Sucking at rolling

-- Last Updated: Jan-31-13 11:30 PM EST --

I am planning to do some rock gardening so I have been working a lot on self rescues. I learned to roll counter clockwise first then clockwise, I am successful in both directions about 95% of the time in pool practice. Due to my freakishly large head and upper body I am really top heavy, so I rely on laying back on the deck to be able to snap the boat under me.
I am having a very hard time rolling in the direction I went over (or need to) and find myself setting up for the counter clockwise roll.
My wife thinks I need to just stop bracing and "go with" the roll every time we are out paddling. Is this just learning another bad habit? I already have lots of bad habits and dont need more.
Just looking for some free advice before seeking more professional help.

had a similar problem

– Last Updated: Feb-01-13 11:37 AM EST –

Earilier I thought my offside roll was just perfect but I was always doing it as a full 360 in calm water. Then after some failures in the surf on my offside I started intentionally practicing rolling back on the same side as I flipped and had trouble. It took a bit of practice but my two main issues were 1) not hesistating after flipping to let the boat and blade bob back up to the surface. and 2) I had what I always call the chicken wing where my non-sweep arm was getting away from me rather than being held close to my chest (upper arm). Working on these two it's much better now though still not perfect if I'm really bounced crazy before going over.

btw as far as brace vs roll... First, do learn the roll so you can do it well on same side if brace fails -- you'll be happy. In rocks you especially want to go toward the surf (i.e. brace) because flipping away often means shallow rocky water. But in some cases like in surf without rocks with a wave flipping you then you are indeed best to setup and roll away from the wave letting the wave help make a very clean and fun roll assuming you don't edge and brace in time for a clean side surf ride.

Your profile says Kansas so I gather you're on a trip for rock gardening? Just curious where.

I’m still trying to visualize …
Clockwise vs Counter Clockwise … I’m assuming you mean you do a forward role and set up on the left side of the boat?

A good video to get is rolling and bracing by EJ. If you work through the video you will decide that bracing is better than rolling, your goal is to stay upright, and you can move into a roll from a brace.

Another idea is to learn the back deck roll (rodeo roll, reverse roll ) so you go down and sweep forward. then if your forward roll fails you can roll up from being back … it also gives you a way to roll up on both sides if one side is blocked for some reason.

Also don’t be afraid to use an extended paddle roll, what ever gets you air and gets you going is fine.

I suck at rolling too, but am rolling a wave ski. WHen you first try it, it seems impossible, but if you let the ocean roll you, it’s quite easy.

Hey Buddy,
Can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?

Practice Practice Practice.

The above advice is good. All I can add is to slow things down and to practice. A lot.

Flat water practice helps…
…but in the surf & more-so in rock gardens it’s a very different experience as you now know. A couple of things to practice would be, rolling back up on the same side, set-up then switch to opposite side, pull spare paddle while under and roll up. I’ve had times when the current seems like it will support a recovery only to surge the opposite way at the moment of the attempt causing a fail; sometimes I’ve just waited for the current to shift back, other times moved to the opposite side. I generally find i want my set-up to be on the side of “positive pressure” or toward the flow if you get the drift. When I find myself on the “down flow” the stronger the flow the harder it is to switch against that flow to the “up flow” side. Make sure to turn the blades so they slice as you move from the down flow side to the up flow, a few times I’ve found myself doing upside down sculling type moves with the paddle to get to the set-up position. If the bow, stern or side of the boat is in contact with a feature you may need to set-up on the same side as the feature so you avoid trying to roll up & onto the feature,(whick will usually result in a failure). To accomplish rolling up on the same side as a feature you may need to first use your paddle to push off from it as you set-up so there’s enough room for your sweep. Finally, when both sides of the boat are in contact with the feature, you’re generally screwed IME and it’s time to punch out & work toward a re-entry.

Just a few random firsthand observations from someone that has spent too much time under their boat; maybe I need more work on my bracing or to be more conservative. :slight_smile:


…I should have mentioned…
that while you’re upside down when you feel your boat moving with the surge there are a couple of things to consider. 1)Your paddle is your best defense against impact. Try to keep it in front of you face when in doubt. 2)If your boat is gently surging it’s usually better to just wait for things to settle. 3)If the surge feels like you’re off to the races, get your boat between you & the direction of trave ASAP; this puts you on the positive pressure side and the boat on the potential impact side. 4)Always best to pick features with clean deep water beyond, so one can be relaxed about recovery if it goes awry. 5)Screw the ego, punch out & swim if needed.

