Types of Rolls

I appologize if this has been discussed, most likely at length.

Conventional wisdom in my area differs between paddling groups concerning the type of roll to be used after upsetting in surf or breaking wave conditions. I’m talking the very basic battle roll here, where getting back up is the only goal, finesse matters not.

Apparently, the original school of thought was to use a lay-back roll, which I believe is a screw roll? However, now one local paddling group has migrated to using C-to-C claiming you are in a less vulnerable position (for back injury) after rolling up in surf.

My take is that I can get dry in soupy-choppy-rolling conditions much easier and faster with a screw roll. If the roll is border line, I can either insert a quick brace, or an extra skull to finish off. Often I am disoriented, up-side-down, bobbing and churning, execute a screw roll and surprisingly, the momentum carries me up. I cannot do this as well with a C-to-C, although others may be able to, it seems the boat must first settle before I can set up. Because I can set up in less than perfect conditions for the screw roll, it just seems the success rate is much better for me.

That said, if safety is really at risk with the screw roll, then I will change what I use and when.

So what’s the talk on water?


Whitewater folks try to avoid layback rolls to minimize exposure to rocks, and most folks I’ve seen are doing some type of screw roll or screw/C-to-C hybrid without layback. I do both types in my sea kayak, and the only thing I use significant layback for is an extended-paddle sweep.

combat roll
The roll that works fastest is best. That said, you might want to work on the C-to-C for the more protected position and shift to its use when you’ve brought it up to speed. My roll is still hit or miss, but I gravitate to the forward lean of the C-to-C for some reason. I have been able to save aborted C-to-Cs with sculling. Just stay down and scull. The worst thing will be to get all tangled up thinking about it when you’re in the middle of a situation and should just roll up by your most reliable means.

C to C is whitewater
Rarely do I ever see I touring boater use one. I dont know if I have ever… The C to C is much faster and is more protected. If your just paddling in the ocean probably the sweep type roll is fine. If you have a good sweep dont change it. But there is the new sweep to c roll that is coming more popular in the whitewater circle to you could try that…


Kaiser, sesame…
Sorry. It’s passed my lunch time and I think I’m getting gitty from low blood sugar. When I saw types of rolls, all I could think of was food.

The "Best Roll…"
is the one that gets you up consistently. I tend to think all the talk about this or that roll exposes you to getting hit is mostly over caution. If you gonna hit rock, you gonna hit it just because of a matter of bad timing.

Personally, in white water and surf I prefer to do a modified screw to C2C. But I also do C2C, layback sweep, and backdeck (reverse sweep). The back deck roll is good one to pick up after having one of the others because you do occaisionally find yourself being pulled along sometimes face towards the bottom after flipping in a hole or a surf wave. Better to sweep forward and roll up then to tuck forward and then sweep back again. Other than that, they’re all good if they get you up 99.9% of the time.


Dirfference between a screw and c2c
With a screw roll the rolling knee is engaged on the start of the sweep. You can finish with a strong hip snap at 90 degrees, or lay back.

Usually a c to c roll is done without doing anything except curling the body up around the boat till the paddle is close to 90 degrees. then an explosive hip snap and short drag of the paddle towards you and you are up.

A screw roll does not mean no hip snap.

If it gets you up it’s good but avoid the pawlata except for a platform to learn other rolls or unless all else has failed. The pawlata will make you too paddle dependant if you practice it too much.

Body type
Body type can make a big difference in what works. People with short torsos and/or limited flexibility often have a hard time getting set up for a C-to-C.

Back Deck Roll Fastest For Me in Surf
Some people call what I am doing a Rodeo Roll, I’m not sure if it is a Steyr or what but I have a short torso and usually find myself leaning back when wiping out. It is very, very fast to come up, instead of fighting to get in the set up position in the turbulent water. Make sure you learn how to do it right.

"Paddle Dependent…"
Yup, that can happen, expecially with Greenland paddle and layback rolls since there is so much reserve bouyancy. I didn’t realize how lazy my hipsnap has become until I started practicing hand rolls. Focusing on the hip snap component, I finally got the hand roll down for ww boat last month. Finally got the hand roll for the long boat yesterday. The difference is subtle but critical – focus on the hip snap and not sweep of the hand. It is easy to say but hard to observe when using a paddle. Without the paddle, focus on the hand sweep results in immediate failure. That said, I still maintain rolling in the ocean generally is very forgiving because there are generally minimal time and hazard constraints. If you rely on the paddle and it gets you up, Hey! it’s fine as long as you don’t swim.


If Your Hands/Elbows
Are below your body as you sweep, it’s a backdeck roll. If the hands/elbows are up above your body/shoulders, it’s likely a Steyr. Back deck roll is a low brace. Steyr is a high brace.


My philosophy on this is
that you do best to know several different rolls, on both sides–and to use them all the time, so that the muscles and coordination are in place when you find yourself suddenly upside down. I start people with a lay-back (high brace) roll, then teach a forward-moving (low brace) roll. The great thing about this combination is that when if you miss one, you’re automatically in position to try the other. If you practice enough, you won’t even know which roll you used when there’s an accidental capsize–you’re simply upright before you even register that you went over. Current, wind, and waves can make one type of roll or another more successful, so that’s another reason to know more types.


I keep the elbows tucked up close…
I’ve heard too many surf dislocation stories…

Yea but doing a pawlata roll in surf
is like playing roulette. If the next train is coming before I can get it back together I get crushed.

Not going that way so much now though!

on the wave intervals. It takes about 3 seconds to get into an extended grip and roll up. If you’re surfing short interval surf, say 2-5 seconds, you may have a bit of a challenge. But three 3-5 second surf doesn’t get big. You’re really talking about wind driven chop. This type of surf doesn’t hold you. It is the really long interval swells that can get big, collapse on you, grip you and pull you toward the beach. Generally, this type of wave runs from 7/8 to 12 plus second intervals. As soon as the wave releases you, you have a good 5 seconds or likely more before the next wave comes. That’s an eternity to roll up, provided you can maintain your cool.

To me rolling – I don’t care what technique – comes back to maintaining mental equilibrium. That’s what separates “combat rollers” from flat water practice rollers. Not so much the specific technique.

I know when I first hit the surf, I was just as likely to use an extended paddle roll as a sweep roll, depending how much of a grip that a wave had me. If I decided I wanted no chances in not coming up, I went with the extended paddle. As far as “rough seas” go in touring, this isn’t any worse and probably better than trying to roll in a fast moving river. Heck as long you’re not slamming into anything, there is no difference from rolling in deep water or a deep run in a river. Currents, waves, surface disturbances have no impact on the success of a roll, expecially if you take a second or two to let boat become one with whatever the surface water is doing. It’s 90% or more about mental equilibrium rather than specific physical technique.