Laybacks and rough water

The rolling diversion on the QCC/Impex thread reminded me of an issue I’ve wrestled with and I’d enjoy hearing some other opinions on the topic.

I thought I had a good reliable roll until I got pounded last year in a storm on Flaming Gorge reservoir. (This is a canyon reservoir over 300 feet deep, 1000’ walls, and 400 miles of shoreline) The storm came in quick and unobserved due to the canyon I was in. Winds exceeded 50 mph (measured w a Kestrel when I finally got out) and the waters became angry in minutes. Short period chop, 30-36" caps (I couldn’t see over them), full clap within the walls.

I was in my T-165 and got blown flat over. No worries, rolled up with an easy layback. Before I could assume a forward position and plant a blade, the wind slapped me over again. Rolled again, same roll, same results. Ma Nature now had my full attention. Third roll was a storm roll which worked much better. Even though I came up pitching hard on the water, I was able to control the boat and get paddle stability much quicker than from the layback roll.

Since then, I’ve concentrated much more on a good storm roll or screw roll as they seem to me to be more practical in terms of rough water recovery. Perhaps my layback roll is simply not up to snuff but I do know what works for me in the real world.

While there is much made of the low aft decks on traditional kayaks I have to wonder if these were not more for reduced windage and ease of loading than simply to facilitate layback rolling.

It should be noted that I am a self taught kayaker of intermediate skill and generally paddle solo.

While I will still use laybacks for calm water rolling and such I will be working this year in rough & windy waters to develop a strong survival roll from either side.

All opinions appreciated.


What you need to do is …
Practice the layback AND and coming to a paddling position while moving forward. It helps to leave the paddle on the water and scull forward (and back and forth if you have to) as you come up. This roll works just fine in rough conditions. I’m assuming this is with a Europaddle ? Check out Eric Jackson’s Rolling and Bracing Video and you can see the roll used in huge wave trains and foam.

layback recovery
The standard Greenland roll is my bread-and-butter roll (hmmm… that description is making me hungry). While I do use a storm roll in many conditions, a good layback is surprisingly versatile. Recovering to a stable position is the key in the rough stuff. A good technique to learn is to recover and then move forward on a low brace in one seamless motion.

Ari Josefsen shows this very well on the Qajaq USA video clip page at (scroll down to standard roll).

Greg Stamer

I Can’t Compare
because my back is not going to bend into a layback position. That may very vell have placed a mental bias for me, but I can’t help but belive that comming up from a sweep roll results in a better paddle position and significantly more body protection.


Hard to go wrong…
with a EJ or a Stamer layback roll, just finish forward with a brace. Great video’s!

Augustus Dogmaticus


Don’t need no stinkin’
body protection in 300 ft of water :smiley: White water guys are always throwing that “protection” criticism at the lay back roll. Different set of problems. Yeah, yeah, I know, if you are in breaking surf etc…

Boat dependent

– Last Updated: Apr-19-06 12:05 AM EST –

If you get a chance Mark, try an NDK Explorer, and Impex Outer Island, or other boat with a rear deck significantly lower and seat farther forward of coaming than your QCC.

The QCC 700 has a 10" rear deck - but what really prevents your layback is the way the seat is positioned so close to the rear coaming. Double whammy. Fine for upright finishes - hell for laybacks. A partial leanback is still worth playing around with.

My 700, being the 2nd version with the cockpit back 3" farther than current, let me move the seat 3" forward and greatly improve the ability to do some layback. It's still nothing like being in a boat that you can just comfortably stretch out on.

The point Holmes makes about low decks also being to reduce wind effect and improve weatherhelm on traditional qajaqs (unruddered and generally unskegged) is also valid, though not independent. It all works together.

Ditto The Forward Scull When Sitting
back up. Been out in 30 knots with the waveski. Got knocked over by the wind on more than several occaisions. Coming back up was not a problem. I generally use a layback roll (and sometimes a backdeck roll) with that. When you scull forward, keep a tad bit of weight on that side. It’s a bracing effect 'til you get fully upright and centered again.


I have paddled an Explorer but did not try to roll it. I will likely have more opportunities to paddle the Explorer and will give it a try now that our water temps have gotten tenable. (I may just be up against a back that is too old to be flexable enough to do a reverse bend, LOL)

On the point about wind resistance I could not agree more. Every time I am out in wind over about 15-20 mph I am amazed at how much it affects boat handling and paddle efficiency. I would be all for reducing windage assuming that the reduction did not change other characteristics too much.

Happy Paddling,


different schools of thought in ww…
The backdeck roll is getting a bit more accepted of late in whitewater thanks to many well known paddlers adopting it as their standard roll. The argument for the backdeck roll is that because there is no tucking forward involved to setup, your head and body are typically far less immersed than in a standard roll (during the tucking motion, your head is at some point pretty deep in the water). Also in regards to rocks, people have brought up the point that having a rock hit your forearms (which is protecting your face during a backdeck roll) is preferable to that same rock hitting the back of your neck/spine from an injury standpoint. Of course the backdeck roll can be done with your head entirely out of the water which even further gives it credibility as a safe roll in most conditions (I still wouldn’t use it in shallow rock slides). :slight_smile:

For me, the standard slash roll is still my go-to roll although I hope to start incorporating the backdeck roll more into my standard repetoire. My greenland practice has led me to also start doing storm rolls with my Euro paddle in whitewater which I have found very effective.

