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Suggestions for learning to roll


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I think this post may be controversal-but here goes! I learned to roll on my own about three weeks or so ago. It was a sad imitation of the Pawlata or extended paddle roll. Since that time I've had instruction from the great teacher Bob Foote and promptly forgot how to roll. Now a week later I'm doing the Pawlata with much better form, thanks to my lesson. My point is this: the standard rolls that are frequently taught are the C to C brace roll and the standard sweep roll. The first roll should be the Pawlata. It has the greatest ratio of success to failure for the first time roller. The beauty of the Pawlata is that if done correctly it involves no upper arm pressure on the paddle nor a conscious hip snap. Nothing succeeds like success. Why start with a roll that demonstrates your every fault, usually by leaving you hanging upside down. After you've run out of friends willing to hang around and provide the Eskimo rescue, you're left to your own devices which usually means the tiring and time consuming wet-exit.

The Pawlata works without perfect form. I've done it with a diving paddle, a premature head lift, a poor angle of attack, foot slipping off the peg, a late hip snap, a non existent hip snap and come up regardless. Yes with Bob's pointers I'm dedicated to fixing some bad habits and perhaps progressing to the standard sweep roll. I'd much rather work on fixing a sick roll that works than fail repeatedly executing the perfect roll that doesn't. A couple of aids are in order: forget indexing your outbound paddle hand and cocking your wrist to get the proper climbing angle. Just lay the paddle on the water and then add a few more degrees by cocking your wrist. If you're older like me you'll probably be over indexed by 5 to 10 degrees. You can do this on the deck or after capsizing upside down. Don't initiate any leg or lower body movement until you actually feel the paddle gaining purchase and support on or in the water. (You don't actually need to be sculling the surface for this roll to succeed.) A big impediment to learning the standard sweep roll for me was the necessity of dealing with the inboard paddle which needs to clear the top of the capsized hull before the sweep can begin. Then in order for the sweep to succeed, the inboard hand needs to be brought into the chest. With the Pawlata, the inboard hand is at the end of the paddle blade and is not restricted by the hull. Pulling that hand down comes quite naturally and insures the paddle against diving.

If you're young, physically strong, have tremendous range of motion please forget everything I've said and focus on learning the standard roll(s). Just to support my own case, even Karen Knight and Bob Foote segregated their students by perceived physical characteristics. Neither of them pretended that some of us were candidates for learning C to C.

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Another similar approach -- with an obvious drawback -- is to learn an extended sweep roll with a greenland paddle. I was able to do that well before mastering the C2C and sweep rolls with a so-called euro paddle. The greenland roll felt like cheating, it was so easy. But it didn't help me much toward rolling with the euro paddle. Others have reported that it did help them, so obviously YMMV.

The drawback is -- you might be tempted to the dark... er... greenland side and will never touch a euro paddle again. But then, when you find yourself alone on the ocean, lose your greenland paddle and your backup storm paddle, and spot a euro paddle floating by, it will not help you at all. ;-)))

Seriously, it's an option that many folks take. It does remove you from the "community" of euro-paddlers, which changes the way you relate to training, teaching, mentoring etc. But it's increasingly popular and there is quite a community of twiggers (as they are called) to help out. There is just a lot less of formal classes and training based on GP technique, which is somewhat different, and in some aspects (like rolling) very different.

But, it may possibly get you rolling and doing stupid kayak tricks much earlier than c2c or sweep. And we euro-ites will still talk to and paddle with you... if you're nice to us or offer us chocolate covered cherries.

So, why haven't ~I~ switched to the twig side? I own one... no, two. Long story.


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>...extended sweep roll with a greenland paddle...

There are three separate concepts in this phrase. Taken together you may find it easier to roll doing a sweep roll with a greenland paddle. As noted elsewhere, once you "can roll" it helps to try more rolling methods to refine your technique as well as explore easier or more intuitive maneuvers.

An extended paddle position is useful in generating greater lift/buoyancy in the paddle while sweeping, whether doing C2C or sweep roll. A Euro paddle can be operated in extended position, ask someone who knows or perhaps someone will provide details.

