Rolling and real sea kayakers

An interesting exchange got started as a tangent to another current message, so thought the topic deserved its own thread. A fellow paddler told me when I started sea kayaking that by the time you learn to roll you willl never need the skill. His point was the your bracing and balancing skills developed learning to roll will keep you upright. This comment obviously does not apply to white water.

I certainly found this statement true. I never have had occassion to use a roll other than in practice. I have been spilled in breaking surf making a beach landing, but a roll would not have been useful there!!

So… do you need a roll to be a real sea kayaker? Do you use a roll other than for fun or showint off you hard earned skills?

Read other threads

– Last Updated: Dec-02-08 11:11 AM EST –

"Never need the skill" is a long reach.

There have been accounts of people using a combat roll in sea kayaking in almost every thread that has come up along this vein, including accounts from people who certainly have a brace that is much better than most. As to your example of when a roll wouldn't work, I saw a fellow paddler pull off a couple or so rolls in the situation you name in a training last spring. That included a couple of times close in to shore where I couldn't even see how he got any water under his blade. But he did - this guy just refuses to get out of the boat.

Never having had to roll is usually a genetic anamoly or someone who hasn't gone thru a time of pushing and growing their skills in conditions. Of course someone will pipe up and say they are the exception, but in our little circle I haven't met one yet.

BTW - it'd be nice if we could get by the sense that rolling is "showing off". This comes up persistently, and it's a disservice to attach that kind of ego to an ability that long time rollers would place on a par with paddling straight in wind.

I’d rather have a roll than struggle for
a long time to re-enter. But I take your point. I’ve rolled many times in whitewater, but I’m kind of chicken about sea conditions, and doubt that I would be in circumstances where I would flip in the first place.

Does this mean
Does this mean that I have to learn to roll?


I was hoping to avoid it.

Seems kind of like practicing crashing when racing motorcycles.

Bill G.

Mt. Pleasant, SC

Less likely to need, but not unnecessary
I found that as my ability to stay upright got better, I paddled in tougher conditions as well. End result is that I still capsize a few times a year, just in far rougher conditions than before I learned to roll.

Capsizing is no big deal if you have the skills, and can remain calm enough in a “combat” situation to use them. It’s just another arrow in your quiver to have the skill, not some magical panacea.

Crashing a motorcycle …
… is the result of poor riding abilities (ask me how I know).

The analogous event in paddling is exiting or getting thrown out of your boat and having to do a re-entry or swim for shore. The best means to avoid that is simply to roll.

I would submit that rolling is equivalent to riding/paddling skill, not to crashing.


Never Capsized in Sea Kayak
My wife and I have never capsized seakayaking in about 7 years of paddling rivers lakes and ocean. We have been out in some pretty good chop where skirts were need to keep the water out of the cockpit. I used to have a good roll for whitewater but have never even tried to roll a seakayak. Another problem is that usually we don’t even wear skirts!!! It is just too hot most of the time. Maybe this next summer I will try to roll. By the way I have only seen one person capsize a sea kayak. My friend Bryan who is very akward capsize while paddling with me on his first trip. A roll would definately make me more confident in the ocean or crossing large stretches of lake. Not to mention when paddling where there are alligators!!! Very scarey thinking about a capsize when there are large gators present.

around gators really provides a new dimension to the concept of combat roll. Not sure most people paddle for the sake of combat. Observing the critters around us often is just enough.

Never Capsized.

– Last Updated: Dec-02-08 11:18 AM EST –

When I hear this I just have to laugh.

A few years ago I went on a Coastal paddle with about 16 kayakers, most in SINKS. There was about a 2' swell and it was glassy, as we rounded a point that is a famous surf break here, an enormous dark line formed on the horizon. I and two other boaters started heading outside as hard as we could go, when I flew over the top of the cresting rogue wave ... it was about double overhead broke on the outside reef, in a nice racing peel and mowed down the little flotilla of seakayaks ... and was gone ... there were about 13 swimmers in an absolute state of panic. We spent about a half hour helping people back in boats or back to shore .

If you aren't capsizing- you are not having any fun.

how else to count fish
I do agree that the journey to a solid roll removes most needs to roll (excepting surf and WW). But still the journey is (mostly) needed to reach that point. Then in the odd event of a rogue wave, a whale in your face, or just the need to cool off or count fish you are at least ready. Nothing helps you relax more than having a flip be just a blip in your day.

Depends on where you paddle
I’m sure there are plenty of people who have never capsized, and many who never will. And that’s fine. However, if you don’t even need a sprayskirt, we’re paddling in totally different realities on a lot of days. My deck is awash a lot on a mildly bumpy day, especially if there’s rocks or a tide rip to paddle in.

And add in the currents we have to contend with in many spots locally, and you have the reality sea kayakers paddle in here (Which doesn’t even compare to paddling in the Pacific Northwest or Eastern Canada, which are considerably more difficult – been there, had a ball). People without skirts just have to choose their days a little more carefully, and hope they don’t get caught in a squall, that’s all.

