about rolls, for kayak newbies

I’m new to kayaks, but not to water. I’ve been trying to “edumacate” myself before making the commitment to 'yaking, and I have to say that P.net has been instrumental in all of this for me. But the one issue that my mind keeps returning to is rolling the kayak. I’d like to hear some “real world” testimonies from those of you who have experienced this out in coastal areas. My question is how different

is it to roll a kayak in “seas” while loaded near to capacity, as to learning to roll in a pool or protected waters. What about cold shock? Does simply "dressing for the water temp."prevent this? What’s the simplest piece of gear that will prevent cold shock? Thank you in advance for your replies…

That’s a lot of questions - -
These folks may need some more info.

What kind of boat do you have, or are considering?

How much gear?? Day trip, one night, Multiple nights?

Going with a partner, or Solo?

What kind of equipment do you have?

What kinds of water conditions / locations are you considering?

Learning to roll at a pool session is a good thing. Practicing in the real water is another.

Dude – Coldshock is not issue in SOCAL

– Last Updated: Feb-22-07 11:44 PM EST –

The water never gets colder than 55 F and usually is much warmer. If you practice tipping over you get used to it. Simple training. Also if you wear a helmet and a wet suit, cold shock is minimal. There is a gasp response but you can condition your self not to gasp just by repeated immersions. Rolling a boat in real conditions is harder tha in a swimming pool. If you are really worried about it start out with a sit-on-top kayak. I own 8 kayaks and several are sit on tops, they work great for southern california.

Oh and check out a video called Eric Jackson Rolling and Bracing ... you will find that rolling a kayak is not the big deal it is made out to be.

a couple of thoughts…
My question is how different

is it to roll a kayak in “seas” while loaded near to capacity, as to learning to roll in a pool or protected waters. What about cold shock? Does simply "dressing for the water temp."prevent this? What’s the simplest piece of gear that will prevent cold shock?

  • unfortunately the simplest piece of gear to prevent cold shock isn’t simple, it’s a drysuit, with a good thermal hood in addition. a dry top can substitute, when you are really sure you will roll up, and the consequences of coming out of your boat are not dire.

  • learning to roll and rolling a loaded boat in a tripping scenario are totally different. you can learn to roll quite well in a pool, practice it until you are strong and competent at it (time range? 3 months to 5 years or more…) now the flip flop: doing a roll in the pool and doing one at sea, full load, is actually, identical, technique wise. it’s the environment and situation and your state of mind that are completely different. this is what separates the rolls.

    however, the better you get, the more experience, you realize that it becomes more and more unlikely that you will capsize, even in heavy conditions in a sea kayak, unless you are really pushing the envelope. loaded kayak + good experienced paddler = remarkable stability. when it does happen, whether or not you will be able to roll is a good question, that each paddler has to discover on their own. of course, many paddlers on this site, are the types that seek out those conditions that may result in capsize and recovery, and usually play and practice for doing so.

    lemme guess, your next series of questions will be about boats and gear?

    it’s all good, jump in!

Skip the drysuit for southern california

I’ll try
I don’t have a lot of personal experience rolling “in seas”, but here are some thoughts.

I don’t think having a loaded kayak is a huge issue if you have a reasonable roll. I did it before I had a reasonable roll - in sheltered water.

Waves and wind can have a significant effect. You can get blown or knocked back over if you try to roll up into the wind or waves. One of the reasons having a roll on both sides is a worthy goal.

Cold shock can happen, even to experienced rollers but I haven’t personally experienced it. All my cold water(down to 32 F)rolls I have made a point of getting my head and neck wet first. I don’t know if being mentally prepared for the cold will help but it can’t hurt. I have whitewater friends who boat all winter in pretty chilly water and I have never heard them even talk about cold shock.

The most important piece of gear IMO is a hood - covering your neck and head does a lot. Even a hood that isn’t super tight will help a little but a full diving hood not only keeps you warm but keeps the water out for a brief submersion. Not great for paddling in. I ususally wear a mystery skin hood pulled back off my head. That’s for flat water but you can pull it up and in any case your neck will be warmer.

Ok, not exactly real world, but I’m sure others will chime in.

For SoCal a drysuit is overkill
neoprene and a spray jacket work great.

First thing to consider…
… is all those same questions in the context of NOT rolling.

If you can’t roll - you’ll be 100% in the water, and for longer, with more to do.

All stuff you also need to practice and learn along with rolling.

Get John Lull’s Book “Sea Kayaking Safety and Rescue”. Talks about a layered defense and puts all this into clear real world perspective.

Get the EJ video and some others like Jay Babina’s “1st Roll”, “Greenland Rolling with Dubside”, “The Kayak Roll”…

Cold Water Shock
The posts above touch on the issue of rolling a loaded boat, but I’d like to address your question of cold water shock.