A sweep roll is often easier to learn since it doesn't involve a hip snap and coordination of multiple body actions. That's why it worked for me.

A greenland paddle is more buoyant than most Euro paddles (and is cooler, the envy of your friends, etc.). One can roll with a greenland paddle from "combat position", i.e. no extension much as one would with a Euro paddle.

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Having learned a C-to-C with a Europaddle, then switched to greenland stick, then used that learning to enhance the Europaddling, I offer this perspective.

In general, use of the Greenland paddle requires development of correct body alignment and motion. It's not about the paddle - which is why handrolls work using these techniques too - it's about the body. Once you learn how to use the body to unwind, lifting the boat out of the water first and then following with the body - head last! - then the world of rolling opens up for you. This works for any kind of paddle you care to use, including Euros and norsaqs and hands, and even rocks or bricks....

The beauty of learning with a greenland paddle is that it doesn't complicate the situation with such factors as paddle angle and how to extend a paddle that isn't meant to be extended. The entire focus can be on what to do with the body. On the other hand, you can't cheat by muscling it as you can with a Euroblade. There just isn't enough paddle there (at least not with my slender chick-stick). As far as I can tell, buoyancy isn't a factor either - it isn't buoyant enough that you could pull yourself up out of the water with it. So the correct form is learned right from the start.

As always, I invite anyone to come to Walden on Wednesday or Friday evenings and I'll happily share what I know. This is not a formal class, it's just friends helping one another. If you want to try a greenland stick, there are always several around.

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Hi, Kate:

Makes sense -- nice analysis. I didn't know quite how to say it, but I like your your point that the same body mechanics apply to both styles of paddle/rolls -- boat first, then body.

And it's not only more complex with euro, but also more "violent" -- a relatively quick "snap" rather than a long, slow bending. I think the required suddenness of the hip/boat motion with euro does make it much harder to master, worst for a c2c, but even for a euro sweep, which is still relatively "snappy".


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I don't know that the buoyancy of the greenland paddle explicitly helps in a sweep or any other roll. It does make it easier to get/keep the paddle on the surface though a concerted paddle dive is likely to succeed with either paddle.

I don't see how a sweep with a Euro paddle is more "snappy". I don't believe a hip snap is part of a sweep roll with either paddle. Its not the way I do it and I came up easily with one of those funny paddles last time I tried (after I straightened out the twist in it).

I don't consider myself an expert on rolling, I judge my own rolls mainly on whether it took much effort to recover. If it does, then I'm doing something wrong.

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> I don't see how a sweep with a Euro paddle is more "snappy".

> I don't believe a hip snap is part of a sweep roll with

> either paddle.

Hmmm... obviously ymmv. I find that in a euro sweep (no paddle extension), the actual sweep is pretty short, maybe from 2:00 to 3:30/4:00. That makes the hip/boat movement still pretty quick, in the "snap" range for me. My GP roll has a sweep more like 1:00-5:00, pretty leisurely.

I'm no expert either ... also just reporting what I observe in myself.


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Allow me to "stir the pot" just a little bit. . . .

David said:

"I like your your point that the same body mechanics apply to both styles of paddle/rolls -- boat first, then body."

. . and barely a breath later:

"And it's not only more complex with euro, but also more "violent" -- a relatively quick "snap" rather than a long, slow bending."

I don't believe that Greenland technique requires correct body alignment, as Kate stated, but it does encourage it. And the use of significantly lower-volume boats certainly facilitates the candidate's efforts towards learning to roll and perform other "off-balance" moves.

Proper rolling technique is proper rolling technique, it is neither Greenlandic nor Euro in essence, it's just proper rolling technique. OK, ok, if I have to call it one or the other I'd have to give the nod to the Greenlandic crowd. But the point is Euro doesn't have to be "snappy" or "athletic" or "violent". That may be how some people teach it or how many people express it but that is not how it HAS to be. Picture someone doing a slow and graceful hand-roll while holding the shaft of a paddle. If the roll is not dependent on the paddle then it matters little what style or brand or color or length of paddle is used because the roll is not dependent on the paddle.

