Two approaches to learning to roll?

-- Last Updated: Aug-28-06 11:39 AM EST --

I learned to roll about 2-1/2 years ago after a frustrating year instruction and failed attempts. My conclusion after that year: my instructors were trying to teach me a C2C, which I can do now, but which did not come naturally. Once someone introduced me to the greenland paddle, the layback, and the smooth rather than violent hip motion, my roll came very quickly. And many more have followed.

Recently, my friend and his son both learned to roll. My friend took instruction from a highly qualified instructor and learned a C2C very quickly. His son, on the other hand, just couldn't get it until I handed him a Greenland paddle and showed him how to lay back and move smoothly. He has a fine roll now. His dad, on the other hand, can't seem to "get" the layback roll.

My point: my experience and that of these others point to there being two opposite starting points" for rolling: (i) strong hip-snap and (ii) strong sweep and layback. For any given person one of these starting points may enable rolling to come quickly and seemingly naturally, whereas the other starting point may lead only to frustration.

Thoughts? Comments? I am not a trained or certified instructor, just sharing my own hard-won experience, so that others, like me now, can enjoy the safety and the FUN of rolling.

Happy paddling,

whatever works

– Last Updated: Aug-28-06 11:38 AM EST –

The thing I've learned is that you teach a roll based on the student. (Obviously Sea and WW have different requirements.) You may teach C2C, sweep, layback, extended euro, GP pawlatta, or whatever depending on what makes sense for a particular person. You may also use one roll as a stepping stone to the next. I'm not a fan of ridgid rolling classes that only offer one style.

a strong hipsnap …
in my opinion, a strong hipsnap helps your brace, whether low or high, and thus i always try to teach paddlers the C-C roll before the layback. i’ve known many paddlers who learn the layback and then never get a solid brace because they’ve more or less abandoned the hip snap.

And the boat
If someone is trying to learn in their own boat, and it has a very high back deck or a real vertical rise from the back of the seat to the rear coaming, laybacks my not be as easy as for someone learning in a low volume boat set up well for that. Or someone in a boat that is high around their sides or has way much volume may require a paddle that functions easily in an extended position. (One of these at practice last week as a matter of fact.)

Or someone may be claustrophobic (like I was) and employ the skills and patience of many instructors and boats while (slowly) learning to calm down while under the boat. In that case, throw out the form book and just patiently watch them flounder around a while until they can focus on form rather than imminent death by drowning.

The Third Way
Not being able to do either


I had the exact same experience as you did. I couldn’t get a C2C roll in a sea kayak, but the layback roll with a greenland paddle came very easily. My experience teaching friends is that a layback roll with extended greenland paddle is easy for people with flexible spines. Older folks have more trouble with it (but their boats are high volume and don’t have good back decks for laybacks, so this difference may be as much about decks as about spines). Many sea kayaking rolling classes around here insist on teaching ONLY the C2C, and that strikes me as ridiculous as if they insisted on teaching ONLY the layback. Very few of their students get a C2C during their classes, which doesn’t mean it’s the wrong roll for all beginners–but it’s also not the right roll for all beginners.

Unlimited approaches
I don’t like dividing these so sharply. In both types the paddle is swept out to the side. The main difference is in the timing and application of power.

Sweep rolls don’t have to have a layback and can work fine with high coamings. See “The Kayak Roll” which teaches an upright finish, but is definitely a sweep roll.

Stronger/quicker hip snap/brace rolls can incorporate some layback. See EJ’s method - it has layback, but is definitely not a sweep roll.

Sort of funny how two of the best videos to learn from both cross lines and violate some dogma.

The “hip snap” or knee drive is there in both types. The brace rolls do it more explosively at the end of the sweep (which isn’t called sweeping). The sweep roll applies it more spread out throughout the sweep, bracing all the way (but not called bracing).

Either way the kayak is twisted over and pulled back under you through torso and leg action, with paddle mostly acting as a lever to keep the body positioned as the torso power is applied to the kayak (Note that this is the exact opposite of what many are trying to do while learning. They apply upper body power to the paddle in mostly futile attempts to get themselves up out of the water and back up over the kayak! Eventually they may tire or their mind stops interfering and they accidentally do it right, then spend a while figuring out what happened. Some repeat this cycle endlessly - getting and losing a never quite reliable onside roll).

People with a preference for sweep rolls can brace just fine - and may incorporate some sweeping/sculling motion. Just as there’s no hard line between brace and sweep rolls, there’s no clear line between rolling and deep braces/deep sculling. If the body is in the water and then back out - it’s all good.

To me, the less aggressive styles emphasize the dancing rather than fighting approach dubside mentions in his video - though both really require you make friends with the water and let it do most of the work. Dubside also mentions the bracing and sweeping/sculling components to the rolls and how both are there - just to varying degree (and not always plainly visible).

We all come in different shaps and forms
It’s only fitting that the different types of rolls would fit different paddlers!

