failed roller

I am an experienced , heavy weather, long trip kayer but after a four session rolling class , each of three hours, I still can’t roll. I managed it once with a paddle float, and my hip snap is ok. I have a Current Design ‘Gulf Stream’ which is quite aig boat. As I am only five ft six, I wonder if it’s true what they say that size really does matter. Sometimes I even h ave difficulty doing a paddle float rescue. Perhaps it’ age. I’m gettin’ up there.

Don’t Give Up…
keep taking lessons, maybe with different instructors and see who can help you most (though this can also be a source of confusion). Also, try learning in another boat first, like an old whitewater (displacement hull), just to get it down and then to transfer the technique.

No, the Gulfstream is not too big. I am smaller than you and have roll other folks’ Gulfstreams to demo, etc.


never give up. Seems the only universal things about rolling are that it’ll take the time it takes, and that if you stay at it long enough you’ll end up rolling. (I think I hold the record in our local group for the longest time…)

Even though I am in good shape and strong (not as much as Sing I am sure), learning in a quite large or looser fitting boat would probably have felt near impossible. You’ll be much happier taking Sing’s suggestion of learning in a smaller boat. Once learned, you’ll probably want to fit out the Gulfstream cockpit tighter than you’ve had it up to now.

Smaller boat will be easier

– Last Updated: Apr-06-05 1:22 PM EST –

5 feet six and how many pounds. Lots of rolling specialists go for low volume boats. On the other hand somone with a solid roll can roll a gulfstream with no trouble. Practice hip snaps off a friend's bow. Keep your head on you hands on the bow for as long as you can as you roll up. do it slow. Your friend can tell you when his boat does not bob much. The less bobbing the better.

Right on for keeping up learning new things and wanting to do it right. fantastic and inspiring. As to age that does not matter but flexibility is a help.

"The kayak roll" video is good; I bought it and many have learned a bit from that copy.

I got my first roll on the pawlata roll, which I advocate sea kayakers learning and quickly abandoning as it can lead to bad habits. One good thing is: as you are learning the screw roll(same as sweep roll to me), if you blow one, you can use the pawlata to roll up rather than exit. there is another video with a good reputation called "first roll" or something similar. perhaps for sale at the store. It teaches the pawlata.

Don’t quit … Find a better teacher
If you have a short heavy torso and are not very flexible you may have some trouble. The suggestions about learning in a small whitewater boat are very valid. Try to find someone who has a very good reputation for teaching the roll, maybe folks here can suggest someone in your area.

Don’t quit
Everyone above is correct. As was noted above by one who really knows - “It takes the time it takes.” Very, very few people get it right away. Some take years.

A different coach can make the difference. For quite some time, the coaches I was working with failed to recognize that I am left handed and my paddle is indexed left. Once I insisted on setting up and rolling left handed, my progress improved greatly. Getting ones ‘on-side’ roll first is best.

Snug fit in the cockpit is important. Though experienced rollers can roll anything (some years ago on this board, someone noted rolling a Swifty)being tight in your cockpit can make an enormous difference.

If you have access to any boat known to be an easy roller, in can make learning easier. Among touring boats, the NDK Romany is very well known for its ease of roll. The Gulfstream is a pretty high volume boat with high decks (for a Brit design), though many do roll it, a lower volume lower decked boat would be easier.

good points
I also learned the pawlata roll as my first roll and I teach that roll first these days as well. I find that it is an extremely empowering roll and it gives students the confidence and security to work on other rolls as they always have the pawlata as a backup.

bad habits

– Last Updated: Apr-07-05 2:23 AM EST –

Can you add a bit more on the bad habits from Pawlata comment? Curious what specifically I might want to watch out for - and maybe the issues could shed light for the original poster. I know some side comments in other rolling discussions made some things click for me.

I learned Standard Greenland first (and I'm [probably wrongly] considering it the same roll as Pawlata/extended sweep & extended screw [that name could sell videos!]). Then just shortened the paddle extension until I was back at normal paddle grip (actually I just skipped right to that).

They all seem like the same roll to me - extended or not, but GP really facilitates quick and easy changes in hand position that blur the lines.

