Whitewater Kayaking Essentials: The Roll, Part 1


One of the things I love about whitewater kayaking is that’s its constantly challenging, both mentally and physically.

Maybe it’s those challenges and obstacles that keep us coming back for more. Maybe it’s the one thing we all have in common: we like getting our butts kicked occasionally and enjoy the challenges.

One of the biggest challenges beginners face is learning how to roll, and even more importantly, learning how to roll in rapids (AKA: The Combat Roll).

The roll plays an essential part in the sport of whitewater kayaking, and significantly affects your safety, progression (both mentally and physically), and the amount of fun you can have. We get calls all the time from people that have never been in a kayak and simply want to “learn how to roll”.

Learning the kayaking basics with Zoo Town Surfers

As an instructor, I don’t believe in just teaching the roll and letting someone hit the river who has no previous experience.

Many students that have never been in a kayak before are blown away that there are so many skills to learn prior to attempting the roll.

I have found there are four key components to successfully learning the roll:

1. Comfort level

2. Paddle technique

3. Head position

4. Hip snap

Comfort Level

Getting comfortable in your kayak goes a long way in the learning process. The more comfortable you are, the quicker the progression. Being comfortable upside down also gives your instructor more time to make a rescue, which in turn allows you to stay in your boat, which in the long run saves you time and money. Get it?

Paddle Technique

Learning basic paddle strokes such as the forward stroke, sweeps, C-stroke, braces and proper paddle positioning will assist in the roll process. Getting your paddle to the surface and keeping your blade at a sweeping or climbing angle are crucial.

Jason Shreder teaches a kayaker how to roll.

Head Position

Keep your head down! We all carp on occasion!

Hip Snap

If you can dance then I don’t want to hear any excuses. Learning basic boat control and being properly outfitted in your kayak are key factors in the hip snap.

Trying to roll prior to learning any of these key components is frustrating, tiring, and hard.

At ZTS, we focus on these four components before we even talk about the roll. Learning these essential skills will help build mental confidence and make learning the roll easier.

In my next blog, I will focus on why the roll is important.

Any comments or suggestions? Tell me what you think!


Visit Jason Shreder's blog archive  The water might be cold, but Jason’s got tons of awesome kayaking posts to keep you warm in his blog archive.


Jason Shreder plans to keep on shredding in 2012.

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