Aggressive rolling

If you are in currents or high winds and meet resistance coming up, you may want to try being very aggressive with your roll.

A couple years ago when my roll was already technically pretty good I think, I met some sort of resistance while practice rolling at Deception Pass. Instead of trying to push through it, I let my boat flip over again and tried coming back up. Still didn’t work and I had to swim out. I believe I just met a little resistance in an eddy and an aggressive action probably is all I needed to get out of that situation.

I often come across situations where I want roll my kayak and meet resistance, be it wind or current or wave,. I can’t roll the kayak past that resistance. When this happens I need to force my paddle under my boat to the other side. And I often need to do a strong hip snap.

So if you mainly practice your rolls in the pool or in calm conditions, you may want to search out conditions that will allow you to get used to that resistance. Maybe you will find you can handle the situation with more finesse than force. For me, at this point in my learning curve, I find aggressive rolling actions are often called for.

One thing I still need to learn about more is rolling in strong eddies. Is there something about rolling up in strong eddies, where forcing yourself through the roll won’t work good and what you actually need to do is just come up on the other side? This is something I still need to explore. Even so, strong rolling has certainly allowed me to get out of every situation I have met thus far. And it may work for you.

Just some food for thought…

strong rolling
more like right rolling. There are a ton of different ways to roll, and some ways don’t work very well in moving water, like the extended sweep. You could be doing a c2c or forward finishing c2c roll, these are aggressive rolls but wont take much more “strength.”

If you are in rough water and get rolled on one side or the other, and your body has a natural tendency to come up on a certain side, go with that. If you are going in on your left side but your typical roll has you entering on the right, don’t try coming back up on the side you just went in on. It’s awkward. Just let the wave or current take you and set you up for your roll.

many examples
There are many times on moving water in which a roll on one side will work better than on the other. If your boat is moving slower than the current, setting up to roll with your sweeping blade on the downstream side of the boat will result in the force of the current helping to support the paddle face. Setting up on the upstream side results in the back face of the blade being pushed down and under by the current.

In strong eddies the current is often recirculating upstream, relative to the river bed. The water along an eddy line is often disturbed and aerated and does not support a paddle well.

There are many instances in which attempting to roll on one side is difficult, impossible, or unsafe. For example, trying to roll after capsizing side surfing a shallow hydraulic. You pretty much have to set up and roll on the downstream side or risk a shoulder dislocation. In other situations a rock might make it impossible to set up and sweep on one side.

I know a lot of good whitewater kayakers who automatically switch to the opposite side after a failed roll. A good habit if you can develop it under pressure.

Two parts
First, if you are messing around in whitewater or surf you really should get a roll on both sides. I went and fixed that several years ago when I had to exit my boat because of current on the right. If I had just go left it would have been a piece of cake. I can’t do that right now because I have not been able to paddle as usual for the last couple of years and need to recover some things. But I don’t want to try anything with real current until I have both sides back.

Second, there will be times that you need to come up more slowly whatever side you are on. You can scull up in multiple strokes or muscle it up, whatever works, but as conditions increase that relatively easy water roll is not always going to work like you are used to. I consider being able to scull up more slowly to be on a par with rolling on both sides - at some point you will likely need it.

Thanks for these really informative responses. A couple more thoughts:

-rolling in surf- never had a problem. Just kind of did what came natural. Natural after hours and hours of practice that is…

-rolling in moving water. This is the area that I have the most to learn. I think that if and until I ever get into any big or difficult moving water, my current bag of tricks is good enough to get me through it. But from the first two responses, it seems like a complicated matter rolling in moving water.

-rolling in wind- this is the area where aggressive rolling really comes into play for me

Usually like above suggestion…
in white water, easiest thing is to get both sides and switch sides if the first one is not feeling like an easy shot. The worst that happens is you switch back again and by then your speed will have equalized with the current and the original side will work better.

You can scull up in say two strokes rather than an all or nothing roll in many situations, wind being one. The last stroke my still be pretty muscled, but up is up. If it is nasty who cares how prettily you got there.

Surf stops / currents don’t
I concur with learnibg on both sides.

In surf, the wave sooner or later passes you and lets you go, so you can roll either side. But currents and winds are continuous - in these cases, if one side feels weak, switching to the other side often does the trick.

“strong” roll not always issue
I have a pretty good tool bag full of rolls, The only times in recent memory that gave me any difficulty where when the water was highly oxygenated, both in surf and WW. On these occasions I had to switch up tactics, I generally heavily rely on my paddle to roll, when the water does not give me any thing to pry on, I have to rely on hip snap and technique.

When I cannot rely on my paddle to roll, it is not a pretty thing to see. I just don’t have the finesse lay back roll down pat; as an old stiff guy, probably never will. The power roll is sometimes not the tool to use.

