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How To Roll A Kayak (the right way!)

Mark Armstrong
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Rolling a kayak (also known as an Eskimo Roll) can be a tricky skill to master but it can also be a pretty useful one if you find yourself capsized in a sit-inside kayak. Whether you’re in the open water or paddling down a river, learning how to roll could be beneficial.

So to give you a little advice and to help you learn, we’ve put together this guide. And hopefully the next time you’re out paddling you might be able to give it a try.

How To Roll A Kayak - Pinterest ImagePin

Why Learning To Roll A Kayak Is Important

When you’re on the water in a sit-inside kayak, it can be important to know how to correct yourself if you do manage to capsize. With a sit-on-top, the rules are slightly different because if you capsize you will simply fall off, as there is no cockpit to keep you contained.

For many whitewater kayakers, knowing how to roll can be an essential skill because of the constant moving water. However, for other types of sit-inside kayaks, while it may not be essential if you already know how to perform a wet exit, rolling can be a useful skill to have.

A kayak roll can be ideal for when you’re in a sit-inside yak with a spray skirt. The skirt will help to prevent the water from getting inside your cockpit. If you don’t have a spray skirt attached, the roll may not work as your cockpit will probably fill with water and you’ll have to empty it, before getting back in.

Where Should A Beginner Learn To Eskimo Roll?

Calm water with no obstacles can be a good spot to learn to roll, as this means you shouldn’t have to worry about currents or anything else getting in your way.

A swimming pool can also be ideal, as this can give you a chance to get used to rolling without needing to worry too much about the water temperature. It can also give you a safe area of still water for learning.

It can be a good idea to have someone with you while you’re trying to master the Eskimo roll. A second person can help hold your hands while you get to grip with the flip techniques and hip snaps (see below), as well as advise you on where you might be going wrong or help stabilize your boat if you get into difficulty.

What Are The Different Types Of Kayak Roll?

Before we get into the different roll types, here’s a video tutorial explaining the importance of the hip snap technique, and how to perform one effectively:

Video Tutorial: The Hip Snap/Flick

C to C Roll

The C to C roll is one of the most common types of kayak rolls and is named for the motions that are created with your paddle when you perform the roll. It can be useful for whitewater paddling as it can be quick to perform and can be done in small spaces.

It requires you to put your paddle at a 90 degree angle to your cockpit and forcing the blade down as you use your hips to right the boat.

Video Tutorial: C-to-C Kayak Roll

Sweep or Screw Roll

Another commonly used type of kayak roll is the sweep roll, which can also be referred to as the screw roll. The name comes from the movement of your paddle as you sweep it from the bow towards the stern across the water.

This type of roll could give you more time to perform your hip snap technique to bring yourself back to an upright position. You also may require more space for this roll than the C to C roll but it can be ideal for open water.

Video Tutorial: Sweeping Kayak Roll

Reverse Sweep or Back Deck Roll

The reverse sweep roll can be a good choice if you find yourself tilted back against your kayak, as this recovery method could save you time compared to positioning for a standard roll.

It is similar to a sweep roll but is done in reverse, so the sweep motion of your paddle will be from stern to bow.

Video Tutorial: Reverse Screw / Sweep Roll

Hand Roll

The hand roll can be useful if you find yourself capsized and without your paddle. So this technique utilizes your hands instead of your paddle in order to right yourself.

In order to do this, you would put both your hands together (because two hands are stronger than one) to create a paddle or fin shape and then force your hands down in the water from the surface. This should allow you to use your hip snap technique and bring you back to the surface.

Video Tutorial: The Hand Roll

Guide On How To Roll A Kayak

Step 1: Find a safe location

When you’re trying Eskimo rolling for the first time, it can be better to do it in calm water where there are no obstacles, waves or currents. A swimming pool can be ideal.

Step 2: Practice set up

To prepare for both C to C and sweep rolls, you will usually require the same starting position.

To set up for these rolls, bring your paddle to one side of your kayak so it’s parallel with your vessel (usually the left side if you’re right handed and vice versa). Keep the power face of the blade facing up but flat against the surface of the water.

