Whitewater Kayak Essentials: The Roll Part 1

by | January 28, 2012

One of the things I love about whitewater kayaking is that’s its constantly challenging, both mentally and physically.  Maybe it’s those challenges and obstacles that keep us coming back for more.  Maybe it’s the one thing we all have in common: we like getting our butts kicked occasionally and enjoy the challenges.  One of the biggest challenges beginners face is learning how to roll, and even more importantly, learning how to roll in rapids (AKA: The Combat Roll).


The roll plays an essential part in the sport of whitewater kayaking, and significantly affects your safety, progression (both mentally and physically), and the amount of fun you can have.  We get calls all the time from people that have never been in a kayak and simply want to “learn how to roll”.  As an instructor, I don’t believe in just teaching roll and letting someone hit the river.  Many student that have never been in a kayak before are blown away that there are so many skills to learn prior to attempting the roll.  I have found there are 4 key components to successfully learning the roll:


1.       Comfort level

2.       Paddle technique

3.       Head position

4.        Hip snap



Comfort level

Getting comfortable in your kayak goes a long way in the learning process.  The more comfortable you are, the quicker the progression.  Being comfortable upside down also gives your instructor more time to make a rescue, which in turn allows you to stay in your boat, which in the long run saves you time and money. Get it?


Paddle Technique

Learning basic paddle strokes such as the forward stroke, sweeps, C-stroke, braces and proper paddle positioning will assist in the roll process.   Getting your paddle to the surface and keeping your blade at a sweeping or climbing angle are crucial.


Head Position

Keep your head down!  We all carp on occasion!


Hip Snap

If you can dance then I don’t want to hear any excuses.  Learning basic boat control, and being properly outfitted in your kayak are key factors in the hip snap.


Trying to roll prior to learning any of these key components is frustrating, tiring, and hard.  At ZTS, we focus on these 4 components before we even talk about the roll.  Learning these essential skills will help build mental confidence and make learning the roll easier.


In my next blog, I will focus on why the roll is important.