The simplest bit of gear your can wear is a neopreone or fuzzy rubber (neoprene w/ fleece) hood or hat. To prevent cold water shock (and the gasp relex) in really cold water, you need to protect the head.

We haven’t had a sea kayaking fatality on Lake Erie in years, but in 1996 a former Navy Seal died while paddling solo. He was wearing a dry suit (water temp was in the 40s, air temp in the 60s, and was found out of his boat. A later analysis of the accident suggested that he experienced shock after a capsize because he did not have head protection.

Purely Psychological…
assuming that you have a proficient roll in the pool. In “seas”, it’s a matter of staying relax and doing your thing. Problem for pool rollers is realizing, “Uh-oh, this ain’t the pool and it’s for real with consequences if I blow it.”

One way to get away from a pool roll is to roll everytime you go out to paddle. I always start of by doing at least several rolls and sculling on each side right near the put in. This begins to set your mind at ease. If you have a partner, have him or her stay near you, and rip some rolls of in the “seas” to begin the diminish even more the psychological hurdle. Or, if you’re like me, and don’t go out with others much, pick a reasonable surf day, 2-4’, with onshore winds and waves on a gentle beach break. You get plenty of rolling practice. If you bail, you can easily swim back to the beach and your equipment will also wash back up. (Learn about the signs of a rip current and what to do swimming in one though.)

Cold shock ain’t a great possiblity if you’re in SoCal though still possible when water hits 50. (for us in NE, that’s balmy but it’s matter of acclimation.) If you roll and scull right at the put-in, that actually acclimates you to water from the start. If the water feels cold to you, splash some on your face a bit first, before you do any rolling or sculling. That little bit helps.


My experience

– Last Updated: Feb-23-07 8:31 AM EST –

I started out at the extreme edge of panic, enough that it took a loong time to be able to just roll. So I have spent long enough at each increment to remember pretty well...

Rolling a loaded boat is just a slow heavy version of a pool roll. Rolling in sea swells is pretty much like rolling in a pool except that I may have to add a little more oomph. Rolling in steeper or breaking waves takes more timing and calm, to the point that this is not a place I've had much in the way of success because the anxiety stuff happens. But if I could hold it together it should be the same, with timing and side mattering a bit more but the roll is the same. In enough wave or current you may find it critical to have a roll on both sides - happened to me.

For me, the worst effect of cold is on my head and face, but I live in a drysuit. Wear good layers on your torso so that the issue is restricted to your head. I like hoods - heavier and warmer ones than a lot of others can stand - and have found the best source is dive shops. That restricts the problem to my face.

There - Sing's approach is the only one I know. Get your head totally in the water before every paddle, and keep doing it as the water cools, so that by the time it hits the lower 50's you don't notice it as being particularly cold. As above that isn't normally real cold shock temp, but if the last time you put your head under was in 70 degree water it could be a problem.

Aside from dealing with current or the like that is pulling you around under there, something that is all mental and you are likely to handle better than me, pool rolls worked fine for the transition to the stuff outside for me. But you should practice the same kinds of things in pools or flat water as out there - losing the angle on your paddle, blowing it and having to start all over again, switch sides etc.

Pool rolls are harder for me.
Once you learn to use the force of moving water to help you out combat rolls are a lot easier. I am also lucky in that being in disturbed water makes me focus more. In a pool I get casual and careless.

The points above are right on. You’ll need a solid roll on both sides, and it’s good to find a beach where you can just practice.

One additional point is that waves can be an aid to rolling as well…just getting into the set-up/sweep for the roll is often enough to bring the boat back up into a broach, as the force of the wave will lift the paddle/push the boat back upright.

Some good practice excerises:

  1. Rolling over in front of oncoming waves, feeling them pass over you, then rolling back up on the back of the wave.

  2. Rolling with waves coming on the beam.

  3. From a broach surf or a diagonal surf, drop into a roll on the side opposite the wave…this will make you catch your downwave edge result in an immediate capsize. Try to roll up on the same wave…the force of the wave should bring you into a high brace.

