Why The Hand Roll?

Please help me out here, y’all. I want to understand the value of the hand roll. All my life I’ve heard the expression “up the creek without a paddle” or some variation thereof. So you practice and practice your hand roll and you actually lose your paddle one day and find yourself upside down. You left your spare paddle at home so you hand roll up. There you sit up the creek without a paddle. Do you ask someone to go fetch it for you while you try to stay upright? Enquiring minds…

I’m sure there are other reasons (eg: when knocked over, spare paddle was ‘moved’ by conditions, you hand roll up because you couldn’t find the spare underwater),
but, in my experience, many years ago, learning surf, got knocked over, paddle broke (and lost both halves), tried to hand roll. Had not perfected yet, so removed pfd and used it to roll (‘hand’ surfed back in).
Worked on the hand roll after that.

If you are regularly in difficult conditions, especially if solo, every opportunity to make a roll more bomb proof is worth the time. Having a hand roll improves the one with a paddle, because if you are in pushy conditions where the paddle might have odd water pressure on it or poor purchase on the water you still have a successful body motion.

In surf you can stick a paddle up there and find that at the moment you are on a pile of air - no grip. Conditions can be similarly confounded in WW. In both cases the conventional wisdom is to wait for the moment when the water will again support you. If you get into the setup and wait, more often than not that moment will arrive.

But it might not arrive as soon as you want. So having a hand roll might help you get up a little earlier.

As to being upright w/o a spare, on a long boat there ought to be a spare on your or a companion’s deck. If you are in a boat with a capacity to carry a spare and actually end up being up the creek without a paddle - or up a river or offshore - probably won’t do that again…

In WW you will find that people more commonly paddle in groups, because of this kind of thing, so hopefully someone can come and help manuever you out of the current. FYI, serious WW paddlers also usually carry a spare. It is just that you have to get out of the boat to get to it, usually a three or four part paddle stashed under the rear float bags.

Surf was what got me to go out and get serious about a roll on my left side by the way, though it is something I have to recover this winter. Tried coming up on the right against the current in a river mouth adjacent to a beach and had to come out of the boat, decided to fix that.

I don’t intend to be in my kayak without a paddle, can roll, but not hand roll. Nevertheless, it can be a useful skill for the more adventuresome e.g. rock garden and white water types.

So I’ll pretend for the moment that I can hand roll, and am now upright with no paddle. I can have a companion fetch my paddle, give me his spare, or tow me. If I have no companion, I’d use my vhf if otherwise stranded. All of these are better options than a wet exit, being reasonably dry and breathing.

You never want to leave the BEST flotation you have with you behind which is the boat. It also gives you protection from rocks/cliffs. If your not a surfer or rough water kayaker then you might not ever need a hand roll.

I don’t have a hand roll, either. But if the scenario you described happened, keeping two hand-paddling mitts with you (“on hand”) would be useful.

The Norsaq fits easily under the front bungies. At the point I had (and hope to have again) the likelihood of getting up in at least easy conditions after a paddle catastrophe, it it an easy tool to carry and no fuss to grab.

I don’t have a hand roll. Wish I did.

But if I did, and was now upright without a paddle, I could actually ‘paddle’ pretty quickly using my hands and no paddle. Acceleration is slower, but I can get up some decent speed. Maneuverability is also slower, but I can make the boat 180. Worth trying and practicing.


In whitewater it is extremely dangerous when dropping high waterfalls to keep hold of the paddle upon landing. Also if your paddle is stripped out of your hand upon flipping, which has happened to me before, it is very nice to still be able to roll yourself back up as opposed to being forced to wet exit

I posted about the “utility” of handrolling way back. To me the primary utility is to perfect body mechanics which will make rolling with a paddle even more reliable.

In real world conditions, meh… I posted about getting paddle stripped in my surf kayak and then handrolling back up in the break zone. Without a paddle, there was no way to stay upright in breaking waves. Next time a wave hit, I went right back over and bailed. It was a long swim back alone in winter surf. (One of the reasons, I am such a big advocate for a waveski or SOT for lone paddle surfers, even those with a roll.)

Now, if are paddling in a seakayak, with a spare paddle, and/or with partners who happen to be nearby, the hand roll may have real application benefit.

I have to say that no longer practicing handrolling (or rolling regularly) anymore, my rolling mechanics are not as sharp. I have to be conscientious of doing a few rolls, outside the breakzone when I am surfing, with intentional focus on body mechanics and not just relying on the paddle doing the work.



Thanks everyone.

In the majority of cases, your paddle with be close by when you roll up. At that point, everything is kind of floating down the river at the same speed. You will likely be able to hand-paddle the short distance to grab the paddle, or you can hand-paddle your way into an eddy. Anything is better than swimming!

It also depends on the boat you’re in. I have a WW boat I could handroll just by thinking about it (Perception Pirouette S), I used to have a Betsie Bay Recluse that I could handroll almost that easily, and I still have a Valley Anas Acuta, and a Current Designs Caribou. I’ve handrolled the Caribou, but it ain’t easy.

Anyway, I lost all of my rolls 8 years ago after major surgery. I can sweep roll when necessary, but that’s about it.

I took my nephew out paddling right after I started paddling again, and we were messing around in some flat water next to an island. I capsized and lost my paddle. I was about 40 lbs heavier than I was a year before, and I got trapped in my boat by the outfitting that I idiotically refused to change. Attempting a handroll saved my life. I came most of the way up at least a half dozen times to get air, and finally got out of the boat.

That’s why it can be good to know how to do it, IMO. Can’t hurt to learn it.