Insight for roll instructors

-- Last Updated: Jan-29-07 6:34 PM EST --

I have an opportunity to start training as a volunteer roll instructor with a sea kayak paddling club based in Portland. The club wants to develop more instructors to step up their class offerings. The training coordinator is a very good paddler, very good teacher, and very professional. He won’t take me on if I don’t have the potential. I don’t want to do it, either, if I can’t be very good at it. I would owe that to the students. I know I need some teaching experience though to be good at it.

We’ll be co-teaching a couple of “guinea pig” students in a few weeks, where he’ll assess my potential.

I could tell you where I think my strengths and weaknesses are, and let you comment. Rather though, I’d like to hear what you’ve liked, disliked, and advice you would give, from a student's perspective; and advice you would give from an instructor's perspective.

Not that anyone is especially shy around here, but I hope you won't worry about how I or anyone else will take hearing what you really think. I believe a very important attribute of a good instructor/coach is the ability to read the student, to know what the student needs in order to succeed. They also have to be self aware in order to evaluate their own effectiveness. I would consider your unfiltered thoughts to be a valuable gift, to help me see the student and myself more clearly in this relationship.

* From the student perspective;

What have you liked about your experience taking a rolling class?

What haven’t you liked about the experience?

What have you liked about the instructor?

What would you have liked to experience differently from the instructor?

What would be the attributes of an instructor that would make you highly recommend that instructor to others?

What advice would you give to someone thinking of being an instructor?

* From the instructor perspective.

What are the keys to success in teaching?

What are the pitfalls to teaching?

What would you consider ideal motives for wanting to teach on a volunteer basis?

What advice would you give someone thinking of being a volunteer roll instructor?

Thanks for your thoughts,

Paul S.

“Hip Snap”

– Last Updated: Jan-28-07 5:54 AM EST –

As someone who has recently gotten a reliable roll, I've found that the lower body motion used to roll has been the most poorly taught part of the roll. Who could rectify this?

This is a job for Aqua Man!

Seriously. When Sing told me to get my knee involved in that motion I got it. If I was teaching the roll I wouldn't use the words "hip snap". I think "boat twist" is a more accurate term that will get a student to roll well. "Twist the boat up with your knee and your hips".

I think if you teach "boat twist" and spend some time on teaching the TIMING of the boat twist you'll be a super teacher.

I didn’t really take much of classes…
I could do the sweep roll after 3 evening sessions in the pool, and am since then perfecting it on my own (using resources from the 'net) and adding other forms (C&C works, maybe the back deck roll will happen in this winter seasons - doesn’t look likely though :slight_smile: ). Most other students who started together with me (in November 2006) are still struggling. I think the difference between them and me is that I’m an allround “sportsy” guy, and used to learn new techniques on my own.

  • From the student perspective;

    What have you liked about your experience taking a rolling class?

    Early success with the pre-steps (hands on the shore, hands in the hands of the teacher).

    What haven’t you liked about the experience?

    The teachers weren’t very well prepared and had only a vague idea of what to show me. They are not trained teachers, but stricly volunteers. They did well for their abilities, but those weren’t well expressed.

    What I also specifically did not like that the teachers were not clearly visible in the crowd of people paddling around in the pool. I had to guess who they were (I’m pretty new to the club) and ask them whether they could teach me something. It would be better if the teachers were wearing some kind of badge (colored band around the arm, whatever), or if there was a public announcement at the beginning of each pool session (like “all who want to learn rolling come over here please” or so :slight_smile: ).

    What have you liked about the instructor?

    Being friendly, and willing to spend the time at all…

    What would you have liked to experience differently from the instructor?

    Clear, detailed explanations of what I’m supposed to do. Clear explanations of what I’m doing wrong. More excercises (maybe on the dry) which lead up to the correct form. Something along the line of what the man from ExChile does in the videos on their site.

    What would be the attributes of an instructor that would make you highly recommend that instructor to others?

    Hard to tell… I’d say I’d have to be completely convinced that he knows what he’s doing. If I’m doing something wrong, he shouldn’t start fidgeting, but be completely firm and tell me exactly what to do. And what he tells me to do should make sense, not be some arkane stuff.

    What advice would you give to someone thinking of being an instructor?

    Be 100% sure of what you teach. Study the common errors done by the students, and be prepared to handle them. Learn how to motivate people. There’s a happy balance between being firm and funny. Learn to appraise your pupils. Someone like me would need rather “intellectual” stuff, i.e., theoretical explanations etc.; other people are more emotional, or don’t want to “think” about what they’re doing, they’ll need other kinds of explanations.

Hip snap is the beast to teach, I guess
Yeah, what Kudzu said.

When I first got my sweep roll to work, I used the arms a lot, and ended up lying low along the deck in a very prominent way (which I today would consider wrong myself - hard to explain, doesn’t matter really).

That was because I got a long almost without a hipsnap. Did a strong upper body motion (with pulling on the arms), and my head was up very early.

I’d probably suggest to learn the C&C first. Since working on that, I have a much clearer understanding on how it should feel if the tail end does the work and my head stays low until the end. This feeling is confused when I do the sweep roll, since the front-to-back movement of the upper body is there as well.

