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 a video or two that I think teach it reasonably well.  I’m saying reasonably because I didn’t learn how to roll from a video so I really don’t know how these will go over, however I do know people who learned from YouTube or just from watching people, so it can be done.

Here’s a German video that I found, I swear, through work-related real estate research.  But don’t ask, it’s a long story. :)


I love how the guy wags his finger, thus making it a multiple-language-friendly teaching video.  And this looks like a regular roll, not what I learned was a screw roll – I think they mean sweep roll.  The one thing I noticed is that when they say ‘turn the paddle’ he cocks his wrists back – in the beginning part of the sweep I either do nothing or bend my wrists forward (not back), since this angles the leading edge of the sweeping blade more flatly along the water line and makes it less likely to slice deep.  But by the end of the roll you do end up cocking your wrists back.

(OK, update Dec. 2014 – last year when we were in NZ the new paddlers straight out of the New Zealand Kayak School in Murchison showed me that actually starting the roll with your paddle blade angled around 30 degrees into the water, as in, when you’re upside down the leading edge of the blade looks like it’s poised to slice slightly down into the water, which seems wrong, actually uses the blade shape dynamics in a way that creates lift and allows for less paddle drag and a faster, more reliable roll.  I highly recommend experimenting with that, it lets you hip snap earlier so you’re more likely to come up over your boat and less likely to end up on the back deck.)

Here’s a really great kayak rolling video by Ken Whiting that also explains the difference between a C to C roll and a sweep roll.


Notice how his non-power elbow stays bent and close to his side during every roll.  More on this below, after the ‘kayak roll mistakes’ video.  There are a lot of other good videos like this on the PaddlingTV YouTube channel.

Here’s one on common kayak rolling errors:


Love this guys’ voice – from the Midwest, anyone? :)  This is more of a C to C roll – notice how the paddle is at a 90-degree angle from the boat before the hip snap starts.

One thing to note on the failed roll attempts, i.e. at around .26, is when people are ‘punching out’ with their non sweep arm.  The elbow that is not on the sweep (power) arm needs to stay bent and close to your side even as the paddle swings out.  Try the movement just sitting in your boat and notice how if your non-power elbow leaves your side the angle of the paddle changes dramatically so that the power blade gets pushed deep into the water – not what you want.  Sometimes instructors will have you hold a little styrofoam float thing between your non-power elbow and your rib cage during the roll to help you keep from punching out.

OK, if you can’t get to water to practice your roll, here’s how to do it on dry land.  Also a C to C roll, since it’s harder to do the sweep roll movement when you’re not in water.


Here’s a Ken Whiting video on combat rolling in whitewater.  (A combat roll just means a non-practice roll after you’ve flipped over by mistake.)


Notice how even when they finish the roll over the back of the boat (typical of the classic sweep roll), they immediately get forward afterwards.  This is really important for combat rolling and I wish I had trained myself from the very beginning to add a forward tuck and forward sweep at the end of every roll whether I needed it in order to stay stable or not.

They don’t talk much about this, but a strong hip snap and keeping your head down are absolutely crucial.  Not doing those two things will blow your roll on flat water, Class V, you name it.  Here’s a video on the hip snap, and notice on the hand roll how the person’s head is the last thing to leave the water.


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 and make kayaking less fun.  There will be time as you progress to learn rolling technique that keeps you more over your boat.  Often a good combat roll eventually morphs into a combination of the two styles.

Finally, keep in mind that learning to roll a kayak 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, you might get it immediately.  Keep an open mind.  The part about working on your roll the rest of your life… well, sorry, that’s true.  Join the club. :)