Keeping your paddle in this position lean forward and to the side towards the front blade, turning your body to face your paddle and keeping your head tucked in. This is the position that you’ll start from but you’ll be under the water during the roll.

Video Tutorial: How To Roll A Kayak (basic)

So when you’re under the water in this position, you’ll be leaning towards the surface of the water, where your paddle will be.

Step 3a: The Catch (C to C method)

This is the part of the roll that you will then be able to use your hip snap technique to flip your kayak back to its upright position, with the help of both your paddle and your knees.

For the C to C roll, assuming you’re right handed, swing the blade in your right hand out from the kayak so it’s at a 90 degree angle to your boat. Remember to turn your body towards this blade.

At this point your left hand will be pressed against the side of your yak. Push down on your right blade to force it under the water and keep your eyes on the blade. This is the catch point where you would perform your hip snap technique at the same time.

Step 3b: The Catch (sweep method)

For the sweep roll, the catch point will be found as you sweep your paddle from the bow towards the stern.

How To: Do A Sweep Kayak Roll

From the same set up position as the C to C roll, with your right hand sweep your right blade across the surface of the water from the bow towards the stern. As you do this, bring your paddle under the water during the sweep.

When your paddle reaches around a 90 degree angle with your yak, this is the catch point where you can hip snap your vessel back the right way up as you keep your paddle sweeping with your eyes on it and your head down.

Step 4: The Hip Snap

For both C to C and sweep rolls, the hip snap is what can help you force your kayak back to its upright position.

Assuming you’re right handed and have the paddle on the left side of your craft, you would use your right knee to help flip your yak back around. Pull up on your right knee as you rotate your hips to pull the yak back to its correct position.

Video: Mastering The Hip Snap (for Sea Kayaking)

Step 5: The right way up

After you’ve used your hip snap technique combined with your paddle catch, you will be on your way to becoming the right way up. But as your yak begins to right itself, keep your head down, with your eyes on your paddle and rotate your body as you come out of the water.

Your head should be the last part of your body to come out of the water. Depending on how you personally perform the roll, you may find that you come out of the water with your body towards the back of your vessel.

Video: Rolling A Whitewater Kayak – The Recovery

You may also find that it can be useful to use your paddle to re-stabilize yourself by sculling your paddle forwards, which can also be helpful if your roll didn’t recover quite the way you’d planned. 

Time To Roll Up (Conclusion)

Knowing how to roll a kayak can be an important skill to have, especially if you plan to paddle in rough conditions or head out to some whitewater. The Eskimo roll can help you bring your kayak back to the correct position after you capsize, so you can continue paddling without needing to be rescued.

While it can be a useful skill to have, it is always a good idea that you practice somewhere safe beforehand and try to have someone else around who can help you if you get into difficulty.

Remember to stay safe out there and if you want to help your fellow paddlers, share this guide with them. We’d love to hear how you get on with your roll, so leave us a comment. 

3 thoughts on “How To Roll A Kayak (the right way!)”

    • Niki, there’s a huge difference. Neoprene skirts are the kind you’ll want for rolling kayaks. The neoprene ones have a lot more tension, which holds them in place much more snugly.

      Nylon skirts are usually called “spray skirts”. They’re a cheaper alternative to help keep your legs dry when you’re planning to stay upright. They’ll still form a decent seal, but the pressure of the water in the middle of them has a tendency to pop them loose.

      If you already have a nylon spray skirt, and you’re looking to practice rolling without buying a neoprene one, track down a cheap little beach ball to pop between your legs. The ball will provide support to the middle of the skirt, keeping it in place.

      I had a class in high school where the teacher borrowed whatever gear she could off friends, so we used this trick a lot. Great for practicing, but a little uncomfortable for a whole day of paddling!

    • Niki

      Are you a beginner for kayaking

      If you are then i would wear a nylon

      Spraydeck as they are more easy to take

      Off than a neoprene one but if you are more

      Than a beginner then yes wear a neoprene

      Spraydeck I have recently started to my

      Neoprene spraydeck for when I am learning to roll


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