How Long Did It Take You To Roll?

It took a buddy and me three pool sessions to get our first roll. Our other partner in crime took about 5 sessions.

Maybe some poll results will help brand new students from getting discouraged. It’s also a good opportunity for the quick learners to brag. (sometimes I think “” would be a very apt name for this place… or “liars club”).

Not long
Once I put a proper set of thigh braces in my first boat, it took 2 lessons and a couple of weeks of practice until I had a reliable “pool roll”. Didn’t do my first combat roll for about a year after that, mostly because I didn’t capsize until then.

Well… It Seems That You And I

– Last Updated: Jan-27-08 6:49 AM EST –

are tied in taking three different sessions, the difference being that I went to a pond did it alone.

Bragging is in the realm of competitors. You seem to be that one that consistently put out the notion that if you ain't competing, trying to beat the other guy, it ain't fun. So, are you now bragging?

Fact is that folks have different learning styles and different physical skills and body awareness. It takes some longer and some less so. Many benefit from lessons and perhaps learning aides, e.g. paddle float, a "rolling boat", whatever. That's all fine. Whatever it takes and however long to get one there to rolling. Unless, of course, you think it's a race or a competition to see who does it first.

The mistake is think most everyone is going to be and do like us, even though we know nothing of them except for what they post here. Then to take that notion, that how we learned and progressed individually is the way it will (or *should*) be for someone else.

As far as I am concerned, the "discouragement" comes from those who like to tell folks that they won't be able to roll if they don't do it a certain way and/or have certain equipment, thereby planting seeds of doubt. In sports psychology it's important to have positive belief, to even visualize the success, and then to go ahead to learn, practice and strive to meet the vision. Rolling is not some esoteric skill (except perhaps with some small group of seakayakers here). A lot of folks have been able to pick it -- some faster, some slower. But it's doable for most who set their mind on it. For most, they accomplish learning to roll with different boats that fall well within a range of "rollable" boats. Given this, why plant in someone's mind the seeds of doubt from the git go that they are approaching it the wrong way or that they have the wrong boat or paddle? Why not let them proceed, find what progress they can make or not, and then to adjust accordingly if need be?

To tell someone that s/he has to do it the way you (or I) did, or that person won't likely learn the skill, is imposing one's own framework on someone else. And the underlying reinforcement/push to emphasize the framework is to tell that other person that s/he may not learn the skills "fast" enough, or at all otherwise... Talk about underlying competition and "bragging" about one's own framework!


1 session, 2 hours
Not too bad, but my last student blew me away. I had him rolling in about 45 minutes. He nailed his first roll about 5 minutes before his dad did, even though his dad got in the pool a good 20 minutes earlier.

Sing…good point about discouragement, but I’m guilty in at least one case. A guy showed up with a fat, wide rec-boat (can’t remember what brand, but it was a kiwi-type), exaggerated tear-drop cockpit (the front almost came to a point), absolutely no thigh braces, or any way to lock in his legs, and he was wearing a nylon suspenders-type skirt. I told him he wasn’t going to roll, at least not in that boat. He tried anyway, with predictable results.


“Lessons” Learned…

– Last Updated: Jan-27-08 8:53 AM EST –

well, a rec boat with a beam of 25" and over I would consider outside the range of "rollable" boats, except for those who have really developed their rolling skills.

Having said the above, I had an experience working with someone that shook my assumptions a bit. I volunteered to help this woman at the lake to roll. She was fairly young, looked in shape, but was a recent mother. I thought she would be a little bit under whatever her physical capability was before giving birth. On top of that, her boat was a Carolina with a 24" beam, albeit outfitted to fit her snuggly. She was a couple inches taller than me but was definitely a good twenty pounds lighter than me. I asked her whether she would want to start in my Montauk which had a 22" beam. She replied, "I would rather learn in my boat." "Okay..." I said, all the while thinking she'll blow it and I'll transition her to my boat but never voicing that to her. Well, she hit her first roll on her third or fourth try and then hit like 75% of her follow up tries. She enthusiastically thanked me for coaching her. I said truthfully that I don't think I did much except to stand there and spot her.


Hey Rex

– Last Updated: Jan-27-08 9:08 AM EST –

Good question, but a better collection would be (1) how long to a reliable "practice" roll, (2) an offside roll, (3) a combat roll and (4) no sides rolling in the surf zone.

Took me one session to roll once. Took me 2 years to get a 100% reliable "no worry" onside roll, and that only came when I switched to a GP. No worry is really the key here--in practice situations, the thought of missing a standard onside roll no longer arises.

