Swims are, at best, inconvenient and uncomfortable and can be hazardous.
I found this excellent article by Eric Jackson and I'm sure EJ won't mind if I use it here.

The Bombproof Roll

By Eric Jackson (E.J.)

Here is how to take your roll from where it is to 100% effective.

Everyone learns to roll, then goes through some kind of regression, forgets their roll, then gets it pretty good again giving them 90% confidence in it, then oops, what happened.

At this point, where you are, you will either rise up, or go down forever. There is no medium ground here. You know you have the skills to roll, it is a head game, here is what you do. (I have taught thousands of people to roll, and they never swim!)

  1. You must be confident and proficient in your basic technique. So start at the beginning. Go to the side of the pool, practice the hip snap. You must pay attention when doing it (no going through the motions). Keep your head in the water until the cockpit hits you in the side (you have done a complete hip snap) then bring your head out. Remember, you body is weightless in the water, 1" out of the water and you weigh 150 pounds (or what ever you weigh) So upright the boat while weightless, then bring your body out.
  2. Do the same exercise, but with your paddle on the side of the pool, drop in the water, hip snap up. Open your eyes and look at the bottom of the pool, don't take your eyes off the bottom until your boat is upright..
  3. Do the entire roll a couple of times having someone watch for proper technique.

If you can roll again, with 75% proper technique or better, you are ready for the next step, becoming a roller for life.

Rolling vs. swimming is a no compromise mental decision!

When you are underwater, your ability to make quality decisions is limited. In fact, I wouldn't want to rely on any decisions I make underwater. So it is critical to make all important decisions in advance of getting in your kayak.

#1 Decision- When I flip over, I roll up. This is an easy one. If you are walking across the street and you fall down, you just stand up and walk to the other side. You don't lay there and wait for someone to help you. Why? Because you know how to stand up. If you try to get up and fall again, what do you do? You stand up and walk across the street before you get run over by a truck. If you tip over, you roll up, if you miss a roll, you set up and do it right the next time.

Rolling is easy- you know how to do it on both sides. The only time you don't roll is when you aren't focused on the task at hand- SET UP, COCK UP, HIP SNAP, HEAD DOWN. That is all you can do when underwater.

Important facts-

  1. All you can do underwater is roll up.
  2. If you think about anything but rolling up, you will have more trouble rolling.

You tip over and your paddle hits a rock underwater---

Set up and roll

You are set up but your head bounces on a rock--- roll up You feel a huge boil and swirly water and you are having trouble setting up--

Set up and roll (it may take another 5 seconds)

You are up against rocks on one side--- Set up and roll on other side.

Get the point- Everytime you are upside down, you focus on the roll and roll up.

The option- Swim (It takes at least 5 more seconds to get air than rolling, you bang your legs, waste 5 minutes, get cold, endanger yourself and everyone with you) So swimming is not an option.

How do I practice my roll to have total confidence it will always work?

  1. Once you are confident in a pool that you will get back up if you tip over (you can roll) you can begin your real roll practice.
  2. Never, never, never tip over with your paddle set up in roll position!!!!

This will never happen in a river, so practicing this way means every time you tip in a river it will feel different to you then in practice.

Your goal is to get comfortable with every conceivable position to start your roll from underwater.

Examples: Tip with your paddle behind your back, over your head, holding with one hand, backwards, bad grip, etc. Tip with your paddle off to the side of the boat, look for it and swim to it, grab it set up and roll.

Time your self underwater- practice extending your time underwater with a reasonable comfort level. (The average person is comfortable for 10-15 seconds on the first try and 15-30 seconds on the second try. This means it is possible for you to double the time you have to be comfortable underwater with a little practice (underwater is no big deal unless you feel panic, extending the time you have before panic is easy and critical).

Learn an "intuitive roll"- You can now roll any old which way but loose. You no longer roll set up. You can pass your paddle over the boat while underwater, etc. Awesome. One more step...

Getting past the "learned, mechanical roll". You do a sweep roll, or a C to C roll. Fine. Rolling though is simply getting a bite on the water and hip snapping up. (you should take your roll past the beginner phase and learn to roll in all kinds of positions of paddle and body)

Here is how you do it-

  1. Flop in the water with your paddle in the high brace position and roll back up (deep high brace).
  2. Same thing but let the paddle go underwater to a 30 degree angle then roll up.
  3. Do it again letting the paddle go deep to 60 degrees, then roll up.
  4. Go to 90 degrees then roll up. (miss a roll?, no problem, set up and roll normally)

What you are trying to achieve in the above exercise is to learn what you can get away with and still roll up. It is not necessary to "set up do a CtoC roll" everytime. In fact, most of the time you should be able to turn a flip into a quick hipsnap back up. Why? Because you generally tip over with the paddle in a position that is similar to one that your are practising above (60 degrees into the water for example)

You can always set up and do the "proper roll technique" if you miss a quick roll up. However, if you don't learn that you can roll from any position, you won't ever have an intuitive roll.


  1. Decide that you NEVER swim. (The only time swimming is safer than staying in the boat is when the boat is pinned solid to something)
  2. Practice "combat rolls" only- that is the only kind you will ever have to do.
  1. Extend the amount of time you are comfortable underwater (a bath tub is good for this too)
  2. Learn an "Intuitive roll"- rolling any which way, (it is all about getting a bite on the water with your paddle and doing a good hip snap, keeping the head down.)
  3. Imagine every possible situation that could possibly occur in the river and try to simulate it in the pool (use the sides, use other kayakers, use a broken paddle, etc)
  4. Learn a hand roll after the intuitive roll.

One more thing. time to put an old wives tale to rest once and for all!!!! It is not better to roll leaning forward vs. leaning back!

The last three years there has been some kind of underground cult that has ruined the rolls of thousands of boaters, endangering them in the river, ruining their confidence, and their on the water enjoyment. This cult has been teaching that you should ALWAYS roll up leaning forward. BS, NO GOOD!

Their theory is by rolling up leaning forward you protect your face from hitting rocks. Wrong!! By the time you have done your hip snap and are coming up, if you are leaning back your face is pointed at the sky, not the bottom of the river.

Leaning forward during hip snap hinders your hip snap by 50%. This means you will be missing many more rolls than if you lean back. It also raises your centre of gravity on the roll by 50% taking more energy to roll up.

You want to nail your first roll everytime! This means good hip snap (leaning back a little or all of the way), keep your centre of gravity low (leaning back) and finish every roll in bracing position (leaning back, paddle out to the side)

Leaning forward means missing rolls, slamming rocks on your way back in, coming up out of position for a good brace to keep you up, etc. Say no to the cult!

With all of this said remember....

You will see me, and all of the best boaters breaking all of the rules mentioned above (except the swimming part) because our rolls are so intuitive that we just "roll up" with no regard to technique or a consistent approach. (I rarely ever set up and roll, I often lean forward so I am in position to take my next stroke, I will lean back if it is important that I stay up) etc. You too can get there, but a breaking out of the "mechanical roll" mould is the first step.

I hope this was a worthwhile rolling article for everyone.

See you on the water,


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