I just stick with the same side
Surfing or moving water I always roll on the same side. Only reason I would switch is if I was up against something and had to roll on my offside. Otherwise if I don’t make my first roll I hopefully get a breath of air and tuck back into my setup, and wait until I “feel” some purchase on the water to make the roll. At this point I’m probably going for an extended paddle roll anyways, but the main thing is not to rush it and make sure to take my time, and get the boat underneath me before trying to pull my head up.

Also after getting up or even partially up be sure to turn the roll “high brace” into an active forward finishing low brace makes staying up pretty much foolproof.

I did a lot of swimming in the surf and class 3 water until I got it down. It was a big transition from having an awesome pool roll to being able to roll reliably in moving water, took at least three seasons and a lot of time in the surf and moving water.

To me surf hardest
Strong current will tell you which side is best, it is usually a clear signal even if pushy enough that it makes for a battle. To me surf is the most difficult because of either highly aerated water that gives you no purchase, or moments like rolling up on the wrong side of the wave only to get knocked right over again. Sheeit…

I think most folks struggle with the
transition from pool to river. Don’t know about surf, that’s not my turf. I c1ed and lived with a one side only roll for many years. The only time I switched sides was when I was stuck in a hole and that only happened once where it made a difference. My thoughts are that when you roll against the current and are unsuccessful your boat then changes orientation to the current thereby making a 2nd attempt on the same side more likely to succeed.

Now a days I kayak and go to the pool to practice technique. It ain’t good, been 8 or 9 times this year and I can get up with some effort with a full sweep roll in my ww creeker. I’m about 50% in actual moving water situations. I don’t flip much, maybe two or three times a year and will probably swim once or twice.

Someday I’d like to get more effortless in my technique… someday I’d like to roll on both sides and someday develop a hand roll. None of that is stopping me from boating today! It limits what and where I paddle, influences my decisions but I still get out.

Rolling is the weakest part of my game. So I’ll continue to work on it and maybe at some point even pay for some formal instruction. If I was in better shape that would help a lot as well.

Rolling in surf
Is easier in troughs or at the base of the swell on the seaward side if the boat is abeam to the swell/wave. If the boat is pointing (more or less) into the swell, the side does not seem to matter much - at least to me. Confused water (chop+rebound wave and wind strong enough to blow off the tops of waves) requires a bit of patience and a solid hip thrust at the start of the roll to drive the boat down and under the hip. If done toward the wind, the conditions often help roll the boat.

Having a roll to both sides makes setting up and executing a roll a bit quicker (especially if you have a roll that requires adjusting the paddle while subermerged in cold water) and gives one the flexibility to respond to the conditions that currently exist. While I think that it is less important to be able to roll in sea kayaking than it is in the ocean, it is a very useful skill to have.

Because capsize is much less common in sea kayaking, many of us who learn to roll tend to be a bit preferential to a particular side in practice. Since it is more important to have a reliable roll than to be able to roll on both sides, this is not really wrong, but it is a narrowing of a requisite skill.


See below quote… if it is not sea kayaking on the ocean what is it? Or were you trying to differentiate in some other way.

By the way, in my mind being a good sea kayaker involves handling surf and tidal races. So we might not be thinking the same way about things anyway.

“…While I think that it is less important to be able to roll in sea kayaking than it is in the ocean…”

works for hand rolls good too
I also find that applying a lot of power in the hip snap also works good for hand rolls.

I am referring to hand rolls starting from an upright position. Trying to come with a hand roll while already flipped over is more difficult and seems to require very good form. Can’t really power through it in that case.

Not to be a jerk…
If you are missing rolls like that you don’t have good technique.


I meant
"…While I think that it is less important to be able to roll in sea kayaking than it is in the ocean…

replace “sea kayaking” with whitewater, but yeah. Sometimes, the brain and fingers aren’t connected in any noticeable fashion. Pardon the error.


Switch sides instead
Trying to brute-force yourself against the power of strong current is silly when you can use that power to help you instead…by switching sides.

Repeated dependence on an unreliable source, i.e., your brute forcing, is an injury waiting to happen.

Your technique is off, possibly due to timing of the motions rather than poor movement per se.

not written in stone
I am sharing what works for me. But you are right, I don’t want to give the idea you should use more force than you need to.

As far as switching sides, I do that all day long. I am not saying not to switch sides. I am just saying sometimes when you start to roll over to come up on the other side, you may meet some sort of resistance and you may need to push through it with force- as much force as is necessary. Experienced kayaker should know exactly what I am talking about. My comments are more for the ears of non-experienced kayakers who don’t practice in real life conditions.

What happened to me in DP couple years ago is not very clear to me. If I were in that situation I could probably get through it with my current better technique and mental understanding. But if I did feel that resistance, of course I would try to go to the other side.

I am an older guy and haven’t gotten any injuries from rolling yet. So extra force, properly applied, will not lead to injuries.