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Kayaking Fundamentals: Rolling a Kayak in Rough Water

As you take on more challenges in your kayaking, you’ll likely be moving your boating into surf zones, river waves and bigger water. The turbulence in these conditions adds an extra dimension to executing your roll. In this video from our Kayaking Fundamentals series, kayaking instructor Ken Whiting shows you how to put it all together.

In truth, if you have a reliable flatwater roll, you’ve got most of the skills you need to roll in rough water. The big addition you need to bring to rolling your kayak in those turbulent conditions is the mental one. There’s a lot going on in swirling waves; you need to learn to relax and follow the fundamentals you’ve already mastered.

Of course, this is a lot easier said than done. One of the best ways to develop your mental game while on flatwater is to practice flipping and rolling while traveling at maximum speed. This helps imitate the additional forces you’ll have to deal with.

Practice-makes-perfect here. In addition to mastering the mental game, practice develops the muscle memory that lets your body respond automatically to the multiple forces that you encounter in turbulent water. Developing the different roll techniques: sweep roll, c-to-c roll and extended paddle roll will go a long way to ensure you stay in the kayak, no matter what the water throws at you!

Ocean surf can be one of the trickier places to roll, because it can be so disorienting. In small and moderate sized surf, the best strategy is often to relax upside down and let the wave pass by before rolling.

In bigger surf a breaking wave can hold onto you and your kayak, so you need to learn to roll in the wave. The trick is to roll up on the breaking side of the wave. This is where having a good offside roll can be really helpful.