How To Roll A Kayak


Kayaking is a great way to enjoy marine life and strengthen your muscles. But sometimes, rough waters or lack of balance can cause this much-cherished watercraft to flip over. This is why learning how to roll a kayak is important because it can actually save your life if you happen to capsize your boat.

If your kayak adventure is in the calm waters, then you may not need to worry much about rolling. But for whitewater kayaking, you need to take some time to familiarize yourself with the basics of this skill.

For new paddlers, however, it is important to first learn the basic getting back into a kayak after it’s flipped over. Once these are at your fingertips, you can proceed to learn kayak rolling.

How To Learn

The ideal way to learn a kayak roll is to have an experienced friend or instructor to teach you the basics until you are completely comfortable to roll by yourself. But this is not a necessity. You will do perfectly fine with just this guide and a willing helper.

And actually, your helper doesn’t have to be a pro kayaker, but at least they should be familiar with rolling. Get them to read this guide beforehand and the whole process will be a cakewalk.

Choosing Your Location

Since you are just starting, it is important to do your practice in the easiest conditions possible. This will help you to focus better and get the fundamentals down quickly.

Calm, warm, clear, waist-deep waters will be the perfect place to get started. If you have a swimming pool in your backyard, even better. Otherwise, just find out if the local swimming pools allow kayaking. If not, look for any water body that matches the conditions we have mentioned.

As you continue learning and mastering the technique, trying practicing in rougher conditions. Kayak rolling is significantly harder in choppy or fast current water. Just practicing in the nice cozy swimming pool will not prepare you so well for the rough conditions.

Before You Start

Always remember this – the more stable your boat is, the more difficult your rolling gets. Thus, if you can, get a “tippy” kayak. Low-volume whitewater kayaks and canoes will be your best bet but again, they are not a necessity. Even a tandem kayak will get the job done; all you need is to get it tipping.

It would also be nice to have some dive masks or goggles when doing the roll, so you can see how your kayak paddle is slicing the water. Of course, once you have learned the ropes, you should get rid of the mask. Chances are you will not be wearing one when your boat flips for real. If you want to save your life, then you must know how to roll a kayak without the benefit of a mask.

Lastly, as we mentioned earlier, you should be comfortable with doing a wet exit especially if you will be riding a sit-inside kayak. You may not need this for sit-on-top kayaks because, in these designs, a capsize will get you falling off the boat. However, you should at least be able to get back inside.

How To Roll Your Kayak


The safest and most commonly used techniques for rolling a kayak are sweep and C to C.   These are what we are going to discuss in this guide and some of the most important things every person who is learning how to kayak needs to get familiar with.

Note that neither of these kayak rolls reflects how things will be in the real world or rather how you will get back to an upright position after tip-in choppy water. But as you continue practicing, you will be able to do your roll from different angles and positions without following a specific technique.

During the first days of your practice, always have your helper standby and ready to jump in just in case you are not able to finish the roll. However, be sure that they are out of the paddle’s way so they don’t interfere with its movement or even worse, get hit.

A good helper should familiarize themselves with the right rolling form before heading out so that if you are not completely getting it, they can at least help you adjust or show you how to properly go about it.

Sweep Roll

To tip your kayak:

  1. Hold your paddle flat against the water surface in such a way that it is parallel to the kayak. Ensure that the power face of your paddle blade is pointed upward.
  2. Lean your torso toward the paddle and tuck your head forward to flip over your kayak.
  3. Once you are under the surface of the water, try moving your body and head closer to the water surface and as far away from your boat as possible. Do this with your forearms pressed against one of the sides of your boat. Make sure your paddle remains above the water surface.

To get back up:

  1. Sweep the water with the front blade in such a way that it arcs away from the boat.
  2. Watch to see how the blade moves in the water.
  3. Press your paddle downwards as it gets closer to 90˚.
  4. Press your hips against the side of the boat and snap the boat back under your body.
  5. Roll yourself out of the water.

C to C Roll

Just like in the sweep roll, you are going to start by tipping your kayak.

  1. Using both hands, hold your paddle on the side of the boat opposite your active hand. For instance, if you are right-handed, have the paddle on the left-hand side.
  2. Have the paddle right above the surface of the water. The front blade should be parallel to the water surface.
  3. If you are using a feathered paddle, with a blade that curves concavely on one side, hold that side of the blade up. This is also known as the paddle’s power face.
  4. Push your chin toward your chest and lean toward the side of the boat where you have your paddle. This is the direction in which you are going to roll.
  5. Rotate your head and body toward the direction of your paddle and tip your kayak. Make sure your paddle remains in the same position.

