10 Tips for Learning to Roll

10 Tips for Learning to Roll

By Alex Matthews


  1. If you decide that you want to learn to roll, seriously commit to the process. Be determined – it can be a deeply counter-intuitive and time-consuming skill to acquire, so be patient with your progress, be kind to yourself, and stay the course. Persevere. With time and effort, most paddlers can become ‘rollers’. Rolling has a huge mental component, so early on decide that ‘I am going to roll’ and stick with it.

  2. Get qualified instruction. Don’t just go down to the lake on your own and thrash about trying to figure out a roll from scratch. While some may succeed this way, it’s definitely not a recipe for success. Start with a rolling class offered by a local club or paddling school. There is no substitute for quality one-on-one instruction. 

  3. Seek out the most pleasant conditions possible. Warm water and supportive instructors will make your experience more fun, and allow you to perform at your best.

  4. Do make sure that your boat fits you. If you are so loose that you can’t achieve a solid grip on the boat with your lower body, you will not be able to roll.

  5. Get flexible. Strive to be supple and flowing. Don’t be rigid or try to depend on power. When rolling, you want to be supple bendy seaweed, not a rigid immovable oak. Supple technique wins. Power will not get you upright.

  6. Really work on your hip snap and knee drive. A great drill is to grab the side of the pool (or a dock or the bow of someone else's boat), lay your head down on the pool’s edge and practice rolling your boat upside down and then upright again, using only your lower body and not your arms. Keep your head down throughout the drill.

  7. Don’t let your blade dive during a roll. Maintain a climbing angle on your active blade. Using goggles or a mask to watch your blade really helps. A mask will also prevent water rushing up your nose, and you’ll have an easier time concentrating on the motions, and avoid the dreaded ‘post rolling-session nasal drain’.

  8. Do make rolling easier by using a paddle float on your active blade. But don’t get stuck at this stage – ditch the float once your body has learned the motions.

  9. Don’t bring your head up first. Duct tape your head to your shoulder, bite the sleeve of your jacket or use any other means to insure that your head comes up last.

  10. Don’t miss a pool session or any other chance to practice your roll.



10 Bitter Truths about Rolling

  1. Rolling is an advanced skill and difficult for some paddlers to learn

  2. It’s all technique, NOT power

  3. You can’t roll if you can’t hip snap

  4. You can’t roll if you don’t keep your head down

  5. You can’t keep your head down if you freak-out under water

  6. There is a huge mental element which must be fueled by a determined ‘can do’ attitude

  7. Water will rush up your nose and into your ears

  8. If you challenge yourself, sooner or later your roll will fail you and you will swim

  9. You’re only as good as your last roll

  10. Swimming is part of kayaking – get over it!

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