What Really Matters Is Technique.
by Trevor Stewart
The evolution of white water kayaks has rekindled the debate among kayak instructors over which type of roll to teach their students. Many instructors believe that it is more difficult teaching someone to roll one of the modern, flat-hulled boats. And after a few hours of frustration there are some instructors that feel that they can get their students rolling faster by teaching the Sweep roll over the C-to-C roll. This has led to the emergence of the very disturbing theory that it is not possible to use the C-to-C roll in a modern kayak. The question of fundamentally which roll is better has been a hot topic for years, and it is one best left for another discussion. However, it is important to understand that it does not matter what boat you are in — from the Mark IV to the new Wave Sport Ace 4.7, if your technique is good and you execute the fundamentals in the proper sequence, you can do a C-to-C roll in that boat.
As a professional kayak instructor I spend more than 150 days on the water teaching new paddlers how to roll each year. Over the past three years I have taught a myriad of people how to properly execute a C-to-C roll. I have taught people who are young and flexible, and folks whose flexibility was severely impaired due to fused cervical vertebrae. It has not always been easy, but it has always been possible. Admittedly there are some people who will never learn how to do a C-to-C roll no matter how much time is spent teaching them, and they may learn to use a Sweep roll. However, the inverse is also true. Body size should not be used as a scapegoat either. I have taught many women and small children to C-to-C roll boats like the Wave Sport X. The greatest difference between being able to C-to-C roll a Dancer and a one of today’s boats is technique.
A soft-chined, displacement hull boat with a rounded deck needs only a small amount of momentum to be rolled. Once that momentum gets going there is not much in the design of the boat to stop its progress. On the other hand, a hard-chined, planing-hull boat with a flat deck requires more force to be righted. The flat deck and the flat sidewalls create resistance to righting the boat. It is not that a modern boat is harder to roll, it simply requires better technique. The flat surface of the deck and those flat sidewalls will magnify any deficiencies in one’s roll. A weak hip snap, a pull on a paddle blade, or a raised head will cause the roll to end in failure. In a displacement hull boat one can get away with a sloppy C-to-C roll. In today’s boats, the instructor has to be more careful to fully eliminate these deficiencies. Ken Kastorff, who is one of the most respected and experienced instructors/paddlers in the industry, has found that it is generally not the boat but the inability of an instructor to demonstrate or explain a proper roll that inhibits his or her ability to teach the C-to-C roll.
Each instructor must choose which roll he or she wants to teach. In order to do so, every instructor has a duty to his or her students to be proficient in each type of roll. If you do not know how to do a proper C-to-C roll, you can not teach someone how to do one. It is your prerogative to choose to teach a sweep roll. However, do not cheat your clients out of the opportunity to learn how to do a C-to-C roll by telling them that it is too hard to learn to do a C- to-C roll in a modern boat. If you put some effort into refining your roll and learning the tricks to catching those little mistakes that get magnified early, it is easy to teach the C-to-C roll.