How important is Eskimo Roll?

Looking to paddle the Nantahala this summer. Class II with a Class III at the end. Never been able to get the roll correct. I’m an experienced paddler, rec/sea kayaking, canoeing, ww rafting. I work on and in the water, very comfortable in the wet environment, just can’t roll. I’m not reckless, I’m looking for some honest input/advice.

For Me

– Last Updated: Mar-26-11 1:23 PM EST –

Paddling became much more comfortable and fun when I got a reliable roll. I feel a lot safer out on the water. It took 3 lessons to get a lousy roll. It took lots and lots of practice to get a relaxed, reliable roll. No, you don't have to have one but I'm sure glad I kept at it and got one.

How's your brace?

I don't know nuthin' about whitewater but I'm pretty sure you are way more likely to be asking for help if you have no roll. Are you planning on paddling with experienced folks? Can they / will they help you if you get separated from your boat?

Very important
A roll is the quickest and safest capsize recovery. It takes only seconds to roll. The time for all other capsize recoveries is much longer and more hazardous - especially if you are running class II-III ww.

A roll allows you to be more confident in conditions and more willing to develop your bracing skills.

I don’t either
Never needed it for the flatwater I usually do. When I decided to try WW, I quickly found out that I was really going to need an Eskimo roll or shift to SOT’s. I wimped out and went the SOT direction.

This may explain it…

Sorry, had to do it…

Let’s be realistic - probability of drowning in c2 or c3 is not that high, it does depend a bit on why the segments are rated at that level. I know people who did c2/c3 segments without a roll and survived to tell the tale. They did not even swim once.

So, I am confident, that at the end of day you’ll be having a chat with your buddies, and not a discussion at the Pearly Gates.

Your enjoyment of river is going to be different if you don’t have to worry about swimming. Additionally, a good instructor or coach is guaranteed to teach other things as well - a kayak roll ( Eskimo roll is derogatory term ) is a combination of skills that might be beneficial to your paddling.

I could go for months or years without
ever having to roll on the Nantahala. But I developed that ability by challenging many features on the river, and rolling when I had to.

Oh, and I didn’t yet have a roll when I first paddled the Nanty in the 70s. Flipped and swam once each in Pattons and Lesser.

I had a friend who never developed a reliable roll. She paddled the Nanty often and didn’t flip. Some guys took her down Chattooga 4 one time, helping her portage the worst stuff. She swam once or twice, and held on to her boat and paddle.

nice to have, not essential
There are many open boaters who paddle the Nantahala who are unable to roll their boats. I have probably swum just about the whole Nantahala in short sections, except for the Class V “Worser Wesser” which is after the takeout.

Not having a roll means you will swim if you capsize, and there is a fair possibility of that happening so dress appropriately. Swimming on the Nantahala is very unlikely to result in death or severe injury. Many thousands have swum there and only a handful have drowned.

I have boated with kayakers who progressed to running water much more difficult than the Nantahala who had poor rolls. They had outstanding ability to brace, however.


– Last Updated: Mar-26-11 3:25 PM EST –

I paddle there often in my hard boat and I do not have a decent roll. Is it dangerous? Likely not as long as you just ride it out to a slow section to get back in. The water is super cold though and even in the hottest of summer it is a rough swim. What I lose by not having a good roll is the fun I could have if I had no fear of turning over. I avoid doing things because I do not want to swim in that cold water. But as long as you do not try to stand up you will likely be ok. You just won't have as much fun. You will likely turn over at Lesser but there are lots of lines thrown in that area. When I turn over there I just lay on my boat until I get to the take-out.

You may also consider the Hiwassi river at Reliance. It is one step down from the Nanti and will give you a chance to get stable in the boat.

I have recently switch to a high quality ducky and I am having a ball with it. It has also allowed me to move up to the Ocoee. Fun!

Paddling alone or with a group?

– Last Updated: Mar-26-11 3:41 PM EST –

My only WW time is in class 2, one of the locations also has a short bit of 3 at the end. The 3 part was Zoar Gap after the class 2 section of the Deerfield river in Massachusetts.

You can easily portage around the Gap as long as you haul over to the side, many do because the Gap is a short but sudden change in level. I would be surprised if you didn't have the same option for the class 3 bit you mention on the Nantahala.

On the Deerfield, I've been there in a two day classes where only half the group had a roll for real water. The first year I was one of them and by the next year I had progressed to rolling in the stuff pretty reliably. We all made it to the end safely, rollers and non alike. Though I had a lot more fun once I realized I could count on the roll.

But - and this is the big one - this was a supported situation where we had a good ratio of coaches or otherwise rescue-capable folks to participants. So swimmers got towed over to the side rather than finishing the run swimming, the boats were similarly retrieved etc. In one capsize I had hung onto everything and was in a nice little pocket of water frustratingly close to shore. But things were just unstable enough that even minor attempts to walk towards shore would likely send the boat headed downriver as a loose object. So I was stuck there until someone more experienced could come by and take the boat to shore.

