-- Last Updated: Jun-14-13 8:51 AM EST --
but share certain common features. The two most common rolls done in whitewater are the C-to-C roll and the sweep roll. Both are rolls coming off the front deck.
Initially when you capsize you will be asked to tuck forward with your upper body approximating the front deck as closely as possible. The water providing buoyancy to your body will assist this somewhat. You will want your head at the side of the deck toward which ever side you intend to set up on. The majority of right-handers start learning to roll by setting up on the left side of the boat but there are exceptions. If you set up on the left, you will want to have your right side paddle blade forward with the paddle centered on the cockpit, the shaft parallel with the boat, and both hands as far up out of the water as possible. In the following discussion, I will assume you have set up on the left side of the boat.
The set up position feels a bit as if you are bending forward and trying to put your head between your knees. You will also feel some stretch in both arms as you reach up toward the air. You will feel the side of the hull against both of your wrists, and (hopefully) you will feel air on both hands.
Both the sweep and the C-to-C roll start from this position. It is possible to do the sweep roll with an abbreviated set up position and it is possible to do the C-to-C roll without any set up at all (by simply slicing the paddle blade up to the air at 90 degrees to the boat) but when you learn you will want to go to this tuck/set up position each time. The set up is really critical to either roll. If you don't get your body up toward the surface of the water and your paddle up out of the water your roll will be much weaker.
For the C-to-C roll you must now sweep the paddle out so that the shaft is at right angles to the boat. The sweeping blade should be relatively flat to the surface of the water and out of the water if possible. You will need to stretch with your sweeping blade hand. The other hand will slide under the hull (actually over the hull when inverted) and your non-sweeping blade hand will be under (over) your butt or as close to that position as your boat and flexibility allow.
The sweep in the C-to-C roll is sort of a weird sensation. You must not pull down with your sweeping hand during this motion which is a very common mistake. If you have set up on the left side of your boat, you will need to really stretch the muscles on the right side of your torso to keep the sweeping hand and blade at or above the surface. You will use pressure on your left thigh and knee on the left knee hook of the kayak to get your upper body as close to the surface as feasible. Your right elbow should be straight. Contraction of the muscles on the left side of your torso will facilitate keeping the paddle blade at the surface and your upper body high. You must relax pressure on your right knee and thigh and avoid tensing the muscles on the right side of your torso. You will feel curiously wrapped around the boat with the hull tucked up into your left armpit. You should feel the left hand slide along the underside of the hull as you sweep. Contract your left neck muscles to get your head as close to the surface as possible.
As soon as the paddle is swept out to 90 degrees you will execute the so-called hip snap. To do this you instantaneously reverse everything you have done with your torso and hips/thighs/knees. You will now relax pressure on the left thigh and knee, contract the lateral torso muscles on your right side, relax the torso muscles on your left side, engage pressure on the right knee hook, drop your head onto your right shoulder and try to avoid pulling down on the paddle with your arms. The contraction of the lateral torso muscles puts as much downward pressure on the sweeping blade as you want. I have found that it helps some beginners to imagine trying to drop your right ear toward your right hip during the snap.
You can mimic this torso movement somewhat by doing lateral torso stretches starting by bending straight laterally toward your left side with both arms draped to that side and your head dropped as close to the ground on your left side as possible. Then quickly reverse the stretch bringing both arms and hands directly over your head to the right, stretching laterally to the right, and dropping your head as close to the ground on your right as possible.
If you have done everything correctly so far the hip snap feels sort of magical. The boat rotates and pulls your upper body and head out of the water with it. As you come up concentrate on keeping your right ear pressed down against your right shoulder. As the boat rolls up, most of your body weight will be on your right buttock but as the boat rights you will shift about 80% of your body weight to your left buttock. You may need to slide the paddle laterally across the boat toward your left to center your paddle and your weight. Try to have your hips lead your upper torso throughout this motion by "slinking" your body across the boat. You will find that as you come up, your paddle will be on the right side of your boat, but you set up on the left. How can that be? It's because the boat rolled 180 degrees beneath you.
The main difference with the sweep roll is that the boat roll commences very shortly after the sweep begins. To accomplish this set up in the same way. As you sweep you will once again want to stretch to get the sweeping blade at the surface but as you begin the sweep you will now engage the right knee against the knee hook and use a sort of a cork screw motion of your lower body to right the boat as you sweep. As you sweep you want your head and upper body to remain aligned with the blade. You don't want to lead the paddle blade with your head or vice verse.
You will probably wind up sweeping the blade somewhat beyond 90 degrees as you complete the roll. You will need to roll your right wrist back during the last part of the sweep to keep the sweeping blade properly aligned with the water surface. End with your right hand cocked back close to your right shoulder, both elbows jutting forward a bit, your chin touching your right shoulder (instead of your ear touching your shoulder as in the C-to-C) and you should be looking down toward your sweeping blade.
When done correctly, the sweep phase of the sweep roll feels fluid and smoother than the C-to-C. The so-called hip snap is integrated with the sweep. Again, you should not feel downward pressure on the sweeping blade as you sweep and you must not pull down with your arms.
There are lots of variations. You can do either roll with a lean toward the back deck. You can finish either roll with a paddle scull and lean toward the front deck. And you can do a hybrid roll that is part C-to-C and part sweep by engaging the right knee a bit as you sweep out for the C-to-C roll or even using a slight climbing angle on the sweeping paddle blade as you sweep. Either will help roll the boat up a bit to make it easier to wrap around it before the hip snap of the C-to-C.
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