Articles - How to Eskimo Roll A Kayak

Rolling a kayak is easier than ypou may imagine!
Rolling a kayak is easier than ypou may imagine!
Canoe & Kayak UK Editorial - Posted on 26 Jul 2010
Learning to successfully right your kayak from an upside down position while still in it, or, as it is commonly known, to roll your kayak is a big step on the learning curve for many paddlers. It’s a skill, that once mastered, increases your confidence and opens the doors to taking on more challenging environments in your kayak, be it on the river or on the sea. Self-rescue skills and knowledge are essential for safe paddling and theHow to roll a kayak - the set upre is no quicker or easier way of getting yourself out of trouble after an accidental capsize than a quick and well executed Eskimo roll.

The Eskimo roll, as the name suggests was invented and pioneered by the early Inuit paddlers out of necessity (they used to stitch themselves into their kayaks to hunt on the freezing cold Arctic oceans). For the modern paddler the ability to roll means that you avoid an unpleasant swim, but in extreme circumstances it can still be a life saving skill. Much mystique surrounds rolling for those who are yet to learn, but it’s a relatively simple manoeuvre and if you follow this step by step guide you should soon be rolling with confidence in no time at all.

Where to Learn

A swimming pool is an ideal environment in which to learn to roll. You can see easily, the water is warm; there is no current to interfere as you learn and the ‘safe’ environment makes it easier to conquer any latent fears about going underwater.

Types of Roll
There are many, many different types of Eskimo roll. Forwards backwards, using only your hands etc. But for the purposes of this article we’ll be looking at the simple and effective forward sweep roll, also known as a screw roll.

A Snug Fit
To roll effectively it is essential that you fit in your kayak correctly. To make sure that you fit the boat comfortably first adjust your footrest. You need to be snug in the boat with your knees up under your thigh-braces and slight pressure on the soles of the footrest. Many paddlers like to add foam to the seat to prevent slipping, although many modern boats come with this already fitted. Hip pads will also help a lot, again many modern boats come with adjustable hip pads fitted, but a few layers of foam glued in to place will also do the job. A good backrest is a must. It should provide good support and fit to roll a kayak - capsized and ready to start an Eskimo roll seuquence

Warming Up
Rolling involves a degree of flexibility and torso rotation and as with any form of exercise you need to warm your muscles up properly before you begin to avoid injury. The areas that you need to concentrate on are the lower back, arms, hips and hamstrings. Start of with some gentle stretching and move on from there.

Handy Hints
For this article we will be explaining a right-hand roll, if you are a left-handed paddler (like our very own ED) just perform the techniques leading with your left hand instead.

Prerequisites to Rolling
Ideally you will have mastered edging and dynamic low bracing before you move on to the roll. These will help you develop the techniques you’ll need ‘under the deck’ such as hip flicking.

Practice Drills

Hip Ficks
This is the key to a successful roll! A common misconception is that simply using the paddle alone rights your kayak. This is not true. The paddle is just there to give you a helping hand. The real power behind the roll is in your hips.Practicing hip flicks on the way to learning how to eskimo roll your kayak
The key to performing a good hip flick is to keep your head and torso low while rotating the boat up with your hips. It requires the separation of the upper and lower body, sounds complicated but it’s really not. You are simply using a flick of your hips to push the boat back upright. Start developing and practicing your hip flick technique by lining up your kayak boat parallel to the side of the pool. Now put both hands on the side of the pool on your right hand side lean over until the water supports your body. Turn your head up towards the roof so you can still breathe. Now, keeping your right ear in the water, try to roll the boat upright as far as you can by using just the movement of your hips.
To begin with just keep it gentle but as you become familiar with the feeling start to build up the range of movement until you can actually ‘flick’ your kayak as far as you possibly can. The movement needs to be coming from your hips and you need to minimise, or completely eliminate any movement of your torso and head. Keep that ear in the water!

Time to Float Your Boat

OK, you’ve got the poolside hip flick down. Now it’s time to take it to the next stage – hip flicking the boat up using a swimming float. It’s useful to have a ‘Rolling Buddy’ to help you with this. Use a part of the pool that they can stand in up to about their chests. If it all goes wrong and your hip flick fails you can tuck up and they can simply reach over and bring you back upright. This will save you having to exit the boat and empty out after any failed attempts. You can take it in turns to be the roller and the buddy too.
Start off by using the biggest float you can get hold of, but as you improve try to use smaller and smaller floats, or even just your buddies outstretched hand. As your hip flick gets better and better, so the amount of support you need to perform it will become less and less. See, we told you it wasn’t all about the paddle. Again work hard to eliminate and body or head movement and try to keep your elbows low to protect your shoulders.

