Rolling Fear Factor Report

For those of you who are interested in the fear factor that may challenge some who are learning to roll, search the archives for “fear factor” for my previous posts/adventures.

Before starting, please understand that my intent is to share this experience. I seek no advice, though advice is always welcome. I am confident about conquering this challenge of being able to roll without an instructor standing over me (I have actually rolled with instructor) and I am thoroughly enjoying the challenge.

As you may recall from last time, I had become comfortable with doing a half roll with paddle float with a sweep starting at a 90 degree angle with the boat, but was struggling with my monkey brain panicing over performing a full sweep. I decided to try a full paddle float roll to kind of force myself a bit. This didn’t work. I got disoriented, paniced, and went right to the rescue rope. So, I tried placing the paddle with float on the sweep side of the boat, capsized on the side opposite the paddle, grabbed the paddle and positioned my hands for an extended sweep. After a few tries, this became comfortable, so I slowly did some false half sweeps. The monkey brain wasn’t too happy with this, but the panic subsided when I reached that comfortable support at the 90 degree point. I used my monkey brain’s moment of silence to complete the sweep, and came up easily. I retried a few more times with the same good results. End of session. That was 2 weeks ago.

At last week’s session, my goal was to complete the paddle float roll, but one of the workers at my outfitter kindly offered to assist me with some work on my hip snap. He showed me that the 90 degree point gives you enough leverage to kick off the hip snap, then after the hip snap does most of the work, he does a high brace to get the boat from almost upright, to completely upright. This solved a mechanics problem I was having in pool class during the spring. He started me with a half roll using hands only, and then progressed to the paddle without the float. After a few tries, he let go, and I completed the half roll.

I thanked him and went back to continue my work by myself. I tried one full paddle float roll, with the same panic, a wet exit, and an opportunity to practice a paddle float rescue. End of session.

Next week, I hope to either get rid of the panic with the paddle float roll, or maybe, just do a lot of false sweeps without the float and possible go for broke with the entire unaided roll.


Maybe you’ll feel less panic if you can do this

That way you know you can breathe.

I really should try this
I think Celia suggested it last time. I’ll keep it in mind for next time.



Sweep & Hip Snap Timing
Just one comment Lou - while I favor the working from the 90 angle from the boat for the hip snap myself, and it is quite effective, it may be a shade different from the timing that you were first taught to use by the coaches who have you going on what I think is a sweep roll. I’ve encountered coaches who recommend starting the hip snap a little earlier than 90 degrees for a sweep roll.

If it is different from how you were started, you may want to balance its apparent effectiveness for you in getting the body rotation against the possibility that it is introducing a change early on in your learning process. It may be that what made it easier when you were working with the guy due less the angle of your body, and more to the fact that you were supported in stopping or slowing down at that point. That would give you a moment to just focus on initiating the snap.

What is causing the panic?
Can you define what you are afraid of? For example is it a fear of:

  • being underwater?
  • entrapment?
  • running out of air (blackout)?
  • hanging upside down?
  • inhaling water or water up your nose?
  • failing the roll?
  • something else?

    It seems to me that there is a lot going on during a roll, therefore it might be helpful to identify any specific fears and work directly on them independent of rolling. For example, if you fear being underwater, swimming with a mask (and snorkel/fins if you like) will provide more effective focused work on the actual fear than the limited time underwater during each attempted roll.

    Panic, as you know, will kill a roll and is potentially deadly in the water. Your mind should only be focused on the actions needed to complete the roll, ignoring everything else.


I was taught to snap at 90 degrees
I’ve been able to roll in class this way, and I believe it was a sweep roll.

Now, the guy who helped me out at my last session was doing something else. I know I was starting at 90 degrees, then I think I was going straight down with the blade and not sweeping it to the rear. His philosophy is that the 90 degree position gives enough leverage to start the hip snap. Then the paddle is quickly moving into a high brace. Is this a C to C?


I Think It’s A Combination
of entrapment, air supply, and failing to roll. I know that swimming around freely under water doesn’t cause me to panic and I think I’ve reduced entrapment factor. Here’s the pattern:

I’m fine when I first capsize. Then I attempt to do something, let’s say a paddle float roll. For a number of seconds I experience a disorientation as I attempt to setup for the roll. If the setup goes smoothly (it usually takes a few attempts to do this), things go fine. If not, my monkey brain wants to know that a sure fire rescue is possible. One of two things happen at this point, either I can overcome the urge to “get air fast” and try again, or total panic sets in and I bail out (mostly by using a rescue rope hanging in the water from the nearby dock).