"The Kayak Roll" and "1st Roll" are both great - and teach the same basic roll except for finish position. "1st Roll" teaches in reverse order more like traditional methods. With both approaches, it's hard to miss.

I have only tried a few C2C rolls (and being self taught who knows what they really were) but it seems to be more suited to WW/euro paddles (I used GP & euro). More aggressive, narrower margin for success. Does require a more punctuated hip snap. Definitely worth more playtime. The other rolls, particularly a sweep with layback, can be pretty slow and leisurely.

Sweep/screw/Greenland standard has got to be easier to teach first timers (in sea kayaks) and give them more reliable results, no?

Being a self taught/bad habits sort of roller - they all seem pretty similar to me - until it gets into some of the more interesting Greenland rolls - but even those can be grouped into forward and aft finishing.

INcreased leverage lets you

– Last Updated: Apr-06-05 6:50 PM EST –

get away with bad form, like early head lift, weak hip snap, etc. With an extended euro you can just muscle up if you even close to form. That is why I advocate not practicing the pawlata too intensively for too long. Get it and learn the sweep or c to c or...
MOre notes on edit:

sometimes because the enf of th blade does not tent to thi the boat on a pawlata folks can learn to get to a low set up instead of reaching up, which gets the paddle and torso in the right position.

For me the c to c is difficult because I do lack some torso flexibility. The more gradual snap on a sweep roll (work being done by the heps and knees from the moment the paddle starts moving is much easier than teh explosive snap of a c to c. I have a freind ot two that just lays the paddle out ther at 90 degrees and snaps it and he is up; bam! no sweep at all. ( and I hate him ;-) )

Greenland is another thing. Sliding the paddle is more a part of it and much faster for me than gripping for a pawlata and returning to normal style with a euro. I want to be in a defendable position as soon as I get up.

since I'm on the greenland topic (about which I know next to nothing); for me to roll I just pull my chest close to the blade (which is at the surface and well forward), then sweep up with torso and blade together. A shade of hip snap and viola. Much easier than a euro, and lot's of fun. (it's all fun).

I do practice the pawlata a tiny bit, even these days. If my sweep roll failed, I would not hesitate to use a pawlata in a real situation, except it takes longer for me to get into a neutral posture, ready to brace on either side. Most of the stuff that would capsize me these days might require my bracing, especially if my confidence is low (as it usually is after I go over).

Whatever works is fine, but better training will lead to a more reliable roll, (I am still working on that, mostly from a confidence in surf standpoint, and on my off side). I am big, and overweight to boot, so with somewhat diminished torso flexibility it is important for me to work the form.

Hope this helps I am glad to have good traffic with you and all others.

Better or better for you Yes! + a story

– Last Updated: Apr-06-05 4:46 PM EST –

some folks just learn differently from others. As a child I had a mild learning disability, the teachers who really helped me may not have been better in general but they were better for me. Maybe their perception and flexible teachign style made the better overall, or maybe we just got lucky.

Rolling story below:

After my third two hour rolling class (the only one where I got even one roll) I went to walden pond alone. Being something of a sports masochist (trying to put that behind me these days) I said, "I am going to do ten rolls today if I have to do 20 paddle float reentries." Well I did do twenty paddle float reentries and only three rolls. When my wife saw the bruises on my ankles fron the paddle float rescues (my form is much better with them now) she asked if I paid the girl extra to bruise me. >;-)

The next day I figured out that I should take my old paddle and push off the bottom if need be. Made twenty rolls; pushed off only once. go figure.

another thing to help
Don’t give up. I agree with the other comments too.

I have another tip from the Inuit who are probably the first to have the motto “roll or die” because coming out of a kayak nearly guarranteed death for them. After learning stroke basics the next skill they were taught is the sculling brace also termed side sculling. It is a great skill and a great precurser to learning to roll. It is a bit easier to learn with a Greenland paddle, but a euro paddle works ok too. See the short article and video clip for Side sculling at Learning to side scull gives a paddler much more confidence that they can recover from a near capsize, emphasizes correct positioning for the end of a roll (where most problems arise) and even serves a backup for “conventional” rolls (a side scull itself can be used to roll). Practice a bit every time you are in your boat, on both sides, slow and just a bit at first and after lots of practice eventually you will be look like the guy in the article and video. Ask your instructor if he can teach you the sculling brace. He may not be that familiar with it, but if he is you’re in luck.

