Learning to roll - WW vs touring

Sweep rolls often are more comfortable in the flat bottomed play boats. These are very “thick” around the front of the cockpit coaming and it can be difficult to wrap your non-sweeping arm around the depth of the boat. The sharp chine is also a great place to tear up your thumb during the hip snap.

The sweep roll eliminates the problem because the boat is partially rolled up before your non-sweep arm and thumb reach that point.

It’s a non issue, once you learn to roll, you can roll anything…some boats work better with different techniques than others but the basic skills translate perfectly. I’m a whitewater paddler 90% of the time and learned to roll in a WW boat but have never had a problem rolling a touring/sea kayak.

One warning though…I was a rec boat paddler before I took some WW classes, then I tried an easy class II river trip and discovered just how addicting WW can be, I got hooked…and 2 years later my long boats are frequently gathering dust in the garage while I’m out running waterfalls. You have been warned! :slight_smile:

Bad instructors
A polarized instructor is similar to one who only has a hammer and everything thus becomes a nail.

As others have said, good teachers look at the student and customize the approach. It’s simple physics and a blend of techniques that make a roll happen. The percentages of this or that technique within the picture vary and it doesn’t matter so long as safe techniques are used.

Less talk = better teacher

A roll is a roll is a roll
Rolls learned in whitewater boats transfer to sea kayaks. Once you have a good roll, it’s easier to learn other rolls, because it’s comforting knowing that the good roll will work even if a new one fails.

Msg from the instructor
1st off; JoJo, thank you for your inquiry about our roll classes, and kudos for doing some research into this subject. I see many great comments and suggestions on this thread.

A little about the roll classes @ Get Outdoors: What we offer in a session of classes is 4 two hour classes over 2 weeks for a cost of $80. This is held in a very nice indoor facility. Classes normally consist of 2 ACA certified instructors with an extra helper, and no more than 6 students (2:1 ratio).

The boats: The primary reason for using WW kayaks for this class is that it works best for the facility I teach in. If we had up to 8 sea kayaks in a swimming pool, things would get a bit congested. Using shorter WW boats also makes it more fun to paddle about in a limited space. All my instructional boats are brand new, 2011 model, River Runners or Creekboats. I use the Liquid Logic Remix and Jefe, Wave Sport Habitat and Diesel, and the Dagger Nomad. I provide the skirt, paddle, and PFD also as needed. Boaters are encouraged to use their own boat as long as it is properly outfitted, and it will fit easily in the pool. Often I will teach a student how to roll in our boats, and then let them bring their own on the last day.

The roll: Typically, I will begin by teaching the sweep roll. This is because I get a wide variety of students; from the young and flexible whitewater paddler, to the older, less flexible sea kayaker, and all combinations in between (my last class ranged from 18 years old, to students in their 60’s). The sweep roll seems to work best for the widest variety of paddlers. Depending on the level of progress, paddler’s goals, body type, physical condition, boat type, or paddling style, etc, I may choose to modify the individual’s instruction to teach the C to C, or extended paddle roll. I have also gone on to teach offside, back deck, hand paddle, bare handed, screw-up, and combination rolls.

I believe that the roll that you have the most success with is the right one to start with. If we can get you rolling using any of these techniques, it will inspire the confidence to build on, and learn the “best” roll for your aspirations, or to learn several different roll techniques.

For those using Eric Jackson’s video or lay back rolls: I personally am not a big fan of this roll. I know EJ is a world class WW paddler and a great instructor, but in my opinion there are some safety issues here. The reason a lay back style can make a roll easier is that it lowers your center of gravity. This can be good, depending on environment, if you know you are coming up the first time, every time, as I’m sure EJ does. The downsides of this technique are that it puts all your weight on the back deck of your kayak, which is usually the “tippiest” part of your kayak. This makes it easy to flip a second time. If you don’t make it up on the 1st try, this position leaves your face and upper body exposed to injury from debris under the surface, such as stumps in a lake or rocks in a riverbed. Also, from the back deck, you are in the furthest possible position from being set up for a 2nd roll attempt; you will have to do a big sit up underwater to get yourself into a proper set up position. I generally prefer roll techniques that finish sitting up or leaning forward over the deck. The front deck of your kayak has the most volume to it, therefore it is a more stable part of your kayak. Finishing a roll leaning forward also puts you in an automatic set up position in case you need a 2nd roll attempt, or if you need to immediately take a stroke to help stabilize your kayak.

Again, the best roll is the one that works reliably for you. Much of what I have posted is my personal opinion. I openly welcome feedback, opinions, and critique from anyone who has been willing to read this lengthy post. If anyone has questions about my roll classes, feel free to call me at Get Outdoors.

