Learning to roll - WW vs touring

I got myself a decent used touring kayak last summer and want to improve my (almost non-existent) paddling skills. There are whitewater rolling classes offered about an hour away from me starting in Feb and I wonder if the skills are transferable (rolling a WW boat vs a touring boat). I did call and they said that yes of course the skills are transferable but I’d like some more opinions.

FYI the classes are offered by GetOutdoors which has a good reputation as a paddling shop, they’re based in Greensboro NC. I’m in Chapel Hill.




short answer: yes

slightly longer answer: probably yes
Or, if you prefer, yes with a small caveat. I assume that the class will be using river runner/creeker style whitewater boats, as opposed to something more like a playboat. I’d be very, very suprised if it were otherwise. I’ve found rolling a playboat to be a bit more difficult due to its hull shape (less forgiving of errors in rolling technique). If you’re concerned, you could ask about this.

Sometimes sea kayaks or “touring” kayaks, if you prefer, are a bit deeper, and sometimes a bit slower to roll. You might have to modify your technique slightly.

Most whitewater kayakers will use either a “C to C roll” or a “sweep roll”. They actually have more similarities than differences. The main difference is that in the C to C roll the paddle sweep is completed before rotation of the kayak around its long axis begins, whereas in the sweep roll rotation of the kayak around its long axis commences shortly after the paddle sweep is initiated.

Both are good rolls and can be translated to a sea kayak. If they offer you a choice, I would probably try the sweep roll first as it sometimes is more comfortable to use when rolling a deep sea kayak. Which ever one seems more natural to you and gets you up is perfectly fine, however.

Bigger kayaks especially when loaded, or with gear bungeed onto the deck, sometimes roll up more slowly than a whitewater playboat, and when using a sweep roll you may need to slow down your paddle sweep a bit in order to allow more time for the boat to rotate up.

Bring nose plugs and goggles, or a swim mask.

Consider something to keep you warm - a shorty or wetsuit work very well.

But I think sea kayaks are generally easier to roll. They are narrower, offering less resistance and enabling you to bend around them more for your setup. And, many facilitate the layback. In regard to the observation about playboats, sea kayaks will hold their positions and not go squirrelly in the middle of your roll.

The biggest difference is the length of paddles and how that relates to the timing with your hip snap; or so I’ve found with ww paddlers transitioning to sk. Imagine swinging a baseball bat vs. the proverbial 10’ pole. Not that much difference, but seems to be enough to throw off the timing for some people.

I learned in a whitewater boat
There was no transition in my own experience. I learned a solid roll on both sides in 5 two hour pool sessions in whitewater boats within 3 months of my first time in a kayak. I hopped into my sea kayak, in February New England icy waters, with all the additional gear restraints (only wore swimtrunks in the pool), and had that same solid roll both sides without any issue. The mechanics are the same. I was offered different boats in the pool sessions. It was advised so that I wouldn’t end up restricted to some specific timing and feel. I was told that it was best and great to set up above water to get the setup right and memorized, but that I didn’t have a roll unless I could jump in multiple boats, tip without prior setup, and roll them. I took that all to heart, had a few folks around the pool sessions excited to get me rolling and lending me different kayaks and paddles, and was doing rolls, re-enter and rolls, both sides, in different kayaks, with different paddles, before the 5 sessions were up.

Make no mistake, I pushed through the frustration, disappointment, physical tiredness. Then an emotionally uncharged but still mentally and physically determined self would take over. Goes against the popular “don’t let yourself get frustrated” advice, but worked well for me, and I’ve seen it work well for others. Reminded me of my old boxing coach. Work out hard for an hour and a half, and then you get to spar, because that’s when you do your best learning for the real fight.

Good luck!

Yes - totally transferable
Depending on the WW boat they put you in, a sea kayak may be a little more forgiving in fact.

We Can Talk

– Last Updated: Jan-28-11 6:22 PM EST –

That's where I learned to roll quite a few years back. If you see a hot dog shaped boat... fight for it. Everyone seemed to get their first and best and easiest roll in the hot dog shaped boat. Hamburger shapes are harder.

If they say 'hip snap'... you think and do 'quick knee lift'. Gawd I wish someone had taught me that earlier.

