When my wife and I kayaked on the Lower Salmon, one of the trip leaders suggested that you have a “mantra” for any of the moves you have to make, such as a kayak roll. I thought about this and decided my mantra is – “Keep Calm and Don’t Skip any Steps.”

This is true when you are practicing your roll and when you actually have to do a combat roll. Staying calm is very important.

Here is a disclaimer before I go any further – I don’t have the greatest roll in the world, but I have a pretty good roll.

So, here is my mantra:

Keep calm, rotate your torso to get your hands out of the water, reach out with your paddle, hip snap when you sweep, follow the paddle blade and try to get the right finish position. I really do think about this stuff.

Here are some suggestions for practicing your roll:

  1. Do a couple of practice hip snaps on a rock, a buddy’s kayak, or the side of your pool. Be sure to use only your hips and not apply pressure with your hands.
  2. When you flip over, count to three – this calms you down.
  3. Get your hands out of the water (feel the air on your fingers). Use your torso to get your body and head up as close to the water as you can. This is important because, when you HAVE to roll, you may find it difficult to PUSH your hands out od the water. Using your torso is much better.
  4. Keep your hands loose.
  5. Reach out with your paddle, don’t pull on your paddle. When you pull, you engage the wrong knee.
  6. When you sweep, hip snap and follow the paddle blade.
  7. Practice your finish position. You will see some videos showing the paddle out of the water and some with the paddle in the water. In my opinion, the shorter the boat, the more likely it is that you will finish with the paddle out of the water.

A comment about starting in the setup position – you will never be in the setup position when you get flipped over in a river. While practicing in the setup position helps create muscle memory, it is more important to just flip over onto your side and then practice the roll.

Finally, practice some combat rolls. My wife and I do this at the Rio Vista Whitewater Park in San Marcos. Yes, the rapids are not huge, but the water, especially near the third drop, is quite swirly. It is a good place to practice.

Here is my practice video.

Here is a really good roll video. Note the comment he makes about practicing in the setup position.