Whitewater Kayaking and Learning to Roll


I remember back to my first days kayaking.  I was thinking to myself “what options do I have besides pulling my skirt and swimming if I can’t roll my kayak.” Now that is a question that we ask ourselves at all levels of whitewater kayaking.

When you first learn the sport of whitewater kayaking, your only option is to wet exit.  In the end, you want to make wet exiting your last option.  Swimming in the river is exhausting, dangerous, and many times, an expensive ordeal (equipment loss).  Ahhh, don’t be so hard on yourself, it’s part of the sport.

It’s our job as instructors to give beginners more options, like the Miracle Hand, T-Rescue, or even better, learning how to roll your kayak. Now I don’t want you to think that if you can’t roll your kayak that you can’t go have fun on the river, but you definitely have more confidence and fun when you can.

There is so much to learn before you even think about the roll.  Good paddle technique, proper head position, and a strong hip snap are all required to perfect the roll.  The biggest challenge teaching beginners is getting students comfortable in their kayaks. The more comfortable you are in your kayak the quicker the progression.

Being comfortable upside down is counter intuitive but essential in whitewater kayaking.  Trust me, you’re going to be upside down a lot as a beginner.  Hanging out upside down prior to learning the roll allows your friends or instructors more time to perform a T-Rescue or Miracle Hand.  Staying in your kayak also allows you to progress more quickly and builds confidence in yourself and your paddling partners.

We start all beginners in flat water so what are you waiting for? There is lots to learn prior to the roll so don’t let it stop you from having fun on the river.  Take your time, get comfortable, and be prepared!

A quote to live by:  “We are all in-between swims.”

Check out these other blogs by Jason Shreder, owner of Zoo Town Surfers: Go with the Flow and Get in the Know or Kayaking the Lochsa River or The Sellway River – A Preason Kayaking Treat .

You may also want to check out our page on Missoula Kayaking, Canoeing, and Rafting.

See Jason Shredder’s “Go With the Flow” archive.


Jason Shreder, owner of local whitewater company Zoo Town Surfers. I love Missoula, the great community, and all the awesome water that surrounds it.  I’m constantly moving and 90% of that movement involves kayaking, rafting, working, and hanging out with my awesomely supportive girlfriend and dogs.