I agree.
To elaborate a bit. In the standard setup position for a roll you are most vulnerable to serious injury from striking rocks. Your neck/spine are exposed from the top of your pfd to the bottom of your helmet. Moreover you are bending in such a way as to maximize that exposure. A blow there could easily prove fatal. In a recent case posted on Boatertalk a women almost drowned because she was struck in that area and was temporarily paralized and couldn’t remove her spray skirt. Being struck in the face would certainly be painful and could damage the face but would not have the life threatening consequences of being struck in the back of the head or neck. Not only can you protect yourself from a face strike with your arms and paddle but you can also use a face mask as many creekers do.

Nota roll, greenland brace
Ditto everyone’s comments.

As a method that takes even less energy, why not practice your “Greenland Braces”? This is basically the same as EJ’s layback WW brace technique.

Why? When knocked over, go WITH it, this allows you to let the hull stay more upright, your torso hits the water, stopping you, then you just brace back up with a torso twist, hip flick, and a bit of paddle, and you continue with bracing to stay stabilized just as folks here discuss.

Fallacy Of The Perfect “Protected”

– Last Updated: Apr-19-06 9:02 AM EST –

set up roll position is like the myth of the "perfect" defensive stance in MA. Pure bull. Something is always open to a blow. Best defense in crazy conditions with rocks ready to conk you any ole way is to roll efficiently and effectively. Minimize time of exposure. Ignore the fear and act.


for all your comments and suggestions.

It seems I have a bit of work to do! Obviously, there is a weak spot in my layback roll that needs improving.

Greg; I downloaded all those video files to a disk some time ago for study. They have been a real aid for me as there are few resources in this area in Wyoming! Thanks to you and the others who have provided the material.

Pleasant waters, all.


Interesting confusion …
Kent Ford (Kayak Roll) shows why this type of roll removes the major muscle groups and is not desirable (whitewater0. EJ (EJs Rolling and Bracing) shows why that is not so (whitewater). If you can do a layback and you’re in a boat that supports that type of roll it is another trick in your bag. The way I look at it: some boats support this roll and if you are paddling one of these you have just increased your safety margin a bit.


reverse bends & wind
Sit on the floor with your legs out in front in paddling position - go from that to laying on your back (a reverse sit up). Was much if any bending required? Was it hard or uncomfortable? Of course not. It’s just like laying down in bed!

Some boats/outfitting allow that, or at least much more easily. Paddlers vary, and so should boat choice and outfitting.

Do the same thing and try putting some objects on the floor behind you where the coaming would be. You should find you can still get your shoulders on the floor and relax there with a pretty decent bump under your lower back as it naturally arches there. To get over higher bumps you need more arch and/or lifting your butt. Pretty high is doable in reasonable comfort.

What really matters is where this is in relation to your back and how it is shaped. Your boat gives you a hard corner that’s quite high and too close (been there, felt that).

Wind? Yeah, Q feels it most around 15, and it’s skeg or rudder time. More so on flat where the wind really hits the kayak. Once waves and chop get up a bit I find they offer some shelter and the weather cocking and/or crabbing stop - and skeg rudder use becomes more about maneuverability, resisting broaching, and catching rides. Then the boat is really fun! I don’t do much paddling like that - and need to do more.

I find that the extended paddle
greenland roll is great in rough conditions and it leaves you on your back deck with a very solid brace. I have come up with this roll while surfing and have had the next wave just smashed me as I came up on the back deck and was able to hold the brace until everything settled down. I can’t imagine a better bracing position to be in.

No conflict - just misconceptions

– Last Updated: Apr-19-06 1:01 PM EST –

Maybe a common misconception?

Kent's video nicely shows how you can best apply hip/torso action to right the hull when your body is perpendicular out from the hull. True enough.

This is actually the same with Greenland standard roll. Both have same setup and sweep. Both apply the knee drive to right the boat somewhere mid sweep. Difference is the finish - which is more AFTER you've rotated the boat and are letting it bring you up. Greenland standard feel smoother and needs less focused knee drive as you are not trying to come up with your body mass as far from the hull - so drive can be more spread out and slower. Extended paddle feels right slower too.

Short version - you aren't rolling in the layback position - you're just finishing there.

I taught myself from Kent's video and online stuff here and at QajaqUSA. Got Jay Babina's "1st Roll" soon after getting my initial onsides - and his helped me get offside quickly. Got EJ's after that. All good, all variations on a theme, not apples and oranges.

When this scenario…
ocurred I was using a standard Werner paddle.

Learning the GP now and its getting warm enough to start serious rolling practice soon.

The GP is such a natural for extension that I’m looking forward to trying the method you describe.

In retrospect, I believe I was trying to come up too fast and not keeping the brace in effect long enough. Sing’s suggestion about keeping a bit of weight on the brace hit home.

Quite honestly, the conditions were above my skill level but there was little choice other than to deal with it. Being hit from the wind driven waves one direction and catching the clap off the walls in a different direction was quite an eye opener. And the thunderstorm was a big aggressive one that knocked out the power in all the little surrounding townships for much of the night.

Thanks for the tip.


You guys are making me envious
with all this roll talk.

I thought sure i would remain a hardcore SOT/inflatable paddler (like some people on this forum), however, i just purchased a boat that can be rolled and look foreward to broadening my horizons.