First roll attempts

So, I decided to give rolling a shot for the first time, even though it’s getting cold. Being a pretty experienced recreational kayaker, wave rider, etc., I’ve decided to get into whitewater yaking. Went out to White Pond in Concord, MA because the water is warmer than most places at this point, and it’s shallow enough. Unfortunately, the air was about 50, and pretty windy. I’m guessing the water temp is still 65, but out of the water wet is nasty. Just getting the damn skirt on when your hands are cold was tough enough!

I had spent yesterday just getting a feel for the boat on the pond with the kids, which took some getting used to for sure. I know WW boats are not made for flatwater and track like crap, but I needed to get familiar with how it felt and responded. It definitely took a while to feel comfy, but now I can crank pretty straight paddling hard.

Okay, so I was in a shallow portion of the pond with my skirt on, and was testing the depth with my paddle, when I went for my first plunge by accident. Since my paddle was in the wrong position, I had to bail, but of course forgot to rip the skirt free first. Didn’t take more than a couple of seconds to figure it out, and ripped free. Brought the boat to shore, and popped the drain plug, and waited patiently to drain it, as I shivered in the cool air.

Next time, I was better prepared, and positioned the paddle alongside the boat with the blades horizontal with the water and dropped in. I tried the hip snap, but naturally tried to get my head out too quick, and my sweep sucked BAD. Next wet water exit followed. Learned quickly that it was way faster to empty the boats hull then hold it above my head and let the rest drain out instead of the plug.

I tried the same slow process 5 more times. The second to last time, I was successful, but I somewhat cheated, because the blade of the paddle touched the bottom of the pond. BUT, the motion felt right and I did a hip snap. The last time, I screwed up again.

It’s amazing how hard it is to visualize how you are going to do it ahead of time, and without a wetsuit or gloves, my hands were frozen and it was starting to rain and look ominous, so I bagged it for the day.

This process reinforced 2 things I already knew, but wanted to try anyway. I need a wetsuit/drysuit, and I need to take a rolling course. If it were summer and 90 degrees with 80 degree water, I would have tried for hours. With a little help, I’m sure I’ll get it without a problem, but it was much harder than I expected!

Try This:
Try righting the boat with your knee. Don’t think ‘hip snap’, think ‘knee lift’ or ‘thigh lift’.

Knee Lift idea
is one of the best pieces of advice I ever got.

Instead of “hip snap” I think “knee lift” + “side bend”. The “side-bend” idea keeps your head down in the water as the boat is rolled up with your “knee lift”.

Mark - Who has not rolled in a year and desparately needs to get out and work on it. Spent too much time in the canoe.

Touching bottom
If you pried off the bottom at all your paddle was probably diving way deeper than it should with a sweep roll.

You can do a lot of things wrong and dtill get upright on the lake. In whitewater, it gets harder, you have to do most things right.

Yep, get instruction and cold water gear.

Just having a buddy to watch you roll and tell you what you did can help after you get the general form down. Often guys I work with don’t know they aren’t getting set up or bringing their head out early…

Find a warm pool
I must say - you set yourself up for a struggle. I think the thing to do, especially at this time of year, is to find some pool sessions. Eliminate the cold factor and you will relax big time.

Dry land practice
I always thought “hip-ups” was great advice

Its really not that hard but…
The toughest part is that you can’t breathe under water.

And being cold and not able to breath is worse.

And being cold, not able to breathe or see is even worse. A dive mask helps too.

Developing a reliable roll is a journey
Rolling a kayak takes technique, just like throwing a baseball or swinging a golf club except when rolling you have the added pressure of wanting to breathe again. An instructor and a warm pool helps a lot. Rolling technique is about rolling the kayak up first, then the body. Working toward doing hand rolls will ensure your continually developing your technique. Enjoy the journey.

What They Said
Learning to roll in cold water is a bad idea. All you want to do is hurry up and get out of it. And don’t expect to be good at it right away. It takes practice… and some courage to break out of your comfort zone.

Using the bottom of the pond is not a good habit to develop. The good thing is you didn’t quit at least you’ll get it. great way to get out there and have some fun !

Focus matters
And not as in trying hard. The usual problem for people learning a roll, particularly guys, is that they arrive all focused on what they see in videos happening above the water. The blade movement, the head all of that. The problem is that, by the time that is visible, the roll has already been started in a way that will have determined its likely success.

Everything that makes a roll successful happens under the water, with the hip snap being strong, the rotation continuing thru the body and the torso and head staying down. Yes you can muscle up the roll with the blade, especially if you have developed good sculling skills, but it’s not the way to go. It’s bad form and all of that, but worse is that it’ll leave you with less chance to manage a roll if you capsize when you are already very tired.

You really can’t spend too much time drilling a good hip snap into your body, hanging off the edge of a pool or whatever and staying down while you get a high degree of boat control just from your hips and lower body. It takes warm water for that to be comfortable. I’d suggest that you hold off on taking your head out of the water, at all, until you can get another eye on what you are doing. That’ll avoid your learning bad habits.

Gotta hand it to ya…

– Last Updated: Oct-16-11 3:10 PM EST –

...practicing in cold water without much insulation is character building.

I think that the advice about lifting the roll-side thigh is right on.

If you do manage to get back out (or to a pool), try to break the process down a little and see if that helps.

When you flip over and get your paddle up to the surface for your sweep, let the boat settle for a moment. I think that there's a tendency to think of a 360 degree roll as a continuous movement. It isn't for me. And once you have some success with that, go for same side rolls.

And when you take that pause, make certain that your paddle is nearly flat on the water. Once you begin your sweep, follow it with your eyes as you lift your thigh. That should help to keep your head in a better position (low and last up). It may also tend to stretch you out over your rear deck, which will help to keep your center of gravity lower.

If I'm not doing a C to C (which I rarely do) the process I've attempted to describe above leaves me pretty much flat or nearly flat on my back deck and makes for a very easy roll that just plain feels good to do.

Anyhow keep it up. Like you I learned to roll on my own. But this summer I paid a pro to help me fine tune my roll. It's better but will always be a work in progress.


I wanted to add a postscript. I suspect that many people end up with a stronger roll on one side or the other. You can avoid that by working your weaker side the most. Ideally neither side should be dominant. And plan on doing same side rolls as well.

Spin that boat around using your two knees/thighs. One leg pushes down, the other up. Getting both working to cause this rotation is the best rolling tip I’ve gotten.

Definitely take a lesson or two or three. You can waste a lot of time trying to learn rolling on your own, and never succeed.

tub practice
Try laying on your back in a tub of warm water while wearing swim goggles. Time yourself to see how long you can hold your breath as you look left right and left. Even have a 2ft stick to hold for setup.

Panic is the enemy of rolling. As you learn to belly breathe and really hold your breath, maybe you can relax. Belly breathe means your shoulders are back and you stick your belly out to completely empty and refill your lungs. Please wear a helmet. Suppose you are sea kayaking and hit and a rock and tip. Then you try to roll and smash your head on another rock or cement dock post. My helmet saved my life.


– Last Updated: Oct-19-11 5:04 PM EST –

Seems like I read the term "lap inversion" somewhere. I like it. Turn your lap upside down. orrrr... right side up.