Rolls - why so many types?

I’ve been reading Christopher Crowhurst’s “Getting your first roll,” which is quite informative.

What I don’t understand is why there are so many different types. Qajaq Rolls lists 31; I didn’t count all the ones listed at Atlantic Kayak Tours.

Learning to do one roll well isn’t sufficient? If so, that’s somewhat disconcerting.

Yes, one well learned roll is sufficient. Qajaq USA website has the explanation for the variances: the position of the hunter upon capsize, what tool is in the hunters hand, whether they were entrapped in hunting gear. From that the stems the recreational variations we “struggle” to learn well. When I actually get edged over far enough to capsize I usually recover with a variant of layback greenland roll that I learned well.

People who are interested in rolling as a sub-genre of sea kayaking have plenty of motivation to learn different types of rolls. It is fun, challenging, and provides lots of opportunity for exploring your connection to the boat, as well as to an ancient culture of paddling.

If that’s not your interest, I think you can get by with 2 or 3 different rolls. I use some variation of the screw/layback for most of my capsizes, but on occasion I’ll use the c-to-c. And on one occasion, I used a back deck roll, but that was just because it was available and the wave was helping.

Finally, I’m sure we can all agree that in real life the categories break down somewhat and every roll looks different.

Greenland very different because they have annual competitions in rolling, and the winner is big news. Also rope work and maybe other skills that I am forgetting. You can’t have a fantastic international competition on one roll, or even a few. You need more for it to be a solid event. And, as above, all those variations are practical for real life capsizes when hunting large mammals in small little boats into which you are stitched in freezing water temperatures.

There are reason for some variety in your rolls, aside from the obvious one of a roll that works on both sides, While you tend to always go first for the favored side, there are circumstances in current or surf where you really need to be able to go both sides. Or you are likely to swim.

Beyond that - the classic CtoC is simply not doable as spec’d if a small paddler is challenged to get fully around a larger boat. Doing some rolls correctly may require flexibility that fades as we get older. In fact most sea kayakers end up with a layback or a blend of something else with a sweep roll, if you want to get really picky. But the bottom line is that you have to be able to get oriented for the roll from possible quite confused positions upside down. So working with the various rolls helps give you the body memory needed to deal with that.

Fascinating info. When I enter that watery classroom, I’d prefer to have my Lumpy stick in hand because it’s buoyant. I like buoyancy. I have to wonder which variation would be taught and more importantly, will it translate to a Euro paddle? Or does each paddle type (stick vs Euro) do better with a particular roll?


Not only are there 31 rolls they have Greenland names. See interview of Dubside on rolling.

Historically because the Inuit do not wear PFDs cause the water is so cold rolls are mandatory. I saw over 30 demoed by Maligiaq. He said there were so many rolls as if a kayaker were injured and in the water they had to have a roll that would allow them to get right side up with that injury.

Not sure if what others said was totally clear to an uninitiated person, so I will add to it (and repeat some). Sorry about redundancy.

The Greenland natives learned the rolls because they were sewn into their boats. They were sewn in because the water was so cold, to swim was to die. So they learned rolls as a way to recover from a flip.

Their boats are hunting vessel, and they use harpoons with lines to floats as their hunting means. So they never knew what condition they would be in (wrapped up in line, having the harpoon thrower but not paddle in hand, etc.), so they learned a while bunch of ways to roll back up no matter what state they were in.

Currently, they hunt with guns and aluminum powerboats, so knowing these is something they do as a way to hold on to their history. This shows up in the annual competition in Greenland (and elsewhere). There are 31 rolls (62 when you consider they need to do them on both sides). Plus other events, like races, rope games (rolls outside of a boat), and a “walrus pull” (what would happen if the harpoon line was wrapped around your boat after you got a walrus, and he tried to swim away - your object is to stay upright).