Took me less than a year to be able to roll confidently onside in surf, and another year to roll either side. In practice settings, I can roll either side w/o worrying, but I'm still more confident with my onside roll, e.g. haven't moved to no side preference rolling. Have been rolling more offside than onside during practice, and expect to keep this up until it doesn't matter.

What I've said is true for the standard (and variations) Greenland layback. Norsac is shaky, hand is missing, and forward finishing rolls are a struggle. So, there's a lot of work to do and, more importantly, fun to be had. Am thinking this upcoming season of spending less time distance/fitness paddling and just focusing on rolling.

Want to join in?


It depends on how you define it
I spent weeks progressively working on the foundation skills necessary for rolling (low bracing -> high bracing -> deep high bracing) and general paddling skills. When I finally decided that “today is the day I learn to roll”, it took me about an hour with someone coaching me to pull off my first unassisted roll. I spent the rest of that session working on it and rolling unassisted in open water.

However, like many paddlers, a few weeks later my technique got sloppy and “I lost my roll”. After going back to the basics and getting my technique right, I’ve been fine ever since. This seems to be a pretty common occurrence.

To get a repeatable roll…

– Last Updated: Jan-27-08 10:58 AM EST –

Elapsed time of two and a half years from my first serious class, multiple instructors, much dragging the boat out to a pond myself and the second boat (the Explorer) to really nail it. Another not-short elapsed time and practically living in the pool over a winter to get my first ones in moving water, this last summer. I am told that the roll after I capsized in a small spillover was a really nice one. All I noticed was that, for the first time ever, I was enjoying the feeling of the moving water rather than being freaked.

My rolling was quite competent by any measure this last season on both sides, and on the right side the season before. First real roll, as in I didn't mean to capsize, was a while ago in easy swells. So I know that time and persistence will get you there. But because of the time it took me, I saw a lot of people start then give up.

There is considerable opinion that the EJ technique gets people up faster than any other. As far as the roll itself, likely a good view. If the paddler has a complicating issue like mine, rampant claustrophobia when they have to actually put a boat between themselves and the surface of the water (and I am a life long swimmer including under water and being in surf), it can take a while of whittling that down to get to the benefits of any technique.

It might also be a factor that I can't open my eyes under water. It's just a reflex thing from when I was a kid. I personally doubt it has had much effect - except for the time of getting used to moving water I have always known exactly where I was under the boat and relative to the surface of the water. Learning to swim and be in surf with eyes closed probably left me with more positional awareness than those who can open them. But I could be wrong.

Third try
and I rolled so well/fast I did a 360 degree roll (came up and went over so fast that the guy spottiing me could not stop me). The QCC700 really helped (21 1/2 inch beam) as did the Werner Ikelos in carbon with a foam core (did a paddle sweep/layback roll). 10-15 min later I was rolling with control in the pool.

Went to the ocean and hit it on my second try with a spotter, and every time after that. Tried it by myself in the ocean just to see, and hit it every time. Ocean was much harder because I was wearing sunglasses and the ocean does not have a bright bottom, as a result the the surface of the water is much harder to see for the paddle sweep. After learning to roll a river kayak in fast moving dark water I felt pretty confident since I had to go by feel for the paddel sweep.

you got it
"getting a roll" in the pool when you’re setting up for it and actually having it as a skill like any other stroke is a whole other thing.

three 1 1/2 hr lessons felt demoralizing, fifth lesson in a couple weeks and I “got it”. About ten visits to the pool through the winter to reinforce it. Then the following summer in the ocean. I never really exposed myself regularly to conditions where it was required in every paddle so the learning curve was slow. It was a couple years before I played with off-side and rolling as needed in the surf.

Learning curve was similar to other learned movements. It takes me about six times(learning contexts,lessons) to figure it out, twelve times to begin muscle memory,then a few dozen times or so to feel it’s a core skill.

When my daughter was 11 it took her 15 minutes to roll a 13’x22" Pygmy GE wood kayak. Her skinny hips had about 2" room on either side. She rolled about a dozen times at the end of summer then the following year picked it up like it was yesterday.

I’ll say this for the noobs who might be getting discouraged. It took me several months to learn the first standard sweep roll. That was several Saturdays.

Long story short, keep at it, get someone who can roll well to spot you, get qualified instruction. Visualize success, and psyche yourself up for success.


