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Kayaking Fundamentals: Do a Kayak Hand Roll

The kayak hand roll is an advanced kayak rolling technique recommended for those who have already mastered the conventional kayak roll. If you ever lose your paddle in a rapid or in the surf, knowing how to hand roll could come in very handy. It’s also a fun skill to learn, even if you never need it in a real situation. In this video from our Kayaking Fundamentals series, kayaking instructor Ken Whiting demonstrates the three main elements of the hand roll: the setup, the catch and the recovery. Practice the techniques Ken demonstrates, and you’ll be well on your way to learning how to hand roll a kayak.

In talking about the hand roll, we’ll assume you already have a reliable roll using your kayak paddle. The idea behind the hand roll setup is the same as the c-to-c and sweep rolls. When you’re upside down you need to get your body as far out to the side, and as close to the surface as possible, to maximize the potential of your hip snap.

Although those things are similar, your body position will be different. With the hand roll your head and chest will be facing downward, instead of looking up toward the sky. Your arms should be up and in front of your face. Assuming you’re doing your hand roll on your regular rolling side, you’ll lean out to your left and face downward so your left arm is closest to the bow.

Once you’ve setup, the catch-phase of the hand roll can be initiated in one of two ways: you can use a two-handed catch or a double-pump technique. These two techniques differ in the same way the c-to-c and sweep rolls do. The two-handed roll is like the c-to-c roll, because you’ll use a single quick and powerful brace to gain the support your hip snap needs.

The double-pump technique uses one arm at a time in a two-step motion that provides longer bracing support, just like the sweep roll does. For the double-pump, start by pushing down aggressively with your left hand. As soon as your left hand starts to lose its effectiveness, reach out with your right hand and continue to hip snap the boat upright.

As always, you’ll keep your head down the whole time. With either hand roll, the easiest way to finish the hand roll is to sweep your body over your back deck, keeping your center of gravity as low as possible and making sure your head is the last thing to come up.