Debugging a Sweep Roll

Post By Alan

I’ve had an ‘offside’ (or less reliable) side when rolling my kayak for a long time. Historically, it came about as a result of various rotator cuff strains whilst learning to roll. I have switched sides several times in the learning process, but my left side roll has always been the most reliable and strong. The lesser used right hand side (offside) has appeared and disappeared then reappeared in a different forms from time to time, and I have gone through the associated highs and lows.

I have mainly debugged my offside roll by analysing video footage, quite often on location for immediate feedback on what worked and didn’t work. Through this, I have a better understandings of some of the mechanisms that can lead to a sweep roll failing. Sometimes it is the exact same thing that I do wrong time and again, which shows that it isn’t always a straightforward process to learn from your mistakes when rolling!

My findings are based on rolling a sea kayak, with dry suit, buoyancy aid and a crankshaft Euro paddle. Again, the assumption is that you know the basics of a Euro paddle sweep roll, but you may be experiencing inconsistencies with your roll on one side or another. The following are things that I have determined whilst trying to debug my own less dependable ‘offside’ roll.

Debugging Alan’s Sea Kayak Offside Roll

  • On setting up underwater, I often find that I over-reach upwards and, as a result, I am holding the paddle and sweeping the blade out of the water at the start of the roll. Unfortunately, you don’t get any leverage out of sweeping fresh air, so bringing the paddle blade down to be in contact (or almost) with the water surface is a must before starting a sweep. The amount that you have to reach up or bring the paddle blade down will vary considerably depending on whether you are rolling with a buoyancy aid and dry suit, or not. For example, in a swimming pool rolling session, likely with no dry suit or buoyancy aid, you will have to reach a lot more to get to the water surface.
  • If you are uncertain of blade angle on the water surface, you can use your hand to reach up and feel what angle the blade is at before you start your sweep and make corrections to position it flat on the water surface.
  • A climbing blade angle results in adding too much resistance to the sweep, which limits it and results in a failed roll. A flat to soft declined blade angle is the best angle to sweep with. A declined blade angle of 30 degrees or more will make the paddle dive and most likely lead to a failed roll.
  • The blade angle changes as you sweep due to your body position changing, therefore, the sweeping wrist angle needs to bend back as the sweep reaches the mid to rear of the kayak in order to keep the blade flat and to stop it climbing. Failed rolls can happen even after starting the sweep with a flat paddle if the wrist is kept in the same position during the entire sweep causing the blade to climb, ie resistance. This is a common finding in many of my failed rolls. I find that at the start of the sweep my wrist is neutral to slightly bent forward, but by the end it needs to be bent back to maintain the desired flat blade angle. This action had become so automatic on the left hand side that I barely noticed I was doing it and it took me a while to realise that it was missing entirely on the right. When I introduced it to the right, the roll started working again!
  • Get someone to video your rolls so you can easily debug them later, or play back the video on site (if you have a waterproof camera) for extra quick visual feedback. Remember if a picture paints a thousand words, then a video must paint a whole lot more!
  • Different sea kayaks vary in how they capsize and, as a result, each will feel different to get into the set up position. Higher volume kayaks will have more buoyancy to drag round. If you sometimes feel like you are stuck before getting round to set up position, learn to tug on the paddle a couple of times to pull yourself around.
  • Keep your rolling practice to sensible durations. It’s better to do 3 days of one hour training sessions a week  rather than 3 hours, one day a week.
  • If you are doing rolling practice for a while and you start to feel your rolling is getting worse, a few other things can come into play –
    • Dizziness (affects me after about 3 rolls)
    • Water leaking from your spray deck into the cockpit filling it up and changing kayak/rolling dynamics
    • Fatigue from muscle weakness, which could lead to bad technique and injuries
    • Are you wearing the correct clothing? Dry suit and under fleece are essential at minimum for rolling in Scotland anyway!
    • Even with a dry suit and fleece, cold can become an issue, especially if you’re rolling outdoors in northern climes. Intersperse rolling with some forward paddling just to get the blood circulating again.
  • If you make progress during a rolling session, stop and feel good that you did so. Don’t keep repeating a roll until it fails. It’s better to leave with a sense of enthusiasm and achievement in your mind rather than dwelling on how you managed to fail miserably after a good start!

7 Comments

  1. Another point worth mentioning is flexibility and stretching. Most people are more flexible rotating one way. Similarly they have greater stretch in their hamstrings on one side. I recommend people work on getting equal stretch on both sides of their body and make sure their rotation is the same.
    Given that a lot of rolling is about muscle memory I use mental visualization exercises just before going to sleep. Working through in my head the exact moves, and then forcing myself to do it on both sides…
    it seems to work for me.
    To your last point, whenever I fail a roll, I switch to one I can do reliably. I do it three times then go back to the one I am learning.
    Roll on…

  2. alanf says:

    Hi Christopher,

    thanks for those additional tips, all are very valid. The imbalances you describe are very noticeable with injuries, so it is important to to keep your body as flexible as possible. Yeah been there with the rolling mental and physical visualisations, if I did them in public they’d probably have locked me up by now…… =)

    Alan

  3. pamf says:

    What do you mean “if” you did them in public? :p

  4. alanf says:

    When the ‘public’ means just you I’m fine! Don’t think I’ve been seen doing air rolls in town, not yet anyway…….

  5. pamf says:

    I suppose the car doesn’t count.

  6. I hear the checkout line at the grocery store is the best place 😉

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