roll troubleshooting

-- Last Updated: Mar-11-14 12:53 AM EST --

My friend (no, it's not me!) is struggling with her roll. She managed to finally get a Pawlata type extended sweep roll a few months back, but can only do it in her WW playboat. She can't seem to reliably execute it in a sea kayak.

What I see as the problem is that she has a very short upper torso, short arms, and not much flexibility for torso rotation or lateral torso flexion (like the C-position).

She often ends up with a diving blade, but I often think this is not the blade angle, but rather that her opposite hand and blade are unable to rise up over the hull while she sweeps out. Not sure why the boat matters for this.

Any suggestions? I am thinking of trying to teach her a Standard Greenland Roll ala Helen Wilson since I've used her instruction successfully myself. Might as well change gears and try something else I think.

Anyone else with a story like this? What would be the best roll type for a body like this?


About rolls…

– Last Updated: Mar-11-14 3:52 AM EST –

My wife also has a problem with her blade diving during sweep rolls.
In her case, the blade dives because she pushes out away from her body with her top hand during the roll.
We have discussed the problem several times, but she seems to be unable to correct it inside her own mind. She finds the sweep roll to just be too confusing. After a while we decided to try a C-to-C roll instead. Now, she can nail that one almost every time.
Personally, I think the sweep roll is easier, but she much prefers the C-to-C. I have tried teaching her some Greenland-style rolls, but she has no interest in them.
I would suggest trying a couple different rolls and seeing if one is easier for your friend. Maybe a forward finishing roll, like a storm roll, would be easier for her due to her lack of flexibility, if she has a strong leg drive/hip snap.

As for the difference in why she can roll a WW kayak but not a sea kayak, that might be psychological. The sea kayak looks big and heavy and I think that affects some people's confidence.

Roll Type?
For me it was the roll tool. When I switched to a Greenland paddle my roll improved quickly.

Two ideas
I bet that if you looked at it is slow mo - can you film her roll? - you would see that the core issue is not her paddle diving but her head coming up too soon. The diving paddle is a result of her tensing up her hold on the paddle as she starts to bring the head up too soon.

Possible she is running out of rotation too soon in the sea kayak. One thing that may be diff in the boats is not the size but the hull shape - my flat bottom WW boat hits a points where it’ll just flop over, whereas one of my more rounded hull sea kayaks still needs me to keep rotating to finish. (The other sea kayak is an Explorer LV and the only thing easier in the world than that boat is a Romany.)

If that is the case, can she simply start the roll closer to the surface? That is, get her torso rotated and up near the surface as much as possible before she even starts the sweep. That would literally give her less distance to cover to get up,

Also, how is her fit in the sea kayak and how deep is it? One thing I have noticed is that people with strong WW backgrounds will often expect and tolerate an unnecessarily poor and barge-like fit in a sea kayak.

a few ideas
Have her continue with extended paddle roll.

Assuming you’re in a pool: stand in the water with your hands cupped under water. Have her wear a mask and sweep and put the paddle blade in your hands. Then she can roll up with the blade in your hands.

Eventually she will get to do it easily and less and less dependent on your hands.

I assume she is doing the lay back position - best she can. Make sure she’s not lugging her body and head up together. Even a slight back bend with the head can make a big difference. Make sure her thighs are not slipping out of position. You can back the foot pegs a notch to tighten her up in the boat. Good luck.

The reason the WW boat rolled easier is because many old style ones just roll easier. No weight, and shaped like a tank.

A few other suggestions
Goggles - give here a pair so that she can see the paddle and not be as confused (or anxious) while upside down

Paddle float - on end of paddle so that she can practice the hip snap with her head back and her butt firmly in the seat, all without getting upside down

Slow - everyone rushes their roll, but it isn’t necessary. I’ve had observers fail repeatedly until I demo I demo a slow roll - seeing that there is no rush, that you can take time to set up and execute correctly, is a huge confidence builder

Scull - I’ve seen many nearly failed rolls saved by a scull as many people lose leverage as the blade comes closer to the boat (in all sweep style rolls), but a scull in the opposite direction as the blade passes 90 degrees can save the roll

Snorkel - (or other air source adapted for rolls) Again, extending the safe amount of time someone can calmly stay upside down in the water can be a great way to practice. Spare Air, SNUBA, or a snorkel can do what lots of practice cannot - completely eliminate the anxiety of being upside down - so that the paddler can focus on technique without having to hold their breath

Just a few ideas. I strongly feel that the issue has nothing to do with the hull design and a lot to do with inflexible soft tissue between the ears. Fear makes us dumb, ineffective, and unable to learn. Often, eliminating the anxiety helps the learning process.


Diving Blade
As stated above, a common cause of a diving blade is pushing up with the “off” hand. Have her envision trapping an imaginary marble in the offside armpit. That, plus head coming up last and you can hardly miss with a Pawlata it’s such a powerful roll.