Heat is just another reason to roll – I’ve paddled in Florida in July, and I wore a skirt – rolled a lot to cool off, too. No biggie.

But like I said, capsizing is no big deal if you’re equipped for it with the right gear and skills for where you’re paddling.

Around here (North Alabama)
We have whitewater and flatwater. Never capsized in flatwater, even with power boater’s cross wakes. Have in whitewater, but it’s pretty easy to swim Class II stuff around here.

I’ve got a very good brace, but in about 6 years of kayaking I’ve never needed a roll. Never even had to do a re-entry. Would I recommend having a roll? Sure.

Ask yourself another question:
Do I want to limit myself to venues where I know I will not likely tip over for the sake of not learning a basic skill?


A quote about non-rollers from another

“Kayaking is all about freedom, but you aren’t free, you’re just a monkey in a little boat”

Need it to cool off

– Last Updated: Dec-02-08 12:48 PM EST –

If you dress for immersion on warm air/cold water days, rolling is the best way to keeep from overheating.

On a hot summer day I'll roll every few minutes to stay cool.

I've used my roll after capsizing when riding waves, playing catch, and other silliness.

As the other thread said, you can paddle a sea kayak in mild conditions without needing to roll. But if you're going to paddle the ocean(s) or Great Lakes in a wide range of conditions, some form of reliable self-rescue is necessary. Rolling is the best method for most SINKs.

As for the "practicing to crash" idea, I'd say it's more like practicing sliding your tires. Skidding stops being scary and starts being just another way to control the vehicle.

Many reasons to capsize
I’ve seen paddlers have to capsize to avoid a collision and then roll up when clear.

While it may be true that a roll is a failed brace and the better your bracing the less often you’ll have to roll, there are many situations wherin a roll is the best maneuver.

Besides there is little as refershing when paddling in hot weather than a quick roll :wink:

I think the “showing off” thing
is a part of why many sea kayakers think of rolling as such an elusive skill (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, 50% 80%, etc), they don’t use it regularly. I love playing around when I’m on flat water, and I’ve been accused of showing off on different occasions. I’ve explained myself many times that I have always practiced and have learned many of the skills for rough water while in flat water, and I try to stay sharp - and I enjoy it. It makes sense to most, but some seem to feel that I’m somehow being rude. I don’t say “look at me”, and I’ve learned to try to play around while following everyone if in a group, trying not to attract attention, but I’m out there to have fun too.

In fact, it was the first stroke I truly learned immediately after I bought my first kayak, so I was an absolute novice with a solid roll when I first started. I simply wanted to take advantage of the sea kayaking possibilities I had read about. It wasn’t something that seemed to me worth questioning.

I would swamp my kayak without a skirt the first turn I had to make. You can’t edge very far at all without one. Even small boat wakes can swamp a skirtless kayak. A 15 knot wind could land you in serious trouble.

Rolling in breaking surf is nice if you want to enjoy surfing. It’s also nice if you want to land upright in your kayak on the beach on the other side of the surf zone. Rolling in breaking surf is great if you want to paddle through shoals. It’s great coming in and out of shallow inlets. There have been many times that I’ve gotten clobbered trying to contend with, for example, breaking southeast swell intersecting with breaking northeast wind blown waves, breaking all the way across an inlet, and I’ve no intention of landing anywhere. Wet exits can leave you in a pretty compromised position for a few reasons.

If you’re not wearing a skirt, you’re barely touching on a sea kayak’s capabilities. If you haven’t figured a reliable roll, you may still be touching on most of a kayak’s capabilities, but not all of them. (A sea kayak’s capabilities, not the paddlers. I’m certain a paddler could limit and/or max out their own capabilities and still enjoy a sea kayak without these things.)

This summer I got trounced in Bear Inlet 3 or 4 times. I needed and had a roll. I was in a borrowed sea kayak once and went to turn. Doh! Zero secondary stability. I needed and had a roll.

A roll is useful in a sea kayak.

I’ll take my licks when I say a hand roll is a show-off party trick.

Having a good roll gives you the
Confidence to venture further and get out there on days when you may have gone home. Last time I paddled without a skirt I filled the cockpit on one of my turns. Small wave of about 6 inches was enough to slop over the dropped side. If your afraid to learn I would say get a good hood that covers your ears plus a nice mask and then get into a freshwater pool with an instructor you trust. Good fun when you don’t have water going up your nose etc. kayaking without knowing how to roll is to me like surfing if you can’t swim or driving a car without a seatbelt and airbags. Yes you may not crash but then…

What part of "sea"
Sea kayaks are fun, and versatile.

They don’t have to be used on the sea.

And where some live, their “sea” is like others ponds.

Nah, you don’t have to roll to use a sea kayak. Most people around my area stay in calm inland conditions. They use sea kayaks 'cuz they’re easy and efficient. That is to say, fun.

But few, if any, paddle the sea around here without knowing how to roll.

Check out the pic-

Just fun day on the sea. BTW, the pic is of a P-net poster, Flatpick