Articles - Top Ten Tips for Rolling on Moving Water

Learn to Roll your Kayak First Time, Every Time
Learn to Roll your Kayak First Time, Every Time
By Chris Evans - Level 5 Coach - Plas Y Brenin - Posted on 24 Nov 2010
So your roll is dialled in the pool, you can come up every time and from what ever rolling challenges a helpful friend can throw at you, such as being blindfolded and pushed in, pushed in when not expecting it and being back or front looped in the pool. On moving water however all the old habits kick in, things like your head breaking the surface too early or just popping your deck instead of even attempting to roll. If this sounds familiar then I hope that these tips will help to make your roll better on moving water, which in turn will push your confidence, leading to those harder rivers you dreamed of. You will need all your usual paddling kit, a friend or two to rescue you if it doesn’t work and a good sense of humour.

Learn to roll on your off side!

OK, so you haven’t left the pool yet, but learning an offside roll is a skill worth its weight in gold. On moving water your good side may not work first time but once through the motion of rolling the paddle is set up on your off side without even thinking about it meaning that vital seconds without oxygen are saved.

Feel what the boat does when upside down.
Rolling on offside
Find a safe, deep venue that flows into a nice big pool like Chertsey Weir on the Thames or Stanley Embankment in North Wales for instance and just capsize into the power of the water. Sounds backwards I know but every coach goes on about how a skill should feel, this is no different. Getting used to how you and your boat feels when getting pushed around by a current gets rid of any orientation issues and gets you used to the environment you’re going to be rolling in.

Rolling and bracing practice.

It sounds obvious I know, but these are skill areas that are very often missed out by paddlers. At a similar venue to the one above start by deliberately bracing in the moving water. Once you are happy with it, set up and roll in the current. These two skills let you feel where you can and can’t get purchase on the water and gain you more confidence. However in a real situation you very rarely have the time to set up, so to get the feel for this try paddling your boat flat into a strong current, so it grabs at your edge. The idea is to use brace strokes to keep you upright and if this doesn’t work then you have to set up for your roll from where you are, whether that’s on the way over, if you are quick enough, or upside down if you are not.

Video Camera.

The whitewater roll can be fairly frantic and confusing, even if you have done all the orientation work described above. I’ve often heard students say things like, ‘one minute I was upside down the next the right way up.’ Then go on to question whether it was actually me, the coach, turning them the right way up, or they put it down to luck rather than the roll becoming a reaction. A video camera in the hands of a spotter on the bank will let you spot common patterns that might be occurring, for example head breaking the surface too quick or paddle diving into the water. It will also allow students to see their successful rolls themselves.

Deliberately getting the first roll wrong!

I often find that once the first roll has failed, for many students attempting another roll is not even registering, they just go straight for the grab loop. By intentionally getting the first roll wrong you are making yourself more comfortable to stay in your boat and try again, you can also over emphasise any glitches, which happened during the first attempt, and then focus on ironing them out on the second. Rather than one attempt give it three goes before you think about bailing out.
Kayaker getting eskimo roll wrong
Challenge yourself.
‘I’m just going to belt down the middle of this rapid because if I do anything different I’m going to swim.’ If that sounds familiar then provided it’s a safe rapid, with a big pool to pick up the pieces in, work that section for a while. Start with your straight run down then add a few targets to hit like eddies or run a different line. This boosts comfort zones and allows you to start changing your mindset, for example, ‘the worst that happens here is I roll.’

Mental Attitude
I often hear people say, ‘my roll isn’t working today.’ I even heard it once before the paddler had even got on the water. If that’s what you’re telling yourself then it’s probably true. Instead, plan your run down a rapid to stay dry, if you have to roll it’s a reaction rather than planned or a worst fear.

Flexibility is often a hindrance with student’s rolling. If your roll has just randomly disappeared it may be because your flexibility has changed. Yoga or Pilates are great ways of getting or keeping good flexibility for general paddling, not just for rolling. Alternatively buy yourself a gym ball and use it instead of the office chair at work.

Different venues
By learning to roll in different venues you have a broad range of comfort levels in the different styles. For example if you have learnt your moving water roll somewhere where there’s a Rescuing a capsized klayakercurrent and eddies then try somewhere more aerated or shallower. Instead of only being able to roll in one scenario you up the chances of being able to roll in many.

Freestyle paddling is very quick and dynamic; often when the move doesn’t work a roll is involved. This makes your roll very quick and reactionary. The other thing with playboating is that the good venues often have lots of paddlers there. Go when it’s busy and watch both good boaters and bad boaters and then analyse the two. Why is it working for one and not the other? The things to look for are not just the rolling techniques, but when and where they use it, for example does this paddler use a brace to avoid going in or does he just fire into a fast roll and come up paddling forwards to save time?

Get some coaching
OK its now eleven tips, but who’s counting? Often the small tweaks needed with any skill can easily missed through frustration or lack of understanding. Someone with knowledge of the skill can see the common faults and iron them out for you very quickly.
The thing to remember is we are all in between swims, they happen to the best of us. If it helps, call it a technical dismount.

About the Author – Chris Evans
Originally from the Thames Valley Chris is a full-time coach at Plas y Brenin and now calls the mountains of Snowdonia home. When not paddling deep gorges, rivers or lakes in his kayak or open canoe Chris can usually be found climbing in the hills.

If you found this helpful then check out our How to Roll Article And How to Roll Video

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