Ten things you need in order to learn to roll a kayak

by Sherri ~ July 31st, 2017. Filed under: Rolling, Uncategorized.


Unless you are in your teens or twenties, learning to roll is generally a time-consuming process, rather than a single lesson.  In order to be successful, there are several things you are likely going to need. 

  1. A kayak with thigh braces that fits you properly
  2. An understanding of how the mechanics of a roll actually work
  3. A sequential program to train your brain and body to perform the movements of a roll
  4. Time, and the dedication to spend that time in consistent practice sessions 
  5. Clothing that will keep you extra warm in the water while you are learning and practicing  ( a drysuit is quite useful)
  6. Absolutely no apprehension about hanging upside down underwater in a kayak (any nervousness will inhibit your rolling skills)
  7. Nose plugs or a dive mask to keep water out of your nose
  8. A neoprene hood and/or ear plugs to keep cold water out of your ears
  9. A commitment to keep practicing even after you have successfully rolled your kayak to avoid losing your roll
  10. An expectation that frustration will most likely be a part of the process at some point, if not several points

While it is possible that you will roll in a single lesson, that is definitely the exception, not the rule, when it comes to learning to roll – especially if you are over 40 when you begin to learn.  Your brain and body are simply not programmed for learning new physical skills quickly as you get older.  Loss of flexibility and other physical limitations can slow your progress.  You can certainly learn to roll, even well into your 70’s, but it is going to take longer than it would have in your 20’s or even your 50’s.  Set your expectations for a longer process and you may be pleasantly surprised when it happens sooner.  If it ends up taking longer, as you were warned to expect, you won’t get so frustrated that you give up before you master the skill.

I have found that Helen Wilson’s method for teaching the Greenland lay-back roll works quite well for many paddlers.  Her approach reduces the need for a partner or instructor to work with the student throughout the entire learning process, the the Greenland layback roll is a kinder, gentler type of roll that works well for older bodies.  The extended paddle position gives a little extra leverage when your technique isn’t quite up to perfection.  You can take a look on YouTube to find clips from her excellent video, “Simplifying the Roll with Helen Wilson”. The other DVD that I highly recommend for people interested in learning to roll using a Greenland method, is “This Is The Roll” featuring Turner Wilson and Cheri Perry.

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