Ah - got it
As to exactly what is supposed to happen to the paddle after the snap… without looking it up I am not sure of the specifics of each roll. Seems that in practice people who have started with either the C2C or the sweep end up with something that has elements of each.

I have had one coach tell me that in a full and proper C2C the paddle finishes well into the water and moving slightly forward (and the body is forward rather than laying back, but recovery to an active paddling position is the correct end for a sweep roll too). I’ve also seen someone teach the C2C with the paddle stroke ending towards the rear of the boat.

That seems to be a detail though. Once the paddle surface bites the water approximate in time to your hip snap the issue is preventing it from diving. You can counter that by taking a little more real estate across the surface, or going downward in an effective downward C, or probably other ways. If the hip snap timing you were just given matches what you were started out with and anything else you were shown is not confusing, ignore what I said.

how long
can you hold your breath? Timing it and being sure of your limit might help you stall panicking until you are at least half way there.

Have you practiced wet Re-Entries to boost confidence?

Good Idea
I know the beater watch that I wear is not readable under water, however, my nice Swiss Army might be. Visual confirmation that I’ve got plenty of air left could help keep the monkey brain under control.


Not Sure Yet
What I was shown last weekend didn’t seem like a sweep to me, and a sweep has been what I’ve been working on. All of my previous successful rolls were sweep rolls. Frankly, I’m not sure how I was able to finish with a high brace unless my paddle didn’t plunge. Anyhow, I think that once I have th panic conquered, the rest shouldn’t be too hard.

BTW, I was taught that my high brace should end with my paddle power face against the boat to stop the boat rotation that could cause a capsize on the other side.


Some suggestions…

– Last Updated: Aug-09-05 3:52 PM EST –

Some suggestions:

Anyone can learn to hold their breath comfortably for at least 20 to 30 seconds (and there is no real concern of blackout in under 1 minute starting from a rested state.) You should become comfortable with 20-30 second breath holds and realize this gives you plenty of time for at least two roll attempts and a wet exit. Then relax, you have plenty of air to try a roll or two. You can extend the time you have to attempt rolls by grabbing a quick breath during a failed roll or by sculling/dog paddling up to the surface.

Relaxation is key. Once the fear has eased, you can focus on your orientation in the water. If you start with a good tuck and hold the paddle against the boat, and hold that position tight, you will roll around to the correct position just below the surface on the recovery side. You don’t need to find this position you will arrive there automatically. Then you can initiate the motions of the roll.

If you are learning a sweep roll, first learning Greenland side sculling can be a huge help. Side sculling puts you in the correct position on the surface, gives you practice orienting the blade for sweeping, rotating the boat with your knee/hip, and recovering low to the back deck. Side sculling is a complete recovery technique on its own, you can learn to scull up into the side scull position and then recover from any position under water. Take a look at:
and while you're there
Note I don't agree with the angle shown for the paddle during the sweep, it is much too steep. You only want a few degrees up on the leading edge to create a climbing angle. Watch the video to see the correct angle.

These techniques can be done with a standard euro paddle in addition to the Greenland paddle shown.

Good luck.


I’ve enjoyed your series
of epic tales, but you need to go backwards before you will progress. Even if you do start rolling tomorrow, your current state of mind will not allow you to develop into the comfortable and relaxed paddler you need to be to have really accomplished something.

Please do go back and work on your wet exits. Flip over and hang at least 20-30 seconds before reaching for your sprayskirt loop. The entire process must be slow and relaxed. Until you get comfortable with this, you have accomplished very little.

Once you are truly comfortable hanging upside down in your kayak underwater, only then will you be able to do the repetetive conditioning that will lead to a reliable self-rescue.

Running out of air

– Last Updated: Aug-09-05 7:29 PM EST –

When I first started to practice rolls, I always "pumped up" before the first capsize. Before I dumped over, I would take anywhere from 5-10 SUPER breaths... very deep inhale and exhale with a HUGE final inhale before going over. This has the effect of raising your blood O2 level to a higher than normal level, and will give you a LOT more time before you feel you're running out of air.