"C to C" rolls are "violent" (to use David's words) because they are being done poorly or rapidly (possible for safety reasons / hazard avoidance). Should the expression of poor / improper or hurried technique be cited as an example of the flaws attributed to a style of rolling? By extension of that logic, very few people should even paddle at all.

Euro rolling candidates quickly learn that they can muscle their way to oxygen. Greenland rolling candidates quickly learn that they can float or sweep their way to oxygen with a buoyant and forgiving paddle. I don't know which is preferred - both have their limitations and potential crutches. Don't we all know people that "got their roll" but are unable to repeat it in a different boat or with a different paddle or on a different day? There is a huge difference between rolling a few times and "getting one's roll" just as there is a huge difference between "getting a roll" and mastering the art of rolling.


In general I agree with you about greenlandic technique and you may be right that it's better to learn greenlandic rolling first. Certainly many, many people could vastly extend their appreciation of the sport by learning and practicing greenlandic techniques (beyond just rolling) and the associated philosophy of paddling. I personally hold Greenlandic skills in very high regard, having studied them each and every of my paddling years. And I enjoy immensely utilizing the lessons learned while paddling with whatever I choose to use (stick or shovel) on a particular day.

My personal advise to those that aspire to learn to roll:

0) Get flexible. No matter how much you may "want" - "being able" requires some flexibility. The more flexibility you have the less your choice of paddle or style will matter.

1) Buy, borrow or build a boat that has only enough volume to float you without any gear.

2) Find a teacher that can teach you either (both is better) a "palm-up" Greenland hand / norsaq roll or a "C to C" hand roll.

3) Practice the above until you can roll on either side, in any conditions, in any reasonably sized boat, rested or tired, with or without nose plugs, whether someone is watching or not.

4) Learn to do the above whilst hold a paddling in your off-side hand.

5) Learn to move the paddle as if you were going to use it for support, then let go of the paddle and roll with hands alone.

6) Do the above without letting go of your paddle.


The ability to defend our beliefs with absolute certainty . . .

   . . . is often inversely proportional to our level of experience.

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Hi, Jed:

Hah -- I knew I would take guff for using the word "violent." I did pause a while. OK, I get your point. But it still seems to me that the more vertical the paddle movement (as in c2c vs long sweep) the more you depend on momentum to keep the boat moving, and that requires a "snappier", "crisper" motion. But maybe, as you say, it's a lack of technique.

Anyway, I like your program for getting really solid at rolling -- thanks. I'll start tomorrow -- seriously. Joan's thread and Brian Schulz's site has me (finally) thinking seriously about building myself a sweet little s-o-f roller. I just gotta get myself fired from my job ;-)))


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Wow Jed, that number 3 on the list could take a long time!

Can I take exception with number 1? No need to use a super-low-volume boat. I learned all sorts of rolls in my plastic Valley Avocet, and that is what I still paddle. It's true that a barge is going to be more mass to move than a greenland kayak, but there are gradations in the spectrum. Probably width is more important than any other single factor. Sanjay and Ralph Cohn both have done very well in glass boats. Dubside who is arguably one of the best greenland-style rollers in the country uses either a folding boat - huge on him! - or a glass boat.

Use what you've got. Kayaks are made to roll. People get so hung up in collecting the "right" equipment, as if that were the easy answer.

As for the energy used for a C-to-C vs a greenland sweep, yeah, the C-to-C in its classic form does require some snap. But a lot of people (myself included) have modified the form to include some sweep and a strong layback. Whitewater boats now are made to facilitate this layback, in recognition of the ease of rolling a boat from that position. Eric Jackson's rolling video also shows this technique. However much energy you use to roll, the truth of your technique will come out with the handroll. Energy helps a little there, but form is paramount.

See you at Walden!


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The one point that Jed makes that rings true for me was the recomendation on flexibility. Prior to this year I could not roll no matter what I did or read. Couple of months ago I started doing fexibility exercises specifically designed for the torso. Nothing else has changed except I'm now able to roll. I'm just as mentally and physically benighted as before except I now have a much better range of motion.

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