Learn to roll?

I thought this was a good argument in favor of learning to roll as an essential kayak skill.


a good argument

– Last Updated: Mar-25-09 12:34 PM EST –

for learning a rescue that works for you.

We've come to the conclusion that a re-enter and paddle-float roll is the ultimate back-up for us in our boats. Rolling is the first line of defense, but sheet happens, and the re-enter seems to be the most reliable backup. Even one-handed.

At least this guy learned that he needs work during a practice session. Many don't figure that out until it really counts.

now imagine difficult conditions
Although I must admit, this practice is still very important even if you have a solid roll. The roll isn’t a rescue, it’s undoubtedly an important stroke for many kayakers.

As a frequent solo paddler, I think of the roll more like a big whitewater boater. If a whitewater boater ends up out of their boat in big rapids, it was a close call, regardless if they end up easily swimming to safety this time or not. It calls for serious consideration of what went wrong, or how in the world did I screw up so badly as to end up out of my boat, and what do I do next time to prevent that from happening.

I understand that most kayakers don’t think that way, as the danger is typically less imminent. Some often don’t need to, as there’s no more danger than going for a swim - with a lifejacket! But I like it that there is no right-for-me rescue talk in whitewater surrounding the roll, and I wish it would carry over to open-water sea kayaking. It’s accepted that you are either in your kayak, or you have endangered yourself, and likely others who may assist you. What follows is, in my opinion, a much more positive approach to mastering the roll. I then would understand that some can’t roll in open water just like some don’t wear life-jackets. (Would I survive an accidental spill without a life jacket? - almost always yes. Without a roll? - same answer) But I wouldn’t have to question whether or not they know better based upon incomplete information.

re-thinking rolling as a rescue
Rolling is a very handy maneuver.

A rescue (in my opinion) is getting someone back into their boat, or turning someone else upright when they can not.

If you have to get yourself back into your boat after a capsize then you have rescued yourself.

If you roll after a capsize then you have gotten your hair wet.

I tend to think of a roll as a rescue
It is a way to bail my ass out after I failed. Some times it’s a maneuver, but usually when I roll (always in surf) it’s because my brace or edging failed. So while I’m proud I can roll I’m embarrassed I needed to and know I need to improve my technique. Some call this a recovery instead of rescue though either way it’s helping me continue after I failed.

what have you failed at and why are

– Last Updated: Mar-25-09 3:34 PM EST –

you embarrassed?

Surfing is playtime (at least for me). Get out there and try new things, push your limits (safely), and have some fun. If you don't edge or brace correctly (and capsize) you have created a great learning opportunity. So roll-up, take a quick minute to reflect on what you can do to improve your brace/edging and get back to it.

If you aren't capsizing in the surf you aren't trying out new things, pushing yourself, or learning your limits. Most importantly there is nothing to be embarrassed about, you are out having fun and learning.


I get annoyed with myself when I do NOT capsize in the surf, or when I am out paddling in general. It means I was lazy and hasn't trying new things. But I get most annoyed when I don't go out at all. So, better to paddle and capsize than to not paddle at all.

Without taking away from the argument in favor of learning to roll, that video is more of an argument in favor of:

1)Learning proper re-entry techniques

2)If using a paddle-float for reentry, using one that ATTACHES to the paddle.

Re-enter & roll
I was thinking that most people who have a solid roll would consider the re-enter and roll their number one solo capsize recovery technique. Of course if I am with someone, I will have them do a T-rescue so the water is dumped out of my boat. I don’t even carry a paddle float and I wonder how many people with a solid roll do.

“solid roll”

– Last Updated: Mar-25-09 8:44 PM EST –

I'd venture to say that deciding your roll is completely failproof is a sign of hubris. What happens if you get hurt? Or just exhausted? No float, and you're sunk.

Even if assisted, I think in rough conditions I'd prefer a bow-assisted reenter and roll, rather than trying to climb on top of my kayak. My boat has an ocean cockpit and deck pump, so I have to crab-crawl into the cockpit. It's frankly much more straight forward for me to somersault into my cockpit underwater.

All that's just to say that there's no "right" rescue. Just the right one for you and your boat.

Hurt or too exhausted
I would have trouble with a paddle float recovery or a re-enter and roll. I just find the re-enter and roll much easier than any other recovery. It is much faster and takes less energy. I did say a “solid roll” not “fail proof”. I think any one with good sense knows to never say never. I certainly did not intend to imply that anyone has a perfect roll, including me.

rolling is a great skill but even very good rollers can sometimes miss a roll if exhausted, hurt, sick etc. Alway a good idea to be as proficient at as many methods as you can—rolling, re-entry and roll, paddle float re-entry and roll , paddle float entry and cowboy reentry

Your not much of a bomproof roller if you just get out of your perfectly good kayak/largest PFD you have with you…just because you missed a roll.

I agree with the try again method…not the bail out into the cold cold water method. and then what? You now just complicated everything…you are not only still in the water, now you have to get back in…should have never left.

Best Wishes


as many methods as you can

– Last Updated: Mar-26-09 10:20 AM EST –

Very true.

There are times when any particular or a number of rescue techniques may not work. Having options is important.

Regarding bombproof roll: I still like what Rick S said long ago: "A bombproof roll is a roll that hasn't encountered a big enough bomb."

Whether you roll or not…
…you still need to be able to perform self and assisted rescues. This guy couldn’t have screwed up worse if he tried! At his level of skill, rolling isn’t even within the realm of possibility.

IMO rolling is a key skill in kayaking and anyone who paddles seriously should learn to roll.