Help with my new book project - "Fear of Rolling"

I decided to write a book. I have the title and subject. “Fear of Rolling”
The protagonist is going to be Isadora Wing Paddle.
Now I need to work out the psychological impediments that cause her extreme anxiety about tipping over and the fears of foot entrapment, skirt entrapment, dirty water in the nose etc. Anxiety to the point that she writes pages and pages of internet forum posts accusing others of being unwelcoming because they view bracing and hip snaps as fundamental skills.
She achieves total fulfillment when she finally finds symposia where none of the participants are expected to develop the deeply personal connection, a relationship, between the water (Mother Ocean) , paddle, the paddler and their kayak. Participants are not even required to tip over or get wet!

Any insight you have into the overwhelming psychological fear and loathing of rolling, those who roll, wear tuiliks or other elitists would be welcome.


“Isadora, remember when you were six and you learned to ride a bicycle? Remember how uncomfortable and scary it was but you pushed yourself to do it anyway? Rolling and bracing is just like that. Be six again.”

Isadora stared blankly.

It should do well with the “real” sea kayakers.

“Isadora, remember when you were eight and you went off the high dive at the pool? You were scared and anxious but you did it anyway? Be eight again.”

Isadora stared blankly but in her head she was screaming, “Screw you! You have no idea what you’re talking about!”

Honest answer to this SeaDart - I was sincerely afraid of staying in the boat in order to effect a roll for a long time. Over a year of developing the fastest wet exit in the east because I would bring my head up for air too soon. I was becoming legendary for coming back and trying again and again in the local pool sessions.

It turns out that while I got pounded down in surf regularly swimming as a kid, none of that got in front of the claustrophobia when I was under the boat having to keep my legs in it. I went into instant panic and it was a long time before I could let it go enough to keep my head down and actually do the roll. Happily my body mechanics and positional awareness under water were never an problem since I also have my eyes shut unless I am in goggles.

This is why I am annoyed with myself for having lost most of my roll capacity, and why I need to find someone to pay to work with me for a bit to get it back. I have a more than good reason for that having happened - major illness in the family that was all-consuming. Then the CoVid shut downs. But some of that anxiety has returned as my roll has become less reliable, and the best way for me to solve this is going to be to pay someone to stand there and spot me for a couple of sessions. At this point I will be OK with just restoring the right, the left was a tough battle but I don’t do the kind of paddling these days where both sides are important.

For those like me who have real claustrophobia to overcome, it is a much more uphill battle. This is quite real. My husband did not go thru any of that and I rather envied him it. He finally started trying to roll a year after I did and got there with a reliable one about the same time. Dammit.

In hindsight there are some Greenland style approaches that I should/will incorporate, like staying calm enough to stop midway in a static brace. Turns out it is something I can do, though I do have to grab a perimeter line unless I get back to the yoga, for the twist. But no one I was working with to start knew any of those techniques.

But there is a true fear of rolling. At no point would I say otherwise.

The question is, will someone face the problem and find a way to get by it? I was paddling with a partner who did not want to try and roll for a decent while after we started paddling. So in the old Girl Scout head I did not see a way I could avoid it even if it scared the willies out of me. One of us had to have a more complete set of skills for the sake of safety.

The other frustrating thing having gotten it is that it is one of the most fun things that I can do in a boat. I love the feeling. I just have to take some steps to deal with the damned anxiety.


Just because someone doesn’t do something doesn’t mean they’re afraid. Maybe they just don’t want to. Does this fit into the elitist post.


If you want to discount the idea of someone having a true fear in this case, I am having a hard time seeing the diff between the post that SeaDart wrote and what YOU just did. Appears to me you are both coming from a sincerely unsupportive point of view to something that may be a real issue for some, obviously not all, new paddlers.

Of course someone can decide they don’t want to roll. Like my husband did for a year and would have continued had not a coach told him it was time for him to deal with it. Like people who will never end up in other than extremely safe paddling environments. I did not think that required stating on a board populated by people many of whom have a college degree.

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Ok, i get it! How many rolls does a person have to do before becoming roll accepted. I probably shouldn’t say this, but my sister can’t swim. Does anyone think I should tell her not to kayak because she can’t swim. Some people buy boats because they can’t swim.

Suddenly, I don’t like this game anymore. It smacks of that old game “Chicken”. I respect you guys and your skills, but I don’t aspire to be as good as you. I’m perfect happy bring a mediocre kayaker in a fat boat.

As a kid, I dove from cliffs, retrieve pennies in the deep end of a pool, rolled in a white water boat then bought a stable boat so I didn’t have to roll. Now some are saying I have to roll to prove I’m not chicken. How about we all line up and let somebody shoot at us so we can get over the fear of that. Then have a group jump out of a plane. In case you’re u sure, read your posts. If it sounds elitist, maybe you are one. When I retired, I stopped proving myself to certifying boards. Now the only person I prove myself to is myself. I trust you guys are well intended, but it’s insulting to do this to other adults.

