learning to roll?

-- Last Updated: Jul-02-14 8:30 PM EST --

I would appreciate advice on whether I should take rolling lessons. I kayak weekly on flat water (lakes and rivers) in Connecticut. I will kayak into January when the lake freezes.

I consider rolling a nice safety skill, but don't know if my kayaks would be considered "rollable" by non-experts. The kayaks in question are Necky Manitous 13 and 14 foot, and an older Perception Aquaterra NW 16'. All three are about 24" wide.

I use a drysuit in winter for safety, but figure a quick roll in winter is warmer than a wet exit and re-entry. All of that said, in four years of paddling this kind of water, I have yet to have an unintentional capsize. (still, its a safety skill).

Do you think I could learn to roll one of these kayaks if I went to a pool clinic?

As long as you have a decent-fitting sprayskirt there is no reason I know of that you couldn’t learn to roll any of those boats.

Actually, so-called sea kayaks, being longer and narrower than whitewater kayaks, are sometimes easier to roll than the latter. The one caveat is that sea kayaks often lack tight outfitting. If you are loose in the boat your body motion during the roll will not be translated to the boat well.

That said, I once rented a 16’ Aquaterra Chinook over on the Jersey Shore to paddle around for the day. This was a boat I had never been in before and certainly had never rolled. The outfitter asked me if I could demonstrate any method of self-rescue before I took it out so I rolled it at the dock and had no difficulty doing so. It had nothing except the stock outfitting.

Yes for sure
I can roll my tsunami 140 with out much more effort than my much narrower sea kayak. The tsunami is also 24 inches wide. The first kayak I took a class and rolled was a white water but it was a wide one at least 24 inches wide. Go for it.

What may be easier
You may find that a rolling clinic wants to put you into WW boats at their place anyway, because of pool size and/or cleanliness considerations. In some cases the people who run the clinics arrange to leave boats at the location and use primarily those boats, mostly as an easy way to assure that the boats being used are super-clean coming in. Indoor pool filters can be overwhelmed by what seems to be very minor debris from under the seat of a kayak that has been outside.

It also means that, on a cold winter night, you are not struggling with straps or knots. Somewhere around 10 degrees F that gets really not fun.

IMO trying to learn to roll is always helpful. The worst that happens is that you end up with a better brace. If you are a quite small person - and somehow I think you may be - the boats you describe could have too loose a fit to make learning a roll easy. Yes they certainly can be rolled by you once you have learned how. But a loose fit or high decks can make the learning part much harder. But my recall may be incorrect.

24" is very narrow for a whitewater kayak. Some of the very early, long plastic kayaks such as the Perception Dancer and Perception Mirage were 24" wide.

A very few plastic kayaks have been narrower. The Perception Corsica S and Super Sport and the Dagger Response come to mind.

If you exclude glass K-1 slalom racing kayaks (which have a minimum width requirement of 23.62") very few modern whitewater boats are as narrow as 24". Even the Liquid Logic Stinger is 24.25" wide.

thanks for all the feedback
it sounds like my kayaks should be easy compared to WW boats. I did neglect to cover my size. I am an average size male with a large build (5’9", 190 lbs). I am slender so I do adjust the outfitting for good contact with sides of kayak.

I will contact Marshall at the River Connection (I know he is a regular here) about a rolling clinic.

The CT AMC whitewater club . . .
. . . has rolling sessions on Friday evenings during January and February in two locations, Middletown and Bridgeport. $15 for AMC members, $20 for others.

Contact Mark Schappert for info.


No reason not to learn to roll. If one could roll a thigh-machined tandem open canoe, as was customary from the 1940’s to the 1980’s, one can certainly roll any thigh-machined kayak, skirted or not.

Winter pool time is nice
Learning to roll will make you feel like a more complete paddler, and learning a reentry-and-roll is a worthwhile open-water safety skill. Those boats should be fine. Pool time in the winter is also a good way to meet new people.

Safe and Fun
Getting a reliable roll doesn’t come quickly for most of us. Be patient. If you stick with it, not only are you much safer and more comfortable on the water; you’ll find that it’s a lot of fun.

Go for it!
Take a lesson, or better, several lessons. It’s a hundred times easier learning from someone else in the water with you than it is learning on your own. There’s a good chance you’ll learn on your first lesson. Even if it’s a hit or miss accomplishment, you’ll have the knowledge of how it’s supposed to work, so you can take that to the lake and practice on your own. It’s a great skill to have (and a lot of fun to work on)!

be forewarned though

– Last Updated: Nov-17-13 10:24 AM EST –

Learning a roll will likely inspire you to master it outdoors in real conditions - which will cause you to expand your horizons and paddle in conditions you may not have before. You might even want another boat.

Have fun!

Glad this came up
I had the same question. I am planning on taking private rolling instruction next spring, but my best boat is a 26" wide Tsunami. I have replaced the seatback with a backband and added hip pads for a tighter fit, but wasn’t sure how the hull dimensions would affect the learning curve.

thanks for the info Glenn
It was a pleasure to paddle the Great Swamp with you this Spring. The water levels in the swamp are ridiculously low now, so I am paddling Squantz Pond as my primary workout.


don’t worry about the boat
Any instructor should put you in a boat that is well suited to your size, and will be good for learning to roll.

As others mentioned, it’s definitely doable. Often it’s easier to learn in smaller WW kayaks and then transfer it to the larger boat once it feels solid. After a few months rolling, I was actually able to roll a Torrent – a 31 in wide SOT!!