Teaching and Learning the Roll

Hope the wedding and the trip go smoothly.

Bill just emailed me and said the paddle is ready. Maybe I’ll get somewhat familiar with it before we paddle again. Fire me off an email when you get back.


Rolling Fast
Yes, I agree completely. Sometimes you have to roll fast. Most of the time for many sea kayaking situations you can take your time and save your energy.

FWIW, you can perform many of the Greenland rolls lightning fast – such as the forward leaning storm roll. Even the standard (layback) roll can be done quite fast.

Ironically, I can roll extremely fast, because I practice many techniques very slow and have very little wasted motion (but I also practice rolls fast as well).

The point is to keep variety in your training. Try rolling as fast as you can, and in slow-motion, and with other variables thrown in (with a friend holding on to your kayak, or capsizing in awkward positions, etc).

Greg Stamer

Less water up your nose is always nice, and with a large rock coming at me I’d not think about slowly uncurling anything. But there are times when you need to be comfortable taking more time to roll up, for example if you flip in a tidal race where it may take a moment to get to a more effective side of the boat. Or if you are bringing up a fully loaded expedition boat, or capsize in conditions where sculling up may be more reliable than going for a fast pop up - you need to be comfortable with a slower roll. Those (like me) who started out with a pretty explosive hip snap often need to learn to be comfortable taking that time.

boats roll plenty fast


best wishes


I know
I was going to add that function of the other knee working into the equation. When I help other paddlers, I’ve always found success in showing them to relax the other leg while driving the other…slow or fast.

I’ve found that when I’ve forcefully dropped the other knee out of the brace and drove the weight of my leg down on the seat and toward the hull, it really brings the boat around quickly.

What are your thoughts on foot braces…ie telling students to take their foot off the braces. It seems new rollers tend to press too hard against the foot braces, locking their body in place and really stalling the hip/knee motion.

In a past post you mentioned swimming during surf sessions. I bet the more comfortable you get hanging out upside down the less that will happen. Surf can result in some ugly pummelings, and one must relax until they are over.

I refer to it as the “driving ass-cheek”. With one knee driving the boat up and the opposing butt cheek driving the boat down, she flips right over.

This is one instance where a big butt is advantageous.

Hip snap
I now use Hip Snap to define twisting the boat. Once I was teaching someone to roll and I told her to lift her knee and nothing happened. I said it again and nothing happened and she said “I’m lifting my knee as hard as I can”. She was right.

Sit in your boat and lift your knee as hard as you can - you can’t budge the boat - not until you lift or twist your hips upward.

Rock your boat as hard as you can from side to side. That’s the hip snap or twist. I have been using the C to C roll more and more with my non-extended GP. Body in an upright position with an arch towards the paddle allowing for a strong hip snap. I still practice other rolls but recently when capsized while surfing, that’s what I used.

Try this: rock your boat as hard as you can from side to side. Now lower yourself back and try it. Gets really tough - same with a forward lean. That’s why you don’t see abrupt hip snaps with lay-back and forward leaning rolls. But an upright position allows you to hip-snap or twist up the boat with a lot of power (if you want).

That’s interesting
However, the roll Eric Jackson teaches has a sharp hip snap with a lay back. My personal experience is that I can roll boats with an EJ roll that I could not with a CtoC. I have several friends who have switched from a CtoC to either a sweep or an EJ and they all roll more reliably now. The obvious trade off is a reduction of power in the hip snap in order to get the lowered center of gravity. I think you gain more than you lose with an EJ roll. This is especially true if you start out the roll as a kind of CtoC and then roll and swing your body down and back and then over the stern.

There are other things that play into “what works”, too.

I like the roll taught in The Kayak Roll, and have gotten it to be reliable in calm water and small wind waves.

After reading so much about the EJ rolling and bracing DVD, I bought that to see what I could glean from it. A friend encouraged me to try sculling with my head in the water, something I had not tried before. I had always done it with a J-lean and head up, weight pretty much centered over the kayak and body/blade perpendicular to the long axis. By gradually arching my upper back and letting the head slowly lower backwards while bringing it closer to the rear of the kayak, I was able to scull with head in water on the right side. OK, one happy paddler here. (Though I’m not sure what use this little accomplishment really is??? other than it looks kinda cool.)

Then I tried it on the left side. My head and upper torso must have been a little too stiff (not arched back), probably a little too far away from the stern too. At any rate, the paddle began sinking and I knew I was about to flip the boat. Having practiced another EJ exercise, I instinctly swung my head onto the rear deck and LO, my kayak jerked back to its upright position. I was so sure that I was gonna end up underneath the boat that I exclaimed, “Wow, that trick really works!”

I thought that was the coolest thing of all…no need to set up for a roll…just go from the “imminent OOPS” position to looking at the sky from the back deck, nice and dry.

