Learning to roll your kayak is a process of constant refinement. Here are 7 tips that will help you achieve rolling perfection.
#1: Set-up Higher
It all begins with a good set-up position. Having your hands too low in the water reduces the amount of wind-up in your torso, and sets your body too deep into the water.
To set-up correctly, both hands should be thrust as high as possible into the air, with both arms hard against the boat. Your body should be fully rotated to the side, bringing your hands up in line with your hip.
#2: Slice the Blade
This point is where so many people go wrong, resulting a roll that feels heavy and laboured. The fault is to use the active blade like a scoop, loading the blade face up with pressure. This often results in a blade that thumps the water and begins to sink, pulling you down with it.
The correct blade angle, involves tilting your wrists back slightly, setting the blade flat to the surface. Now you’ll be slicing the blade through the water like an aeroplane wing, creating lift energy as it glides. You should feel virtually no pressure on the blade face, and the paddle will slice the surface effortlessly.
#3: Reach Further Away
Naturally, we are tempted to pull down on the paddle to lift ourselves up, right? Wrong. When you pull down on the paddle, your arms and body then follows – Pull down and you’re going down. Eventually, the paddle shaft becomes more vertical, making it nearly impossible to use the blade for support.
Instead, try pushing or “reaching” the front bade out away from the boat – as far across the water as you can stretch. Doing this will cause your torso to rise to the surface, and begin to natuarally activate your “rolling knee” (see below).
#4: Engage the Correct Knee
Lifting the head is a symptom (but not the cause) of engaging the wrong knee/hip. To roll your kayak easily, you’ll need to engage your lower knee (right knee in R picture above). If you try to lift your body up too soon, you’ll be using your top knee (left knee in L picture above). When your top knee engages like this, it begins to reverse the roll, pulling your kayak back over on top of you.
To correct this problem, maintain pressure on only your lower (right) knee throughout the entire roll. Keep your top leg relaxed and crunch your waist down into the water, resisting the urge to sit up.
#5: Tuck the Back Hand
Look at the position of the left hand in both pictures above. If you punch your back hand out or across your kayak, you will either sink the paddle too deep into the water, or find yourself so far off balance that you drop back in.
Your back hand should be your pivot point during the entire roll. It should remain on (or near) your same shoulder with your elbow low and bent.
#6: Control Your Finish
Loosing balance as you finish, or tipping in on the opposite side, is often the result of leaning back, looking up, or jerking around suddenly (maybe from the shock it actually worked).
The best way to finish the roll, is to continue watching the active blade all the way through until the very end. This helps you to rotate your torso, bringing your boat under your hips (without the need to sit up). You should be centred over your seat. And as your kayak rights itself, smoothly roll your wrists back, opening your palms to the sky maintaining a slicing blade.
If you don’t think you can roll, you cant. Like many aspects of kayaking, having self-belief is a powerful thing. As soon as we begin to doubt ourselves underwater, the reality of the situation soon sets in – “I’m stuck underwater, hurtling down a river out of control”. The natural reaction is to panic, and either wet-exit straight away, or attempt some shocker of a roll that has no chance of working.
To roll reliably you need to remain calm underwater, believe in yourself, and focus on a good quality technique. If you can focus on making your roll stylish, and not give up after the first try, the results will soon follow.