It’s amazing to me that no matter the “activity” there always are the finer points of safety. Although I have plenty of water time/experience with canoes/zodiacs, and powered watercraft of many sizes, including the “floating rucksack”, kayaking presents it’s own set of considerations that must be faced. The psychological aspect of rolling seems to be the most daunting one, facing your fears and dealing with them. Someone suggested dunking your head to get the feel of the water, I couldn’t agree more on that one. Believe it or not, I’ve seen people “gasp” when entering waters in tropical climate (Chagris River, Panama). The funny thing about this is that the gasping reflex (in whatever degree) seemed more pronounced

at night when one of the main senses is challenged. Could it be that lack of visibility under water adds to the stress of rolling? I’ve yet to experience that, so I’m reading enthusiastically about all your experiences…As far as my intent on equipment and

kayaking goals are, I’m leaning heavily towards Prijon boats such

as the Kodiak and Seayak. I don’t intend to stay out more than 2-3 days at a time, and I’m looking to paddle mostly on the west coast from LaJolla, CA, to Alaska/B.C… I’ve seen many beautiful

areas on California’s coast areas, and I can’t wait to get out there and put eyeballs on it all, but now more than ever, the need for meaningful safety training is paramount for me, despite what I think I know. I really like that idea of using the wave to right oneself, saving energy to say more “Oh S–ts” afterwards is right up my alley!!! BTW I really enjoy reading what you P.netters have to say about these topics, I’m sure I’ll be a better 'yaker for it!!!


dressing for socal waters…
is obviously going to be a concern for me. What would be a comprehensive short clothing gear list that would take me from summer and mild winter conditions. I would like to have the ability

to do both with the minimum of items. I know variety is the spice of life, and I have a “history” of being a gear addict, but I think I’d be better served by doing more with less for kayaking coastal areas. BTW I have no wet-suit experience, are these used a lot for coastal kayaking?

Lack of visibility
It’s a point, but I think it varies between individuals. I have never been able to open my eyes under water, it’s just the way I learned to swim, so obviously have never been too concerned about what I can see or not once under the boat. But I’ve known people who learned to roll by spotting the end of the paddle and were taken by surprise the first time they tried rolling near dusk and couldn’t see.

Depends what you want to do

– Last Updated: Feb-23-07 1:58 PM EST –

Where are you located? A good thing to do is to hook up with local paddlers and check out what gear people use. If you are going to be touring mostly I would ask Waterdoc here. For surfing a wetsuit 3/2 is your most economical choice, I use a semi-dry top on coldest days. There are other choices. For touring when it is cold I have a NRS hydroskin farmer John and a I wear a hydroskin top over it. If cold I wear polar fleece over it and semi -dry top or paddling jacket. If you go with a layered approach, it's a lot more versatile.

Best advice: head to aqua-adventures.com and sign up for one of their introductory kayaking classes or talk to jeff laxier at kayakfusion.com

I'm in Lajolla area a lot if you want some direct advice.

I’m in Burbank, CA
and I’m looking to 'yak from Huntington Beach to LaJolla, then from

Ventura county up to Monterey Peninsula. I’ve lived in FL for 20 years, and California waters are drastically different than what I’m

accustomed to in FL. So I need to prepare carefully for what I’m not used to. Biggest thing for me is water temperature difference. I’ll definitely keep for reference all the valuable advice and experiences you’ve troubled yourselves to share with all of us. Thanks again p.netters…

Just to reiterate what one or two…
…have said already–learn to roll both sides as soon as you reasonably can.

I had another incident last year that reminded me of this. I’d spent time in surf rolling with loaded/unloaded boat, but on this trip we were really loaded heavy. About 50-60 lbs of water along the keel and quite a bit of other gear all held in place tightly with inflated float bags. Capsized, setup for right roll and finally realized that the boat would not fully rotate to allow my to roll up on the right side. Between the bouancy of my drysuit/PFD and the bottom heavy boat, it wouldn’t do a 180 on its own so I could set up for a right roll. I reset up for a left roll and came up. For the rest of the trip, I remained keenly aware that it was likey that the side I capsized on would be the side I would need to roll up on.

Just a kind of related aside—a story related to me a while ago by an acquaintance who was on a trip with an unsecured 5 gallon water ‘bag’ in his boat. He capsized and could not roll back up with the weight of that water now unsecured and against his deck.

For whatever reason, on my boat (Nordkapp), even heavily loaded, I don’t seem to notice a great difference in the roll between unloaded and loaded. It may just be my lack of experience to notice the difference as I’ve been rolling less than 2 years.

Good luck!

Using Waves (Or Current…)
my advice is to not even think about that for now. Yes, current or moving water can really make rolling back up easy. But it also requires quite bit of awareness and a calm mind to know where you are and the paddle is relative to movement. What blows the rolls of pool rollers out in the conditions, is the lack of a calm mind. As soon as they go over, they are trying to roll back up. When you’re moving and you try to roll on the wrong side, it quarantees a blown roll. What you want to do is to be comfortable in the conditions, be relaxed upside down, and let the wave lose it’s grip or for you to equalize with the current. Then the roll is just as if you were rolling in calm water. Once you can roll consistently, then you can begin to focus on the feel and awareness of the movement to take advantage of what it can offer for a quicker roll. But, trying to do right start will only set you back. Three things to remember: stay calm, stay calm, stay calm.