A good instructor should be able to adapt the method for each individual student. So there should be no bias as to which is “best” as a first roll. My first roll class, one student prefers a sweep roll, without even knowing about it. He just “got it” in the process of learning to roll. While the instructor had an opinion to which roll works best in foamy rapid (he prefers C2C), he still encouraged and helped the student to fine tune his sweep roll. Because he knew being able to roll at all (and reliably) is more important to tring (and failing to get) the “best” roll. Best part was, by the end of the day, the student was able to roll both ways (sweep and C2C)!!!

My experience is that …
if you are young, strong, and flexible you can learn a c2c and be successful with it. If you are old, weak or stiff then a sweep roll or an EJ roll (which is a layback roll) is easier. Many instructors teach the c2c because that is the only roll they can teach well and/or because it is easy to break down into separate steps. Unfortunately for many if not most people, the c2c is one of the least reliable rolls. If I look around at my paddling friends I see that they know more than one kind of roll and their “go to” roll is a mixture of kinds. I seem to find my self doing a sweep to EJ now days. I used to do a pure sweep, then learned the c2c, then the EJ and now all I care about is getting right side up from upside down.

Two rolls in the first class?
Now, that is someone I would have found really annoying the first year or so I was at this… (just kidding)

Boats, not spines
Anyone who can sleep in a normal bed can to a layback. If you have to arch to uncomfortable extremes you are fighting your kayak/coaming/outfitting.

It should be a pretty relaxed low stress affair.

Doing a partial layback is OK and usually enough. Head on deck is nice, but outside of Greenland comps no one’s scoring you.

In some kayaks you’re just better off with an upright finish (you can still do a sweep roll).

I have tweaked my commercial boat about as much as I can and it’s still best with partial layback. If I lift my butt off the seat and arch strongly I can touch my head to the deck - but it’s not really practical for rolling.

I can pretty much lay back and take a nap on the rear deck of my SOF (and it’s not even a LV rolling machine).

best discussion I’ve see is:
The Bombproof Roll and Beyond by Paul Dutky

It gets worse.
There’s this 60 year old who doesn’t look the least bit athletic and who’d never tried to roll before… He got this roll after a BALANCE & BRACING class! His roll look so graceful and effortless you would have thought he learned it in his teens!!!

a sweep roll with no layback
as described in “the kayak roll” video. Apply the same force over more time, get more work done.

My Experience

– Last Updated: Aug-28-06 5:29 PM EST –

I got crappy instruction several years ago. Different instructors at different sessions with different rolls. I walked away with a crappy, unreliable roll.

I got Eric Jackson's dvd and it helped me enormously. I got a reliable roll by coming up with my head down and back. I went to the next level when Sing advised me that the knees are very much involved in a good roll. People call it a 'hip snap' but if I was teaching it I'd call it a 'quick knee lift'. I think Celia referred to it as a 'thigh twist' which I think is accurate.

I was rolling on friday with a fellow long-legged, inflexible torsoed yaker who had trouble finishing a roll in the forward position. His lay back roll was beautiful. Seeing his strengths and weaknesses reinforced my idea that body type might have a lot to do with which rolls come easy to which folks. (YOU know who I'm talking about, John. Thoroughly enjoyed our paddle friday.)

I'm guessing that leggy people need to lay back more than folks with longer torsos.

I tend to flip/flop on what to call it. That’s because what I actually focus on may not translate for all boats, and makes even less sense if you don’t have a roll yet. I’ve managed to have boats with decent cockpit fits, and got a good image early on from one of the many instructors who watched me again and again mess up a perfectly good lower body motion once I had a paddle in my hand.

What I actually think about, and always go back to when things need to be fixed up again, is the sensation of moving the boat downward with the portion of my thigh that is against the thigh brace. When I manage to keep it slow I can feel the side of the boat hit my hip bone and the rest of the lower body follow, when I hit it hard and fast all of that goes by too fast. But there is a stretch of 6 or so inches of my thigh that is the single most critical thng in whether I’ll get up or blow it.

I Think I Understand
My best rolls are offside-knee-down and onside-knee-up all in one motion.

I never got the ‘hip snap’ thing until it was described as a knee lift. I suspect there are other folks out there with the same problem.

Maybe an outfitting issue
Some folks have the luck of cockpit that fits tightly at the hip (most white water boaters do). So a hip snap make good sense.

Others may not have as tight a fit at the hip (touring kayakers tend not to) but have substantial thigh/knee brace instead. Then a knee lift or thigh twist would be more effective.

I’ve roll a few different boats now. I started to notice the difference in outfitting. I “graduated” from needing a tight hip grip for an efficient “hip-snap” to able to roll boats with less than tight hip fit by “lifting” my knee to turn the boat. I still prefer the tight hip fit and the hip-snap felt effortless for me. But I can understand the difference now.

A GOOD instructor

– Last Updated: Aug-28-06 5:41 PM EST –

You (and several other posters) have mentioned an instructor who adjusted to the student.

I don't (yet) have a roll, but, as an instructor (music) with many years experience, I think that one of the greatest challenges for an instructor is to be flexible enough to adjust what you are teaching to the student.

One size does not fit all.

I Think So Too…
kind of funny though… The discussion doesn’t make much sense until one gets a roll down. Makes even more sense when one gets the variations down.

The book is not particularly good for learning the first roll. Did learn to handroll from this book though.