The Value of the Hand Roll

Is the hand roll a valuable skill or a party trick for sea kayakers? I routinely practice losing my paddle and rolling up with my ‘spare’ paddle stored on the foredeck. Easy Peasy.

Handroll value

– Last Updated: Dec-31-14 10:42 AM EST –

It’s more than a party trick in that it develops and maintains good technique, and a solid feel for your boat. I pulled one off in my CD Caribou once, and only once. Good thing people on shore saw it. Didn’t try it again that day, gotta look cool.

I tried one in a real situation just to see if I could – nope. I did get up far enough to take a breath and wet exit. No real safety issue, so I tried it. In my whitewater boat, it's real easy to do.

So yeah, it has value as a technique tool. Just don’t rely on it in real situations.

I’ll opine when I master one
so far I’m with you, I keep a spare paddle on the foredeck, and often practice rolling using that. Haven’t ever had to use it though, which I suspect is the true test for all recoveries.

White Water
I don’t know nuthin’ about white water. Do those folks carry an easy-to-access spare generally? Some years back a local white water paddler was in a roll or die situation and he died. A hand roll (or hand roll practice) may have saved his life.

White Water Spare Paddle
If a spare is carried it is inside the boat to prevent any chance of the paddle to cause the boat to get hung up on river obstacles.

of the hand roll is that it perfects the body / kayak part of the roll…not a party trick…it’s a perfection of a skill rolling. after being able to do hand rolls…paddle rolls become …simple.

Best Wishes


Depends on the paddling you do.

As said, there are many added things which you can learn out of learning even a basic roll.

But if you paddle flat water and flip over once a year, learning the hand roll just on the odd chance you flip over and lose your paddle is overkill (especially in that flat water is easy to recover with a scramble, paddle float, T, etc.). But if you are a rock gardener, surfer, or white water paddler (all activities where you flip reasonably often), the hand roll may be key.

Depends on the paddling you do.

As said, there are many added things which you can learn out of learning even a basic roll.

But if you paddle flat water and flip over once a year, learning the hand roll just on the odd chance you flip over and lose your paddle is overkill (especially in that flat water is easy to recover with a scramble, paddle float, T, etc.). But if you are a rock gardener, surfer, or white water paddler (all activities where you flip reasonably often), the hand roll may be key.

Iam trying to teach myself right now
But iam cheating by using a ping pong paddle. Just one ping pong paddle though.

I run
whitewater & do not have a hand roll.(wish I did) Nor do I know anyone I have paddled with that has a hand roll. Pretty tough to pull off in raging whitewater. I’m not sure about the earlier post about “roll or die situation” I have practiced my wet exit & am not sure under what conditions a person couldn’t wet exit unless your unconscious. A hand roll doesn’t do any good then. When I go upside down & lose my paddle, I just wet exit. Spare paddle inside the cockpit doesn’t do any good since you have to pull the skirt off to get to it. Nice to have if you can’t retrieve the one you lost. I would love to know the percentage of WW paddlers that have a SOLID hand roll. I’ll bet it’s pretty small.

Curious about all the different rolls…
This brings up a question I’ve been wondering about myself ever since I took up kayaking. I don’t do any whitewater kayaking, but I’m starting a WW pool course over the winter in a couple weeks. So, maybe my question will be answered there.

I have seen many YT videos demonstrating all different kinds of rolls. There was one YT video in particular (I don’t have a link to it at the moment) where a talented sea kayaker demonstrated probably close to 20 (or more) different types of rolls using paddles, norsaqs, and his hands. He provided the name of each type of roll before he demonstrated it. Some of the rolls had really wonky names, which made me think that some of these rolls had to be completely made-up “party trick” type rolls.

My question is this: how many different types of rolls do you really need to know? Is there any benefit to knowing how to perform multiple types of rolls? Are there situations you could find yourself in where one particular roll could not be possible and therefore you must rely on a different type of roll? (I’m not talking about resorting to a hand roll vs. a paddle roll if one happens to lose their paddle, but one paddle roll vs. another paddle roll.) Or are a lot of these different rolls out there simply because kayakers got bored and came up with different rolls just to show off their skills?

