Learning Rolls BOTH sides how important?

With due respect for the incredible diversity of how paddlers learn things, the BCU manual states that it is understandable that paddlers want quick success and therefore only learn a weak pool roll (their words) as a result. They feel this can, not must, but can result in their impeding the full learning of body sensations, hip and knee engagement, and difficulty learning to roll on the second side.

Their point is interesting to me as when years ago in white water training I was not even allowed to use a paddle for quite some time, let alone learning a roll on one side. The idea then was to learn boat control first using the body and hands, and only then progressing to the paddle. Practice was emphasized on the side of the body we had LESS comfort with to promote confidence with the entire range of conditions we would find ourselves in.

OK, there are probably plenty of folks who don’t find rolling on one side first impeding learning on the other side. However, since the roll is a gateway skill that integrates with braces and sculls, what are people’s thoughts on the utility of the BCU approach? Dogmatic, or worth looking at?

definitely important
I cannot comment on the utility of the BCU system as I am not familiar with it, but for whitewater kayaking having a roll on both sides is a great safety tool. If you are ever flipped and pinned against a rock an offside is helpful. If you flip while in a hole and your kayaks continues to surf in the hole upside down, an offside can be helpful. Also having a roll on both sides gets you to the point that you will flip and then automatically roll up without thinking about sides, setups, etc. Granted some of the best whitewater paddlers I know only have an onside roll, but rolling on both sides is still a great thing to know how to do.

Just like the Little Caesar’s pizza ad.
Two is better than one.

I learned the offside IMMEDIATELY after feeling confident with my on side. I think it’s important to learn the offside before muscle memory has you doing your on side in “auto pilot” mode. It’s easier to transfer the set-up and execution procedures to the other side while you are still “conscious” of the process and individual steps. Once you “bury” the thought process into muscle memory, it is very difficult to translate that into the step by step process for the other side.

Even in sea kayaking, the ability to roll either side could be important. If trying to roll up into waves or wind, rolling up AGAINST the former may be impossible, while rolling “with the flow” may be the only option.

Eric Jackson’s system…
… has you bracing on both sides, then deep water bracing on both sides, then rolling on both sides with a setup, and finally rolling on both sides without a setup. In my experience that has a better result than learning only the on side first. I learned on side first and my off side is simply not as strong as my on side and I have to force myself to practice that side. I agree with those above that it is very useful to roll on either side. It is even better to start out doing both sides.

As a c-1 and kayak paddler, I agree
that being able to roll on both sides is very desirable, perhaps especially for playboating and creeking.

But to put the matter in perspective, in 30 years of flipping and rolling, I can’t recall ever being in a situation where I missed having an offside roll.

In c-1, I think a person tends to unconsciously protect against situations where one would, for example, be in a sticky hole with one’s roll side pointed the wrong way. This protective tendency may have transferred to my kayaking, although I can roll on my “off” side if I concentrate on it.

Not Really Understanding
what the BCU thing is saying… except that a lousy roll on one side is a lousy roll on one side.

As soon as I developed a roll on one side I went to working my offside. I worked my offside so much that it became my onside and my onside became of offside in that sense of being the second resort. But, I can come either side.

In both white water and surf, I have had to go to the second resort when the first failed because of obstacles and other conditional factors.

Haven’t swam because of failed rolling in several years. Rather, I have swam because I have been sucked out of the boat or had my paddle stripped.


Sing, some advice
"Rather, I have swam because I have been sucked out of the boat"

Stop surfing around those giant squid.

You’re lucky they don’t care for Chinese food.

My SingBo Knife…
is for THAT purpose. We LOVE squid! If I am gonna have to swim, I would love to be able to bring home dinner for the village. :wink:


With very limited pool only experience
I can only say that I now feel pretty good about my onside roll since getting my first late last November at the end of my third class. So, at my class last week I started working on my offside roll. My hip snap is definately a bit weaker on the offside, but I did successfully do one offside roll (then I quit). My next (and last) pool session this season I plan on working only on my offside. As you know, I am only a touring kayaker, but I’m having fun - so why not learn both sides? I did not find the offside particularly hard, but it sure does feel different. I don’t think I have the same flexibility on both sides. Maybe the offside is good to learn because I know I have to focus more on perfect technique. I can’t muscle up on the offside like I sometimes do onside.


Do This…
Before attempting to the offside roll next time, right away. Go to the edge of the pool and do a bunch of hipsnaps on the offside. That will focus you into the hipsnap a little more than the paddle sweep when you do go work on the offside roll.


you have hit on my very
weakness. For all the reasons others have mentioned i wish i could roll on both sides. I have seen others do it when they needed to and I can’t. I have an will again pay for that inability.

Good advice …
I will do that to warm up. I also should have my hip pads in place by then which will stop me from sliding about 2". It’s just a little too cool to glue them in today. Thanks.

Only rolling on one side would be like only bracing, or sculling, or doing sweep strokes on one side.

The paddle has two blades - exact mirror images of each other. Use them accordingly.

I never even considered leaving it a one sided skill. As soon a my onside was getting solid I began with offside. For me it was like starting over - and really pretty ugly - but it came MUCH faster.

For me it had nothing to do with how important an offside roll was. Sea kayaking fairly benign warm waters you could argue rolling at all is unimportant. It’s about balance as part of an ongoing process of learning and skills development. A roll on one side is not the end of the process - it’s just one step. Just another stroke.

