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Rolling progression plan


Mar 26, 2010
North Idaho (Sandpoint)
As an elder, learning to roll has been slow. But I now have a reasonably consistent good-side layback roll with an initial (pre-capsize) setup. My rolling companion has been inspirational and it has become apparent that I have a long way to go. The ultimate goal is a higher level of safety; nevertheless the process is fun as well as challenging for me. The intermediate goals for my rolling progression are these (in no particular order):

learn a bad-side roll with setup, so bad-side and good-side are much the same
learn both rolls without a preparatory initial setup, as in an inadvertent capsize
learn reenter and roll after a wet exit
learn a forward finishing roll
try a variety of kayaks and paddles

This will give me enough to do as my paddling career whimpers to its close. I don't think I'll try with no paddle or to learn the multiple Greenland rolls. I'd like some feedback from those on this forum who roll. Are there better choices you would recommend for me?
Hi Richard:
Greenland or euro? You hint greenland, so that's what I will assume.
It looks like your boats are 22 & 22.5" wide, which is good enough. (The higher the boat sits, the harder the fundamentals are)
If you have the flexibility, appropriate boat, and are not too constrained by a pfd, I suggest working on a side scull and a balance brace (both sides).

Then enter the water on one side, float up into a balance brace or side scull on the other side, pause, recover onto back deck. Once you can do this, you have changed rolling from a predefined sequence to a transition between states. The sequence is highly susceptible to failure if anything changes or is different, while the transition between states is more flexible.
For example, how do you fare now if you setup as normal, but fall into the water on the opposite side than usual.

Another thing you could do is take video of you rolling and post a link to it. Then I could give you more specific advice.
Listen to Nootka, he's a rolling guru. :)

Two things I would add:
I wouldn't worry about a forward finishing roll until you have a solid 'default' roll. Most people have a much easier time with a layback, and your goal is a reliable combat roll.
Once you are comfortable, find a tide race with some nice waves/currents and practice. These are the types of conditions you will require a roll from a safety perspective. Tide races are nice to practice in because you'll often just get pushed out if things go bad.
Thanks Nootka!

I'll work on your suggestions. Right now I use either Greenland or Euro, but holding both 'extended'.

I've only had one inadvertent capsize ... and well before my roll was usable ... in Surge, where you play.
Just a note on the "set up" position. It is the same, whether you are right side up preparing to capsize, or already upside down. What matters is knowing where that position is and how to get your body/blade into it.
Keep on rolling! :clap:
Take "Good side. Bad side." out of your mind. There is just left and right. Don't make "good" and "bad".

Don't mix up too many things. I'd think that "greenland" rolls are mostly for greenland paddles and greenland style boats. If you use a Euro paddle and your boat sits high (and you are short waisted), you might ask an experienced person what style roll works best for those parameters - and practice that.

Maybe it's just me, but I'd think it's better to have one 100% roll instead of three 80% rolls.
other than designers first sentence in the previous post, I think I disagree - for the sake of gentle discussion, of course.

my thoughts are that it is better to have a whole bunch of partial successes in different approaches than depending on one type of success only. I think it opens the mind to a more complete understanding of what you may be trying to do. So I think 3 different sorta rolls are much more useful and informative than one perfect roll.

And as far as suggestions, I think you could do far worse than following the basics of nootka's advice. But it was from me, I'd say be very careful of your shoulder [keep elbow close and it's bend no more than 90deg] and in shallow 3' water or pool, and always starting and concentrating on your weaker side more than your stronger, and with your elbow and arm always wet, scull, scull, scull, scull.

- shallow water because you can push off the bottom in screwups and not waste your time wet exiting over and over and over. I can't tell you the number of hours I've seen wasted by people doing this.
- shallow water because if you can push off the bottom, you've already learned another useful self-rescue [in many shallow water conditions]
- less used side more as it will inform your more coordinated side - both will improve much more rapidly than if good side concentrated on - I've seen this over and over.
- scull because just like 'weak' side and 'strong' side not mattering, reverse scull stroke and forward scull stroke will soon not matter so much - and can now come into play in those 80% situations.
- deep sculls because if you really practice this, after a few sessions you will begin to understand that rolling strokes are not really any different.
-deep sculls because if you really practice this, you will realize that the paddle gives as much, if not more, lift when it is fully immersed than when trying to keep it on the surface - this is especially true for greenland paddles.
my short answer - pay for a clinic with James Manke ;)

my medium length answer - as Designer said, you are losing the psychological battle with yourself by using terms such as "bad side" and "good side". Instead view them as your "good side" and "alternate good side". You'd be very surprised at what a little bit of personal positive reinforcement can do to affect performance.

my long answer - don't bother trying to self-learn the roll. this is one case where peer coaching, whether mentored with friends or via paying for a coach is worth the investment. if you ingrain bad habits on your own it will take months to unlearn those developed motor pathways and try to build from scratch again. it can be very frustrating.

so, to sum it all up - pay for a clinic with James Manke
a plain roll & two some sculling rolls here:

1) Craig gets his head up near the surface before he starts the paddle sweep
2) the kayak is turned past 90 degrees as the paddle is perpendicular to the yak ... a continuous solid knee drive
3) head comes out near the back deck
4) sculling rolls very similar to first roll, just scull a bit before coming up.
Thanks for the illustrative video reference, Nootka. As before, I find your feedback highly useful. At this point, my roll has become very consistent. Euro vs Greendland doesn't seem to make much difference at this point. I will work on getting sculling into my skull.

I've had various instructors, some more useful than others. But part of that depended on where I was at and what I was ready for, rather than on their excellence. Of course an instructor who can find where you're at and build upon that is golden.