How Not To Learn to Roll Your Kayak – By Greg Hansen

When I first started kayaking in whitewater I received a lot of advice about my kayak roll from experienced boaters. Everyone had a slightly different approach to teaching the roll and, as such, I got a lot of different techniques to try. After taking a lesson in rolling (from an instructor who did not know how to teach the roll) I found myself still unable to roll up so I began watching YouTube videos. A few of them suggested starting off by performing the roll on land. I thought, “Hmmm. That seems like a good idea.”

Well, it was not a good idea. After I had a chance to think about it I found that rolling on land reinforced bad habits, such as diving your paddle.

Anyway, the videos all followed pretty much the same script which was:

  • Find a soft area of ground, or if you are inside set your kayak on a mat or carpet. Okay—that part works.
  • Sit in your kayak holding your paddle. Again, this part works.
  • Grip the kayak with your legs, or make sure you are secure in the kayak with your knees under the knee braces. By this time, we will have learned this already but it is not bad advice, albeit redundant.
  • Get into the set-up position. This is the first problem I have with trying to learn the kayak roll on land. Note that my hands are under water. The reason for setting up this way is simple—you want your hands to be above the water when you are upside down. If you are on land the best you can do is get your hands even with the side of your boat. The proper set up position is shown below.

The dry-land lesson continues below.

  • Using your knees and hips and a brace to soften the impact, tip the kayak over on top of you until you come to rest with your shoulder on the ground and your paddle blade on the ground. This is my main problem with this technique. I found it very difficult, if not impossible, to tip my kayak over on land while maintaining the set-up position. In fact, I had to “helicopter” my torso to get the kayak to roll, a move that will guarantee that you dive your paddle.
  • Put face of the blade be on the ground with your elbow bent and tucked close in front of your body so you can pull the blade down against the ground, rather than pushing it down. My opinion is that no matter how you explain it you will be pushing the blade against the ground.
  • To roll up, pull down on the paddle and perform your hip-snap. If you do this you are using your paddle, not your hips, to execute the roll. This is bad technique.

My advice, especially to older paddlers trying to learn a kayak roll, is forget about trying to learn it on land. It merely reinforces bad habits. I created a video that I posted to YouTube that shows what, in my opinion, is wrong with trying to learn the kayak roll on dry land. You can find that video here:


DBP Executive editor and Web Head Honcho! Paddling and taking photos in the UK.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *