continuing roll frustration

I have had a pretty reliable roll for more than 20 years. Not now.

I concentrate on the following:

  1. Knee pressure on the brace.
  2. Curling the non-working hand toward my chin, i.e., not punching out.
  3. Initial sweep direction.
  4. Sweeping with body, not arms.
  5. Head position.
  6. Wrists bent forward at start, and back at finish.

    The problem is I cannot keep all this in mind at the same time. My paddle tends to dive. I temporarily switched to an extended paddle (Pawletta) roll, so I do the exact same roll with my GP, Euro, wing, all unfeathered.

    Yesterday, for example, I went into 4 ft water with the GP and did 6 ugly but successful rolls in a row. The GP just hit the bottom each time. Very annoying.

    I am much better with the extended Euro rather than the GP, and even better with the wing, which does not dive at all.

My guess is you’re muscling the paddle.
The reasons I’m guessing this:

  • The EP works better than the GP: The finish of the roll should not be dependant on the surface area of the blade, but rather the regaining of primary stability of the hull pulling you up.
  • The blade’s diving: You shouldn’t be pushing that hard down on the blade. Either your body’s not already at the surface during the snap or you’re over compensating for not having your center of gravity over the hull…or not enough inertia to get there.

    Is it possible that in 20 years, you’ve lost some torso flexibility and are just compensating?


If you can get someone to help
try going through the steps given here.

Angle of blade
Maybe too much climbing angle on blade. Shed the resistance - try it more neutral.

link does not work

But how?
I do have too much climbing angle, mainly after the sweep starts. Not sure how to ‘shed’ it. I have tried rolling the wrists back toward the end, but then I forget something else.

muscling up
"* The EP works better than the GP: The finish of the roll should not be dependant on the surface area of the blade, but rather the regaining of primary stability of the hull pulling you up."

It is not the surface area that makes the difference, I don’t think. It is easier to get the direction of the sweep right with the Euro, and very easy with the wing.

“Is it possible that in 20 years, you’ve lost some torso flexibility and are just compensating?”

Indeed. I was always very stiff, and more so nowadays. I cannot finish leaning back at all. But 2 out of 10 rolls are smooth and easy still, so I know it is still possible. 7 out of ten rolls are ugly and the remaining 1 fails.

Sweeping the blade gives you lift. In a C2C, the blade is giving you temporary “purchase” just like a bow-grab or hand-of-god while you get the boat moving. In theory, you can get this from the buoancy of a milk jug or paddle float, a spare foam block, etc., or just enough purchase from the bare palm of your hand slapped against the water. You should not be needing a hurculean amount of effort to right the boat; otherwise the hand/paddle/jug/etc. dives. Have you ever practiced a sculling roll or a real slow motion pawlata?

tried it
and it worked for me. Dunno what the problem is.

Here is the text
How to Teach the Sweep Roll

The key to learning any complex physical maneuver like a sweep roll is to repeat the required motions a large number of times with correct form until “muscle memory” for the maneuver has been solidly developed. Of course, repetitions of bad form also create muscle memory and make it more difficult to eventually learn the correct form. Unlike most methods I know about the method below minimizes the possibility of students learning bad form. That means they will learn to roll faster. The method also provides a way to overcome bad habits that students pick up later.

The steps below assume that the student already has the following skills:

  1. Forward sweep stroke on both sides.

    By this I mean the classic full sweep stroke from bow to stern while rotating the torso.

  2. Hip snap.

    By this I mean that the student can hip snap the boat to an upright position from the pool side, or the instructor’s hands, or the bow of another boat.

    It is also assumed that the roll will be initially taught onside (right hand forward). The offside roll can be taught in the same way.

    Repeat each of the following steps a substantial number of times. Remember the major goal is to create muscle memory. Muscle memory is created by repetition. Do not go on to the next step just because the student has done the current step successfully once or twice. Short cutting the repetition process will just make subsequent steps more difficult.

    Step 1 Skimming Sweep Stroke.

    Begin by having the student execute a forward sweep stroke in an upright boat with the paddle face flat on the water at a slight climbing angle. Have them repeat this until they can do it smoothly using torso rotation with no leaning back and finishing by taking the paddle out over the stern. Emphasize following the paddle with the eyes.