I still have spaces available for my next roll session; Feb 16, 17, 23, and 24th.

Eric Stuart

ACA Coastal Kayak Instructor

Get Outdoors



I agree with everything you just said.

Some Feedback
I learned to roll at Pyramids back in '03. Some things have definitely changed/improved since then. It looks like the instruction quality and the student to instructor ratio is vastly better now.

Some suggestions:

Since there are a mix of ww and sea kayakers wanting to learn to roll, wouldn’t it be better to have at least a couple of sea kayaks for folks to share? I don’t recall the pool being so crowded that a couple of the boats couldn’t be larger.

Wouldn’t it be to your advantage to have one of your instructors focused on the sea kayak and able to teach rolling / bracing / sculling with a GP? It could keep folks like the original poster from sitting on the fence.

My opinion of the layback roll and safety is this… in whitewater there may be more risk of injury. Rocks and roots are pretty common. Sea kayaking generally involves a sandy or muddy bottom if you happen to hit it. It’s my experience that coming up on my back deck puts me in a perfect position to brace if a succeeding wave threatens to knock me over. But mostly it’s a good, easy to learn, confidence building ‘first roll’.

I’m not posting this to be contrary or confrontational. Get Outdoors is a great place. I’ve been patronizing them for many years and will continue to do so. I wish the store and the roll classes nothing but success.

GP rolling
Teaching someone to roll with a GP only works if the instructor is already pretty familiar with that. I’ve seen WW folks who were excellent instructors in their own craft but had no GP experience spend pretty useless time with someone who did arrive with a GP. While it appears that this instructor is quite thoughtful and tends to tune his teaching to the student, it doesn’t sound like there is any GP background or inclination for starting someone with the layback roll that often is the first GP roll.


– Last Updated: Feb-05-11 7:16 AM EST –

If you have 4 instructors, why not have one of them focused on that segment of paddlers? Diversity good.

C2C vs. Layback - why the …
Why do folks complain that a layback roll is more dangerous in WW but I have not heard that complaint about a C2C roll? What’s the difference?

Isn’t the C2C just as dangerous once you fail to roll? Ignoring that there is a bigger chance for a C2C to fail, once a C2C fails, aren’t you again underwater just like with a layback? Am I missing something?

Speaking here strictly about comparing a C2C to a layback or a sweep roll and not asking if being underwater face down is potentially dangerous (which it may be)…

not missing anything…the c2c is a very poor choice compared to the screw roll(for WW first roll)…it’s just sometimes the only roll the instructor was taught and the only roll they know.

not a good first roll…it’s an all or none roll and no matter what roll you do , if trash is in the way…it’s going to “maybe” hit you.

when the head is down…that is where SOME of the rocks are…some are to the sides as well.

learn as many rolls as possiable…the angel roll might even come in handy…no trying to get the other hand positioned on the paddle, but still holding firm to it so the paddle is there when you get up.

there is no such thing as knowing too many differant rolls…no matter what some people think

Best Wishes


The WW layback danger is a myth
If you actually look at the mechanics of a layback roll, at NO TIME are you EVER facing the bottom as the “danger theorists” proclaim. What matters in whitewater is getting back upright QUICKLY, in order to minimize one’s exposure to underwater rocks and to regain control of the boat in order to avoid upcoming obstacles. What type of roll you use makes NO difference, as long as it works reliably and quickly.


– Last Updated: Feb-05-11 11:50 AM EST –

If you fail to roll up while laying on the back deck in a shallow rapid you may find yourself unable to set up again for a second attempt. Being inverted and trapped onto the back deck while running a shallow, rocky rapid is an experience that you will not forget once you have experienced it. You are often unable to even get to the grab loop of your spray skirt in this position. Even if you are not completely trapped on the back deck, you will need to struggle to get both your body and your paddle back in position for another roll attempt.

You might save yourself a face smearing in this situation if you know the "rodeo roll" and can execute it from this position, otherwise unless you can kick yourself out of the boat through the spray skirt tunnel, or dislodge the skirt without making use of the grab loop, your only choice may be to wait for deeper water.

Rolling up onto the back deck in whitewater also puts you in a very poor position to take any effective stroke immediately. Unless you are already in the run out pool at the end of the rapid, any rapid bad enough to knock you over will likely do so again unless you are able to maneuver effectively and immediately. It may only take a second to sit back up and take note of your surroundings but that can be too long.

