Rolling Lesson Advice?

-- Last Updated: Jul-16-14 4:09 PM EST --

UPDATE: I did it! The goggles made ALLLLL the difference! By the end of the lesson I was able to roll at least 10 times without the instructor. At one point I didn't believe he was not helping me so he climbed up on the dock to prove it! Now I'll just need to keep practicing and get rid of the goggles, but thanks for all the encouragement! Now off to rest because I'm beat!

******* Original Post:
Today I had my first rolling lesson here in San Diego with Aqua Adventures. According to my instructor, I'm "89% there" lol. Basically I have it down with him lightly holding me both half submerged and fully submerged. Things were going really well, but when we switched to the "okay you're on your own" roll and I was completely upside down without a "helping hand", it kind of fell apart. I think instead of doing a good paddle sweep I dug my paddle down way too deep and did a full sweep but went nowhere, and then I didn't know how to reset and when you're underwater you can't just shout out to your teacher for pointers, so after a bit of miserable flailing, I had to bail :(

We went back a step to him lightly holding me and I got back on track but I left feeling kind of discouraged even though he said it went well. I'll be going back for another lesson next week to try to get it down by myself. He suggested maybe bringing goggles (this is in the dirty saltwater bay, not a clean pool, so I didn't want to open my eyes). He thought maybe me seeing my paddle stroke underwater would help. My hang up seems to be digging the paddle too deep instead of sweeping at the surface.

Anyone else with a good roll out there have any helpful pointers? Thanks!

2 steps forward, 1 step back
Learning to roll is full of times where you take 2 steps forward, and then 1 step back. You stepped back. Next lesson you’ll make the next 2 steps forward. Don’t sweat it.

Bring the goggles. And before the next lesson, if you have a chance, flip yourself over a few times and get used to being upside down. Maybe use someone’s bow to recover, to save from having to swim.

My first roll
I had taken 2 rolling classes probably about 6 months apart and had help from a friend with an ok roll in between. However, I still just could not get it right. When he and I got back from the symposium where I had the 2nd class we decided to go out get him some practice and me some instruction.

After about 30 min of him trying to figure out what was wrong we just decided to stop practicing for the day. I decided that I would practice my paddle float rescue so I went out in a little deeper water. I decided I would do a failed roll attempt then wet exit and then do the paddle float rescue.

So over I go. Set up to roll with no intention of really coming up. Sweep out, hip snap, lay-back then pull the spray skirt. There was only one problem. When I finished the lay-back part I was completely right side up. I had just done my first roll. Well I really needed to practice my self rescue so I figured I would just do it again. Well I failed again. Or maybe I should say succeeded again because I completed my 2nd roll. After a 3rd roll I gave up the idea of practicing self-rescue and did several more rolls.

I am not sure of the exact meaning of this experience. But maybe relaxing and not worrying so much about actually coming up allowed me to make that first roll. Once I got up I was more relaxed and everything seemed to fall into place. I still had my ups and downs with rolling after that, but it was pretty amazing everything just seemed to come together out of nowhere when I made those first few rolls (all in a row).

Good luck with getting your roll down (or should it be getting your roll up).


Thanks for the encouragement :slight_smile: I’m extremely comfortable in the water (I mentioned in a previous thread that I’m a swimmer and SCUBA diver as well as former beach lifeguard) but it’s eye-opening how uncomfortable the feeling of being “trapped” inside a vessel upside-down underwater can be! It was only an hour lesson and we crammed a lot in so I’m thinking that now that the basics have been covered, I’ll be able to slow down and be more calm/deliberate next week.

Another funny rolling class story
At my 2nd rolling class (at the Great Lakes Sea Kayaking Symposium) we had a humorous incident. There were about 5 students and with each one of us the first thing he had us do was turn over in the kayak and bring our hands out of the water along the side of the kayak. When we had been under as long as we could stay comfortably we banged the sides of the kayak and the instructor would take our hand and turn us right side up.

The first 4 students lasted about 30 to 60 seconds (although I would swear I was down for a couple of minutes). The final student got his turn and dutifully turned over. One minute goes by, then 1.5 min, then 2 min, then 2.5 and suddenly the instructor runs over and grabs the students hand and pulls him upright. The instructor was questioning him on his condition and the student was questioning the instructor on why he pulled him up. Turns out he was a UDT instructor (Navy Seals) and routinely spends 3+ minutes underwater. He was just getting warmed up.

I talked to him later and he told me about another of his symposium experiences. Seems he went out into Lake Superior with a group and flipped. Everyone kept telling him just hold onto the kayak, we will get you back in, don’t worry. He said his only thoughts were to get rid of that stupid kayak and swim to shore since it was only a couple of miles. Different skill sets mean different solutions I guess.


Ha! Love that Navy guy story. I like that tactic (just sit upside down and get used to it). Might ask my guy if I can just do that at the top of the next lesson to get a feel for it.

listen to the force luke

– Last Updated: Jul-10-14 8:35 AM EST –

I agree with peter. If your instructor says you're almost there, you're almost there.

The hanging upside down in water helped me a bit. So did doing wet exits over and over but in a very calm and deliberate manner.