Paddle on,


Takes years? Yep, it can…

– Last Updated: Apr-06-05 3:05 PM EST –

Well, I have to admit. I was one of those "it takes years" people. I first learned to roll in a pool using a whitewater boat and the C-to-C technique.
In 20-20 hindsight the lessons where both a help and a hindrance. I initially felt confident, but when I got out on to open water in my sea kayak my success rate was about 10%, even in a controlled setting (calm water, self-induced capsize). I was bummed and my confidence plummeted. I kept trying, but after almost two years my roll was no better. I almost gave up.

My epiphany came when I witnessed another kayaker use a paddle float and perform a lay-back roll. I ran the mechanics of what I had just seen through my head and visualized what the other paddler had done and how it had differed from my attempts at the C-to-C. I took a breath, capsized and came right back up. Holy $%#@ it worked! I dropped any further attempts at the C-to-C. I now rarely miss a roll with my dominant side hand and I also have a decent screw roll. I am working at my off/weak side. I can do it, but I really have to concentrate. It is not yet automatic for me. I need more muscle memory.

Lessons I learned (most already covered above):
1) Don't give up
2) Get another instructor
3) Try a different technique
4) Try a Greenland paddle. They have a lot of buoyancy. It's like having a built in paddle float.
5) Your cockpit should fit you like a glove. I once tried a roll using another paddler's boat and came right out. With my smaller frame there was little for me to brace against.
6) I need to work on my braces so I don't need to roll at all
7) If these don't work go back to step #1.

nothing wrong

– Last Updated: Apr-06-05 3:21 PM EST –

with a c2c roll if you have the technique down.

Maybe not the first roll I would try to teach someone but it is still a roll I use even with a gp.

I taught my young cousin to do a c2c in about 15-20 minutes.

When I have worked with students, the key is to break it down into three pieces, setup, sweep, and then hipsnap and brace.

Setup is one thing a lot of folks don't focus on, if you are tucked way, way forward in the first place it make your sweep and hipsnap much more effective.
If you are using a euro paddle make sure you know the difference between diving angle and climbing angle on the blade, to test try and practive some sculling where you go almost all the way over and scull back up. If you can't do this chances are you have some practice to do. This will help your sweep, so that whenever you sweep, even with your eyes closed you will know if your paddle is staying at the surface and grabbing water, or diving straight to the bottom.

hipsnap- this is where a lot of people who haven't gotten a roll fail. It's hard to understand the importance of this step if you haven't felt the kayak come under your body correctly. The best demonstration practice I can do with someone is to have them do a hipsnap off of the instructors hands, the instructor will watch and also feel if their hands are being pulled excessively and then allow their hands to dip down in the water if the reliance on the hands is too much. I've seen people on the side of the pool or a dock practice this, but often I think they are doing it and not understanding why. The hands method offers more feedback.

The brace has to be at the surface, and the head has to stay down while hip snapping.

A good instructor should be able to help you, or if you are really stuck, buy a video, the first roll video is a good one, as is nigel foster series.

check your outfitting for slop and see if you can tighten up your contacts, primary points are the feet to the footpegs, the knees to the deck, thighs in the thighbraces, and the hips into the hip pads, and then butt in seat, and back to backband or seat back. If any of these is loose it will only complicate your learning process, if you eliminate all of these then you know it's only you and not the equipment.

If you go to a good kayak shop bring your kayak and have them help you customize the cockpit to fit you.

don't give up.

Try Eric Jackson’s System & DVD
You might consider the Eric Jackson system for learning to roll, as embodied in his dvd/video ( and at the bottom of

This is really quite different than any other system I’ve seen. You start with a high brace, and then progress to a roll. He emphasizes that the two are really just different aspects of the same skill. He also starts you with siginficant layback, which helps get the basic skill down. Jackson is a white-water/playboat guy, but I see no reason why the same system wouldn’t work in a long boat.

