How to Roll a Flat Bottom Kayak

I was going to ask if you can roll at al
As suspected, the boat shape is not the limiting factor, but your lack of knowledge how to roll. Take lessons with a good instructor to start changing that.


– Last Updated: Jun-22-15 12:50 PM EST –

As has been said, your lower body rolls the boat. This is non-intuitive for beginning rollers because they see experienced kayakers doing things with their hands or paddle and cannot see the muscular contractions in the lower body and torso that actually initiate the roll.

There are quite a few different types of decked boat roll but they all share certain fundamental aspects. Once upside-down you use your truncal muscles to get your head and upper body as close to the surface as possible reaching your hands and paddle up to or above the surface.

Your upper body, supported by your PFD, and your paddle employed in a high brace, sculling, or sweeping motion provides temporary support to allow your trunk and lower body to impart a rolling momentum to the boat. In the so-called C-to-C roll this is accomplished with a rather sudden contraction of the trunk and neck muscles on the side of the outboard paddle blade as if you were attempting to bring your hip and knee on that side to your same-side ear.

In a sweep roll or sculling roll or some of the Greenland rolls the lower body muscular contraction is somewhat more gradual and even and is more like a corkscrew or twisting motion to impart the rolling momentum to the boat.

Once the boat starts to come up, so long as you don't do anything to kill this momentum it will continue to do so until upright. Keeping your head and upper body down in or close to the water, or bringing your head and torso down close to the central axis of the boat by tucking forward or leaning way back can help prevent the roll from stalling out.

You need enough paddling so that both hips and knees can make firm contact with the boat. Otherwise your lower body motion will simply move you inside the boat rather than rolling the boat up.

Hip pads, yes
Or some kind of outfitting to provide good contact between your hips and the boat. Without that, learning to roll is going to be exponentially more difficult.

Foot pegs are more of a sea kayak thing. Most WW boats have an adjustable foot plate or just a piece of molded foam in the bow. I’m guessing your boat originally had the later. The thing is, the kayak you bought is basically an old school playboat. It’s larger than most modern playboats, but still, it was designed for nailing rodeo tricks over general river running. Not at all a boat I’d recommend for rank beginners.

In terms of learning to roll, I concur with the other posters recommending that you seek out instruction. Many people, even those athletically inclined, find it difficult to teach themselves to roll. Conversely, a good instructor should be able to get someone in relatively good shape rolling very quickly.

Ok, thanks.

don’t be discouraged
I’ve been paddling sea kayaks for years and didn’t even know the right ww terminology.

Seriously - get instruction on the roll as Nate suggests, and chances are you’ll figure it out quickly. The right instructor, or fellow paddler or club can help you go over your outfit. Sounds like there might be others here who paddle that spot.

I would be surprised if…
you have done either even nearly correctly. Otherwise you would have figured out the value of hip pads.


Why don’t you try a sit on top for
your first “jersey shore” kayak experience, as most of them are designed for ocean play, and then we won’t have to read headlines “Beginner Kayaker Drowns In New Jersey Surf.” Surely there are rentals available ?

You’ll still get the fun of wave action and be able to practice dealing with the balance challenges of those waves and currents on a more stable platform, without having to worry about dealing with a failed roll or wet exit in the crashing shoreline waves. There’s a reason surf boards don’t have cockpits or foot holders…

And if you fall off, you can still practice getting back on such a kayak from the water. Sit on tops float upside down, and self- drain when flipped back over. Your WW kayak will just fill with water, get real heavy, and be a nuisance to deal with. You try getting back in on some ocean scenarios with a WW kayak, “is not, no how no way going to happen.”

maybe , maybe not
maybe you are lucky and you will learn on your first try (I have seen it done) but if you are like me it might take you a year. We are all different.

Persistence and a good teacher (that does not just imply one that is qualified!) will get you rolling. Familiarity with water and how do you feel when upside down are keys to overcome the fear that holds so many potential rollers back. People that swim in the ocean and scuba dive have a great advantage.

Riot Glide
Having owned a Glide I would consider them one of the more difficult whitewater kayaks to roll. Not impossible as I could still hand roll it but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for learning to roll.

I agree with the advice to get lessons on rolling. Learning to roll by yourself is quite difficult as much of it is counter intuitive and often what you think you are doing is not what you are actually doing. Paddlers will often swear that they are not lifting their head until shown video evidence that they clearly are.

I’d also recommend against taking it in the surf before you have a reliable roll when being trashed. The Glide has low ends which are very easy to catch which results in pitch poling while surfing. Once when paddling out a larger breaker came through and realizing I wouldn’t make it I rolled under to let the wave break on the bottom of the hull, I was then flipped end for end to find myself surfing the wave back in.

One thing I will say about the Glide is it should teach you good whitewater technique due to the sharp edges that catch easily and punish sloppy paddling. It was designed by Corran Addison for the freestyle world championships to allow expert paddlers to do flat spins and cartwheels. The features that made it good for these moves makes it less than ideal for beginners.

I hope you have fun in your new boat, just be aware that you are facing a steep learning curve.

I am close to a roll
But, I can’t break the 90 ish degree angle of it’s side. I think the problem is that I don’t have hip pads - along with being inexperienced!

I’m up for a steep learning curve, makes it more exhilarating. :slight_smile:

Thanks for the info. I have a pool which I’ve been using for trying the roll, so I may start to try cart wheels (just for the fun of it).