One thing that helped me was to watch my paddle blade during the sweep, which did a few things for me:

1. It made me keep my head down

2. It made me sweep correctly and keep my paddle at the surface

3. It preoccupied me

Another thing that helped a bit was doing a reentry and roll.

Once you get it then you'll take a step back getting your offside roll. Probably another step back when you try it in conditions. But every time you attain it in a new set of conditions it'll feel more like 5 steps forward.

Good luck!

Slow down
is the best advice I can give. You have similar water skills to my own, so it is likely that you can relax, orientate yourself, and focus before attempting the roll. Visual cues make this easier when learning, so wear goggles as well. Make it more of a breath holding exercise than a roll in your mind.

The paddle does not need to be moved quickly. You will have LOTS of leverage even with a slow sweep, so make sure the face of the paddle is at the surface (this is where the goggles come in) and during the sweep, keep that blade on the surface.

Once you solve the diving paddle, you will probably get up very easily, but do it right - lay back and do the hip snap and you will, I believe, be up easily.

Remember, the Hitchiker’s Guide to Paddling has the words, “Don’t Panic” on the cover for a reason :).


You need to stop thinking you are “TRAPPED” inside …rolling is at least 95% psychological. This is what is so important about doing repeated wet exits until your brain absolutely knows beyond any shadow of a doubt …that YOU ARE NOT TRAPPED.

Your Kayak is the largest PFD that you have on you.

it’s a floaty thing…learn to stay in it, because it makes you feel safe , not trapped

Best Wishes


I didn’t get my first roll until lesson #3 and that’s not uncommon. If you decide to use the goggles ditch them as soon as you get a roll. I know a guy who became dependent on the damn things. If you can’t roll after your fourth lesson try goggles. What helped me:

Start with a layback roll. Come up leaned way back and looking toward the sky.

Bring the boat up with your thigh or knee. That ‘hip snap’ instruction has some value for a C to C roll but not a layback.

Aqua Adventures
Sounds like you’re on your way. Your problems are small & not uncommon, so don’t stress. Jen and her staff will get you there. If you practice over in the sheltered area by the lifeguard HQ, maybe I’ll bump into you sometime.

If you aren’t using a whitewater boat, consider using a Greenland paddle (if you aren’t already). I think it’s the best tool for rolling.

Congratulations and welcome
to the 99 percent. Or something like that.

The diving blade leading to lifting head/muscling up phenomenon is, in my instructing experience, the primary trouble spot for beginning rollers. I agree that there’s no reason to be concerned so long as you are reasonably comfortable underwater and don’t have any physically limiting conditions.

One exercise that you can do on your own to help develop the feel of a good paddle sweep is to practice the sculling brace (also known as side sculling or sculling for support). Rather than try to explain it in text, here’s a video link that I think does a reasonably good job of demonstrating it in practice:

I came out of my first rolling class…
…knowing one thing with absolute certainty: I had a bombproof wet-exit.

Hang in - soon you will be rolling up 89% of the time. For most capable rollers who get dumped in conditions, that is about as good as it gets.

Couple of ideas
1. See if you can take a class with Jenn instead. You should not leave a rolling class feeling frustrated. You might want to talk with her.

2. The sweep roll works OK for some folks but there are easier rolls to learn. I could do it with an instructor watching but too complicated in the real world when just learning. Check out Eric Jackson’s Rolling and Bracing video. Learning to brace up from a capsize and extending the brace into layback roll, and learning his method helped me a lot.

3. If you want someone to spot you while you practice I paddle out of LS shores or the Marine room a couple of mornings a week. If the waves are small the Marine room is a great practice. I would suggest wearing nose plugs while learning. Once you get the basic idea it’s best to practice in real water a lot.

EJ’s video helped me a lot. His ‘head back’ instead of ‘head down’ technique worked great. Teaching ‘this is a brace… and a roll is a brace’ made it so simple.

All that ‘hip snap’ lingo set me back, though.

more of the same
I think that what I would say has already been said. The biggest thing that helped me was moving from CT to GA. Cold water made me rush my rolls or avoid roll practice altogether. The 2nd biggest thing was some nose plugs. This doesn’t seem to be an issue for you though. I guess I would just reinforce comments to slow down, know that you can hold your breath for a few roll attempts, be deliberative, visualize what you are wanting to do with the paddle as you try to do it. I also agree that a sculling brace or a balance brace attempt that you add a bit of sculling to in order not to go all the way under is really helpful. It’s sort of like a static roll, or at least part of it and once you get that in your muscle memory, the rest of the roll seems to come a fair bit easier.

Aww, it’s not the instructor’s fault, he was awesome and very encouraging, I just am hard on myself and was expecting to come out of the first session being a rolling champion. It’s good to read that it does take a while to get it down :slight_smile:

Takes time,then presto, you got it.
It took me 2 years to get a 90% roll rate, two months to get a 99% roll rate. Patience grasshopper.

hip snap ?
how’s the hip snap ? Rolling is the Hip Snap…watch utube wooden paddle rolls or no paddle rolls.

Buy 2 paddle floats, one inflatable, one foam.

look for layback float practices in utube.

lean your kayak over, support yourself with the floats on paddle. Hold paddle with one outstretched arm.

then practice hip snaps.

after 20 hip snaps, try a roll off the foam float.

watch Ford’s rolling video, analyze your approach with Ford’s animation.