a slight climbing angle on the sweeping paddle blade as you sweep. Either will help roll the boat up a bit to make it easier to wrap around it before the hip snap of the C-to-C.

What a Roll Feels Like

– Last Updated: Jun-14-13 4:36 AM EST –

For me the motion of a layback roll is a silly march up the stairs. Your right leg goes up a step and crosses over toward the left. Your head looks right, your torso twists right, and your fists are up near your chin. Don't let anyone catch you practicing in the stairwell. It's embarrassing.

Oh... nose plugs good. Face mask... not so much. Allow yourself the face mask for two or three sessions then ditch it. I know a guy who got dependent on it. Can't roll without it. Roll with your eyes closed. Nothin' to see here, folks. Move along now.

reading uses the brain
I don’t think I can teach much about how a physical movement feels on the internet. Rolling is really something best taught in person.

Some other thoughts
Glad you’re learning to roll…

Rolling a loaded kayak can be easier though slower as other folks have said. It can also be more difficult depending on weight distribution and the shape of the deck, which if it means that the kayak likes to be upside down can hinder a roll. Once had a bunch of rocks in my kayak (collecting) and the damn think was like an weeble toy. I could get to sculling but couldn’t get it upright!

Water up the nose and burning eyes are unpleasant distractions. Nose plugs and swimming goggles make learning a lot easier.

No one has mention the kayak (or if they did I missed it) but whether you finish more upright looking down the paddle or laying out on the back deck is not only a function of flexibility, but of whether you have a lot of stuff hanging off the back of the PFD and, more importantly, whether you have a relative high back deck. Sometimes you can’t lay back very well, but you can do a sweep roll with a more upright finish and be fine.