Since you had a glide, what hip pads do you recommend for it? I have to buy them online I presume since it’s an older make.

Hip pads
For hip pads I’d suggest going old school and glueing in pieces of closed cell foam eg: minicell. The same for the thigh braces if they aren’t a perfect fit.

The most likely cause of your failure to get up is lifting your head too soon. You should start with your head close to the surface and then your head should be the last part to leave the water. If you could video your attempts, place them on youtube and then ask on this forum I’m sure plenty of people would offer opinions.

Good luck.

Ken Whiting
I can second the recommendation for Ken Whiting - he not only knows a great deal, he is very good at teaching what he knows, which is a separate ability.

two things that helped me

– Last Updated: Jun-23-15 11:44 AM EST –

...but first, get the hips padded out and get a footrest, it'll help you brace for a roll. So much of the roll is at or below the hips.

1. Performing the sweep, turn your head and torso to follow the sweep of the paddle blade as it skims the water surface from bow to stern. Bite your PFD shoulder strap if you have to. What this does is force you to keep your head down and weight low.

2. Don't think of a roll as putting you back atop the water. Think of a roll as pulling the boat underneath you using your hips and feet, while keeping your upper body low.

NRS sells minicell foam hip pads and a number of other shapes. For my sea kayak I used a combination of shapes to secure my knees and thighs. Here's a link:

Along with others here I strongly emphasize lessons, if only to get you a successful sweep roll.

Roll, Towhikon Creek, Surf
My advice would be to learn how to brace and move to a roll. The best rolling video for whitewater boats I have seen is "Rolling and Bracing by E jackson.

You can surf your boat, small waves on the Jersey shore will be fun, but learn surf etiquette and how to roll before going out. Get a helmet. Find some other kayak surfers to teach you how.

Towhikon Creek is pretty shallow except for when they do dam releases or during heavy storms. I used to live close by and loved the area. I would find a local kayak club and get some instruction in whitewater before you try running it. Even at flood releases it is very bony.

To clear things up
Here is a picture of the seat. Its already pretty tight without hip pads. Do you think I still need something there?

Also, here is a picture of the front of the kayak… Where would I put the foot pads?

hip pads and foot pegs
Yes you probably do need additional padding. You need something that wraps over the top of your hip joint.

Look at this type of hip pad:

The thick part of the pad goes toward the top of the kayak. The foam bump hugs over the top of your hip. These pads are probably thicker than you need. You trim them down using surform tools and sandpaper.

Try this: sit in the boat. Suddenly raise one butt cheek up. The boat should come up with you. If you can’t sit in the boat and rock it side to side without your butt coming up off the seat, you will find it very hard to roll.

As for foot pegs I would probably get a pair of these:

This type of adjustable foot peg slides forward and back on a track fixed to the side of the hull. This photo should give you the idea:

You need to drill two holes through the hull on each side for stainless steel machine screws that go through the hull and thread into the tracks of the foot braces. You move the foot pads to the center of the rail, sit in the boat, and figure out where your feet are going to wind up. When paddling you want to make firm contact with the foot pads when your ankles are flexed slightly forward. Determine the position you need to mount the rails. You will be able to adjust the foot pads forward or back several inches so it doesn’t have to be precise.

Drill a hole for the screw that will go into the part of the rail that is farthest forward away from the cockpit. Thread a machine screw through that hole into the rail. If possible drill the second hole from inside out working inside the hull and using the track of the foot peg as a drill guide. It is a good idea to apply a bit of silicone caulk to the machine screw holes to seal them as they will be below the water line.

Disagree on drilling holes
If this boat did not come with ever having srilled rails it is not supposed to. The ball-of-foot support in many whitewater boats is a series of shaped foam blocks that build back until they hit the paddler’s feet. If the paddler fits the boat properly and it is a boat on the play side, which this appears to be, they chouldn’t have to come back very far before finding the foot. I can’t even wear paddling shoes in my little and old Innazone, can only wear socks.

Or there is a mising internal part.

Ther OPer whould go to a specifically whitewater place for help with the outfitting. If they are near Tohocton Creek thre has to be one in shooting distance.

Riot supplied the Glide with both foam and footbraces. Finding either for a boat nearing 20 years old is likely to be impossible.

Sure, the OP could get a bunch of minicell and shape it to fill up the nose back to his feet. But minicell is not cheap and cutting and shaping it to fit properly is a major pain.

Another option would be to try the Jackson Happy Feet:

Either of these options would be significantly more expensive and not worth it, in my opinion, for a boat of this vintage.

There is no problem with drilling holes in polyethylene whitewater kayaks. People do it all the time to convert K1s to C1s for the purpose of securing straps and other outfitting.

another point of failure
Besides raising your head is dropping the onside shoulder next to the sweeping paddle blade. This will make the paddle dive. It is about timeing and and set up. Regardless of coming up leaning back or forward you want a loose neck with your head hanging down.The knee drive brings the boat under you. Thinking strength will do it makes you think more about the paddle, but work on timeing and body position instead of thinking paddle. Just my couple of pennies.

OK, then I am wrong
I did not realize (nor is there a lot of info to easily find) that this boat could come with rails. I only have old WW boats, one with rails and one with the foot blocks.

That said, I will be surprised if the OPer makes any real headway without involving a coach. It just keeps coming - how anyone is supposed to perform a cartwheel if they don’t have a solid roll has me scratching my head.