Teaching someone to roll

Assuming the person has never taken a roll class and has no preferences or biases, how would you go about teaching him or her?

I would like to help someone learn to roll, or at least assemble some building blocks toward that end. She has a WW kayak and wants an alternative to getting her shins bruised while wet-exiting in moving water.

Although I learned to roll years ago, I later rebuilt my roll, so the order in which I did things is not something I would want her to repeat.

I’m thinking to start with the usual things like “hip snap” exercises but also to teach the static brace and sculling, a la Greenland. My thought is to get her to start feeling how the roll is accomplished more by well-coordinated body movement than by muscling a blade or float.

What do those of you who have taught someone to roll well suggest?

EJ’s Bracing and Rolling Video
The C to lay back roll he teaches is the easiest for students to learn, in my experience, and he also has explicit detailed instructions on how to teach someone to roll. On a 1-to-1 basis most people can learn in less than an hour, often less than 1/2 hour. If someone then wants to move on to Greenland rolls the transition is natural.

What roll do you want to teach?
Some other videos that might be helpful are “The Kayak Roll”, edited by Kent Ford, and “Grace Under Pressure.”

The Kayak Roll deals with the sweep roll exclusively but has some sections on instruction and trouble shooting which might be helpful. Grace Under Pressure deals with the C-to-C roll.

I think an important first step is making sure the student is comfortable with wet exits and is confident that they can get out of the boat unassisted. If not, they may panic when inverted. A warm water environment like a pool is ideal to start with, and shallow enough water that you can stand and support the student by the PFD. Sometimes having a student wear a dive mask or goggles to improve visibility helps.

“…most people can learn in less than…”

– Last Updated: Sep-07-11 5:40 PM EST –

The right combination of quiver, instructor and student makes an enormous difference. Sometimes people learn quickly, many people take some time, some take a long time.

Most I know who teach rolling have an array of techniques adapted from various sources. Among the DVDs - EJ's is very good, Jay Babina's is particularly good for those who may have trouble or have already experienced failure. Ben Lawry's has a lot to recommend it - starting on dry land can be a plus for some. Helen Wilson's DVD has gotten good buzz.

Probably the sweep roll

– Last Updated: Sep-07-11 5:50 PM EST –

Since I want to emphasize body movement's role in initiating boat movement to right-side-up, that would be my preference.

I have the EJ roll/brace DVD, the Kayak Roll DVD, and Dubside's rolling DVD. I like the Kayak Roll the best because the pacing is good, and the troubleshooting section is great.

Venue will be a quiet pond with reasonably warm water for this time of year. Hot air temps would be helpful but it sounds like we'll have to settle for "nice".

The student knows how to wet exit but I don't know how much edge control she has. That might be a good warmup exercise...paddling the kayak on edge while going straight, switching from one side to the other.

Different rolls work for different folk

– Last Updated: Sep-07-11 5:58 PM EST –

My note of the array of techniques in instructors' quiver goes to adaptability to the ability and aptitude of the student at hand.

Coming to teaching with the idea of teaching a specific roll can be frustrating to both student and instructor. It can be profoundly discouraging to the student. After many attempts with instructors intent on teaching me a C to C without success, I found an instructor who observed me and then had me rolling in about 30 minutes. Gaining confidence from having a successful roll, after 100 rolls, I went on to learn other rolls. Success breeds confidence and confidence breeds more success.

Suggest to start from sculling
The problem that I’ve seen is that people try to roll, which requires some paddle blade awareness and feel, before they have either of the latter in sufficient supply. It matters a lot more once someone is upside down to be able to really feel what the paddle is doing. If I had to do it all over again, I’d have learned both sides the same way I did my left, which is to scull like crazy going ever deeper under control. Some of the exercises would be to scull down in 3 strokes on one side and up in three on the other. At some point that just turns into one stroke.

Given the student is a she, the basic flexibility and lower body motion may come somewhat easily.

Nose Plug
I assume that any WW paddler would already own a nose plug but I’ll throw it out there in case it’s been forgotten.

Also, I think that a Greenland paddle and a brace done as if coming up from a Pawlata roll might be a good teaching aid in some circumstances. It might not be at all appropriate when using a WW boat but it does seem to help me experiment with body positioning and boat movement while on the boat is on it’s side.

I found that bracing helped me learn to roll. Also, rolling most of the way over and then using the lake bottom to push against helped a little too. Anything that let me learn just a small part of the roll without having to stress about a wet exit was helpful.

These are just some thoughts and I am by no means great at rolling or teaching.


Float Bag
The Wavesport website has a great video where they use a float bag. I really like the bag idea because it teaches the body motions (most important) before the paddle gets involved.

Check it out. It’s under the resource tab and then click the how to tab.

Psychological thing, among others
I think it might be less intimidating to start with sculling, not to mention it indicates the degree of flexibility the person has. It also incorporates blade awareness as a natural part of getting it.

When I think of how I attempted to roll the very first time (after seeing someone make movements in the air to demonstrate), as well as how I’ve seen other people try to learn it on their own, I remember that everybody gets the set-up and capsize down. Then, once upside-down, there is a totally confused paddle slash followed by a hurried wet exit.

