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Kayaking Skills: How To Sweep Roll A Kayak

Kayaking Skills: How To Sweep Roll A Kayak

The kayak roll sometimes referred to as the ‘Eskimo Roll’, is an essential skill to learn, particularly if you are looking to challenge yourself and head out into rougher waters. Even if you are not planning on leaving the relative safety of calm waters, learning how to safely and successfully roll your kayak is a skill that all kayakers need to master.

Should you capsize, it is not always the safest option to exit the kayak and attempt to remount it in the water. If the current is strong, this could result in you being quickly separated from your kayak and unable to control your direction of travel; being swept away by the flow of the water.

Therefore, knowing how to successfully roll your kayak will let you get back in control and enjoy the rest of your trip. While it might sound and look like a skill that requires a great deal of strength, it is actually a technical skill and with enough practice, any kayaker will be able to master the roll. The rest of the article will be about the Sweep Roll, one of the most popular and beginner-friendly rolls.

Top tips before you start…

Before we get into the techniques required to perform a kayak roll, there are some top tips to remember before getting in the water. If you have never attempted the move before and are looking to practice, then using a kayak that can easily be tipped will help you greatly in the initial stages.

If your usual kayak is very stable, then it will be more of a challenge for you to get it upright as you try to learn the skills, so think about using a slightly easier option, such as a sea or touring kayak, while you learn the basics.

Another very important tip is to wear some goggles as you practice. Although in a real-world scenario you will likely not be wearing them, when practicing it will let you see exactly what your paddle is doing and what you need to do to correctly bring yourself back above the water. As you practice, you will be going in and out of the water very regularly so this will also help to stop your eyes from becoming irritated – however, once you have mastered the techniques enough, remove the goggles and get used to performing the exercise without them.

Finally, the most important tip of them all is to make sure you know how to safely and quickly perform a wet exit before you attempt to roll your kayak. This is a fundamental skill to learn before you attempt a roll and can ensure that you can exit your kayak should anything go wrong.

How to practice a kayak roll…

With these top tips under your belt, it is time to find somewhere to practice the kayak roll. The easiest way to learn the skill is to be taught by an experienced kayaker, but this is not always a necessity. You can teach yourself how to roll a kayak with enough practice, so to do this is to find a suitable body of water where you can run-through the techniques without interruption.

You will want to do this in a completely calm and still body of water, that is clear so you can see what you are doing and is only about waist deep – ensuring you are not having to tread water and tire yourself out. As you will be spending a lot of time submerged and in the water, it is always more pleasant to do this in warmer waters if possible. Many water sports clubs offer kayak rolling classes in community pools.

However, the chances of you being in warm and still waters when needed to perform the kayak roll for real will be very slim. That is why as you understand the technique better and can perform the skill you should practice in more challenging waters.

How to improve your sweep roll

Although there are a number of different styles of the kayak roll, they all share a similar range of techniques. There are two core principles, the first being that your head should always be the last thing out of the water, with your hips coming out first followed by the shoulders. If your head comes out of the water too early, it places more downward pressure on the kayak and makes it harder to bring upright.

The second is to understand the importance of your hips. While your paddle does play an important role in the whole process, it is your hips that do most of the work in helping you to roll the kayak back to the upright position.

Steps Of The Perfect Kayak Sweep Roll

The sweep roll is most commonly used and easiest for beginners. Here are the steps required to successfully roll your kayak:

1) Prepare your set up
The perfect kayak roll begins with the right set up. Once you are upside down, raise your body near the surface of the water before you start the sweep. You will have much less weight to roll. Make sure your paddle is parallel to your boat, reaching up above the water surface. This will help your body get into the right position. A common mistake kayakers make is to have their hands and paddle barely out of the water, which reduces the overall power you create and keeps your body lower in the water.

Lean out from under your kayak to get your head and body as close to the surface as possible. This position will help ensure you can push the most power through the water.

2) Do not scoop
Another common mistake is to use the active blade as a scoop and hit the water hard initially. This is counter-intuitive and can result in you being dragged lower into the water. Instead, you should focus on slicing the blade through the water surface, so there feels like there is very little pressure and you create a consistent momentum. Keep your top elbow tucked in to avoid extending your top arm.

3) Extend your reach
Extend your bottom arm out as far as you can, reaching out and away from the boat. By doing this it will help to naturally bring your body back up through the water, rather than pulling you down with the blade.

The sweep roll gives you longer-lasting support from your paddle so you can more easily hip-snap your kayak to the upright position. Sweep your paddle out across the water in a wide arc. As you gain support from your paddle, start a powerful hip snap and pull up with your knee to roll the kayak to the upright position.

4) Use your lower knee
If you are noticing that you are regularly lifting your head, it could be a sign that you are not engaging your lower knee correctly. You should be maintaining pressure on your lower knee throughout the entire roll, otherwise, you risk reversing the roll and bringing the kayak back up over your body.

5) Focus on the finish
Many kayakers lose their balance when they emerge from the water and end up tipping over again in the opposite direction. This is often caused by leaning back too far or looking up, so keep your eyes on the active blade and focus on rotating your body so that the kayak is naturally back under your hips.

Don’t get discouraged if you struggle at first. With practice, you will become more successful and efficient at rolling your kayak

This video shows the kayak roll in slow motion from different angles. It will help you better understand the concept, especially if you are a visual learner:

Sometimes seeing things done incorrectly helps us adjust our own mistakes and inefficiencies. This video demonstrates common errors and then explains the correct sweeping motion of the paddle:

There are many different methods of the kayak roll, so learning a few different techniques will help you to understand the exact movements needed to correct the orientation of your kayak. The skill does not require any great strength in order to complete, it does, however, require regular practice in order to master.

Kayaking is a safe water sport but you never know what can happen when out on the water. Ensuring you are prepared for any eventuality and can safely roll your kayak will mean that you can stay calm should you capsize in rough waters. And if you struggle to successfully bring your kayak upright, you can always wet exit.

Even if you are a seasoned kayaker and are experienced on the water, it is always advisable to keep your skills sharp by regularly practicing your kayak roll.

Kayak On!

Sweep Roll A Kayak


I was first introduced to kayaking as a teenager when I joined a competitive canoe club. It was instant love. But when I went off to school and then got a job, adult responsibilities got in the way. Now approaching retirement, I've rekindled my kayak romance. My husband and I love to throw the kayaks on the trailer and head out on adventures. Maybe you'll join us?!

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