    Then add moderate hip snap pressure to the sweep. That is, right after the sweep starts raise the right knee and relax the left leg all through the sweep. The point is to teach coordination of the hip snap with the sweep motion so it is not necessary at this point that the hip snap pressure be strong.

    Step 2 Support the Boat at 90 Degrees.

    It is probably a good idea for the student to use nose plugs from this point on. This step requires that the instructor hold the boat on its edge, perpendicular to the water. You will stand next to the bottom of the boat on the side away from where the paddle will sweep. Use the “hand of god” rescue hold with the right hand in the coaming well and the left on the bottom edge of the boat on the down side. The student does exactly what they did at the end of step 1. That is, they place the paddle face on the water near the bow; sweep around using torso rotation, being sure the paddle is skimming the surface; and hip snapping throughout the sweep. At the setup the student will have to support themselves with their left knee. As soon as the paddle starts to skim they should start the hip snap. Be sure they rotate all the way around, keep the paddle on the surface the entire time, and take the paddle out over the stern. You should release the boat just as soon as the student starts the sweep. They should have little or no trouble righting the boat from this position. What is important is correct form.

    Step 3 Support the Boat at 45 Degrees.

    Repeat step 2 but with the boat more nearly upside down. Continue until the student can right the boat every time. It is important that the paddle always skim the surface (never dive) and that they rotate fully, taking the paddle out over the stern. Even at 45 degrees they should be able to see the paddle at setup and watch it as it skims. At this angle the amount that their wrist is cocked will begin to change as they sweep.

    Step 4 Support at Lower Angles.

    Repeat step 3 at a lower angle, say, 10 to 20 degrees. This step is a critical one because the student’s head will be under the water for the first time. It is very important to emphasize doing exactly what they have done at the easier angles – skim sweep with full rotation to the stern and continuous hip snap. If they pull down on the paddle, go back briefly to a higher angle. When they can right the boat every time with good form go on to the final step.

    Final Step

    Repeat step 4 with the boat completely upside down. Try to start the final step just after a successful attempt at step 4. Chances are very good they will complete their first unassisted roll on the first try. Be ready with cheers and clapping. Also expect some failures. Diagnose them without being critical. If necessary, alternate between step 4 (or step 3) and the final step.

    Problems that may Develop

    Sweeping using the arms. The sweep must be controlled entirely by torso rotation, which means the arms must be led by the body. Some students will tend to move the arms to carry out the sweep and that will almost always doom the roll because it reduces torso rotation and causes the paddle to dive. It may help to go back briefly to sweeping with the boat upright.

    Habit transfer from paddling planing hulled boats. Paddling style for planing hulled boats, especially playboats, significantly involves looking where the boat is going or where you want the boat to go. For example, a turning sweep stroke involves little or no torso rotation and paddlers are suppose to look where the bow is turning to, rather than at the paddle. And that is the way it should be done. However, carryover of that habit will lead to a sweep roll with no torso rotation. It may be necessary to spend more time with the boat flat or at 90 degrees.

    Sweeping too fast. For most people the sweep should be done at a moderate pace. In fact the pace should be similar for all steps in the learning sequence. Sweeping too fast leads to a variety of problems, including reduced torso rotation (see above). It is even possible to strain the wrists by sweeping to strongly with bad form.

    Clothing and equipment. Rolling in a warm pool with minimal clothing is easier than rolling in cold water with a wet suit and PFD. Cold water causes some paddlers to rush the setup and the roll, and a PFD (and other clothing) reduces flexibility. It is a good idea to practice in the equipment you will be wearing on the river.

    Problems with the head. Raising the head can be both a cause and a consequence of roll failure. You often hear people say or shout to rolling students, “keep your head down”. This is irrelevant advice if raising the head is a consequence of some previous fault, as it often is. For example, if a paddler stops or slows the sweep/rotation before reaching the stern they will not come up. Period. They will, however, raise their head to try to come up after the rotation stops. It doesn’t matter. Head up or head down they won’t roll. Telling them to keep their head down is not advice that will enable them to do or improve the roll. However, telling them to complete the rotation will enable them to do the roll. If the paddler does the roll with a skimming sweep all the way to the stern and a strong continuous hip snap then the head is naturally in the right place. There is no need to think about it or have attention called to it.

    On the other hand raising the head at the beginning of the sweep will also doom the roll. In my experience this is not as common as raising the head after a previous fault. But in any event careful diagnosis is necessary to prevent overlooking the real cause of the problem.