It's a safe bet no one's going to have a Greenland paddle there. It's my experience that a GP is a much better tool for rolling than a Euro. The GP zips under water and a Euro grabs and slogs under water. I've owned and used both. Someday try a GP.

If they say 'keep your head down'... think and do 'keep your head way back'. Look up toward the ceiling. Wish someone had taught me that early on, also. A layback roll is an easier beginner roll. Eric Jackson's video helped me tremendously with that bit of advice.

Yes... nose plugs good.

Holler at Kudzu when you pass the Elon exit.

Absolutely transferrable
Don’t worry which you roll in the most, or learn in first. Just get the roll body mechanics down solid, and make sure whatever you use fits you well. After the roll is good, even a loose fit is workable.

Raleigh Pool…
JoJo, I think there’s a pool in Raleigh that will let you use your touring kayak and it’s free. I remember Bill telling me about it. Fire him off a note and ask him about it. If he’s there I’m sure he’d give you some top quality help. He used to come to some of the Burlington sessions but those sessions kinda died out last year.


Things to think about
Keep it to a few. My first instructor gave us a dozen things to think about or do. No one rolled.

You can’t process that much all at once, especially when it’s your first time hanging upside down in an oxygen-free environment.

When I started teaching, I boiled it down to the few things that made a difference. This video (not of me) shows how a good instructor makes it easy: http://tinyurl.com/4bwlwhr

The most appropriate rolls for WW are not necessarily the most appropriate rolls for sea kayaks. So, for example, if you learn a C-to-C for WW, which many WW paddlers do, is that what you should learn for sea kayak? The answer is that it is probably ok but not the first choice. Just because some skills transfer does not mean that you should use the original roll for the transfer situation. Moreover, if you know what roll is most appropriate for a sea kayak (not the C-to-C) there is no reason to waste time learning a less appropriate roll. Avoid the C-to-C cult.

Same shit

If you learn to roll a ww kayak you will have no trouble rolling your sea kayak (providing your sea kayak fits you decently and is not ridiculously wide).

Don’t worry about what kind of roll. Good instructors tailor the roll technique to the student. Different folk learn somewhat differently. This includes how long it takes to learn. Some folks learn very quickly, some not. Do not get discouraged if it takes some time. The important factor is to learn a roll with which you feel confident. Once you have a that you can experiment with different rolls.

Time and Discouragement
Most everyone I know got their first roll at their third pool session.

The downsides to the C to C…
…are that it’s very timing critical and it can be more strenuous than other rolls, especially if you screw it up. It’s harder to teach and to learn than rolls which are more appropriate for sea kayaks. If you’re paddling a sea kayak laden with camping gear, the C to C is completely inappropriate, since the boat will not “snap” around in any kind of a hurry.

There are many types of rolls and the best technique for you will depend on your boat, your paddle type and your flexibility, among other things. I would look for an instructor or mentor with experience rolling various types of sea kayaks, who can evaluate you and your gear and teach you an appropriate technique. IME, early success is key to building confidence. Once some has ONE roll that works for them, it’s much easier for them to learn additional techniques.

I also suggest that you learn to roll in the boat that you’re going to be paddling.

Not all
It took me a whole lot longer than 3 sessions, and I am not the only one I know of. Learning a roll is a process and there shouldn’t be any expectations on time. We have local paddlers who gave up because someone told them they “should” be able to get it within a certain number of sessions. It’d be better and safer for them if they were OK with just taking a full season or whatever, rather than walking away because they didn’t get it when they expected.

Times have changed
Last year I spent some time with a WW group at a lake practicing and I’m not a WW paddler. I was in the newer type of flat bottom boats and everyone was doing lay-back rolls and not the C-C type that used to be the standard for WW. The lay back seemed to work well leaning back towards the back corner of the flat bottom. I did a few C-C types and these newer flat bottom boats are a bit stubborn compared to the old bullet style WW boats. One woman was teaching another woman the C-C style and she was getting nowhere.

Which is why
I still have my old Pirouette S. Super easy rolling boat, and a good whitewater river runner, too. My Recluse and my Anas Acuta are about as easy to roll.