Personal Challenge: 5 secrets to learning how to roll your kayak this year
By: K.M. Collins
What is one of the biggest questions you need to ask yourself as a kayaker? Do I need to learn how to roll a kayak? The answer is: not necessarily. That being said, knowing how to roll will allow you to enter more and more unpredictable and interesting water environments, because you’ll know that even if you get knocked over, you’ll pop right back up. If your goal is to push the envelope, then you’ll definitely want to learn to roll. In fact, before the paddling season starts is a great time to accomplish this. Read on and you’ll understand why. Here’s 5 secrets to set yourself up for success in learning how to roll your kayak…
Many towns and cities have a community center with a pool. The pool may already have one night a week assigned for hosting roll sessions. If not, you can contact the recreation administration and request that a time be coordinated for kayakers to come in and practice their rolls. Your local water sports community will thank you greatly. In the winter, a heated indoor pool is especially attractive for learning your roll, however, if there is a calm eddy in a close-by river or a lake, that can work too. Ideally, you can use the winter months preparing and getting the basics of a roll down indoors at the pool, that way as soon as the kayaking season kicks off, you’ll have your technique in place to start practicing outdoors, or in “combat”. Combat is a kayaker colloquialism meaning in real life.
Nose plugs and a drysuit
Once you have a place dialed in to practice you’ll want to order or purchase from a paddle shop, a drysuit and nose plugs. Although some get by with a wet suit for a little while when starting, most are amazed at how much drier/warmer they stay and how much more they can practice when utilizing a dry suit. How are dry suits and wetsuits different? A wet suit is neoprene and designed to keep you warm while you continue to be submerged. Once you are no longer submerged, wetsuits are very cold for the person wearing them. A dry suit on the other hand keeps your dry and warm, whether submerged or not. With rubber gaskets on the wrists and neck as a barrier to water, the water proof fabric keeps moisture completely out. This allows the person wearing it to practice a roll over and over and remain dry and warm.
On another note, nose plugs may look silly but in the new and foreign environment you will experience upside down in a kayak, they really help reduce the shock by stopping the sensation of rushing water in your nasal passage. Without this distraction, it is much easier to practice.
Another hint… Some people start off by using goggles or a diving face mask initially, until they can perfect the roll movements completely blind.
On the flip side
Have you ever been upside down in your kayak? Do you know what it’s like to flip a kayak over? With a skirt on, without a skirt? What’s a skirt you say? The kayak spray skirt is the stretchy piece of material you wear around your waist, which connects to the lip of the cockpit and gives you a dry seal when you're kayaking. For short day trips, you may never use a skirt, but for longer day trips or over nights, it’s likely you will use a skirt. The very first step to rolling is knowing what it’s like to flip your kayak without a skirt on, and to feel what it’s like to fall out of your kayak, upside down, under water. Practice this first.
The wet-exit and a self rescue
After you know what it’s like to flip, try a wet-exit with a skirt on. The wet-exit is when you flip in your kayak and then are able to follow several steps to clear yourself of the kayak and re-emerge on the surface safely. Wear your dry suit, wear your nose plugs, flip, remove your skirt from the lip of the kayak, push out of the kayak. Once you get this down, then practice self rescuing. Hang on to your paddle and bring your kayak to shore, even if you are swimming. In a marine environment, way out in the ocean, there may not be a shoreline accessible. There are classes and videos to help teach you how to get back in your kayak in these scenarios. You’ll need a paddle float for starters.
C-To-C, Sweep and Instinctual Rolls
Now that you can wet-exit and self-rescue, you are ready to learn how to roll your kayak. There are two types, C-To-C and the Sweep. Checking out the videos below is a good start. After you dial in these roll techniques, as you practice more and more in real life, or combat situations, you’ll learn your own brand of unique and special instinctual roll. To stay in practice, once you have a solid roll, many kayakers make it a point to do their roll, from each side every time they get on the water. Good luck and happy paddling!