All the best,

…and back to your original question…
generally fight for it to the last with bracing or whatever works. The one place I will forgo trying to save it is if I know I can get clear by hammering down even if it will cause a capsize. Rock gardening is lots of instantaneous decisions with potential for serious consequences for the wrong choice.


I am quite sure 99+% of this board has never seen you roll. It would help tremendously with helpful advice if you filmed your roll and posted it on youtube

Now, not having ever seen you roll, I would suspect some aspect of your technique is letting you down.

The typical problem areas -

  • rushing through the roll, usual advice is to slow down. I advise my students to try and roll their boats slower than I can. Ways that help slow things down - extended paddle rolls, paddle float on the end of paddle. Keep in mind - extended paddle roll is just a tool, I would never advise anyone use that in dynamic conditions. Things to focus - zero stress on shoulders, elbows close to your body - it also forces not to stab water.
  • bringing your head up first, this is one is a biggie. Quite difficult to battle, some folks find squeezing a sponge between your shoulder and chin

    helps. Watching the on water blade is enough for some

    And yeah - practice.


– Last Updated: Feb-01-13 10:26 AM EST –

I think I have this right... what you are saying is that there is one side (doesn't matter which one) that you will always try to come up on in a real capsize, even though in pool practice you have good success at both sides.

I suspect that the side you go to in the real thing is the side that you first learned. It is at least the one for which your habits are the most automatic, what you will do if you don't pause to think about it.

This is a common habit, and for people who don't mess around in surf of current they can get away with it for a long time. Unfortunately in those two situations side can matter, making a roll more difficult or maybe impossible. So as you are finding, it'd work better if you could choose the best side.

I'd suggest two things. One is that you need to practice pausing for a moment rather than going immediately to setup and roll. Just get to the deck of the boat so you are relatively secure and stop. Then figure out what clues work for you to choose the right side to roll up on. It might be feeling the direction of the water flow, or maybe you can open your eyes and look around, but you need to find something.

The other is to just spend more time rolling on the side that you tend to avoid in a real capsize, so your unconscious response is truly ambidexterous.

One thing that the WW folks have done with me in pool practice seemed to solve this issue for straightforward current. They stood in the pool and actually stopped me from coming up on one side or the other, gradually mixing it up so that I could randomly be blocked on either side. This was especially good for me because I don't open my eyes under water - it was all feel. I got pretty good at feeling the resistance and deciding to go to the other side.

FWIW, I don't think this is a piece of cake especially in surf. I personally have yet to manage this second part in surf myself, that after I recover pretty much all my rolling skills again. Been away from it. The best I got to was to wait until after the sinus flush to go for the roll. Being sure what side to pick after that had thus far evaded me.

As to the idea of giving up on a brace to get more rolling time.. I personally don't like that, because being really secure in a brace can improve your chance at ultimately rolling. In current, if you can stay on the surface and partially up until you are at a speed that is equalized with the current, it becomes much easier to come up on the "wrong" side.

Don’t capsize
Most paddlers never capsize unless you’re really pushing yourself in surf conditions - which I would avoid until you gat the roll down better. But you’re on the right track. 95% success - pretty good. Just keep working on it and your bracing too. What happens is suddenly you never capsize any more. I paddle with a lot of different people a lot and nobody capsizes. In real surf, yes, everybody capsizes.

Personally, I feel one good roll is better than worrying too much about what side etc. Maybe if you’re a ww river paddler but for sea kayaking, one roll will usually always work.

yes but he’s wanting to rock garden
which is basically (normally smaller) surf over and around rocks. So flipping often happens and either a rock could be in your way or the surf may aid/hinder rolling on certain sides. I think one should be fairly good at rolling before doing rocks or surf but not perfect since that’s the envirnment that will help you get better (i.e. learn to relax and roll well even when stressed or tossed about). I do suggest making sure one is reasonable in surf first though especially taking side hits and paddling backward through breaking surf before doing much in surf hit rocks.

I don’t think there is a “right” way
I have paddled with some excellent whitewater kayakers who always roll on the same side. Obviously, being able to roll up on both sides is an advantage in some situations.

As Celia and others said, current, hydraulics, waves, or obstacles might make rolling up on one side much easier than the other. In a few instances, it may be impossible to set up or roll up on one side.

The very best whitewater boaters instinctively seem to know which side to go to and often don’t even need to set up or go through the motions of a complete roll to come up. That ability might be a good thing to emulate, but I think most people take a long time to get to that point, if they ever do.

