How many rolls does a proficient rough water paddler need to know?

Since the climate change topic is so depressing, thought I’d ask about something fun: rolling! So, for a skilled rough water paddler, how many different rolls would s/he likely be able to execute to be well prepared? Or, if you have a really good standard roll on both sides can you usually rely on that? Thanks!

Used to practice a bunch of rolls and handrolling. In real life thrashing in white water and surf, I found that a dependable bilateral layback sweep or hybrid sweep to c-c roll will get you out of trouble. I have had paddle stripped when surfing and handrolled up… Only to be capsized back over and then swimming. Without a paddle in rough water, you are pretty much done with staying upright. In a seakayak, make sure you carry a spare.

These days, I just make sure I get a couple of rolls in before heading out to play in rough water. I don’t spend anywhere the time I used to do practicing rolls. The fun for me is to play in rough water and not practicing rolls.



Agree with Sing. You only need one roll, and it better be rock solid! Making it bilateral is ideal, but I’ve seen good rough water paddlers who never opt for their “off” side.

That being said, rolling is fun and I practice a few Euro and lots of GP rolls/sculls regularly in quiet or near quiet waters - and if I do/try a roll/scull on one side, it is always attempted that day on the opposite side. I like having the option and confidence to roll/scull on either side when you really need to get back to a high oxygen environment.

However in the wave crashing/sea foam areas, again like Sing, I default to a layback sweep that sometimes morphs into a sweep-C2C hybrid depending on conditions and kayak orientation.

Being proficient at a deep water scull is a useful skill and often overlooked. I will occasionally scull up for a breath before setting up to roll.


Thanks. I’m hoping to learn to paddle in rough water at some point on my journey. Learning to roll is fun and it’s starting to have the feeling for me of opening up new possibilities. Good to know a solid standard roll is sufficient, though I bet the fact that you both know a bunch of other rolls helps a lot in confidence level and instinctive reaction.

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Agree with Sing and Hank. Keep an assembled spare GP on the foredeck. And you are correct, learning and practicing! a variety of rolls will give you confidence and an instinctive but relaxed reaction.
Will recommend learning the Storm Roll in addition to the SGR, especially for rough water. Easier than a C2C, and can be used to roll under a breaking wave.


You and Hank are right in this regard. I forgot that comfort and fun in rough water came only after hours of practice with rolling, sculling and bracing and then testing these in conditions.

It doesn’t hurt and can be fun to practice. It’s just that I reverted to my innate adrenaline junkie nature.



Ha, I am not exactly an adrenaline junky so I’m actually surprised at how much I’m loving learning to roll. I have a greater connection to my fear (i.e. I’m a fraidy cat) so I think gaining comfort will be an essential component for me in overcoming my innate lack of desire to drown. :joy:

First off, let me qualify my response.

I hate rolling, it is an unnatural and evil thing to me.

I do know how to do it and have had to a couple of times.

You will learn to roll in a pool or flatwater spot. That has absolutely nothing to do with the real world. To be proficient means you have to be able to do it in big water. That never happens on the first try, so have some rescue around.

You will find, like Hank and Sing, that the real world narrows your responses.

Good point, Craig. Haven’t even been in super-rough water yet but for the first time now I feel like it’s a possibility.

Practice a bunch. You will end up using one in a real event. Your body will find the one it wants.

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Thanks, Celia, I hope so! I am really enjoying the practice so either way it’s a win.

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The various skills camps that are affiliated with QajaqUSA are a great place to learn and refine a range of rolls. They are scattered around the country – I have been to the one in northwest lower Michigan (late August) and the one in DelMarVa (early October) and the coaching and camaraderie are outstanding. At one point at DelMarVa last year I lucked out at having not one but two coaches giving me 2 on one training in one of the two swimming pools there for over an hour. And at both sites the coaches can stand chest deep beside your floating boat and support and guide you through all the steps to fine-tune your technique.

The events are specific for Greenland paddles but you need not bring a Greenland style boat and they do have both boats and GPs to loan to students who don’t yet own that style of craft or paddles.

(People and food are great too. Qajaq Camp is as much fun as I remember having as a kid at summer camp, but without the pranks and bedwetting tent mates!)


so back in my c1 days I could really only roll on one side. What I had back then was some hang time for multiple attempts and found the boat would spin so often the second roll attempt worked even if the initial roll was against the current. My only off side roll was at diagonal ledges on the lower gauley. Stuck in the hole, I literally popped right up as soon as I started to set up. I was very conscious about not getting spun in holes and exposing my offside but that was the exception. In ww protecting the head is extremely important. Kiss the deck. If it was really shallow I actually put the blade of the paddle in front of the head.

Now I’m really struggling with any kind of kayak roll. I will always give it a shot but no longer get in a 2nd or 3rd time. Flexibility is my issue. It is harder to get into a good set up position, generate a powerful hip snap (hips replaced) and get the torso rotation I need. As a result of this, my “rough water” isn’t so rough anymore.

One really good dependable one.
There are no style points in saving your life.