I could see having 1, 2 or even 3 rolls mastered and under your belt, or one roll each for paddle, norsaq, and hands, but what is the point of having 20+ different rolls? In what situation could you ever find yourself needing to know how to roll your kayak cross-handed with your paddle behind your back?

types of rolls needed
I wuld say you need a few different types some that you you end up on the rear deck some on the front deck.Iam talking with a greenland paddle as thats what I use. Storm roll which you end up on front deck, reverse sweep also end on front deck. Regular sweep which ends on rear deck. You should be able to do all those on either side of kayak 100 percent. That would have pretty much covered. BUT a few ones that are one handed might be good to know encase of hand injury like a butter fly roll or a crook of arm roll. All of which I practice regularly. Plus pulling your back up paddle and rolling should be automatic too.

Trying hand roll just to impress the ladies. lol.

Roll or Die
I wasn’t there but my neighbor was. The way I understand it the paddler went over; blew a couple of roll attempts; either punched out or was still in the boat when his PFD got snagged on a submerged root ball. I guess that would classify as a freak accident but the fact is if he had rolled up he would have lived.

The part I don’t understand…
Isn’t a roll a technique for recovering from an accidental capsize so that you don’t have to wet exit? I mean, I thought that was the whole purpose for a roll. If that’s the case, then in an accidental capsize, you normally wouldn’t have the time and forethought to set up all these fancy roll-initiating maneuvers, would you?

So, I’m curious, how much of the setup, initiation, and completion of a roll is fancy showmanship and how much is technical skills for emergency preparedness? I’m just wondering aloud here because I haven’t started my WW kayaking/rolling class yet and don’t know anything about it other than watching fun YT videos. I my uninitiated mind, I would think good practice would be having someone flip you in your kayak without prior warning (other that knowing that they’re going to flip you at some point), and then see what you can do to roll yourself back up. I mean, isn’t that how it’s going to happen in real life? You’re going to accidentally flip your kayak over somehow, and you need to know how to roll back up without wet exiting?

Please don’t flame me for my questions. I’m not knowledgeable on the subject and am truly curious about all the different rolls and want to learn. I’m not trying to start a fight or anything. I really want to learn the particulars on why there are so many different rolls and when they would be useful in a true emergency situation.

Canoe Polo
Hand rolling is pretty much essential for canoe polo.

the different rolls in WW are so that you can roll up without setting up only in one position. it’s very difficult to maneuver the paddle into a new position while being trashed…

The Greenland rolls came about initially as a way to roll while hunting sea animals with a harpoon and it’s attached line and float. entanglement with a wind blown line while harpooning, was a real danger and so rolls that you were able to do with one arm pinned or with your paddle in a weird position were considered life saving. In the Arctic waters without a dry suit or even neoprene…to wet exit was to guarantee your own death.

If you were holding anything {like a knife} and got tipped…you only had one so didn’t want to go and make another…instead you learned the crook of the elbow roll…so that you could roll and still have your knife etc.

The balance brace was taught as a resting and way to stretch the back and legs while paddling to and from the hunting grounds {many times 10 or more miles from the village} To paddle a low volume {harder for the hunted to see}for 10 miles …then possibly get several hundred pounds of meat to tow back…the legs need a little stretching to keep from getting cramps.

Hope this explains some of the rolls

Best Wishes


Thanks for those explanations, Roy! That’s the kind of history I like to learn.

Roll or Die
The “Roll or die” paddler you could argue that if he had better balance he wouldn’t have gone upside down in the first place & would have lived. Or, wet exited after the first attempt & he would have lived. I don’t really know if anyone other than Steve Fischer could pull off a hand roll in whitewater after two failed attempts. For me, 5 seconds underwater to attempt a roll in WW & I’m pulling the cord. I would love to know if anyone here has pulled off a hand roll in whitewater after a failed paddle roll attempt. Anyone ??

Roll or die
If you failed with a paddle you sure wont get it without. Its more if you lose your paddle and now its time for your first attempt at a roll with no paddle.

As for rolls when you don’t get flipped a Reverse sweep can be used when heading out into big waves it kind of anchors you so you don’t get pushed back towards shore. Its on the DVD This is a Roll by Cheri Perry & Turner Wilson they do a few on this video

was assuming after 1-2 paddle roll attempts, you lose your paddle, then have to try a hand roll or 2 before wet exiting. If I lose my paddle in whitewater, I’m getting out ASAP, period. No hand roll attempt for this guy. Not unless my skirt handle snaps off.(which may be a valid argument for learning a hand roll) Is there such a thing as a bomb proof hand roll? Be nice to have in the arsenal for that scenario.