Either the C to C roll or the sweep roll can be converted to a reverse sweeping low brace if the roll feels shaky. Quickly flip the paddle over to the low brace position, sweep forward with the blade, and kiss the front deck. You will reduce your center of gravity in the same way you would by leaning back onto the back deck, but be in a much safer position if you fail to come up.

But why …

– Last Updated: Feb-06-11 12:45 AM EST –

... why would a failed C2C roll be any different than a failed layback in terms of safety once already in a very shallow rapid?

"Being inverted and trapped onto the back deck while running a shallow, rocky rapid..."

Where would a failed C2C leave me in a shallow rapid? In a shallow rapid I can't just get under the boat, right? I would be high-bracing off the bottom most likely.

My rolls fail usually when I try to get out of the water and something knocks me over again (wave, current, etc.). If the water is already shallow enough to cause damage to me while laying back under the boat, I doubt I will be able to get under the boat in the first place - I'll probably drag sideways with the boat pulling me downriver... I suppose if I'm already under and it gets shallow after I've gone under then I'm in trouble. But that applies to any inverted position, regardless of how I got there...

Also, I find it actually pretty easy to recover from a failed layback by simply sculling once or twice (in a high-brace position immediately after failing the roll) and finishing up with another layback without going underwater or doing any additional setup. Sea kayak or WW - same. I find that trying to scull-up without fully going under does not work usually with a failed C2C roll, because typically the paddle towards the end of a failed C2C is deep under water and a new setup is a lot more necessary.

Just trying to visualize a situation where I would get into trouble more readily with layback vs. C2C for example, not trying to be argumentative about it, so I appreciate the discussion (even though it is getting off-topic for the OP)

finishing position
If you blow a C-C roll the finishing position leaves your body in the correct position for a C-C on the opposite side and you just need to reposition your paddle.

A blown layback roll leaves your body against the back deck from where it is difficult to get in position unless you use a reverse sweep roll.

One of the main disadvantages of the layback is as pblanc said that you come up in a very poor position to face whatever is coming up next.

Personally I prefer a hybrid sweep roll finishing in an aggressive position with an active paddle blade in the water.

That’s Where I Disagree

– Last Updated: Feb-06-11 5:33 AM EST –

"One of the main disadvantages of the layback is as pblanc said that you come up in a very poor position to face whatever is coming up next."

For me, finishing a roll leaned back puts me in my most stable high brace position. This may be partly due to the muscle groups involved. I feel stronger doing a pull up as opposed to a push up (low brace).

C to C roll properly executed finishes
with the torso sitting nearly upright with a bit of arch in the lower back.

It is much quicker and easier to retuck to the front deck from this position than it is if one is laid out on the back deck. One also rolls up with eyes forward and the paddle in a very good position from which to take an immediate forward stroke or execute a high brace.

As was said, it the roll fails the paddle is in a good position to set up for a roll on the opposite side of the boat.

Yes, it is possible to get jammed on the back deck with a failed C to C roll if one doesn’t tuck quickly, and I have done it, but it is less likely.

pros and cons
There are advantages and disadvantages to all these rolls in real-world conditions, but isn’t the point for the purpose of this thread that an instructor should teach what works for each individual student? If someone learns their first roll in a pool, they shouldn’t just rush out and do dangerous rapids. Hopefully they’ll keep working on it in less demanding conditions, and use their first roll as a building block to develop proficiency, confidence, learn a variety of rolls - finding the techniques that work best for them in their boat, in their particular environment.

For me, a forward-finishing storm roll is the quickest and in many ways most stable roll - but I’d never try to teach this as a first roll. It would be way too frustrating, IMO.

I agree
Teaching someone a reliable roll that’s relatively easy to execute is far better than trying to force them to learn a more difficult technique that they may not be able to perform effectively. I’ve seen a lot of paddlers who struggled unnecessarily for months or even years trying to learn rolls like the C to C. Once frustration and doubt set in, it’s very difficult to break that cycle, for both the paddler and the instructor. OTOH, if you teach someone an easy roll that they can learn quickly and rely on, they can much more readily learn more difficult techniques, as they have confidence that they CAN roll.

IMO the “golden rule” of teaching or learning rolling is: “ANY roll is better than NO roll”

"ANY roll is better than NO roll"
Thank you Nate and Brian. Learning to roll in the first place can be challenging enough. Once one has a reliable roll of some kind, other rolls are much easier to learn.

A good instructor has a full quiver and adapts instruction to the student at hand. It took me a few instructors and quite some time to develop a reliable roll.

Once a paddler has a reliable roll it is beneficial and fun to learn other rolls. (I was told and did wait until 100 successful rolls - including a couple of combat rolls, before learning other rolls)