Over But Not Out
Up to now you will have been of been leaning over on to the poolside or float but now it’s time to go the whole hog and fully capsize before reaching up to the float and then hip flicking yourself back upright. Again the key in concentrating on a good hop flick combined with keeping your body and head still. The last thing that should come up out of the water is your head. The reason behind this it that if you bring your head up first it will act as a counterbalance and good old gravity will have you back upside down before you know it. The reason that this is hard is because all your instincts are telling you to get that head up in to the air so you can breathe! By concentrating on this from the get go you should be able to overcome this and convince your brain that the quickest way to the air is to snap those hips and keep your bonce in the drink for just a few seconds longer.

Introducing the Paddle
You now should have a killer hip flick and a good understanding of separating what your upper body and lower body are up to, so it’s time to bring in the paddle. Basically this is going to replace the float and give you that platform from which to hip flick yourself back upright from. A good way of doing this is to hop out of the pool and do a few ‘dry’ runs of the movements detailed below before taking to the water again to put it in to practice for real.

Breaking it Down

The Set UpHow to Eskimo roll your kayak - the set up
No matter what position you’ve ended up in after your capsize the first order of business is getting yourself in to the set up position. When you’re learning it’s best to get in to the set up before you capsize, but once you’ve mastered rolling practice capsizing in different positions before moving in to the set up while upside down.
The set up position has you paddle placed parallel to your kayak with your body and head rotated towards it. As we’re talking about a right hand roll here your control hand (right) will be at the front, so the paddle will be positioned to the left hand side of your boat. Once you’ve capsized you need to lean forward and rotate fully and try and push the paddle right out of the water.
This position provides some protection from any underwater hazards as your helmet and buoyancy aid will be facing them and getting flipped upside down suddenly can be a pretty disorientating experience, so having a default starting position before you begin your roll sequence can really help you stay calm and get your bearings.
Concentrate on a couple of things. Your forearms should be pressing against the side of your boat and your hands, ideally breaking the surface. You should be rotating your body out to the paddle side and your head should be as close to the surface as possible. The further you can rotate the more easily you’ll be able to nail that hip flick.

The Strike or the CatchHow to Eskimo Roll Your Kayak - The Strike
This refers to the moment that you begin your roll and the paddle catches a small amount of pressure to allow you to hip flick (remember how little support you needed from the float). It doesn’t mean trying to haul yourself and your boat up using just your paddle baled and a load of muscle. Your blade will never be able to supply enough support for this to work so any attempt to do so is doomed to fail.

The Sweep & Flick
Begin to sweep the paddle out from the boat towards a 90-degree position. Unwind your torso as you do so and keep your arms in a relatively fixed position. Keep your blade near the surface as you do this and pull slightly downwards on it. Timing plays a key part here and you don’t want to start your hip flick to early, as the paddle won’t provide the best support earlier in its sweep. Even before you initiate your hip flick you’ll find that the unwinding of your body and the pressure on your paddle will be already bringing your body and head closer to the surface. As the paddle sweep further out you’ll gain a little more leverage and it’s time to start a smooth hip flick to bring your kayak all the way back to upright.

RecoveryHow to Eskimo roll your kayak - the hip flick
This final part of the roll is an important one and it’s easy to mess it up her and flop back into the water. This is where all that practice at keeping your head down comes in to play. Raise that head to early and it will pull on your top knee and will pull your kayak back over. It sounds easy but it’s probably the most common cause of a failed roll. As you learn you’ll probably find that you finish the roll leaning slightly backwards. This is fine in a pool but on the river or ocean where current and waves come in to play it leaves you in an unstable and vulnerable position. As you become proficient at rolling try to get into the habit of moving your body forwards in the recovery stage in to the forwards ‘attack’ position as soon as possible ready to put in a stroke if need be and deal with any obstacles or hazards that may be approaching. OK that’s it time for you to get out on the water and roll with it. Remember practice makes perfect and we’ve never met anyone who nailed it first time, so don’t worry if it takes a few sessions to click.

Keeping it Real
One final piece of advice is to make sure that as soon as you are comfortable rolling in the pool you should take it to the environment that you will be paddling on and practice your roll on real water. Moving from the bright clear water to the murky green of a river or sea can add an extra dimension. But relax, set up properly and stick to the drill and it’ll be just the same. The more you practice on real water the more comfortable and relaxed you’ll become about rolling in it. How to Eskimo roll your kayak - the recoverey

Rolling courses are a great way to fast track your rolling skills, but in our experience the best place to learn is with your local canoe club. Check out the clubs section at to find your nearest club.

Check out our handy ‘How To roll A Kayak’ video in the How To section of the video gallery

To find your nearest rolling course check out the course providers in the Market Place

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