EJ’s rolling and bracing DVD
has a number of good tips for instructors at the end

The worst mistake most new instructors make is trying to fit everything into prescribed models. Labels and a nazi approach to strict adherence to a given model is not only silly, but discouraging to the students.

Watch the student, listen, and adapt your approach to work for them. Within the realm of safe technique there are “many” correct ways.

Get them doing a safe roll however they do it, then work on fine tuning, playing etc.

Don’t fall into the trap of “this” roll or “that” roll. All just labels.

Sometimes the less said the better. Terminolgy will change to work for a given student so different things speak to different folk.

Have fun with it, and don’t make it hard.


– Last Updated: Jan-28-07 10:21 AM EST –

Be attuned to the other's situation (individual and equipment) rather than oneself. I've had folk's pick up a C2C in half an hour, others with more time with a sweep. Others have problems with layback and need a modified sweep to C2C. Individual body awareness, flexbility and athletic ability and mindset all come into play.

Yup. Any roll that can be depended on to get you up is a good one.

Roll, roll, roll your boat...


My 2 cents

– Last Updated: Jan-29-07 7:31 AM EST –

I was a real tough teach - got the lower body part very early on, but spent a long, long time having everything fail when I had a paddle in my hand. So a lot of what Salty said - be willing to improvise based on the specific things happening with the student in front of you. In my case for example, it may have been a plan to head me towards a hand roll right off the rip so that I had confidence I could get up even if the paddle messed things up. I later discovered that a balance brace came easily to me - a possibly useful intermediate position. The inability to meld the body and the blade left me with a fairly long time period where even though I knew consciously that I could do it, at any given attempt I was assuming failure.

Also - a good rolling instructor should be able to really see the person's motion, what they are doing with their body, and so be able to make useful suggestions for changing those pieces. I've seen people do all kinds of things with their midriff and upper body not realizing that none of it is causing the boat to start rolling. You have to be willing to take time with that part.

And you need a real full bag of images - while the image of bringing the boat up under me works well for some, it may not for others.

Later - I forgot to mention why I was such a tough teach. Biggest single reason was massive claustrophobia once I was under water under the boat and had to stay there to get set up etc, so failed rolls just piled on the anxiety. That issue just takes time to chew away at the roll itself, a good bit of it just to get accustomed to things so you don't rush things. But the bit where the paddler comes up around the boat and grabs a breath would also be great to add in for learning rolling for one like moi. I know this move is a bear for a lot of guys, but for women who aren't in cavernously deep boats it has the same calming effect as the balance brace 'cept that it doesn't require any boat balancing ckills.

Progressive Learning & Kinesthetic Cues
Of all the kayak courses we teach, I find rolling to be the most challenging.

My advice:

  1. Teach rolling as a progression. Your students will be anxious to start rolling with a paddle right away. As an instructor, you need to break it down in a series of progressive steps to get them to that point. For instance:

    a) Hip snap development (using decreasing resistance…hands on pool side, bows, then kickboards or paddlefloats). Once they’ve got a spot on hip snap, move them to the next step.

    b) Eskimo Rescues (teaches underwater presence of mind and will allow students to practice with a partner).

    c) One-on-one with a teacher, who physically moves the paddler from set-up to sweep to snap, allowing the student to develop the muscle memory necessary.

  2. Use kinesthetic cues. Its often difficult to explain to a student just how to effect a certain action (e.g., keeping ones head down, etc.). Kinesthetic cues help. For example, we bring those squishy water balls to our classes and if a student doesn’t keep their head down, we may ask them to hold the ball on their shoulder with their chin while they perform the roll…this keeps their chin/cheek glued to their shoulder and prevents throwing the head up. Similarly, we sometimes tell students to blow bubbles in the water when they are hip snapping…this forces them to keep their head down throughout the snap.

  3. Pay attention to the off water hand. It’s often the source of many of the problems…e.g., a diving paddle often comes from the off water hand being forced up (which drives the on-water hand & paddle blade down).

    Finally, every student is different, so you need to have a lot of arrows in your quiver. The C-to-C is a good roll with a very logical progression, but if a student is not very flexible, they may have trouble with that roll. An extended paddle roll can be a real confidence booster for someone who didn’t have the flexibility to roll otherwise. Sweep rolls or EJ rolls work well with newer WW boats.

    Check out the EJ rolling and bracing video and Kent Ford’s “The Kayak Roll” for some good teaching tips/tricks.

    Good luck!

good point
hip snap is a misnomer, boat twist makes more sense

kinesthetic cues
An instructor saw my stiff off side hand as a problem right away

It’s all about the student

– Last Updated: Jan-28-07 12:05 PM EST –

Put aside what you want them to achieve. Identify their fears and or doubts and carefully dispel them first. Don't criticize mistakes - ever.

If you've been chosen to instruct by the student you probably have all the other components to make you a good instructor.

My .02 anyway. Previous posts are all good.

oh my

Does this mean you want to charge me now.

Paul has been helping myself and my wife to learn to roll. I am not there yet but getting closer.

