What is the best way to learn rolling technique?

What worked for me …

I took a rolling class in a swimming pool and could roll the first night, but not reliably on my own. EJs video was most helpful for developing a combat roll or an intuitive roll that is just an extension of bracing. His bracing exercises also made me a lot better kayaker.

Buy the DVD, head to a pool or shallow spot with a friend to spot you or take a class if you have one available.

The best way
Instruction in a pool from an instructor who is flexible, knowledgable, and has good analysis skills.

Yes, many people learn from videos and EJ’s is one of the best. But do-it-yourself with a video for most people is inefficient and frustrating.

The worst way is in any setting with an instructor who only teaches one kind of roll, is not up to date, cannot pinpoint where you are having problems, and cannot help you decide which kind of roll fits your strengths and weaknesses.

I know that doesn’t really help you decide since, like M.D.'s, you don’t have a clue in advance whether you have the first case or the last case.

However, here are some criteria.

  1. Does your instructor spend time assessing and talking to you about flexibility, strength, relaxing, and orientation problems?
  2. Does your instructor ask you about your paddling goals and the kind of paddling you intend to do and in what kinds of conditions?
  3. Do you find that your instructor tells you to do things that are helpful? That seem to solve difficulties you are having?

    If you start to find you are answering “no”, or you are not rolling within a couple of hours of instruction, do something different.

I Liked EJ Also

– Last Updated: Nov-18-06 2:19 PM EST –

and when he says "hip snap" you have to hear "hip snap PLUS knee lift." If you add a knee or thigh lift with the hip snap you'll get much better / quicker results. At least I did. (Thank you, Brother Sing)

come to a pool session…
I can personally guarantee that I can have you rolling without a problem in no time. Heck in the last few pool sessions I’ve been to, I think I’ve already taught 5 people to roll. It really is that easy. Are you a member of SKOAC, ISK, or the Rapids Riders?

Yeah, “hip snap” is ambiguous
It is difficult to find a phrase that conveys what is involved. You do raise your knee toward your chest. But you also bend your body into a kind of “C” (head and shoulders leaning toward your hips). And at the same time you are rotating your torso clockwise (assuming an on-side roll). It is definitely like a dance move you would do in Latin America. Notice the paddle is not mentioned here. It plays a minor role in a roll.

Do you teach a Greenland standard roll first?

I’m not much of a teacher but I helped someone who had unsuccessfully taken several roll classes previously, doing a half roll with the stick. I was tickled. As far as I’m concerned that counts as a roll.

We didn’t have a lot of time and he was getting totally disoriented trying to do a full roll so I made him get in a setup tuck and told him not to change position while I rolled him over and back up. I think a few more he would have gotten it.

Too bad we don’t have regular pool time. I know it would help me. I think being comfortable is very important at first - nice water, nose plugs, a good teacher, maybe goggles.

I bought two dvds
took two classes. no luck.

then I got EJ’s dvd, and bingo! started rolling at once. so, for what it’s worth, … EJ’s

and I don’t know what others will say
but I’ve come to think of the “hip snap” as more trying to pull the boat UNDER you instead

Start with a coach

– Last Updated: Nov-17-06 9:26 AM EST –

Some will probably get on and say they learned w/o working with anyone, just off of videos. And those videos are very good, in fact anyone wanting to roll should get one and look at it. It's much easier to figure out what you are supposed to be doing by watching a good video than while you are squirreling around upside down.

But you asked about best, which I read as easily and fast, and the majority of people will progress more easily if they start by working with a coach or instructor, in a very easy setting like a warm pool in the winter. There is nothing like the feedback of someone standing there to tell you what went wrong when you are still too new at it to be sure, and that way they can support you in the water while you learn how the oft-discussed (and I agree poorly described) hip snap feels.

Different images work better for different people. The one that worked best for me was the idea of bringing the boat up under yourself, but hip snap or thigh lift have worked quite well for many others.

What boat seems to be more controversial - but after having done it the hard way I would now suggest that you take advantage of learning in a boat that is relatively easy to roll and forgiving of mistakes. That way you are likely to get earlier successes, and I've known a ton of people who gave up because they just couldn't get consistent success early enough.

You may be one of those annoying naturals, who gets it without having to work right off. Great if you are, but not to be expected.

If you have to do it on your own…
…Jay Babina’s video “First Roll” and David Seidman’s book “The Essential Kayaker” both contain progressive methods that are easy to learn.

See you in the pool
All good pointers on the coaches/instructors…

Add this…

Just remember that after pool practice to go out and try it (have a competent spotter please) in the real world in controlled conditions. Cold water seems to accellerate time so much faster than it does while dangling upside down in a pool figuring it all out. Once you’ve experimented with that, move to current, an eddy line, in waves, etc. Continue the progression till your roll is more automatic than conciously planned for.

