Video: How to Hand Roll a Whitewater Kayak

Hand rolling your whitewater kayak is a really useful thing to be able to do, whether it’s because you broke a paddle, got it knocked out of your hands, or threw it to the side after securing your boof on a 90-foot waterfall.  Ha!  Oh wait, I forgot  – not a joke for some people.  Anyway, you may have noticed that some kayakers make it look incredibly easy, and I’m sure it can be, but learning it can also be a real challenge.  Here’s a good instructional hand roll video made by Freya Glendenning, who does kayak polo in Wales.


I actually made a hand roll on my very first attempt a couple of years ago, but after that it was hit or miss (mostly miss) and now my form has morphed enough that I’m not even coming close.  Watching Freya’s video I realized that I got into the habit of leaning too far forward for the initiation phase, when I should be out to the side or even further back.

Ken Whiting has a good article on that shows and explains more of the technique.  Here’s his video showing how to hand roll, which I think is also very good.  Yes, he is in a sea kayak, but try to ignore that, or just mentally chop off part of the bow and stern.  There, see?  Insta-whitewater kayak.  Phew!  Deep breath… :)


Notice how he and Freya are not pulling their heads up at all?  In Freya’s video when she’s doing the pool practice hip snaps it’s really noticeable that her head is the absolute last thing to leave the water.  One thing that will help you with that, aside from the actual muscle memory derived from doing that drill at the side of the pool, is doing standing side stretches to improve flexibility.  Every couple of degrees by which you increase your flexibility makes a difference in how long you can keep your head down as you roll up, and little things like that add up to critical mass surprisingly quickly.