April 20, 2013

Whitewater Kayaking Eskimo Rolling Videos


Since a lot of people are taking whitewater kayaking classes and learning how to roll right now, I'm posting some videos that I think teach and troubleshoot the Eskimo roll well.

Not all of these say exactly the same thing, but they're all good teaching videos that teach the same core fundamentals with a tweak here or there, so see which ones work best for you.

The Two Types of Basic Rolls - Sweep and C to C

First of all, there are two types of basic Eskimo rolls, the sweep roll and the C to C roll. 

Here's Ken Whiting's explanation of the sweep roll. He's in a sea kayak but it's the same thing.

And here's Ken Whiting's explanation of the C to C roll:

I learned the sweep roll and that seems to be the one most people start out with. Eventually your roll will probably naturally hybridize a bit - these days (2021) I do mostly sweep on my right and more C to C on my left, just because my body mechanics are different on each side.

Personally I really don't care what I'm doing as long as I'm rolling up easily. :)

Learning the Roll

I love the Eric Jackson tutorial videos. I think he's a good teacher who understands the mental aspects of whitewater and learning, and he and his kids are definitely an example of proving they know what they teach.

Here's a video where he basically teaches a brace that progresses into an Eskimo roll:

And here's the next stage in that progression:

Note on the Eric Jackson videos:

At some point you'll probably hear someone make a scoff-ish comment about how "EJ" teaches paddlers to roll up leaning way on the back deck. 

(Some people even confusingly call his style of roll a back deck roll, but a true back deck roll is a completely different type of roll used a lot by playboaters.)

The issue with coming up on the back deck is that in burly water it's true that you're way less stable. Also, if you miss your roll and flip back over your face can be exposed if you don't tuck up right away. (But the goal should always be to tuck right away when flipping.)

The thing is, you can teach yourself to get immediately forward and take a strong forward stroke after rolling up, in fact that's a great idea regardless of what style roll you do. And more importantly in my opinion, EJ's roll is easy to learn and easy to execute (because it's easier to roll up when you're on your back deck, especially starting out), and this gives you a roll that you can then fine tune and modify down the road.

All I can say is that I learned that style and rolled reliably all the way into IV and IV+, like Tumwater Canyon on the Wenatchee River. So how bad can it be? :)

Here's a really good video from Aquabatics in Calgary on how to do a sweep roll. They mention something you rarely hear, which is that you don't want to have a climbing angle on the blade. More on that in a minute.

Paddle Blade Angle - Should It Be Climbing or Diving?

You might be surprised.

Early on I was taught that the power blade that moves across the water when you do a sweep roll should be either flat or climbing, but not diving.

If it's climbing, that means the leading edge of the blade is angled up slightly - kind of like if it were a knife and you were spreading peanut butter on toast, with the water surface being the toast.

The way to get a climbing blade angle is to rotate your wrists forward when setting up for the roll. Most people I know have been told to do this, and an instructor trying to troubleshoot my weakening roll years ago told me to do that too.

HOWEVER... (drum roll...)

When we were in New Zealand in 2014 the new paddlers straight out of the New Zealand Kayak School in Murchison showed me that this was actually not what they had been taught. (And seeing as they all had stellar onside and offside rolls, plus some had hand rolls - I figured it was worth listening to them. :)

They told me that starting the roll with your paddle blade angled around 15 to 20 degrees INTO the water on a diving angle works much better.

It was totally counterintuitive to me, but I tried it and found they were right.

It turns out the reason for this is that the paddle blade is shaped a lot like an airplane wing. Airplane wings create lift because their shape forces air to move faster over the top of the wing than the bottom.

Your paddle blade moving through the water can create lift in the same way as an airplane wing, but it needs to be slicing easily through the water (which happens with a slight diving angle) rather than pushing water in front of it (as it does when we use the slight climbing angle that many of us have been taught.)

Once I tried this out - which I practiced by setting up like a beginner with my paddle right alongside the boat so that I could carefully lock in a slight diving angle and flip over that way - I found that my rolls were faster and snappier, I could get my hip snap earlier, and I didn't feel resistance when drawing my blade through the water.

I highly recommend trying it. To this day I still work on muscle memory for that correct setup position and angle.

But wait, won't a diving blade angle make your paddle blade dive?

No, not if the rest of your technique is good. A true diving blade, as in, one that makes you fail your roll, is usually from punching out with the non-power arm and/or pulling your head up to early. The slightly diving blade angle (not diving blade) that I was talking about when you start your sweep roll actually creates lift.

Troubleshooting the Roll

Chris Wing of H2O Dreams has a really good YouTube channel and many troubleshooting videos. He's also a good instructor who explains things clearly. Here's his video on troubleshooting the Eskimo roll.

Tip: Don't set up leaning too far forward.

This is a really common mistake and a lot of people are taught this way. Notice how in the video above starting at 6:50 he's positioning the paddler and he actually adjusts her back a bit because she was leaning forward slightly when setting up for the roll.

You have very poor leverage on your blade when you're leaning way forward. I practice and do stretches in a seated kayaking position to build flexibility and muscle memory for setting up straight over to my side, not forward.

Here's another video from Chris Wing on rolling and troubleshooting. The footage starting at 3:55 is really helpful for showing what happens when the paddler does things out of sequence and brings their body and head up before the boat. The rolling up sequence is supposed be "boat, body, head".

(If you're struggling on the timing for your hip snap it might be helpful to stop thinking about the hip snap and instead tell yourself "boat, body, head".) Your body will likely naturally try to hip snap at the right time once it understands that the goal is to bring the boat up first. After that, just remember to keep your head down until the end.

Improving the Kayak Roll

A paddler just posted this Eric Jackson "Improving the Roll" video on the Whitewater Kayaking 101 Facebook group page and I think it's great. Hanging out for 10 seconds before rolling is a great idea, and I'm going to work on rolling up with a 45 degree and (hopefully) a vertical angle.

Which Is the Best Type of Roll to Learn?

It really depends on the paddler.  With the C to C you come up more over your boat (not in the back seat, which is a less stable position), but I personally feel the sweep roll is easier to learn, and in the beginning I think just rolling up is the top priority because swimming a lot can lower your confidence, get you injured, and make kayaking less fun. One of the things Eric Jackson talks about is how important it is to set yourself up to succeed.

(If you've already flailed and scared the pants off of yourself, take hope. I am the poster child for doing this kind of thing, and actually had a 'stuck in my boat flailing for life' thing during my very first pool roll class. :)

My advice is to not re-live scary stuff by dwelling or talking about it too much (this creates neural connections you don't want) and instead do a Taylor Swift move - shake it off!

OK, it's more easily said than done, but at the very least think twice about joining other paddlers when they're talking about so-and-so's broken hip or the one time out of 1,000 runs that this other guy nearly went into an undercut. These conversations are usually friendly and well meant but take a mental toll over time.

Anyway, there will be time as you progress to learn rolling technique that keeps you well over your boat.  Often a good combat roll eventually morphs into a combination of the two styles.

Learning to Roll Doesn't Have to Be Hard!

Some people pick it up quickly, so if someone starts out by telling you it's going to take a long time to learn, please try to disregard that - it might take a  long time, or you might get it in 15 minutes. In fact, you'll likely hear a number of things confidently stated at some point by experienced paddlers that are simply not true (in my opinion, obviously).

That's why I wrote "A Few (Really Annoying) Eskimo Rolling Myths" - I highly recommend it if you're into learning and perfecting your roll because you will most likely be told at least a few of those things.

The part about working on your roll the rest of your kayaking life... well, sorry, that's true. Join the club. :)


Ken Whiting, learning, rolling

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