Being able to roll is fun. Both sides = double the fun. Multiple rolls - well, you get the idea.

I wish I were small enough to be sucked
out of boats. Wet exiting takes conscious effort.

Another advantage for Jackson’s system.
I am more impressed all the time with Eric Jackson’s rolling system and the video that goes with it. I have begun recommending it as ~the~ way to learn to everybody who asks.

Of course, most folks have already started down another path, so I don’t know how well they’d do to switch in midstream. But if you haven’t started yet, definitely get the EJ video and go for it.

Balance vs Expedience
In any instruction situation that are the conflicting goals of planning for quick and readily attainable results versus mastery of any given technique. I found the passage you paraphrased under the heading “Important Principles”, where issues like right and left symmetry and avoidance of pre-capsize set-ups are mentioned.

If I understand the intent of this passage correctly they are trying to warn coaches and rolling students away from an unrealistic view of a measure of predictability relative to the pre-set-up position post-capsize. The basic idea being to capsize in unusual positions in order to develop a sense of how to set-up from any initial capsize position. From my limited experience with EJ’s system these concepts are compatible.

The text goes on to describe that ultimate mastery of any technique is more readily realized via engagement rather than avoidance of the myriad variables involved. Of course that directly challenges the quick and incremental success school of skills acquisition. Which is better? Great question, and one I hope we never stop asking. Ultimately for me the balance to be struck is to present the most thorough view possible constrained only by the need to provide incremental success on order with a particular students needs for such reinforcement.

Push the student as far towards the complete view as they can tolerate. Keeping in mind that to push further than the student wants to be pushed does great harm to the learning process. Each student is unique and so must be each exchange between instructor and student. Even if the instructor and the student are one in the same person. :wink:

It an interesting game this paddling thing, no?



both sides is a must if you
intend on doing any moving water, whether it is waves or ww.

if you get pinned on one side by rocks, current, or another kayak better to be prepared to come up on the other side. While it is unlikely in surfing a sea kayak, it is technically better to come up ocean side to a wave.

Whether or not this is aca bcu mandated or not, it makes plain good sense to develop these skills if you are serious about paddling. If you don’t want to develop the skills ultimately the individual will have to pay the price for that.

Paying The Price Enough…

– Last Updated: Apr-23-05 8:59 PM EST –

is usually good incentive to learn. Experience begets desire to learn more and experience more. :)

Rolls -- a lot of folks view the Greenland rollers as the pinacle of roll finesse. They may well be. But, I maintain that playboaters are under recognized for their ability to transition not just rolls but sculls, braces, draws, prys and body/boat control into a seamless dance where there is neither up, down, ends or sideways. It's just fluid motion of unbounded play, like a river otter or a dolphin.

Repeat this: "Rolling is just a basic 'gateway' skill to facilitate other paddling skills. No more and no less."



– Last Updated: Apr-24-05 11:24 AM EST –

Sing's Comment - Rolls -- a lot of folks view the Greenland rollers as the pinacle of roll finesse.
This may be, but in my opinion these rolls are very useful for someone who wants to make the most of their time on the water. The point for me isn't the rolls, but the ability to come back up no matter what the situation, and to be more at ease on the water.
I first learned to roll so that I wouldn't have to wet exit every time I missed a manoeuvre, and I learned on both sides to make things even easier. After a little while I started adding greenland rolls, again to increase my own confidence and abilities, and because practicing the same two rolls was getting boring.
The ability to roll, in my opinion, is something that could be of use to everyone as it increases confidence on the water, and it significantly shortens the time required to learn other skills since wet exits are no longer required...rolling on both sides is even better, and greenland rolls can add some variety to the practice sessions...

“the ability to come back up no matter what the situation… to be more at ease on the water… to make things even easier… to increase my own confidence and abilities… significantly shortens the time required to learn other skills…”

If that’s not motivation enough, I don’t know what would be!

Seadart said “Reading this thread I would think that people that are not that great at rolling would get pretty discouraged.”

Well, some people might. That’s a shame - but 100% up to them. I would personally have to strongly disagree, as I have found such threads very motivating and helpful to my progress. To see these posts as discouraging requires a defeatist mentality or some image of rolling as difficult or advanced. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I would not consider myself a good roller - and just 6 months ago I had no roll at all. Now I can roll on both sides (no doubt equally poorly! L) - and with any paddle I’ve tried so far - and with quite a bit of variation. I am not particularly fit and do not posses exceptional balance, yet I managed this with no instruction beyond video and EXCELLENT threads like this. What I did have was a concept of rolling (both sides of course) as being doable and part of the deal. Something to enhance the experience, not because it’s an accomplishment in itself but rather, because it’s simply something these boats are designed to do. It never was a question of if - only a matter of when. I do not see this attitude very often among non-rolling sea/touring kayakers. I hope it’s common in WW/Surf.

I find other’s examples to be highly motivating - and the more they can do - the more I want to try. These boards are largely populated by the majority of non-motivated non-rollers. If people don’t want to learn that’s fine. It’s their loss (a huge loss and one you can’t fully appreciate 'til you’re rolling). If someone feels OK with only one side rolling - that’s their choice.

For those who are decent rollers (or just aspire to be like me) I think it would be doing a disservice to the paddling community if we did not promote these skills - and characterize them as basic skills that open the door to all the benefits touched on in wet-one’s post.