Hyperventilation safety
You are NOT significantly raising your blood O2 level when you hyperventilate. You are blowing off CO2 and reducing your blood CO2 level. CO2 level is the major factor in your urge to breathe, so reducing it will increase your comfort level during apnea. You can hold your breath longer, but you have no more O2. Increase your comfort level far enough and you can hold your breath long enough to blackout. Many experts recommend no more than three or four breaths for relative safety when hyperventilating. Others recommend no hyperventilation at all. Also, be aware of accidental hyperventilation, if you are panting and breathing hard, you might blow off more CO2 than you realize.


Maybe lots of hip snaps
How are you at hip-snapping off the dock? Maybe try doing lots of them going over until you start the snap with your boat well over on top of you and your head is under water. Do fast ones and slow ones. This may help with the comfort factor and with the initial disorienting point from setup to start of the sweep.

Can you do eskimo rescues off a friend’s bow? Done right that’s just a roll without a paddle. If you can do that, then you might have the mental game of hanging upside down beat.

Hang in there!-)

rusty125 nailed it!
Forgive me for re-posting this bit about wet exits from last round, but it bears repeating:

Do it until it’s boring.

Do it until it’s automatic.

Do it until it’s less challenging than taking off your pants.

Do it until it’s as comforting as pulling up the covers on a cool night.

Do it until you find yourself using the time doing it to assess that last roll attempt, or think about the next, or what you’re going to have for dinner, or whatever. Just like you would while riding a bike or going for a walk. When you catch yourself daydreaming like this, while still performing the task at hand, you’re calm enough.

Most of all:

Exit SLOWLY! Calm and orderly, in full control of boat, blade, and body.

***Going slow and easy is what keeps the panic away and convinces your monkey brain things are OK.***

Slow and smooth movements also conserve oxygen and keep you from getting banged up and tired too quickly. Be equally calm and measured in your reentries, for the same reasons (plus it’s just easier to do them this way).

Some people are naturally calm like this. Some are after just a couple exits (helps if someone tells you to GO SLOW! from the beginning). Others take a lot of practice to get to where it’s a non-issue. Perfectly normal.

This is where you also need to practice delaying the exit. Build up how long you can wait inverted before exiting. You will be able to make good use of the “hang time” you develop once you get back to working on the roll. Hang time can also be used to tuck up into setup and back a few times (and lean forward, or back onto rear deck, etc.). This not only helps with getting a good feel for the setup position and your buoyancy in setup - it teaches you to go to setup from any position after you find yourself inverted. You can also play around with the paddle while down there, moving it out of and back into proper setup - stowing or abandoning it and getting your spare.

Start slow and simple (just watch the fish) and get more creative as you work up to having more time. The more you do this sort of slow underwater orientation play now, the less of an issue it will be when you move on.

Wet exits are not separate from rolling practice. They are not taking time away from rolling practice. Any and all playing around with your kayak directly helps your rolling. It reinforces that capsizes are not really accidents/emergencies in themselves, and that nothing is “wrong” if your kayak is not upright. Kayaks are made to be enjoyed at all angles.

Remember to practice getting the skirt off without the grab loop too. You want 100% calm confidence that you can do a leisurely and controlled exit every time - no matter what may be going on.

If you want to mix in some hip flick and sweep practice - I’d again suggest Jay Babina’s methods in his “1st Roll” video. This way you can work on these without wet exits, and without direct assistance, but still using relatively correct form and no props.

Wet Exited At Last Session
Granted, the wet exit came when I paniced from a flubbed roll attempt, but the wet exit itself was easy. In fact, as soon as I felt the give of the grab loop, all panic feelings went away. As yours and others’ questions prompt me to think about it, I’d say that the comfort level regarding the time that I have to do a wet exit after attempting rolls may be the primary issue.

Thanks for your comments…Lou

I only take one breath
Maybe 2 or three might be better…Lou

I start every session this way
I start with hipsnaps off of the dock with a rope hanging down so I can submerge completely before initiating the hipsnap. I do some slow and some fast. The next drill I do is to set on the side opposite the dock without a paddle and roll up to dockside using the rope as my bow replacement (most times I do not have another bow to work with).