How do these relate to regular paddlers? The sweep roll many do is pretty close to the standard Greenland roll. Beyiond that, they start moving away from each other. On the whole, if you are looking to just have strong combat rolls, going the standard roll route is fine. But if you want to challenge yourself and/or celebrate the Greenland kayaking culture, go ahead and learn the rolls.

Greenland rolls pretty much require a stick (for the rolls with paddles) and lower volume kayak. The standard rolls people do (sweep and C to C) are often easier with a stick, but don’t require one.

Side note - rolls are more form and flexibility than power. Women often roll better than men.

many of the rolls can be done with either a Greenland paddle or Euro paddle…the body movement is more important than the paddle type’

A good reason to learn several different kinds of roll is that it will improve your rolling technique. But you don’t need to learn 32 different ways of rolling a kayak. If you develop an effortless and reliable back deck screw roll, and an effortless and reliable C-to-C roll, you will have two somewhat different rolling techniques in your repertoire… The C-to-C roll will improve your hip snap, and the back deck screw roll will improve your blade control.

You should also develop a strong low brace and a strong high brace, you should learn to support yourself with your shoulder and the side of your head in the water by sculling, and you should learn how to pop yourself upright from a scull. If you have good braces and a good scull, you will rarely get dumped over and need to roll.

If you plan on starting rolling with a Greenland stick, you need to confirm that the instructor knows how to deal with that tool. The usual starting Greenland layback roll is a bit different than the kinda C-to-sweep roll that people tend to be started off with using a Euro. I have seen classes where instructors with old school white water background completely failed teaching students with a GP. They were trying to have them use the GP similarly to how you would use a Euro blade, roughly a C to sweep, and a GP flat out doesn’t work that way. At least not well enough for a person new to rolling to achieve success. There may be a way once someone gets better, though in the 30 plus Greenland rolls I don’t recall ever seeing anything that starts with a big hip snap like you want with a Euro. In fact the Greenland rolls I know rely more on unscrewing the body in a fairly deliberative fashion. That is quite different than the big hip snap often emphasized in learning to roll with a Euro.

There are some Greenland rolls that’ll work with a Euro once you get the hang of using your body well. But there are others that will really only work with a GP, and/or in a match of paddler and boat where they can do a hand roll. Not to worry though, unless you plan to start chasing and harpooning whales you don’t need to be able to do some of the fancier ones. They are just fun to mess with.

Thanks, all, for a great educational thread. I had done only cursory reading about the GP - what a hard life the Greenlanders led. Sewn into their boats? Did the women paddle as well?

I was going to ask if there’s anything a paddler can do on the water in preparation of leaning to roll, but see that pmmpete answered that. I’d be happy to learn just one type of roll - does anyone ever get it right away or is it a long journey?

@roym Not only are you a master of rolls, but of video editing as well with that subtle switch from stick to Euro. If a learned roll can be performed with either paddle, that’s a positive.

As far as I know only the men, and only a portion of them, hunted. The fatality rate from a given hunting expedition could go to 50%, so as a practical matter they did not send out people that were crucial to the long term survival of the group.

As to how fast you learn, above is correct that women can have an easier time because the center of gravity (our posterior) is better placed than for guys. The basic roll concept is not all that difficult - you start a log moving and stay out of its way once it gets to the spot where it’ll tend to continue to an upright position. But lots of things, most mental but some people can have serious issues with proprioception as well, can get in the way of keeping it that simple. Anxiety under the boat can make it take a long time, because of the tendency it creates to rush and lift your head too soon. Head up too soon will kill pretty much any roll, Greenland or other. It took me a looong time to overcome the anxiety issue, even though my sense of position upside down was quite good from the first.

Some people can approach it without anxiety, have good kinesthetic sense and are in a boat that is well sized and fit, and can get their first roll within a couple of sessions. Others have stuff get in the way and it takes longer. In my case it was MUCH longer, though going to a different boat really accelerated things. Until the first time you are upside down and are asked to figure out what it happening with your body and your paddle, you won’t likely know where you are in that spectrum. But thinking about just being under the boat and taking your time to calmly set up and execute - that simple little exercise can go a surprisingly long way. I personally think, and many agree, that it is faster to learn with a GP as long as the instructor knows how to properly use it. But if you plan to paddle with a Euro for spare or occasional use, you need to know that too.