There was also always one guy who would come perilously close to capsizing any number of times but never actually did. He couldn't roll, but he didn't need to either so it wasn't a factor.

I am not familiar with the Nantahala, but it sounds like you are talking about a stretch where your own capsize is not going to be a life or death event as long as you are a swimmer. The bigger concern might be the likelihood of you, or you attached to your boat, crashing other paddlers' parties.

It is important
I have paddled the river and their are several places where it would be easy to capsize. The question is, what happens next? Will you be paddling with others and expect them to help you out? Will you be paddling alone? In which case consider the other paddlers that will probably feel obligated to help you out. So it is not a question of your placing yourself at risk but rather whether you have the right to place others at risk.

not too big a deal
Obviously, paddling a river like the Nantahala without a roll it would be prudent to be with at least one more experienced boater. However, newcomers to whitewater are regularly put on that river in Duckies and fall out with predictable regularity.

Although the water is fairly cold, and the current swift, the river is not wide, and there is a road alongside the entire run. Generally most other paddlers are happy to at least throw a floating paddle up on the bank, and get a runaway boat into an eddy. If you find yourself over your head, stash your boat and hitch hike back to your shuttle vehicle.

If you capsize right at the start of the run-in to “Lesser Wesser” (Nantahala Falls) which is itself Class II, you will be swimming over the Class III drop. Ball up as you go over the drop to avoid ankle entrapment, which has killed two, to my knowledge. It is easy to scout and portage, however.

The Nantahala has a higher difficulty
level over its length than the Zoar Gap section of the Deerfield. I don’t recall any class 2+ rapids on the Deerfield, and the miles down to Zoar Gap are mellow and easy.

The Nanty has Pattons Run, a low class 3 that has killed people, around the first bend below the put-in. It should be pre-scouted from the road, because you have little time to get set up for the drop when you come around the bend. Torpedo or “Bump”, a rapid toward the end, the one previous to Lesser Wesser, is really a low class 3 that takes practice to run well. These rapids have been downgraded to class 2 by decked boaters operating on the Familiarity-Breeds-Contempt philosophy.

Zoar Gap and Lesser Wesser are, well, different. Probably about the same level of difficulty, but Lesser Wesser saves the hard part for the end. Still, many get filled up (open boaters) or out of place on the approach.

Many beginners who believe they have a roll discover at the Nanty just how unreliable their roll is on actual moving water.

Keep trying …
Get Eric Jackson’s video Rolling and Bracing …

Once you get really good at bracing you will understand the roll process more and be less likely to need to roll and be a much more confident paddler able to take on challenges.

Its not important at all
if you are comfortable in the water, just do a wet exit.

In a river like the Nantahala, swim the boat to shore and pump it out.

If you are out in the middle of a large lake or the ocean do a self rescue, pump the boat out and you are on your way.

Ninty per cent of the paddlers you meet can’t do a roll.

Jack L

Worked in and on the water also and also
don’t roll. Even in near flood stage water I had no problem doing a wet exit, then recovering. Of course, it stops the trip for a time and takes a LOT more energy. A wet exit always runs the risk of losing the boat or at least some of the gear.

So your advice is…?
Appreciate the info on the diff between the Nanty and the Deerfield. As far as the Deerfield being mellow and easy to the Gap, I’d caution that is more true for someone with time in a kayak in WW than someone new to it. I’ve scooted out of eddies on the Deerfield to let someone in when they had a big class of newer WW paddlers coming through, a look on their face that told me they were verging beyond their comfort zone.

I just reread your post higher up and it seems to suggest that the Nanty can be handled without a roll in the right conditions. Your reply to my post seems to say the opposite. So I am not sure what your response is to the OPer’s question.

Amount of Risk
I paddled flat water for several years without the ability to roll. Once I decided to start paddling whitewater I felt it was very important to learn to roll.

Rapids are created by water flowing past rocks/ boulders and such. I prefered to have a barrier (boat) between myself and the rocks. Definitely higher risk of something negative happening if you come out of your boat then staying in it and rolling up, whether in whitewater or seakayaking.

I guess its up to you as to how much risk your willing to put yourself and your group. Do you need a roll No, would it be desireable Yes!

Every whitewater paddler I know not only has a roll but feels that it is a basic requirement. It is not the end all be all mystical thing that sea kayakers seem to make of it.

Its just a good effective technique to get your head out of the water and rocks in a hurry and allow you to continue.

It is incredibly easy to do, incredibly easy to learn to do and is in no way a seven headed monster that needs to be defeated. Its just a friggin roll.