I did not learn to roll that way, but I did use the video to almost instantly improve my high brace quite a bit.

This approach makes a lot of sense, in terms of what I’ve subsequently learned about rolling and bracing. I am pretty impressed with the video, which is very no-nonsense. It’s both clear and systematic in its progression and dense with good hints, tips and gotchas to watch for. I think Jackson claims he (or anyone who knows the system) can have you rolling well in less than an hour, and I’m inclined to beleive it.

In any case, if you are having trouble with the more prevalent learning systems, this one is different enough that it might just bypass any blockages you started with or acquired. (Rolling is about 65% mental, IMHO.)


Yes, side sculling
I was a very slow learner at rolling. I had such a hard time getting the “feel” of keeing the blade at the surface and my head down. Later, however, I learned to side scull and it gave me the “feel” I needed to be able to roll.

more like 90% mental
The physical act of rolling is just as challenging as a brace, a sweep stroke, or any other common kayaking skill. It’s the mental games we play that force our bodies to stiffen up and cause that paddle to dive right down. Most of the things that people think make sense to them in terms of rolling are actually working against them as the counterintuitive nature of the various orientations (boat vs. you vs. paddle vs water) make it difficult to grasp without gaining sufficient muscle memory.

As to EJ’s video, it is an excellent resource and the best C-to-C video around. I must have watched clips from that video in slow motion dozens of times to learn his rolling trick (dropping the paddle with one hand while flipping, catching it in the other hand, and one hand rolling up with the paddle never hitting the water - equivalent to the top hat or beer can roll).

You are not too old
And cudos for trying to learn something new. I spent about 4 years trying to self teach myself to roll and I didn’t start paddling until I was 50, 6 years ago. Someone showed me a sweep roll, or whatever all the better paddlers here would call it, and I tried to model things after that but use an extended paddle. It took a long time to figure out that I couldn’t do a lay back because of the deck configuration. At your height and the size of the Gulfstream you might want to look at that. The layback may not be the one. The CtoC would be good but it is imperative that you keep your head down and, in my experience, that is about as hard to self teach as playing a piano. What worked for me, and everyone can critique here, is to stay laying forward with a slight turn of the head towards the paddle but still executing the sweep. I simply cannot feel the hip snap at all I’m just up. My pre-roll mantra is: keep the head down, keep my left forearm on the hull/deck, feel for the lift on the blade and then move. Any one of these is missing and I’m in trouble. I still practice with the extended paddle but have been able to successfully roll without that.

Having said all that there are two things that really helped me. Sculling, which was mentioned earlier, and switching to a Greenland paddle. After I was able to roll with the GP I could then roll with a Euro. Don’t ask me why.

I don’t know if any of this will help but I put it out there in hopes that one or two things might just click. The only other thing that you need to do is practice.

Oh yes, properly outfitting the cockpit was something I found to be very beneficial.


Years! Many years!
I too was plagued with an inability to roll for a very long time. To be honest, I wasn’t motivated enough to learn correctly. I didn’t want to bother to teach myself something while I could be out paddling. After a few long cold swims that didn’t need to happen I got motivated.

NO critique just to clarify

– Last Updated: Apr-06-05 11:49 PM EST –

As far as I understand if you are rolling the boat with hips and knees as you start the sweep back it's not a c to c roll, it's a sweep roll, which is very similar; you just have more time to get it done. Seems like all the action in he c to c is whe the paddle is at 90 degrees.

A roll that you do not feel that works when the water is big is a great roll.

Success breeds more success
Many kayaking skills look intuitive but are actually counter intuitive. You sound like a very self taught and intuitive kayakers, a good strength to have!

Rolls are one of the most counter intuitive skill sets of all. Other skills you may learn an unbalanced method, but can still do it. Rolls you are cooked.

Get an instructor who breaks down the skill set into doable segments and helps you practice each one in a successful way. You then learn muscle memory not intuition. He or she will build you up to the whole set and before you know it up you go. Of course that is only the beginning, but an important gateway to integrative boat control etc.