Glad the pool at the Culinary Institute is warm. The Hudson is getting a tad bit brisk to hang upside down in for extended periods of time.

See you on the water,


I knew if I waited a half day

– Last Updated: Nov-17-06 11:23 AM EST –

those before me would do most of the explaining. Besides, I just learned a few months ago myself.

I agree, EJ's and Jay Babina's tapes are the best for beginners.

EJ emphasizes the side sculling and then falling in the water and bracing back up as two drills, and actually components, for rolling.

What Jay brought to the party for me was the smooth sweep of the blade on top of the water. If you keep the blade near the top of the water and reach outward and keep sweeping to about 110 degrees (bow being zero degrees) you almost have to come up. Just transition into a lay back and brace up as your blade gets to about 100 degrees.

This is easier said than done for the first 10 to 1,000 times, depending on the person. The ability to learn through repetition, building the synapse connections in the brain, and developing muscle memory, are amazing assets of the human being. Rolling in my opinion is at least half mental. Once you start, enjoy the journey and keep working on it.

There are a number of little ways you can go wrong; blade not angled right on the surface of the water, hands or elbows out of position relative to your torso (can cause shoulder injury), lifting your head too soon (best thought of at first as lifting your head ever.) Also, upside down is not a perspective that most of us are used to. It's dissorienting at first. Nothing like studying the videos, some emphasis on body awareness, and a good experienced, knowledgeable, observant coach too, to help you through the rough spots.

I bought and rented several videos, really studied them, got out there and worked on it for about 4 sessions, took a class, worked on it for another couple sessions, and was there.

No regrets on the methods I used, except it would have been good to get someone standing in the water working with me earlier. If Schiz is offering, I'd say take him up on it.

The book, "The Bomb Proof Roll and Beyond" by Dutky didn't help me that much before I could roll. I needed to see it in motion in the videos. Now that I can roll and have experienced it, I find the book to be a great read for reinforcing the key points, and adding some new knowledge.

Paul S.

sort of…
I have my own progression which starts with an extended paddle (either euro or greenland, it doesn’t matter), emphasises some of the little technique tips ala The Kayak Roll and adds some stuff from my experience and EJ’s video as well.

I usually have people rolling in about 15 minutes with the extended paddle and in about 20 minutes they are rolling with the standard grip and recovering missed rolls on their own utilizing the extended paddle as a backup roll. I have the utmost confidence in my progession but more so I have even more confidence in the fact that almost every person has the ability to easily and safely learn to roll.

What Dr Disco Said

– Last Updated: Nov-17-06 3:31 PM EST –

There's good instruction and lousy instruction. Unfortunately I got the $5 lousy instruction. I got what I paid for. A $5 roll. I bought the EJ dvd and got a reliable roll.

If I were to teach someone to roll, I'd have them watch EJs Rolling and Bracing three times. Then I'd take them to the water and get them comfortable hanging upside down and wet-exiting. The next step would be to brace then roll like EJ teaches. I would try to encourage things done well and be tactful with the critiqueing.

"Your paddle dove." "Your head came up first." "Your blade went too far back on that brace."

Having someone there to tell you what went wrong is a huge help.

Doing this with Jay Babina's dvd and a helper familiar with it might work equally well.

Instructor and practice is best
Nothing beats a good coach. It took me a long time to get my roll, and the right coach made the difference.

Both Jay Babina’s 1st Roll and EJ’s Rolling and Bracing are very good videos. I use them as refreshers.

PRACTICE is essential. A number of instructors have told me that they’ve worked with paddlers who did not practice after learning from a lesson and lost their rolls.

Practice IS essential. Someone to observe to tell you what is going wrong or right is very helpful.

dry fingers and some good rolling papers … oh you mean rolling a boat… sorry slipped back into my 20S for a moment.

Persistance, good instructor, persistance, goggles, persistance, warm pool, persistance, nose plugs, persistance. Enjoy.

Not the best way
but Dubside’s new video is quite good too.

rolling advice
Some really good posts and I agree that the video tapes helped me a lot. But the real kicker was getting my kayak shimmed up to provide good fit in the hip and thigh area. I really struggled with my roll until I properly outfitted the kayak so that I didn’t slosh around in the cockpit. My first instructor never even bothered to check my fit and was more interested in demonstrating his roll and showing off than really watching and helping me. All he really did is make me feel like a spaz. So check out your boat fit on your own and despite reading in PNET how some folks can roll anything- be realistic about it. Sloppy cockpit fit and no body flexibility rarely produce a reliable roll in my experience. Having a good sprayskirt fit is more important I found out than I thought since in the early practice times I found that my tunnel was too loose (even though the rim fit was good) and I got a lot of water in the kayak between roll attempts and those gallons of water could be felt while trying to roll up and it distracted me a lot. Good luck!