Paul I think you would be good as an instructor, you have the patient and personality to work with people.

Should you decide to do this, I wish you the best.


Chris Spelius Response -

I have been teaching the roll (both whitewater and sea kayak) since the 1970s and what I have found is people who don’t have a good hip snap have a disassociation between their arms and torso. In other words, no hip snap occurs because their torso is out of position relative to the kayak. All rolls are initiated from the side of the kayak, not underneath the kayak. Without proper torso position there will be nothing to snap. If the torso is correctly positioned the hip snap will come naturally and automatically as the body unwinds into a more comfortable position. The link below will take you to a comprehensive overview of the 5 types of kayak rolls that we have created for our students in Patagonia, Chile. We will be doing an overview of the sea kayak rolls this year, but the principles are the same. See the “Five Types of Kayak Rolls” link below:


I have been teaching kayakers to roll since the 1970s and have long ago abandoned the “one size fits all” approach to teaching the kayak roll. At the Expediciones Chile kayak school in Patagonia, Chile we require every instructor to learn all FIVE major types of kayak rolls and then be prepared to teach them to our students. What roll a student gets taught depends on the flexibility, athleticism, body type, type of boat and previous instruction that a student may have received. We try to customize the instruction as much as possible.

By demanding a complete mastery of all of the types of kayak rolls by our instructors we now avoid a lot of the arguments about what kayak roll is more or less superior. At an Expediciones Chile rolling clinic it is not uncommon to find our beginner students learning different kayak rolls in the same class. For an overview of this all inclusive teaching philosophy see the Five Types of Kayak Rolls link below. (We will becoming out with a similar series for sea kayakers this year.)

I feel the hardest part
of teaching rolling is having limited experience and knowledge of the different rolling techniques and using them in different types of kayaks. The broader your experiences the better you will be able to help others learn. Learning to roll can be extremely frustrating for the teacher and student without good experience and knowledge.

EJ’s method
We used EJ’s three step method from his video the other night in a pool session. It worked really well for our several students. The approach seems similar to Jay Babina’s First Roll.



– Last Updated: Feb-03-07 6:14 AM EST –

"All rolls are initiated from the side of the kayak, not underneath the kayak. Without proper torso position there will be nothing to snap."

In the pool Wednesday evening I was telling my buddy that the higher I got my head the better the 'snap' or 'twist'.

I came up with "Try to touch your nose to your non-power hand before you twist up". It makes an incredible difference in the ease of the roll.

Diagnosis and observation
From the instructors point of view. Very careful observation is essential. Recognition of the exact problem a student is having is crucial. For example, it should be immediately obvious to you when a student is having orientation problems so you can then take remedial steps. Or a myriad of things that students do that seem natural to them but screw up the roll. This includes helping them decide which roll is appropriate for them based on flexibility, strength, and what they find difficult. If you are not clear at some point on what to do next, or what the problem is, ask someone else to take over for a while or watch and give you their opinion. A fresh perspective often works wonders and can be a learning experience for you. I wish you luck. It is not an easy thing to do.

A couple thoughts
By far the easiest thing I’ve found to teach but the toughest for students to do consistently is the hip snap. I (as others have pointed out here) have found it more useful to describe it as driving the knee, rather than snapping the hips. Especially with a sweep roll, one doesn’t need a lot of power in the knee…just a steady driving pressure. I find a lot of instructors, though, ignoring the OTHER knee. Often a failed hip snap is due to the studeent lifting up oin their OTHER knee at the same time they are driving with their rolling knee. I call this to their attention by pointing out that they can’t lift their head out of the water unless they are lifting up on the wrong knee (which helps with the head problem). One they learn to totally relax the non-rolling knee, they really start improving.

Paddle motion is also tough, especially for a sweep-style roll. Lots of good techiques to teach it, and I’ve just about tried them all. And usually, the same trick rarely works twice.

My best advice…have a big bag of tricks, and be able to explain each component in at least 3 different ways. Things click differently for everyone.

As to your other questions:

What are the keys to success in teaching?

Patience, an positive attitude, and a big bag of tricks.

What are the pitfalls to teaching?

I honestly can’t think of any. Sure, I could be paddling somewhere instead, but I like being part of people’s learning experience.

What would you consider ideal motives for wanting to teach on a volunteer basis?

I’m a self motivated person…I volunteer because I enjoy it. And I get some free pool practice time. And all the newbie paddlers out there think I’m an expert, so it helps my fragile ego. :wink:

What advice would you give someone thinking of being a volunteer roll instructor?

Know your stuff! Many people can do the roll, but make lousy instructors because they can’t communicate what they are doing into words and actions their students understand. If you are having trouble, watch a couple other good instructor’s first before you teach.

Good luck and have fun.


An additional thought
You wrote:

“I call this to their attention by pointing out that they can’t lift their head out of the water unless they are lifting up on the wrong knee (which helps with the head problem). One they learn to totally relax the non-rolling knee, they really start improving.”

Relaxing the other knee is actually hard to do. It is better to give that leg something to do, like pushing against the foot rest. That works in tandem with the rolling knee and helps twist the boat up.