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Patagonia South Kayak School
Patagonia Kayak School:
Kayak Roll Identifier & Troubleshooter

A visual guide to the 5 types of kayak rolls. This tool will allow you to identify the type of kayak roll your are currently practicing and allow you to implement the necessary corrections should your technique require it.


These video clips will help you identify which kayak roll you are doing and help troubleshoot it or, if you have not yet learned to roll, which roll you may want to learn. They will also help us develop and establish a common language for teaching the kayak roll.


The kayak roll is exceedingly counter-intuitive, and good kayak instruction is an essential part of developing a bombproof roll. Furthermore, the rolls themselves are constantly evolving as are the methods of teaching them.

At the Patagonia South Kayak School we believe in improving the type of kayak roll that you are already doing, not changing your roll to one favored by one of our kayak instructors. We train our instructors to perform, understand and teach all five types of kayak rolls. Our instructors use the Core-to-Skin teaching method: putting emphasis on what the core of the body does first and moves outward to the shoulders, arms, hands and paddle. Our teaching methods break the roll into precise, digestible steps and are more complete than the Roll Identifier clips you are about to see here. If you are a complete beginner we will help you pick the kayak roll that is the best for you based on your physique, flexibility, and your objectives in the sport of kayaking.

At the Patagonia South Kayak School we believe that a warm, non-threatening environment, like the Volcan Michimahuida Hot Springs where we teach, turbo-charges the learning process. Warm water and great kayak instruction will accelerate your learning curve for this essential skill which will pay great dividends in how quickly you learn to kayak and progress in the sport.

The Four Quadrants: Defining the movement of the body relative to of the kayak

All kayak rolls involve
a specific range of motion available to a kayaker and we define it relative to the “Four Quadrants” as a point of reference. Think of the cockpit of the kayak as a face of a clock. The four quadrants of a kayak are: Left Front (9:00 to 12:00), Right Front (12:00 to 3:00), Right Back (3:00 to 6:00) and Left Back (6:00 to 9:00). The center line, vertically dividing these quadrants and dissecting the center of the clock is your spine as you sit in the kayak. Your left shoulder and elbow are at 9:00 and your right shoulder and elbow are at 3:00.

This frame of reference helps explain the movement that your body goes through when you do a kayak roll. You can define the range of motion of a roll using these reference points when the kayak is right side up and on the ground.

Memorizing body movement while the kayak is upright

The key first step in learning to roll a kayak is to repeat and memorize the motion that your body will need to go through to successfully roll - while you are upright, and dry with the kayak sitting on the ground. About 90% of the range-of-motion that you memorize while doing this drill will translate to what you will need to do when you are underwater. A good instructor will be key in helping with the transition to the water - and attaining the other 10%. Once underwater keep your mind focused and move your body relative to the four quadrants. Repeat the range of motion that you have already memorized and you will find yourself well on your way to completing a successful kayak roll.

The Five Types of Kayak Rolls

1] C-to-C - Other names include: Hip-Snap Roll, Hip-Flick Roll

The kayak stays upside-down as the body C's upward (between the front and back quadrants, at 3:00 or 9:00 o'clock) sweeping the paddle along the surface until it is at 90 degrees. At this point a strong hip-snap or C-to-C spinal motion drives the boat upright. The spine rights itself over the kayak by sitting-up, as if you were sequentially stacking the vertebrae while the head is brought up last, with the top of the head still aimed downward, towards the water, until you are sitting completely upright.


Core Movement defined while the kayak is upright on the ground: The spine and the head curve over the left side of the kayak while the top of the head slightly arches back attempting to touch the ground. If the cockpit rim was the face of a clock, the ribs would be pressed on the rim at about 9:00 o'clock. The head is arched back slightly and the torso is like a curved hour hand. The lower spine curves over on the rim at 9:00 while the upper-spine and neck are arched back to 8:00. It would be like a hour hand that is pointing to 9:00 but someone bends just the tip of the hour hand so it points to 8:00. From this position, on the left side of the kayak the paddler directly moves to the mirror image on the right side of the kayak. Ribs end at 3:00 and the head and upper spine curving and arching to the 4:00 position. This is referred to as the C-to-C movement. The spine curving from a C-curve on one side to a C-curve on the other side of the kayak. Notice which knee you engage to make this movement rapidly. The knee will change depending which C you start with. This movement should be practiced until it becomes second nature.