Short story long:

Rolling is easy. It’s not black magic, and it is a base skill. It is merely a series of movements you make, learning how to string these together and how to “fire” the muscle groups in order is key. You hear things like “hipsnap” which can be a misnomer. Rolling in whitewater does require a bit of oomph to get your head out of the line of fire of rocks coming upstream, but rollinig a sea kayak, you generally have a lot more time. So rolling as I know it is nearly a languid affair, slow and methodical. It can be quick, but it is relaxed. It’s not a muscle up explosive thing. Your arms have little more to do with rolling than they do with a good forward stroke. Hipsnap becomes “leg drive” and you power the roll from your core, just like most other strokes. So think out of the box, don’t think what you think you think about rolling, if you think it is a power move.

OK, I need the second coffee, I know I’m rambling.

So I did not have pool access when I learned. I would only practice at the coast, in the estuary because I didn’t want to learn to rely on nose plugs or a mask, and the saltwater is more homogenous with the bod, doesn’t burn as bad. I found that I had to conquer my imagination first, and after that my spatial orientation. My overactive imagination had all manner of sea monsters ready to attack, so I had to learn to just chill and develop “hang time”. Then I had to feel around and orient myself in this new position upside down. I was very disoriented and that took me by surprise. Trying to reach up to break the surface with the paddle and I felt mud on my knuckles kind of disoriented. Once I got over these two humps, (and the irrational fear lingered, that took a while to go away) it was a matter of learning the mechanics. It was very rough, splashy and muscley, but I finally got to where I could toss the float and just use the paddle. I remember I was blocking the paddle (angle of attack was too high) and I would spin my kayak 90* by the time I finally flopped up on the back deck spluttering and gasping. But guess what, perserverance pays off! I got it smoothed out. Made it to a pool session and got some good tips. Had my first “combat roll” on the river when I leaned back to slide under some low limbs and capsized. My paddle dove and hit a log or roots or something, and I pushed off it, but I rolled. The second combat roll happened in the surf, and I remember forcing myself to calm down (it was a surf class, I had assessor eyes on me) and to find the setup and haul up. I did it and found myself looking at Steve Maynard who had paddled over to rescue me, and he’s laughing and saying in that British accent “Is that the first time you’ve rolling in anger?” I was still spitting out foam and somewhat flabbergasted at that statement so I let him know I wasn’t angry. I was having fun!

Anyhow, don’t give up, and it is entirely worthwhile to get and pay for decent coaching. And go to the masters of this stuff, the Greenland Inuit, learn that. Even if you use a Euro, (poor lost soul) you will learn to roll easier I believe, with a stick. A good coach can likely have you rotating much much faster than several months, and developing less bad habits you have to work out later. Today, I would recommend that you first learn side sculling and a balance brace–these are keystone moves, and are the foundation of layback rolls. Learn the chest scull prior to working on forward finishing rolls. Then you can transfer your skills to the more squirrelly Euro blade, if you must.

Remember, it’s easy, break it down to components, get some help, and don’t give up. A reliable roll is the single best self rescue and you owe it to yourself and your paddle mates to get it down pat.

Theres my missive. Hope it helps someone, and hope I didn’t say anything too stupid. Brevity? What’s that? ; )

Good Morning, John
Just got in from a bike ride. Ken and Nelson, my kayak-biker buddies, were both there this morning. I would really like to join in on some roll sessions. I’m sure Ken and Nelson would, too. You and Ken have something in common… the quest for the hand roll. Ken flooded his boat the other week at the pool and was impressing folks with his hand roll… they didn’t realize his boat was flooded. Ken makes a pretty mean Greenland paddle, too. Nelson is working this winter on his offside roll. I’ve been pretty focused on getting 100% reliable… snappy or slow.

By all means, let’s get together and have some fun.

Tall thin women are the best rollers
From a physics stand point they have the advantage of needing minimal rotational force to roll the boat, from a physical stand point they usually are able to pay attention to the technique and not try to muscle it, also women who have dance or gymnastics experience learn to roll very easily. Old fat guys with beer guts have the hardest time learning the screw roll.

Two sessions for c-1, very little help.
That was in the early 70s.

One session for kayak, in 1990, no assistance.

Getting the first combat roll was a lot harder.

AND, if your roll goes bad, it may take many more attempts to fix it. I spent $200 for individual instruction to fix my c-1 roll, and while both the instructor and I knew what was going wrong, I couldn’t roll on the lake.

Then we went to the Nantahala and just paddled. He foxed me into a maneuver that flipped me, and I rolled up perfectly without a thought.