I responded because I did not like the abusive tone of SeaDart’s post. So I am a little whatever about seeming to be lumped into that attitude by you. It is unclear to me that is not still the case. I disposed of the Chicken thing in my replies and you just made it so again. This is your attitude, not mine.

I responded to this in the other thread, that there were disciplines and paddling risk levels where rolling was not optional. If someone wants to do whitewater training for class 4 for example, they are not going to get very far without showing one. In fact if you have done whitewater you know this.

What the idea that rolling is a part of the curriculum in some disciplines has to do with playing Chicken escapes me. It is in that progression for a reason. This entire debate should also be unimportant to anyone who is not trying to progress in that discipline.

With luck, someone who needs extra encouragement to learn to roll will never come hear you, jyak, or SeaDart at least in this mood. Neither of you are showing a helpful attitude here, just a lot of being pissy.

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The snob “elites” here love your rub your nose in it, and analyze what is wrong with some people for not being like them.

Wide (fat) boats generally only equal stability in certain conditions. In rough stuff, they can be more of a liability than an asset. YMMV

I’m sure you know this but I wanted to respond for newer folks who may read this thread.

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Isadora screwed her courage to a new level and learned, eventually, to roll a kayak in the neighborhood pool. There were six people there, for insurance purposes.

Then Isadora went into the real world, three foot waves, period of four seconds. She looked around, those six people who helped her before were nowhere in sight.

Though she was in a group she was alone when the wave broached her boat.

Are you aware of some universe where a pool roll would be felt to be adequate in that situation?

The only one I can think of is if Isadora’s paddling companions dropped the ball on making sure she understood the skills required. Which goes to THEIR skill level as leaders.

Kokatat made some serious income for a couple of years because our local paddling group had a rule that no one paddled with us in the winter without having a dry suit. There are rules and adults should be adult enough to enforce them.

We also later imposed the requirement that a paddler be able to swim after someone made convincing efforts that they could be drowning even wearing a PFD. Luckily near the shore of an island so they got hauled out. But it would have been our error if we had overlooked that problem. Not the terribly confused person who thought they could learn to roll while not being able to even do a dog paddle.

Interesting that you bring up swimming. I would never tell your sister to not get in a kayak, but I would recommend she always wear a PFD and definitely be careful what water conditions she paddled in.

That said, I’m often surprised by the emphasis on safety equipment and various paddling skills, but never a word about swimming. The fact of the matter is (as I have been told many times) you never know, you might end up in the water. Sure a PFD will help, but swimming ability will improve your chances in the water even with a PFD. Additionally, since we’re talking about rolling, some of the fear people face is discomfort in the water. Some of that fear could be overcome by being relaxed in the water because of being a confident swimmer.

Truly amazing that some people can’t be comfortable with their own skills without demeaning others that do not having the opportunity, interest, capability, resources, etc to pursue similar!


Somewhat apropos to this discussion:
There is an old film by Hamish Gow, available via Gordon Brown’s web site:

It is interesting, but especially so in showing the safety gear used by these early kayakers in a 40 mile crossing to St. Kilda.

I have no doubt that every member has the safety of other members in mind. In most cases, it has nothing to do with elitism, but is rooted in concern. I fully accept that, and don’t intend to demean competent kayakers or their intent.

Some of these threads get extreme. I’ve seen new people ask for advice on a boat to paddle near the beach and end up quiting the forum in disgust saying “I should have known better than ask an experienced kayaker what kind of boat I should buy . . . . . !” I find it objectionable to demean someone who isn’t present.

I read the stories. I see the videos. I heard the close calls. If so many members want to judge the novice kayakers like myself as being unsafe and an accident waiting to happen, ill give you “my” unsolicited opinion

Sorry, sent by accident. I think the conditions some of you go out in border on irresponsible and crazy. No sane person would paddle in ten foot waves. You know it’s true. Yet you trained to survive and do it anyway.

I know from first hand experience what my boat can do and what it wont do. I know that the harsher the conditions. I also realize the features that make my boat stable in fair conditions will make it unmanageable in rough conditions. My sister who can’t swim keeps her PFD nice and snug.

Keep doing what you do. The good news is your advice may turn off a new member away from trying kayaking. It could save an innocent life.

I am pretty sure my new kayak can do more things on it’s own then with me in it.


Oldboo, I tried setting my steed free, because I was holding it back. It would leave, but I suspect it may have been the wind or the tide. I don’t use it to full advantage, but met someone who may help me understand it better.