Full Movement: Now we will add the paddle, the protected set-up position, and the final sitting-up technique. Lean forward so that your right pectoral muscle is pressing towards the left knee (Pec-to-Knee), tucking your chin down until you are almost kissing the deck. The paddle should be parallel to the kayak and in the water. The arms reaching across the kayak, toward the surface, gripping the paddle with knuckles in the water. The paddle will move only when the body starts to move. The torso curves out and around on the cockpit rim opening up the torso until you are in the first C-position with your left side ribs at 9:00 and your head arched slightly back at 8:00. As the body moves into this first C-position the paddle is sweeping along the surface, controlled by the right forearm moving in conjunction with the head. The left hand acts as a fulcrum, holding the shaft (and left paddle blade) under the kayak. In the right position you will feel the left hand near the bottom of your kayak about where your seat is. This is the first C-position. Paddle at 9:00, torso at 9:00, and head arched to 8:00. From here, by engaging your opposite (right) knee, you should curve your torso towards the other side of the kayak into the second C-position. Now your paddle will be at 3:00, your torso at 3:00, and your head at 4:00. Again, the paddle only moves because the body moves. If you want your paddle to generate more power you will need to move your body faster from one C to the other C. Pulling with the power face of the paddle will not help you. If you avoid pulling down on the paddle your kayak will roll upright. Next you will need to sit up over your kayak in a very special way. This is described as “stacking each vertebra” from the bottom of your spine up to the head. The head continues to droop, curved over to the side, and finally when you have stacked all the vertebrae the head itself will come up……last.

Advantages of this Kayak Roll: If you execute this movement perfectly, the kayak has no choice but to come up, leaving you in a strong paddling position.

2] Twist & Slice Roll - Other names include: Sweep Roll or Screw Roll

The body is rotated and tucked forward into the front left quadrant as one starts a slicing sweep with the paddle near the surface. The boat comes up smoothly and simultaneously throughout the entire sweep stroke. The torso continues to rotate until the right elbow almost touches the back edge of the kayak behind the cockpit.


Core Movement defined while the kayak is upright on the ground: The body starts with the right pectoral muscle pressing to touch the left knee (Pec-to-Knee). This position automatically winds up the torso allowing for rotation to the other side. Next, the torso sits-up with a diagonal motion across the middle point of the kayak, un-winding (at the middle, sitting up position, the rotation is neutral) and continues rotating and leaning back to the back right quadrant of the kayak.

Full Movement: The arms and paddle connect to the rotating torso which provides the sole movement for the paddle. If you are moving the paddle with your arms, your technique is not correct. The starting paddle position should be parallel to the kayak, with both knuckles in the water. As the torso goes through its movement, the wrists cock (extend) backward and upward controlling the angle of paddle to keep it slicing. Again the paddle moves because the body sits-up diagonally and rotates. The wrists rotate until the palms faces the sky and the knuckles almost hit your shoulders in the finished position. This slicing paddle sheds all resistance - that is a key concept to this kayak roll ……shedding resistance.

Advantages of this Kayak Roll: Smooth and fluid, using a minimum of movement and energy leaving you in a strong paddling position.

3] Sweep to Back-Deck - Other names include: Back-Deck Sweep Roll

Sweep and LEAN BACK simultaneously (as if standing up in the kayak). The head touches the back deck of the kayak as boat and body come up together. A version of this roll is promoted by Eric Jackson in the “EJ Way” as a quickly learned roll.


Core Movement defined while the kayak is upright on the ground: The body starts with the right pectoral muscle pressing to touch the left knee (Pec-to-Knee). From this position lay back diagonally ending the motion in the back right quadrant.

Full Movement: Set up in the Pec-to-Knee starting position then sit-up moving toward the back (opposite side) quadrant, as if standing-up diagonally in the kayak. The paddle moves because your torso is moving: sitting up and lying back. The blade sweeps from front to back with the leading edge upward as if spreading icing on a cake. This is defined as a climbing blade angle. As soon as your head is near the back deck it can easily swing from in the water over and up to a position above the back deck. Finally, sit-up quickly and charge into a forward stroke.

Advantages of this Kayak Roll: It is very easy to get the body up on the kayak when you are lying back near the back deck - hence, it is an easy roll to learn. However, this roll has its share of detractors because it leaves the face exposed to the river.

4] Rodeo Back Deck - Other names include: Squirt Boat Screw-Up Roll

This is a lightning fast kayak roll that is ideal for playboating. While your face can be exposed in this roll, it is exposed for a minimum amount of time when properly executed. It is possible to draw little to no water with your head and face allowing your head to stay dry. This roll involves a simultaneous movement of kayak and body. This roll will be easier to execute from the left side as most paddle blades are feathered so as to offer the best slice angle on that side.