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If you can get coaching on Greenland style rolls you don’t need the hip snap or high flexibility. Obviously, not as applicable for whitewater rolling but a lot easier on open water than C to C rolls.

So, I disagree (as did the first commentator on the blog). Good rolling technique requires engagement of hips, be it with GP or Euro. If one compares a C-C roll with a Euro paddle to a Greenland “storm roll”, you’ll see similar mechanics.

In terms of over reliance on the paddle (and a relatively skinny boat), that happens more with newbie Greenland rollers. Rather than fully engaging their hips, they often are using/relying on the lift of an extended (wooden) paddle to get themselves over. If these newbies try a storm roll, they are more likely to fail because this roll requires more articulated hip movement to work as there is not an extended paddle sweep involved.

Bottom line - develop a good dependable go-to roll (which involves good hip engagement). That is the roll that kicks in automatically when you find yourself upside down unexpectedly.



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my .02
agree with most above

  • though I don’t paddle with one (just not for me), I do find it easier to roll with a GP
  • CtoC, other techniques…
    I don’t care about terminology, I find it easier coming up on the back deck (greenland rolls) than the forward deck (ctoc), therefore I make sure to practice forward rolls more often. (note: all my kayaks have low back decks)

My take, so take it for what it is worth (if anything).

Where I stand:
I do paddle rough water somewhat often, but don’t currently have a reliable roll. I do have a reputation among some as being a rough water paddler, but have definitely pulled back from this over last few years. I do paddle a lot (usually 5 days a week right now - during the tourist season), but much of it is teaching or guiding in calm water, so not spending as much time paddling the fun rougher waters due to time commitments. And as I age, I have more and more health issues that seem to keep me from practicing rolls, so the rolls have become less and less consistent. I used to have a pretty reliable combat roll, but in conditions I would pretty much do it on one side only.

Given this:
I would estimate that if you have a reliable sweep or C to C combat roll on one side you will be able to make 95% of your rolls when surfing or rock gardening (I don’t do enough white water to know if this holds true there also - quite possibly not as ocean waves let you go after they pass, where rivers you can be stuck in holes or the like and a roll would only work in one direction relative to the flow).

Learning to roll also teaches you a lot about balance and boat control and braces, so will have great added benefits to your paddling even if you don’t get the roll to be combat ready.

Given I don’t have a reliable combat roll and yet I still do rough water play, I have to use the knowledge and experience I have to choose when/where to paddle where it would minimize my chance of flipping and only be in spots where if I did flip it would be possible to self rescue and/or be safe for a paddling partner to come in and assist in a rescue. As such, most rough water paddle days do not involve me flipping. This knowledge comes from paddling in conditions, something I gained by having a roll in the past. If you can get this knowledge, you could do rough water paddling without a roll, but the catch 22 is how to get the knowledge without a roll.

I also find rolling easier with a GP than Euro, as mentioned. But I find rough water paddling easier with Euro than GP (better braces, faster acceleration). I would learn to roll with what you will use to paddle the areas of interest.

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I’m definitely over-relying on a skinny boat (for now!) but I’m doing the butterfly roll and hardly using the paddle at all. It just provides extra flotation right before getting up on the back deck. I can do a bracing skull very comfortably, and when I get back up from it onto the deck I’m actually having trouble using the paddle correctly and relying on my lower body to do the work. I think theoretically, since I can do the skulling brace and the butterfly roll, I ought to be able to combine the two and do a standard Greenland roll… does that make sense? I just need to learn the correct movement of the paddle.

Yes. The basics are all in there within those two techniques. Going from a GP sculling brace to a laid back position on the back deck is essentially the last half of a full sweep roll. In the sculling brace, your body mechanics include having your back arched and almost parallel to the water. This acts to drive your “downside” hip up against the masik or thigh brace while the fore and aft motion of your paddle is providing you lift and helping your body stay up by the water surface. I assume when you are done sculling, you end by doing a long/full aft scull which swings your body over the back deck (or some describe as the back deck coming under your body). Sometimes getting up from the back deck, one can lose their balance, especially with a narrower boat. You can brace by turning your paddle over and skimming the outside blade across the water as you sit up. Visualize lying on your back deck with your paddle gripped in front of your body and your fingertips pointing to the sky. As you sit up, you rotate your grip and fingertips over to face down while sweeping the outboard blade across the water.

To do the layback sweep roll, substitue the extended paddle grip for your one handled grip used for the butterfly roll. Lean forward, capsize and come up on the other side. At this point, your body mechanics should be the same as with the sculling brace. However, instead of doing aft and fore sculling strokes, you do the one long sweep to the aft under the deck is under you. That is your standard Greenland extended paddle roll.

Hopefully, what I described makes sense to you. Words are limiting. Always better to have an in person coach working you through it.

PS. if you can do a Greenland sculling brace, another next step is the balance brace. Here as you arch your back, you drop you top leg down next to the downside leg. The foot of the top leg is then pushing against the hull to it from capsizing back over you. Your back again is arched and near the surface of the water, getting a flotation assist from the paddle being held out and away from the boat in a butterfly roll grip.