Among those boaters I know who can roll up on both sides with some facility, some will always go to what they feel is their strong side after a failed brace. Others will simply drop their paddle down to set up on the side of the failed brace, and utilize the momentum of the capsize to get their upper body toward the surface as the boat rotates then roll up with their paddle sweeping on the opposite side of the boat so that the kayak rotates 360 degrees.

If you don’t want to do that, I agree with jcbikeski that it is often necessary to hesitate and let the boat settle flat before starting the sweep, otherwise the momentum of the capsize might prevent you from getting your paddle up to the surface.

What I would suggest is following jaybabina’s advice and keep it simple at first. Decide which side is your best side and go to that side first. I would suggest getting in the habit of going to the other side if your first roll attempt fails, however. It is usually much easier to set up on the side of a failed roll than to horse the paddle through the water to the other side to set up. That way, if a wave, current, etc. is making it difficult or impossible to roll up one on side, your second attempt will be on the optimal side.

“Sidedness” in surf

– Last Updated: Feb-01-13 5:31 PM EST –

I found that when I finally got a successful roll up in surf, my tendency to run to the right was unfortunate. I got up and promptly got knocked down again - twice - because I didn't realize that I was coming up on the down side of the next wave face. If I had possessed the presence of mind to realize where I was with respect to the water dynamics, I could have come up with virtually no effort on the left and been in an easy brace into the wave.

After the second time I got at least mostly up and knocked over again, I couldn't find the strength to set up a third time so I exited. It was a annoying as hell because I had finally gotten up, and if I had gone left I may have had my first (truly) successful roll in surf rather than being rescue bait.

I got kudos for what I did do right. I had capsized on purpose because another paddler appeared over the top of the same wave I was on heading right at me, and I did try more than once. There was no easy call on which of us may have chosen wrong to start with - the wave heights were big enough to easily hide a paddler. But I may have had a more successful experience if I gone for the roll on my less automatic side. Even shortly afterwards I couldn't recall which side I had capsized to, another possible solution.

Learn to Hand-Roll

– Last Updated: Feb-01-13 2:58 PM EST –

Until you learn to reliably hand-roll, I don't think you will know how to roll "well". The reason is, that with a hand-roll you have very little leverage on the water. Just to manage a hand roll you need to have all your technique just about perfectly lined-up or you will fail.

So, in the process of learning to hand-roll you will clean-up your technique. The bonus is that if you lose your paddle or it breaks, you will still be able to roll-up, usually ...

Oh, and that said, try not to roll unless really necessary. Especially with hard and sharp objects underwater near you. Learn reliable low and high brace. Even if the brace fails, before you go under and as soon as you hit the water flat on your side, you should still be able to rollback-up from there without having to have to roll under the boat.

Ways to practice rolling
Something that might help is practicing slightly differently.

  1. Turn over and count to 10 before starting to roll. This kills all the momentum that might be helping you roll.

  2. Capsize both ways (toward your set-up side and away from your set-up side

  3. Capsize without setting up (holding your paddle in kind of a mid-stroke position)

  4. Set-up, capsize, switch set-up side underwater, then roll up.

  5. Paddle forward at normal (or slightly faster) speed and then on a suprise signal from a paddling partner throw yourself into a capsize. Forces pushing you around can be quite suprising.

    Good luck

Avoiding capsizing is always better than rolling. Learn to roll well, and then get really good at not needing it in conditions.

rolling lets you experiment
biggest reason I learned to roll and especially on both sides was to push myself more in surf. Without a roll I would wimp out on bigger waves because I knew the hassle of a long swim. In any sport learning to fall correctly lets you try things out and discover the boundaries.

I am planning a light surf practice
in mid March, just to get an idea of wave dynamics. It seems the more I learn and try, the less I actually know. I guess that is why paddling is such fun.

On a related subject, has anybody tried out a Beckson thirsty mate pump? I am seeing lots of wet exit/entry in my future, and I am looking for a higher volume pump.

Someone posted here awhile back that they see some individuals at symposiums year after year. These people make no progress whatsoever. Why? They don’t practice between symposiums.

Sculling to breathe
One thing that has helped me enormously and has bailed me out a few times is the ability to scull. I almost came out of my boat once - out of position and slammed back over with some surf so I just sculled up. Now I could take a few breaths, get my composure and roll up. Breathing is more important than getting upright immediately. Unfortunately there’s not much emphases on it with traditional teaching methods. For me it’s a strong asset in my skills.