Hey Rookie, My experience is that most folks who are able to roll get a successful one on about their third lesson. Good instruction makes it a bit quicker. Don’t get discouraged when it doesn’t come quickly. It takes time and practice. At first the roll is a functional thing; the best self rescue. After that it becomes a fun thing. After you get a reliable roll on one side start learning how to roll up on the other side. That will keep you from having to switch sides while underwater AND will give you the option to switch to either side underwater if you need to. FOR ME the GP is a much better tool for rolling. FOR ME bracing is very different with the GP than with the Euro. The GP needs to be pushed down AND FORWARD (sometimes backward) to get a lot of purchase/bite in the water. It’s called sculling. The Euro blade can just be pushed down. I think it was jaybabina who said on here something like ‘to learn how to get the most out of the GP push it back and forth in the water - repeat a thousand times.’ I would only add that FOR ME when I push the GP forward and DOWN at the same time it provides tremendous lift. When learning to roll folks will tell you how crucial it is to use your lower body to get up. It’s true at first. However when/if you learn the power of sculling that GP you’ll discover that you can be paralyzed from the waist down and roll up just fine. Good luck in your endeavor. Please let us know how you progress!

@Rookie said:

What I don’t understand is why there are so many different types.

Learning to do one roll well isn’t sufficient? If so, that’s somewhat disconcerting.

Don’t worry about learning lots of rolls; just focus on learning one basic method, and getting it on both dominant and nondominant sides. After that, you will probably want to learn another roll or maybe more, but it has to start with one. For example, if you learn layback or sweep roll, getting a C to C is easy. The main thing is to learn NOT to give into the intuitive reactions to capsizing.

Some of the other rolls might be helpful for situations where you capsize in body configurations that make doing those other rolls faster than whatever your default roll is.

I’d be deliriously happy to learn just one, pikabike. Will see how that goes.

@Rex, thanks for your good wishes. The snow machine up here just won’t stop so I guess I’ll have to move my kayak to the pool in between snowstorms. While the water there smells awful, at least it’s liquid and an opportunity to practice things like sculling, hip snaps, etc.

@Rookie said:
I’d be deliriously happy to learn just one, pikabike. Will see how that goes.

While the water there smells awful, at least it’s liquid and an opportunity to practice things like sculling, hip snaps, etc.

It can be easier sometimes to teach a person to roll if they haven’t spent a lot of time practicing what they have just been told and then imagined to be the key.
Kayaks can be either log rollers or plank rollers…the energy directed at the kayak differs. Hip snap is a misnomer…it is more of a hip movement like in a rumba or salsa…not a snap, entire side of the body in a controlled hip roll connected to the kayak …A plank roller takes a bit more energy…a log roller takes a slow sultry hip…

Good Luck and Best Wishes

@roym What’s the difference between a plank roller and a log roller, spec wise?

@Rookie said:
@roym What’s the difference between a plank roller and a log roller, spec wise?

Plank roller flops over …Log roller…rolls like a log, no flop

Hey Rookie,
The pool is where most of us get our first roll. The warmer the water the better. I hope they let you use a log roller there. (yours or theirs) Flatpick used food terms. Hot dog shaped (round) hulls roll smoothly. Hamburger shapes (flat bottom) plop. Hot dogs are better to learn in for most of us. When I went to pool skool people scrambled to get to the few boats that didn’t plop. The folks who were instructing when I learned didn’t allow you to bring your own boat. They only provided whitewater boats because they didn’t take up much space. There were only a few ‘good’ beginner boats and a lot that weren’t so good.

Please keep that arctic air in MI. Sunday and Monday we woke up to about 8 degrees. NOT normal for central North Carolina. This morning it’s a balmy 23.