My boring history

– Last Updated: Jan-27-08 1:21 PM EST –

I bought a Necky Jive to learn to roll and to learn to surf a decked boat. I signed up for a roll class so I took the boat down to the calmest beach in San Diego to do some wet exists and get a feel for the boat and skirt before the class. Some small waves were coming in and my son was with me on his wave ski and I could not resist surfing some of the waves, eventually I pearled and got flipped upside down on the biggest wave and ended pinned to the back deck in shallow water, I used my paddle off the bottom to roll up. The next wave I did the same thing. Later I lost my paddle and was pinned on the back deck, I used my hands to dog paddle and sweep to hand roll up. (Think intuitive I'm drowning I need air roll.)

Went to a roll class .... rolled the first night ....several times with instructor. Went back to the surf zone and got trashed and had to wet exit. Went to a pool practice and could not roll reliably on my own. Took a second pool class, rolled several times. Went back to the surfzone ... rolled sometimes .... got clobbered a lot.

Bought "The Kayak Roll Video" to figure out what I was doing wrong. Went back to pool practice. The Kayak Roll paradigm killed my roll. Depression.... another roll practice .... roll was getting uglier.....

Bought EJs rolling and bracing video .... went back to the calm beach and rolled about 15 times on my own. Practiced in waves.
Can roll reliably now in my whitewater boat. Surfkayak is harder sometimes, wavemaster waveski can be really hard especially in flat water, easier to use the wave for force to come up.

Lessons learned.....
A pool roll is not really rolling.
Not all types of rolls work for all body types.
The forward screw roll does not work well for me.
A formula of how you have to roll (as in The kayak roll) does not work for everyone.
Not all rolls work for unusual hull shapes (surf kayaks, waveskis, sit on tops)

My suggestions if you are having trouble.
1. Buy Ejs rolling and bracing video
2. Find a good teacher (I learned from Greg Knight, Jeff Laxier and the EJ video) I should probably take more classes to refine my technique)
3. Try several different kind of rolls.
4. Practice where you will be kayaking not just in a pool.

Good points Sing
I would like to add to this statement…

“Fact is that folks have different learning styles and different physical skills and body awareness. It takes some longer and some less so.” It is up to the educator to adapt their teaching style to the students’ learning styles. Which means being aware of different learning styles AND different strengths (Intelligences according to Howard Gardner); as well as different teaching methodologies.

That is the difference between someone who knows how to teach and knows who to teach rolling, versus someone who thinks knowing how to roll is enough.

I ‘learned’ how to roll
in about 3 or 4 two hour sessions. Meaning, at various times I could roll my kayak, but certainly no where near 100%. I stayed like that for a couple of years ‘working’ on my own. Then I took a class and 15 minutes later I could actually roll the kayak reliably and I learned how to diagnose problems with how I rolled. From then on when I worked on my roll I was actually improving it instead of just repeating the same problems.

Difficulty learning to roll is generally the instructor’s deficiencies not the students.

different learning styles and skills
"Fact is that folks have different learning styles and different physical skills and body awareness. It takes some longer and some less so."

Thank you paddlemore!

It took me a long time and intersecting with the right coach. Once I ‘got’ my roll I had 100 within a month including a couple of combat rolls in surf and conditions.

I think positive reinforcement is best. Nothing succeeds like success.

I’m embarrassed…
To speak up in this skilled and learned group.My boat is an OT Castaway, 12’ 9" long, 25" beam and a high seatback that prevents any layback on the rear deck. I’ve got a cheap coated nylon skirt with suspenders. A low mid-range aluminum shaft paddle with asymetrical, cupped blades.

I looked through a bunch of books on the subject, and read the threads here on P-net. I had a hard time envisioning rolling, the dynamics of “inverted” gravity and being on the wrong side of the water-air interface. I hung on the bow of my friends boats and practiced tipping my boat over…never really past 90 degrees. I memorized the tips and rules: Hip Snap, Don’t lift your Head, etc. etc. One day it seemed like a lightbulb went on in my brain. “Oh, I think I get it.”

Brought my son and a friend to a local lake, and “got ready”.Float bags, check. Facemask, check. Several minutes of “deep breathing to oxygenate myself”, check. Check, Check, Check. Pretty soon I began to feel foolish, even though my friend and my son were looking on with patient concerned looks, as if I were about to attempt some truly heroic and death-defying feat.

So, I “set up”, (Check, Check, Check) and went over. Missed the first try and wet exited. Got back in and after another lengthy Check, Check, Check preparation went over again and…

I was upright, and water was cascading off me and the boat. My jaw was hanging open I was so surprised.

Since then I can roll maybe 50% of the time, and don’t have a “combat” roll. Don’t need the facemask anymore, though.

Oddly, since I rolled I think I can give advice to those that can’t. It’s just that it is such cool fun I want to share it.

My advice is: take your time, keep trying.