New Term

I was in at my local outfitter this past weekend checking out a few things Ill need as the temps start to drop.

I started talking with one of the instructors there about my rolls. I have a fairly stable roll now when I plan a roll. I do not have a roll following an unplanned capsize, (yep its happened three times so far, twice in the surf, and once just because). She, the instructor, smiled and said there was a major differance between a roll and a “combat roll”.

I guess I dont really have a roll yet as I need and want a combat roll.

happy paddling,


That takes time
Sometimes it is as simple as remembering that you have the option of a roll on your way down, so you remember to stay in the boat. Sometimes it is that someone gets a lot of pain from water up their nose, is accustomed to practicing rolls with nose plugs etc and so they aren’t ready for it when that water goes up your sinuses in the real thing.

I have both of those issues - as a result I remember to roll one out of two times when I capsize even in practice, where I am stretching my balance. My husband doesn’t have the water/sinus issue, and at least goes for a roll most times he loses a brace in practice.

Haven’t gone over in bad stuff (yet), so I don’t know if that’d increase or decrease my percentage. Started practicing bearing it once a session without the nose plugs this summer though, just to teach myself that the pain is the only issue (not taking it in).

Someone posted a number of rolls at which you can expect that you may have a combat roll - it was a bunch. And others have said that you just have to get a little mad at some point and refuse to be taken out of the boat. I am hoping that the latter works. I failed to go for a roll after blowing a brace stroke at a training session this last Saturday, and I was over on my on side no less, which embarrased the heck out of me.

Practicing a combat roll

– Last Updated: Sep-06-05 8:55 AM EST –

Though it's a bit of an oxymoron, you can actually practice the combat roll fairly effectively. The general idea is to roll a lot from a variety of non-setup positions.

So, start simple -- hold your paddle across your boat and capsize. See what it takes to get it into position and roll. Then add more and more weird sitautions and startup scanarios. I've heard it said that the ultimate is to hold the paddle striaght up over your head and capsize. I also found it good practice to toss the paddle up in the air and catch it just as I enter the water.

Another trick, if you have a pool roll on both sides, is to go for different sides, ignoring or even contravening the "natural" side for your underwater position. Or, set up under water on one side, then "change your mind" and move to the other side. You can probably come up with even more variations.

The thing that finally got me a decent combat pool roll (another oxymoron, but a lot closer to a real one) was practicing wetback sculling. No, sculling didn't help the roll, but failing did. Every sculling failure -- and there were quite a few -- was an opportunity for a somewhat unexpected, definitely not set-up roll. Over several pool sessions, I got in dozens of these somewhat willy nilly rolls, and it really helped improve my skills and confidence in rolling.

So yes, the answer for a combat roll is definitely practice, practice, practice, in a pool or, while the water's still warm, a lake or calm salt water venue. But make the practice as much like a combat situation as you can. Then, of course, go out in surf and current and practice some more.


Give Up “Set-Up” Positions
go over any which way, take your time to set up underwater and then roll. Now, go over, just holding your paddle one handed, find the position under water, set up and roll. Now, before doing the above, paddle fast and just lean over and capsize. Movement of the water adds on a different feel and sense. Wait til you feel pressure die and proceed with the above.

Begin to strip of the face mask if you used that. Try to strip away the noseplug. What you want to do is to develop calmness while under and to REALLY know you have alot of time.

There is no set time for when one acquires a “combat roll.” It’s a matter of practice and developing the calm and preservering mindset.

I highly recomend using the surf zone for combat roll practice (it IS combat rolling when you go over but consequences are not high if your blow it with the right conditions). You can pick the level of difficulty by the size and interval of the waves. Many a pool rollers have had their roll challenged in surf. Meet the challenge and your roll becomes a combat roll.


combat training
A big pool at the end of a rapid is another good place to work on a combat roll. Paddle up the pool to the hole/jet/wave at the top, try to play, get flipped, and then roll up. If you pick the right spot you’ll be rolling in calm water, but have had the fun of a vigorous immersion.

Easy ww will do too. Depends on which is more accessible.

By the time I started ww, I have gotten a dependable roll from surf. Made ww easier.

BTW, a combat roll doesn’t guarantee you can always stay in the boat… Get literally sucked out of the boat in either venue is real.

Swimming sucks but it happens.


weaning from nose plugs
Nose plugs serve a very useful purpose. Ignore any advice that says “just get used to it”. However, you can teach yourself to avoid letting the water get up into your sinuses. In diving we call it blowing tiny bubbles. Exhale gently and gradually through your nose the whole time you are upside down. Be sure it is gradual and through your nose, not your mouth. You can start just putting your face in the water and develop the control you need. It doesn’t take long.

That’s Still "Weaning…"
I see plenty of white water paddlers go through entire runs with noseplugs on. If it works for them, fine (shrug).

Never see seakayakers use nose plugs while paddling. One of the things that panics folks (used to noseplugs in practice) is getting the water into the sinuses. Saltwater is easier to take than freshwater though.

