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Roll a Kayak: Skill Progression


Training to roll a kayak

Training to roll a kayak

Photo © by George E. Sayour

Being able to roll a kayak is an absolute must for all whitewater kayakers. It is also a very good skill to know for the sea kayaking bunch out there. The first time that most people attempt to roll a kayak they put too much emphasis on sweeping the paddle. Unfortunately for these people the driving force behind rolling a kayak is the hip-snap. It is for this reason that you should understand all of the skills involved in rolling a kayak prior to attempting a roll. This skill progression will help guide you through these skills.

Happy rolling!

Difficulty: Hard
Time Required: Anywhere from a few hours to a few days

Here's How:

  1. Learn How to Wet-Exit:
    This isn’t so much a skill as it is a necessary prerequisite. No one should attempt to roll a kayak if they haven’t first learned how to exit the kayak while upside down.
  2. Learn How to Tuck While Upside-Down:
    Tucking to the deck of the kayak is the first thing one must do when their kayak flips over. If not, they won’t be able to properly setup for a roll attempt. It is also a matter of safety.
  3. Learn How to Hip-Snap:
    The Hip-Snap is the main skill employed and hte driving force behind the kayak roll. A properly executed hip-snap will enable the kayaker to roll a kayak up regardless of the paddle position.
  4. Learn How to Buddy-Roll:
    The Buddy role will help you understand what it is like to be completely upside-down in your kayak and then to roll back up. It is also a great backup technique to use in the event that you can’t roll up on your own.
  5. Work With a Partner:
    Once you have the above skills down, you can begin trying to roll your kayak. The best way to put all of this together is to have a spotter in the water guiding you through the steps and helping you position your paddle.
  6. Put it All Together:
    Now it’s time to try on your own. It’s a good idea when practicing rolling a kayak to have a person in a kayak near you ready to help you with a buddy-roll if you can’t roll your kayak after a few attempts.


  1. Don't rush things. Take each skill and learn it to perfection.
  2. Learn to roll a kayak from an experienced kayaker.
  3. Don't overdo it. It is easy to pull muscles in one's neck and shoulders when practicing these skills.
  4. Practice with all of your gear on as it will feel different depending on what you are wearing.

What You Need

  • Kayak
  • Paddle
  • PFD
  • Helmet
  • Spray Skirt
  • Experience Kayaker
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  5. Skill Progression for Learning to Roll a Kayak

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