So while I will continue to practice the “modified sweep roll” because I like the way it feels I will also keep practicing some of the techniques leading up to the EJ roll, because in some cases it’s faster to avoid going to the setup position in the first place.

Another thing:

I can do the roll both slow and fast in my T165 (the boat with the good hip braces). I can only do it quickly in my Merganser, because when I try to slow it down, my butt shifts sideways. I need to improve the outfitting in that boat.

People scull with head out? L
Always good to be reminded we may not be using the same terms for the same things.

For me, sculling usually means side scull = head wet. It’s just easier to let the water do most of the work.

Done upright/dry I’d call it either a low brace, a sweep stroke, a sculling draw, or some mix. I suppose I could face out toward the paddle and do a partial chest scull - but being top heavy it would be a lot more energy efficient if I just went all the way over and again, let the water do most of the work.

Not a sculling draw
Kayak is edged way over (can be almost on its side), and the paddle is held almost parallel instead of almost vertical. And the kayak isn’t being pulled sideways. Plus that way is far easier for me to do for long periods than “head back in water” sculling, despite the lack of water support. My torso is probably much shorter than yours, AND the back of coaming and rear deck much higher in relation to body size. I have to stretch and arch my spine so much I feel it is a very vulnerable position–unlike the J-leaned sculling.

Might be a different situation with more practice (head in water). Guess I’ll have to see! I’m not about to buy another kayak any time soon so it’s up to me.

I get what you’re doing…

– Last Updated: Oct-05-06 12:08 PM EST –

... I just don't get why exactly?

What can you do from that dry position? Why scull there at all? Why not just sit up and paddle? ;)

I can see the benefits/need of staying dry for a quick sculling brace, or a low brace turn, but to just hang out and scull suspended like that? For more than a few seconds as down and up control practice? Everything's good to practice, with all manner of variation, I just don't see the utility of sitting in one place actively hovering with body balanced between boat and paddle? (OK - Maybe to keep you out of cold water? - but if that's an issue then this is an even more questionable skill).

With body immersed while you can stay there using very little energy and stabilize/rest/regroup.

I do get what you're saying about coaming height - I paddle a QCC with 10" high rear coaming - but that only matters if I am trying to torque to kayak over enough to balance brace (note I said "trying"). For side sculling in that boat I keep it closer to 90 degrees where I have no coaming/freeboard issues. As long as the kayak is past vertical and not falling back over on me it takes very little effort to hang out like that. If I arch and twist it over more it actually becomes counter productive as the inboard gunwale/coaming begins to ride above the water - with the increasing freeboard lifting more of me out of the water and requiring more and more force to counter the added sinking action.

This is why LOW rear deck kayaks are easier to do these moves in. You can get them over/flatter and still have the inboard side of the coaming sunk (if not much of the rear deck). I can't do that in the QCC. The more of me that's in the water - the more my own buoyancy helps - and the less my weight can work against me. To get that working in a deeper cockpit kayak it needs to be more on it's side so the coaming is submerged (and more of you with it).

Every kayak/kayaker combination is different. It's not realistic to use the same body position in a kayak that's 8" deep at the rear of the cockpit as in one that's 5". If it's not a comfortable position - find one that is for you, in your kayak - not some idealized version that's meant for a super LV qajaq.

While the body and boat position for side sculling and balance brace are intimately related - they need not be 100% the same. If you can balance brace your boat - then the low effort side scull is a no-brainer. If you can't - or have a kayak that's just not got the right geometry - you need to adapt the techniques to your own needs. None of this should be a struggle.

Hips and Thighs

– Last Updated: Oct-15-06 6:47 AM EST –

Okay I just got through trying some different things in the boat.

I found out that if you sit in the boat and push up with a knee the boat does absolutely nothing. You definitely have to twist the hips to move the boat. No surprise there.

If I only snapped the hips sitting straight up I got a wimpy little boat rock. If I snapped the hips with a lot of thigh / knee effort the boat rocked further and much more quickly.

If I only snapped the hips while leaned back I got a really weak response from the boat.
BUT if I leaned back and added the thighs to the twist I got a much, much better response.

Maybe for some anatomical reason women don't need to add a lot of thigh effort to their roll but I sure do. Judging from the way my buddies roll I suspect most all men need to get the thigh very involved.

If I was teaching the roll to a beginner I'd go with "thigh twist" or "thigh and hip twist". I think that would better impart the idea of using the knee along with the obliques.

1) Set up and go over.
2) Sweep blade out 90 degrees.
3) Thigh and hip twist up.

Thighs, hips, and feet
Some say you twist the boat up underneath you. But it is a more complex maneuver than a simple phrase can encompass. As far as I can tell, I use my rolling knee, the butt cheek on the opposite side, the foot on the opposite side and the butt cheek on the same side. The initial movement involves pulling “up” with the knee while pushing out with the opposite leg and pushing down with the opposite butt cheek. I recenter myself using my abs and obliques with support from pushing to the side with my rolling knee and my right butt cheek.