How to Roll a Sea Kayak (Works for Whitewater, Too)


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A bilge pump and paddle float are nice insurance policies for crossing bays or hopping islands, but an even better one is a bombproof roll. Add this ancient art to your quiver and your confidence will open up as much as your horizons.

Rolling a sea kayak isn’t rocket science–especially with a good instructor showing you the way. To help, we enlisted Paul Kuthe, program director for Oregon’s Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe and star of the sea kayaking video Pacific Horizons. How important does he feel it is?  “It’s the fastest, easiest, safest rescue technique out there,” says the Level 2 British Canoe Union Coach. “Besides, ultimately we’re all between swims.”

Following are a few of his sea kayak rolling pointers

Variety is the Spice of Life. Practice each step on both sides and in different ways. When learning, people too often practice only one type of roll for the sake of muscle memory. When they go out into a different environment where they really need it, it fails because the muscle memories from the pool aren’t consistent with this new environment. Learning to roll on both sides isn’t an advanced skill. There is no off-side…only the other side.

Be prepared to learn. Do flexibility exercises like Yoga. Stretch your hamstrings, shoulders and torso so you can tuck forward and reach up comfortably. Also be comfortable hanging out in your boat upside down. Otherwise you’re doomed to poor technique, raising your head for air or pulling on your paddle. Practice wet-exits, bow rescues and wet re-entries first.

It’s a snap. Practice hip-snaps off someone else’s bow or a coach’s hands. Use only one knee/hip at a time, and rotate the boat as much as possible while your head is still under water. Practice snapping with your face underwater, then practice with your head above water to enforce the wrong motion. Hint: turn your face and torso into the water so you’re looking down as you come up. Don’t use a paddle until you master this step.

It’s a sweep: It shouldn’t matter when each element happens. Sweep fully and then snap. Sweep as you snap. Snap first and then sweep. Find what works for you. One trick: Practice sweeping with the snap so when the paddle’s 90 degrees out you’re already upright. This starts the rolling motion earlier, gets you up faster than the C-to-C, and keeps your shoulders safe with arms in front and elbows low. The sweep is done with your whole body, not just your arms. Having your paddle on the surface throughout isn’t necessary, but allowing it to slice through without gripping the water is.

Finish with a flourish. At roll’s end you should be well balanced in an active, ready position. Practice coming up over the bow as well as the stern. This will make rolling in rough water more intuitive. A good finish position has 1) you looking down the shaft into the sweeping blade; 2) your sweeping elbow tucked into your rib cage and your other hand at shoulder level; 3) your torso twisted, chest facing the sweeping blade; and 4) your weight over the center of boat.

Follow Paul on IG HERE


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