Learning to scull first gives a person a tool to try after capsizing. A tool that, while it might not work to right them the first time, at least gives them a better shot at it than wildly waving the paddle around and then grabbing the skirt loop.

sweep roll

100% agree
Keep an open mind and watch and listen to the student. Adapt teaching to speak to them. Other than a few safe “must do’s” there are any number of great approaches and techniques. Like your focus on body movement. My 2 cents. Taught at least a couple hundred folks over the years. Too much jabber confuses things. Keep it simple cuz it is.

Ditto =works well
Everyone I know who tried it rolled within about a half hour.

Teaches the roll as an extension of a brace - teaches how to brace which is more important than rolling really. Teaches how to turn it into a combat roll.

Sculling for support
I agree that sculling is a good way to introduce body awareness, muscle memory, and paddle control. It also provides a ‘fall back’ when a roll fails. To this day, my second side roll is less reliable. If it goes or is going wrong, I can almost always fall back to sculling up.

I also find that a full ‘wet back’ high brace is good practice for me. By wet back high brace I mean capsizing so that ones back hits the water first and then one sweeps and/or hip snaps to right the boat. The body movement to right the boat is the same as a roll. Allowing ones back to brake the momentum of the capsize, chance of shoulder injury is greatly reduced. This type of high brace has been a useful technique for me which has also reduced the number of times I’ve had to roll when knocked over.

Excellent Youtube aid
Many beginners I’ve seen have a problem processing the multiple steps of some methods while upside down in an oxygen-free environment. This video keeps it simple and has been an effective teaching tool for me:


teaching rolls

– Last Updated: Sep-08-11 2:08 PM EST –

I think a good thing to do after making sure a student is comfortable with wet exits is working on bow rescues. Not only is this a valuable skill to have, it starts to teach the lower body movement of the roll and the concept of keeping the head and upper torso down as the boat rolls up.

Many people use the side of a pool or dock for support when working on developing a hip snap. I think it is better to use a small float that provides less solid support so that a student does not develop the habit of placing too much force on an immovable object. Better still is for the instructor to stand in the water and allow the student to use his or her hands for support as that allows the instructor to judge how much force the student is putting on them.

In my experience, most students have some difficulty initially getting into a solid set up position. They tense up underwater and fail to relax enough to get the head and upper body up toward the surface and/or rush the setup position. I like to teach people to get into a good set up position without having to worry about anything that comes after. Try having them set up and then roll them up, or after setting up have them toss the paddle away and roll up using what they already know by utilizing your bow or your hands for an Eskimo rescue.

Even after students are able to get into a good set up position, many do not maintain good torso and arm extension during the sweep and allow the paddle to dive. Others become dyslexic with the non-sweeping paddle blade and have difficulty figuring out how to wrap that blade and the non-sweeping arm around the hull. I don't know of any better method than standing in the water behind the student and supporting them out of the water with one arm under their torso, while the other arm guides their paddle movement during the sweep. I think allowing the student to clearly see what is happening with the paddle during the sweep helps them visualize the movement when inverted. Once they are able to do a decent sweep when supported heads up, they can start to work on the sweep when inverted with the instructor standing beside them to guide the paddle blade as needed.

I think the sweep roll is a little harder for people to learn initially because the sweep and "hip snap" occur simultaneously. In the C-to-C roll the stages occur sequentially. I have generally tried to teach people the C-to-C roll first since it allows the student to work on the stages individually. Once they have some notion of the lower body motion involved in the so-called hip snap, I think it is easier for them to transition to a sweep roll if they want to. The set up is basically identical. The finish position is a little different. After teaching someone the finish position of the sweep roll, I would have them think about going smoothly from the set up position to the finish position and starting to engage the rolling knee (the one on the side of the sweeping paddle blade) as soon as the sweep is initiated.

It seems that some folks become more confused the more you talk about the roll. They learn by feel and until they feel the movement for themselves, they really aren't going to understand it. For these people, watching videos is of limited use.

Pawlata/Extended Paddle
The extended paddle roll can quickly get anyone rolling if they have any coordination at all. They can then work on shortening up the paddle…

"watching videos is of limited use"
I agree that sometimes watching videos is not useful for the person learning to roll. I think they can be very valuable for people teaching rolling. The videos might be most useful to the student after having personal instruction, in order to refresh or reinforce technique.

Jay Babina’s 1st Roll
The best extended paddle rolling instructional video I’ve found:


I like keeping the paddle out of it for a while. Start with doing hip snaps, and then deeper “rolls” using the bow of a boat. Concentrate on minimizing pressure on the bow. As they get better at that, and are doing it without pulling down much, then move to a float. Have them do the full roll with float in hands, and work on that until they’re using minimal muscle to pull up. Build that rotation. Then you can go to the paddle, perhaps guiding the paddle with your hands, and emphasizing that the paddle moves with the torso, not with the arms.

Teaching a lay-back is faster, but I know an instructor who has stopped doing that because he thinks it’s safer to get people rolling with more of a screw roll (finishing upright). He says it takes some people a little longer, but he thinks it’s worth it to get a good foundation. (He is a seakayaker from a WW background, for what it’s worth)

Good luck