Blowing out bubbles minimizes/eliminates water up the sinuses. I think the trade-off is that you have less follow up attempts if you blow a roll. For me, it’s not worth it, especially when I am surfing. It’s not uncommon to have to attempt more than one roll before getting back up, or to come and get dumped right back over before catching another breath.


Lots Of Good Advice
and it goes without debate that I need more practice.

I am lucky in that I am very comfortable underwater. Ive been a diver/boater/sailer for longer than Id like to admit. I dont have any issues with comfort, or sight, or water in the sinus’s when capsized, so that helps make things easier for me.

No WW around here and Ive not tried it, and dont have the boat for it. I have begun to play in the surf a bit, but only on calm days. Most of my practice to date has been in a small Sound not far from an inlet near home. I try and time my practice for slack tide times and that seems to work well for me.

More practice, more,…



Blowing rolls
Sing writes:

“I think the trade-off is that you have less follow up attempts if you blow a roll.”

Actually if you combine blowing bubbles with a stronger exhale at the point where you want maximum energy in your roll you will automatically inhale when your mouth and nose are out of the water. This can actually give you more roll attempts. See the article I posted a couple of times on “orca breathing”.

OKay. :slight_smile:

Combat Roll

– Last Updated: Sep-06-05 3:14 PM EST –

If you have a positive roll in the pool you can have a good combat roll. It takes confidence and patience. You have to have confidence that it will work in all conditions, and you have to have the patience to wait and set up as required when you find yourself upside down.
One way to gain confidence is to work on the rolls in calm water, both on-side and off-side, until you can roll up on either side and not notice a difference. After reaching this point go out and try rolling in small waves, and work your way up to more challenging conditions.
From personal experience I know that this will work. I started kayaking last year, and one of the first things I did was to work on developing a roll. I had an on-side after a couple of practices, and went to work on the off-side. After a couple of more practice sessions the off-side became very comfortable.
Near the end of august I decided to go out alone one day, and when I arrived at the put in the waves were quite a bit higher than predicted. I decided to give it a shot; I had an on shore wind and sandy beach so the danger was minimal. I went a little way off shore and decided to see how the rolls worked. I flipped upside down and rode the waves for a couple of seconds upside down to get a feel for the situation. I then rolled back up, just like in calm water. I then rolled on the other side and same result. I did a few more rolls, on-side and off-side, sweeps and c-c's. Since then I have never looked back, I have had to roll in waves, surf, and rocks, and the only time I missed was when the paddle was jammed in the rocks and I couldn't get it out.
The point of all this blather is that rolling in 'conditions' isn't that difficult. It takes practice and confidence, and it is a progression from neophyte to confident roller...and eventually you will reach the point where you will wonder why you thought it was so hard...
One more point, we need to understand is that no roll is infallible, so don't forget to practice the various re-entry strategies as well, nobody has a 'perfect' roll.

Combat roll?
And I thought a combat roll was something special. I was silly enough to assume that the main purpose of learning to roll was to recover from an inadvertant capsize. To steal a phrase from carrier pilots, “Every roll is a combat roll”.

Here’s a link from Eric Jackson

EJ’s video on rolling and bracing was the best thing for me for improving my ability to roll in real conditions, which for me is getting worked in the surfzone.

I would see the progression from being able to roll, to having a usable combat roll, to having a “bomb-proof” roll. I’m still not at the bomb-proof stage yet, but working on it. I wonder from some of the comments of people who think they know how to roll if they have ever tested it in combat conditions.

Definately a ‘head’ problem
I remember my first europaddle roll was actually a combat roll in the ocean. I’d never really been successful rolling with euro even in calm water (I’d done it, but not very comfortably). The greenland paddle was (and is) easier.

However, capsizing at the end of a pretty darned good surf had me in a quandry: I hadn’t rolled very much in the ocean, and only with a greenland paddle - I started to go for the grab loop. With all that noise going on, it’s easy to start to panic, even mildly. But I took a second (it was probably a lot less!) to calm myself and decided to roll. Gently put the paddle into the right spot (it’s tough to move a paddle underwater very quickly) and rolled up. It was pretty wild.

As Sing said, the surf zone is a great place to practice ‘combat rolls’. It’s fun, too. Oh, and a helmet is a must, though.

even then, we need finger quotes…
around the term “bombproof.” I have a “bombproof” roll but I have also swam this year, as well as last year, and probably again sometime in the future. First time was a wicked strainer, second time was a sticky hole (rolled 5 times before realizing it wasn’t planning on letting me go and I didn’t have the skills to escape it), and another time was with my sea kayak while balance bracing (I got so relaxed that I fell asleep and my paddle drifted away. I didn’t have my hand roll dialed in with the sea kayak at that point in time.)

I know that the odds of me swimming while kayak is very, very slim and that I have a confident combat roll, but I’m always open to the possibility that the unexpected may force me to swim someday. It also depends on your situation. If you truly are in a “roll or die” situation, then you really don’t have a choice but most of us aren’t typically in those scenarios.