Core Movement: Fall over to the left at the same time begin laying back towards the back deck. Turn your face and torso rotating left towards the upside-down back deck as if to look directly at the back deck and kiss it. Your elbows should be kept low and protected as the right blade slices into the water near the stern of the upside-down kayak. As your turning head continues to lead the way for the slicing paddle you gain just enough support to have the kayak (your hips) roll over the top of your torso. Your head and the torso continue leading the arcing movement of the slicing paddle on its wide circle toward the front of the kayak. This slicing paddle is controlled by cocking the wrists back. When your paddle arrives near your ankles you will be upright.

Full Movement: Although it can start from many positions, for practice start from the Pec-to-Knee position. The key to executing this roll is an initial and total commitment to the flip and avoidance of trying to “save the roll” by bracing. With the active blade face open, slice the paddle out in a wide arc around the back deck. Once under the boat, keep the paddle on the surface and continue moving it in an arc toward your ankles. Release the resistance against the slicing paddle blade by having the non-active hand coming back and hitting the shoulder. After flipping the kayak your torso position changes to the back quadrant opposite the one you started on, but keep slicing the blade until you come up in the front of the kayak.

Advantages of this Kayak Roll:
This is a very fast kayak roll with minimum drag in the water - great for play situations. This is a safe roll as long as you pay attention to the safe shoulder position and sweep the paddle with the movement of the torso and not the shoulders.

5] The Hybrid Roll - Common Hybrid Rolls: Sweep-to-C and C-to-Front Deck

If your roll does not look like one of the above “classic rolls,”it is possible that you are doing a “hybrid roll” that involves using “combinations”of sound principles. Don't consider this a negative aspect. If no one ever deviated from accepted practices there would be no evolution of technique. However, unless you are an expert pushing the envelope of technique, one of the problems of having a “freestyle” kayak rolling method is that it is easy to switch to something more intuitive and erosive because you have no model to measure yourself against. More often than not, the hybrid kayak roll for the recreational paddlers is not as efficient as the classics. However there are combinations that are just as reliable and efficient and you may have found one.


Core Movement: May be a combination of any of the above rolls.

Full Movement: Is determined by the combination but usually involves movement of your torso from one side to the other side, front-to-back, or back-to-front.

Advantages of this Kayak Roll: Because this roll is “self-selected” it usually fits your body and your paddling conditions and it gets you up.

Common Threads of the Kayak Roll

All five kayak rolls have the same principles in common, even though they appear markedly different in nature they are fundementally the same in many respects. This video clip will help you bring it all together.


1] Whatever your body position is in, when you initiate one of the core torso movements, the body is buoyed by the water until the last moment, before the center of gravity is moved over the kayak.

2] The movement of the blade through the water is powered by the movement of the Torso, be it C-to-C, Sweep, or Lying Back. This minimizes the use of the arms and keeps the shoulders in a safe position.

3] Study the path of movement of the body relative to the kayak. The body always starts on one side of the kayak and ends on the other side.

4] Most kayak rolls can be executed from a variety of starting positions and eventually you may want to learn to roll from wherever you are. However, for the beginning paddler, it is wisest to start in the standard Pec-to-Knee set-up position.

5] Stress on your shoulders, or any type shoulder pain, is your body telling you that your kayak rolling technique is not correct. Remember the objective is to come up fast, reliably and in a good paddling position, without any stress on your body.

6] All kayak rolls, when properly executed, should be effortless and elegant.

Super Charging your Learning Process

The Hot Springs of Volcan Michimahuida

The key to learning the kayak roll is finding a non-threatening, fun-filled learning environment in which to practice. In Patagonia, Chile we start our beginning kayak students off in the Hot Springs of Volcan Michimahuida. In these enchanting pools our students actually want to be under water practicing the roll. If you are just starting to roll, or if you need to fix certain aspects of a kayak roll that is not working properly, a swimming pool can't be beat. If you can find a swimming pool in your area and get help from someone who has mastered the kayak roll, or someone who is an experienced teacher, you will be well on your way to excelling in the sport of whitewater kayaking.

Learn to Roll Kayak in the Hot Springs Learn how to Roll Kayak in the Hot Springs

Also offered at the Patagonia South Kayak School: Beginning Kayak Instruction, Intermediate Paddling Instruction, Advanced Paddling School Courses. How to Roll a Kayak clinics and private kayak instruction.

Downloadable pdf: Kayak School

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