bombproofing your roll

Is a “bombproof roll” too much to ask for? Doesn’t everyone, well—nearly everyone, eventually go for a swim? Which would mean to say that there is “no such thing” as a bomb-proof roll. We say not true.

It is time to differentiate between the inevitability of having an “out of boat experience” and the potential of having a bombproof roll.

It is true. At some point most paddlers end up having an out of boat experience.   Is it possible to never-or almost never, in many years, go for a swim? Possible – I personally know several amazing paddlers who I have never seen/seen only once in many years swim…but it was not because of a lack of a bombproof roll.

So what is the difference?

An out of boat experience. Shit happens. That can include:

  • Hitting hard while upside down (or right side up). Easy to say “stay in your boat” but when your brain says “ouch” you may just decide to get out of your boat. No apology needed.
  • Breaking/losing a paddle. Sure you should work on your hand roll. But sometimes in the middle of the gnar, a hand roll just might not be there for you.
  • Falling into the wrong hole. Yep, sometimes it happens. You end up surfing around in a hole that just does not seem interested in your exit. Do everything in your playbook and nothing seems to help. You may end up swimming out of that hole – regardless of how awesome your roll is.

The above are examples, not excuses,  of when–regardless of how awesome your roll is, you might end up out of the boat.

On the other hand, should you swim because of a bad roll/lack of roll?   Not if you can help it!! And if you do swim because of a bad roll, that should motivate you to have the goal of a bombproof roll. Here’s your path to a bomb proof roll:

  1. Learn a roll that is solid on technique. Not the roll that “gets you up.” Getting up is good. Breathing oxygen is a good thing. But don’t be ok with just “getting up.” Use your check list to always be monitoring your roll:

When you came up a) where was your paddle, 2) where was your head 3) where was your weight. Three things. Missing one of those three are harbingers for problems to come. And practicing bad technique in a roll just makes for permanent bad habits – or at least, ones hard to break.

2. Get professional help. Sure your buddy can roll up. But is he the right one to teach you how to roll any more than your neighbor diagnosing your kidney stones because he took biology in college? Why would you not take advantage of professional help when it is available? Professional instructors spend a lot of time thinking of how to do a better job – not just teaching the roll, but diagnosing what is not correct with someone’s roll (and it is often not “the head.”) Kayaking is a technique-orientated sport, and the best way to learn good technique is to get a coach.

3. Learn a roll on both sides. There is really no excuse for not rolling on both sides. If you can roll on one side, you can roll on the other. The scientific term is “contextual interference.”  Why both sides?

First – directional rolling. Yep, you hear it from us all the time. Roll in the direction you are falling. Falling to the right? Set up and go with it. And vice versa. You gain momentum and it makes rolling infinitely easier.

Second: Sometimes the water is working against you. If you keep setting up on the same side, you continue to work against the water. Get the water to help you out! How? SWITCH to the other side. Even if that “other side” is not your favorite, what a nice surprise to roll up. And if you miss a roll on one side, switch to the other side. Automatically. Without thinking about it. Not comfortable with switching? Practice…

4. O yea, practice. Why do good boaters swim and/or lose their roll? Well, when a newer boater, you tip over frequently, you are working on your skills and you are practicing all the time. And being upside down is not that big of a deal because it is part of learning. But the better you get, the better your balance…hence, less tipping over. And soon you are paddling in harder water, where “tipping over” has more consequences; therefore, more work is spent staying right side up. Experienced boaters gloat on their “dry hair days.” Stop that!!!! Get out there and tip over!! Maybe not on a Class IV creek run. But how about in a playboat, on squirrely eddy lines and big ol’ fluffy holes/wave trains. Being upside down should not be a ‘mistake” but just part of the fun of paddling. Go out and find some sense of humor with rolling again.

And by the way – if the only place you practice rolling is in the pool or in an eddy, you are not helping yourself out. Who tips over in a pool/in an eddy? There is a reason that a pool roll does not always translate to a whitewater roll.  Go out in the current and roll! Of course you will peel out thinking “I don’t really want to do this.” But do it any way.

Will the above “guarantee” a bombproof roll? “Guarantee” no, but these are some key things that will get you a lot closer. That way, the next time you find yourself upside down, you will feel more confident knowing that if it boils down to whether your roll is there for you, it will be!

And if this has you intrigued, we have plenty more articles on rolling!  Read on….