To get back up:

  1. Swing the front paddle blade through the water such that it makes a 90˚ angle with the boat. Ensure that the paddle blade stays close to the water surface while you are underwater. This will help you get the best leverage to exert pressure on the water to get to the upright position.
  2. To avoid injuries on your shoulder, keep your hands in the same position as the power blade. To achieve this, you will have to rotate your upper body every time you rotate your arms. Watch your blade closely as it moves through the water whenever you make a swing, as this will cause your upper body to rotate naturally with your hands and other kayaking muscles around your upper arms and shoulders.
  3. Holding the front blade of your paddle at 90˚, pull the paddle downward against the water surface. Use the less dominant arm as a swivel against the kayak bottom to raise the intensity of the pull.
  4. With your paddle blade still pressed against the water surface, use your dominant knee and hips to right the kayak. Do this with your head and shoulders underwater. These are heavy and lifting them out too early will force your body to use more energy than necessary to lift you, which could mess up with the roll. Practice snapping your boat with your hips as much as you can as this will help you build speed, which in return will hasten the rolling and righting process.
  5. Push your head toward the far shoulder and roll back into your kayak.

How To Recover From A Roll

After kayak rolling, you want to be able to continue paddling and enjoy the rest of your kayaking trip. As such, your practice should also include learning how to recover after a roll. Here is how to get you back in shape:

  1. As you roll back into your boat, rotate your knuckles toward the back of the wrists. Doing this will enable you to hold your paddle right and brace yourself as you get back your balance on the water.
  2. Take a deep breath if you are still feeling winded. Wipe any water in your ears and eyes so that you can hear and see clearly. If you feel like your kayak seat or any other part of the vessel needs adjusting, slowly paddle out of the water and do the fixing before embarking on your next challenge.
  3. Once everything is back to its initial state, get back into your boat, assume the right paddling posture, and continue practicing.

Two Common Kayak Rolling Mistakes

  1. Lifting the head and upper body too early when starting to roll: Rolling back into the kayak requires energy and getting your torso out of the water before you have snapped your kayak could affect this process. The energy required to right the kayak will be used in lifting your head and upper body instead. So right the kayak then right your head and upper body but not the other way around.
  2. Exerting pressure on the paddle too early: Your paddle gives you the most support when it makes a 90˚ angle with the kayak. Applying downward pressure on the paddle when it is not yet at this angle may not provide the leverage you need to hip snap your boat.


You might also like:  Find Out Where & How To Sit In A Kayak 

Other Techniques For Rolling A Kayak

There are many ways through which you can recover from a kayak flip. In fact, people who participate in kayaking championships are required to learn over 30 different stunts, and that is not even half of the different rolling techniques used today. But, most of them are used in particular situations, and that’s why not many kayakers bother to familiarize themselves with them.

If you are planning to take kayaking to the next level, however, there are a few advanced rolls that wouldn’t hurt having in your back pocket. These include:

  • Reverse sweep roll: Performed when the paddler is leaning backward underwater, unlike in a normal sweep roll or C to C roll.
  • Hand roll: Used when the kayaker loses the paddle after a flip.

Several other rolling techniques used to be popular but have become obsolete with modern kayakers. These may not so useful on the water and are only worth learning if you want to show off your kayaking stunts to your friends. They include:

  • Storm roll
  • Pawlata roll
  • Steyr roll

Tips For Learning Kayak Rolls Effectively

  • If you are doing the role for the first time, always have a helper nearby or learn how to signal for help in case things go unexpected.
  • Do not rush. Perfect each skill before moving to the next.
  • Do not overdo it. Rolling a kayak can easily pull muscles in your shoulders and neck. If you don’t want to deal with kayaking aches and pains later, do only what your body can handle.
  • Always have a life jacket on before attempting any kayaking maneuver.

Globo Surf Overview

If you are a kayaking enthusiast, then you know how important it is for any person who is planning to venture into paddling to learn how to roll a kayak. Capsizes do happen and sometimes a wet exit and reentry may just not cut it.

A kayak roll, like any other paddling stunt, is not difficult to master. All that’s needed is a regular practice. Start with calm waters and once you’ve got a hang of it, proceed to more challenging conditions and continue practicing.

More Skils Guides:


  1. C2C Roll