Mastering the Art of Kayak Rolling: Exploring the Four Most Common Techniques

Mastering the art of kayaking is not the most important factor necessary for enjoying your kayak experience. However, knowing the art of kayak rolling will elevate your kayaking experience to the next level. Your self-assurance will rise, and you could even be inspired to experiment with different techniques.

There are many different types of kayak rolls; to master them properly, you might need to spend some time. To help you in the process, this guide provides an in-depth explanation of mastering the art of kayaking: exploring the four most common techniques. 

What Is a Kayak Roll? 

To master the techniques of kayak rolling, we need to understand what exactly a kayak roll is. A kayak roll, also known as an Eskimo roll or a simple roll, is used by kayakers to right themselves and their kayak after capsizing or flipping upside down.

The basic principles of a kayak roll involve the use of the body and paddle to generate leverage and momentum to roll the kayak back upright while the kayaker remains seated inside. 

Even though these are the basics, the techniques may vary depending on the person’s skill level, water conditions, and the type of kayak they are using. If you need more tips, tricks, and hands-on reviews on the best kayaks, you can find them here. 

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Exploring the Four Most Common Techniques

There are many different types of recovery methods while kayaking. In this post, I will explore the four most common techniques so that you can choose the one that you love the most without delay.

1. C-to-C roll 

The C-to-C roll is one of the most common kayaking techniques that whitewater kayakers opt for. Moreover, this roll can be done even in narrow spaces. The name C to C roll comes from the two C-shaped arcs that trace with the paddle as the preferred safety roll. Furthermore, the C-to-C roll is easier and faster to learn. On top of that, it tends to be reliable in open and rough water.


  • It has fast execution and provides deep stability.
  • Easier to learn than other kayaking rolls.
  • It is suitable for narrow spaces.


  • It requires more initial setup than other rolls.

2. Screw Roll (Sweep Roll)

One of the common rolls that come to mind when someone says they are going to learn kayaking is the sweep or screw roll. Initially, a screw roll is one of the most commonly used safety rolls beginners would pick. This roll is slightly more challenging than the c-to-c roll. Moreover, it could be better for narrow spaces, but it requires less setup and relies more on support from the paddle. 


  • Requires less setup for the roll.
  • You will feel more secure in this roll.
  • Perfect for open and calm water.


  • It occupies space on the water.
  • The sweep roll is more challenging than the C-to-C roll.

3. Reverse Sweep (Back Deck Roll) 

Whenever you find yourself leaning back against the kayak, you can recover yourself with the reverse sweep or back deck roll. It’s basically the typical screw roll done backward. Moreover, it’s very easy to perform, even when you are not in the ideal position. 


  • While doing a backward roll, the reverse sweep is helpful
  • Minimizes time spent upside down


  • It’s kind of hard to maintain the connection with the kayak 

4. Hand Roll

Just like the name suggests, a hand roll is a kayak roll performed without a paddle. It’s an advanced kayak roll technique that involves rolling the kayak upright without the use of a paddle.

For this roll, the kayak relies completely on the hands and body’s movement. This roll is usually done by experienced kayakers who have mastered other roll techniques and challenge themselves to perform rolls and situations without using paddles. 


  • You can retrieve the paddle when you lose it. 
  • It boosts the kayaker’s confidence.
  • Quick to set up underwater.


  • It’s an advanced technique that’s hard to execute 

How long does it take to learn to roll a kayak?

Successfully executing a kayak roll is not typically possible on the first attempt. It takes time to learn to roll a kayak, and the process of learning kayak rolls depends on several factors, including individual physical abilities, previous experiences in water sports, and even comfort in the water.

Moreover, the frequency of practice, quality of instruction, and the specific technique being learned matter a lot while learning to kayak. 

For some people, two to three 90-minute sessions with a good instructor would be enough to grasp it. But others might require several months or even longer to master it.

Honestly speaking, for kayaking, it’s not only the techniques that matter. In fact, it’s regular practice, body awareness, and muscle memory that matter the most.

Where Should Beginners Learn to Roll? 

While learning to roll a kayak as a beginner, I would suggest honestly following a systematic approach that includes proper instruction and practice in controlled environments. As a beginner, it’s best that you don’t have to worry about the water temperature, strong currents, or any other obstacles that would come along. 

The ideal water condition that I would suggest for a first-time paddler is to choose calm, clear, and warm water that has a controlled environment, like a swimming pool, for example. As your skills improve, you can gradually increase the difficulty level. But I didn’t venture into dynamic waters until I had performed at least 100 successful rolls in calm water. And even after mastering it in calm water, I still needed an experienced instructor with me to make a difference in dynamic waters. 

A step-by-step guide to performing a C-to-C roll

As one of the most dependable rolls in challenging conditions, whitewater kayakers favor the C-to-C roll the most.

Step 1: Start with the paddle at a 90-degree angle. 

Step 2: Swing your paddle’s front blade along the surface of the water so that it’s positioned roughly at 90 degrees. 

Step 3: Keep in mind to keep the blades close to the surface.

Step 4: Ensure that the paddle is moving through the water. 

Step 5: Now press the left forearm against the side of the kayak so that it acts as a pivot.

Step 6: Then start applying downward pressure and continue doing it until you feel the support outstretched from the paddle blade.

Step 7: Use your hips and do a hup snap to turn the kayak back upright once you can feel that support. 

Step 8: Make sure to roll yourself out of the water along with the kayak’s back deck.  

Wrap Up 

Performing the first kayak roll is a significant milestone, so congratulations to yourself. Practice regularly, and you will become comfortable with your kayak in the water. Surely, it may sound crazy and dangerous at first, but it becomes an easy and instinctive response as you practice the steps. 

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Pete Stack

After 40 years of experience canoeing, camping, fishing, hiking and climbing in the Ontario wilderness, Pete is eager to combine his love for the outdoors with his passion to write. It is our hope that his knowledge can be passed on through this site and on Rugged Outdoors Guide on YouTube.

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