– Last Updated: Mar-11-14 12:50 PM EST –

A diving blade, as Ceila suggested, can be a sign that the head is trying to come up. The fact is that the outer arm is pulling down and likely the other one pushing up too soon and/or too much. This and the fact she does C2C tells me she is trying to muscle the roll.

Extended paddle rolls, while often the first type of roll mastered by beginners, I feel allow those folks to cheat and rely on the extended lever of the paddle rather than get the body motion right first.

I did not get the body motion right until I learned to do a static brace, followed by a gentle slide over the rear deck to finish the roll.

She gets it in a ww boat because the boat's stern probably sinks down, swings sideways, and helps get under her torso. A long sea kayak won't do that - she has to move her torso over it, which requires more coordination. And a low rear deck and a seat away from the rear of the cockpit. If her kayak is restricting her layback flat on the deck, change the boat or teach a roll with less lay back.

The roll that got me rolling reliably was the "screw" or twist roll. It is similar to a sweep roll but emphasizes the body motion and barely puts any pressure on the paddle. It also requires much less of a layback, so it works well with taller decked boats. And, unlike a C2C, is a slower/smoother motion and gentler type of roll.

Working towards a hand roll should be on everyone's list: with the right boat, a hand roll is easy, once mastered. And the value is in the learning process - you can't cheat like you can with an extended paddle, so you quickly discover the right body dynamics (or not and you fail to roll). Now, if I could also learn to do forward finishing rolls as effortlessly, I'd be golden ;)

I was taught roll and rise as separate
It is a little bit of a mental thing and largely a change in how you look at it, but the instructor who taught me was big on rolling the boat back under you with your hips and then using the paddle to rise. The reality is it needs to be fluid between those but it helped me to think about it that way. I hip snap just as I am about to sweep or brace, but not at exactly the same time.

“The Kayak Roll” troubleshooting section
Mine is on VHS but you can probably get it on DVD. Their troubleshooting section no doubt includes at least one defect in her technique, possibly several that must be teased out and eliminated.

WW or sea kayak should not matter as long as the fit is reasonably good. Neither should the paddle style (i.e., GP or Euro).

“The Kayak Roll” is easily found on dvd, say, on amazon. My wife got it for me for my birthday. Great video.

Not disputing psychological effect
There is some truth that ww paddlers may try to muscle what they perceive to be a “much bigger” boat. But, I’ve also seen that the difference can be in the paddle, not the kayak. WW paddlers are used to a short paddle and usually start their hip snap almost immediately. A longer touring paddle takes a half beat more to get into a supporting position and throws their timing off. When helping them make the transition, I start them with the ww paddle to instill confidence and then switch to a long paddle, advising they alter their timing.

Video the roll
Most digital cameras can do video. I thinks its a great teaching tool. The person can then see what there doing afterwards and compare it to a good roll.

What Jay Said

– Last Updated: Mar-15-14 6:09 AM EST –

A helper guiding the paddle is probably going to be the fix, and the helper may need to help set the offside hand up above the hull.

My neighbor does the ww thing and occasionally loses his roll. He asks me to video him so he can see what he's doing wrong. He looks at the video and says "I'm lifting my head." I watch him fail and I'm sure he's not sweeping his paddle and tell him so. Instead of "set up / sweep / snap up" he does "set up / try to snap up / fail".

He always gets his roll back, but in a year or two he needs to do the refresher thing again.

guiding hands
Interestingly, I have tried setting her offside hand above the hull. And having her extend her elbows to extend her reach up to the hull. And guiding the sweeping blade with my hand to keep it from diving. Not sure what else to do, but video seems right; it worked for me.

Standard greenland roll is my next strategy, next pool session is in 3 weeks.

the mind works in mysterious ways with rolling…tell her to ignore the working blade…instead concentrate on scraping the bottom of her boat with the other blade.

sometimes changing the focus to the other blade is all it takes. doing the think about scraping the bottom also makes them wrap around the hull and get the paddle and their body inadvertently in the correct position without even thinking about it. {seems to work with a non-extended feathered Euro blade and sometimes it’s the ticket:}}

Best Wishes


When I was learning to roll I didn’t know squat about Greenland paddles or rolls. All I knew was that my roll was unreliable. I bought the Eric Jackson Rolling and Bracing DVD and he teaches “keep your head BACK, not down”. My roll got much better keeping my head back. The standard Greenland roll is a ‘head back’ roll. I think you’re onto something, gobsmacked!

The Greenland Thang
I’m also pretty short torso-ed and inflexible. Notice in this video that on a couple of the rolls he finishes by pushing the paddle forward. FOR ME that forward push provides so much purchase and lift that I can come up bolt upright if I want. Keep your head down / don’t keep your head down; it don’t matter!

Also called
a scull (stroke). This is a powerful move and can save many a nearly complete roll. If you haven’t reached vertical at the end of this, you can scull back and forth and lay on the rear deck to save most failed rolls. You can’t save a roll that hasn’t at least moved the boat perpendicular to the surface of the water, but from a 90 degree angle and below, you can save most.