    Punching with the off arm. This is cured by keeping the off elbow close to the body during the sweep. It is important to develop muscle memory for this. Find an angle where the student does not punch. Do repetitions there and then gradually reduce the angle.

Rolling Video

– Last Updated: Aug-25-12 6:02 PM EST –

I know it is $30 but excellent DVD. Goes over every aspect of roll and what works and what does not.

Learning to roll
I beleive the C2C roll is one of the hardest to learn. Layback rolls are easier to learn. Don’t use a variety of paddles, just keep using the same one till you get it right. I beleive that a GP is easier to learn with since it is unfeathered and has four power faces. Use it extended and it will give you the extra leverage to get up. Once you figure it out, it won’t take much effort to get up. I find the sculling roll with extended paddle is easiest to learn or teach.

It’s difficult to learn by yourself. Much better to have an experienced roller stand next to you in waist deep water to coach you thru it.

I don’t use a wing paddle, but friends who do, tell me that they are nasty to roll with since they are quite demanding as to proper blade angle.

Good luck

You’re in San Diego
You’ve got access to one of the top coaches in North America. Take a tune-up rolling lesson with Aqua Adventures and get your roll working again in short order. Is it worth your time struggling for perhaps another season?


– Last Updated: Aug-25-12 8:56 PM EST –

Jen in the pool on occasional weekday evening sessions they have can work wonders. Twice a month on Wednesday at 7:30pm with next date on Sep 12. Call Aqua Adventures for details. Not sure if I might already know you but also if you want to get out and practice or paddle send a message as I'm on the water around OC or SD pretty much every weekend. We often do rolling practice mixed with our normal paddles.

btw, very unique that GP is worse and wing best. I use Euro but tried a GP for rolling and now often recommend it for those learning because it's less fussy about needing a perfect blade angle.

I have been to the pool rolling sessions numerous times, and taken lessons from Jen, who is great. But my roll, while generally successful, remains mostly ugly. This is especially frustrating because for a period of 10 or 15 years I never failed to roll.

Good things to keep in mind
All the things you mentioned to think about are points I think are important so you have the concepts down. My rule of thumb is that people can’t remember more than three things at a time.

One thing you didn’t mention is keeping a loose grip on the paddle to let it glide through the water near the surface. That can help with a diving paddle.

So, if you don’t have someone who can help identify the issues, maybe you can break it down one by one. Are you sure you aren’t punching out then pulling the arm back so you think you are doing it right?

Another thing to try is a false sweep - sweep out part way then sweep back. If you can do that properly you are well on the way. If you can’t, consider not trying to roll up because it will just reinforce bad technique.

So what does Jen observe about your roll?

It’s not easy, in my opinion, to provide any useful advice about someone’s roll without seeing them in person. But in general, my experience is that thinking about a checklist of things to remember screws up the roll. It’s not a series of individual movements. It’s one whole-body motion, and you need to train your body to feel that motion. You might start by sitting upright, in the high brace position (paddle shaft on your chest), and drop in and brace up. Do that a dozen times - paddle close to chest, head up last. Then wind up your shoulders so they’re in line with the boat, and drop in a dozen more times, sweeping up slowly with good form.

The trick with any of this, is that you need someone watching who can identify and correct bad form. Otherwise you’re just practicing bad habits.


– Last Updated: Aug-26-12 2:54 PM EST –

My neighbor recently lost his reliable roll and we fixed it. It was his timing. When he focused on doing his 'thigh snap and paddle pull' at the SAME TIME it fixed his roll. Maybe? Good luck.

So I guess I’m confused. You are failing with a sweep roll? You are failing with a Pawlatta? I am a fan of the C2C because it seems more forgiving and less dependent on remembering every detail such as keeping your head down.

focus on the sweep.

– Last Updated: Aug-26-12 3:44 PM EST –

This is what did it for me. The fabled "hip snap" actually became an intuitive "lateral crunch". I agree with Jerry that starting with a sweep or layback is much easier for most folks.

Try focusing on the sweep and keeping the blade at the surface. If it's diving you're probably providing too much force or "muscling it". Try skimming the surface with your blade; watch the blade by turning your head to follow it until you're looking astern, which also helps to keep your head down.

Finally - don't get psyched out by trying to "remember".