How to Roll a Whitewater Kayak? – Tips for the Perfect Technique

Whether you are a frequent whitewater kayaker or one who’s just starting out, there is always the chance of your kayak flipping over no matter how experienced you are. But the only difference is that with time, you learn how to deal with it better, which takes away the stress from the situation and makes it fun. Every kayaker should learn how to flip themselves over if they do encounter such a situation. If you want to find the right tips for perfecting your technique for rolling over your whitewater kayak, then keep on reading.

Rolling Your Whitewater Kayak – Step-by-Step

Now, there is no denying that flipping over and landing upside down happens to everyone at some point and is a part of the experience, but there may be situations in which it becomes dangerous and even potentially life-threatening. Because of such situations, some people get a little intimidated by this activity. However, it isn’t something to worry about.

Contrary to popular belief, rolling a kayak isn’t very difficult. If you practice and get a few things done correctly, you should be able to roll your kayak perfectly. Before we get into the procedure, there are a few things you should know.

Whitewater Kayak

Firstly, there are two types of kayak boats, one which can be rolled over and one that can’t. If you buy a boat that cannot be rolled over, you will be limited to kayaking in class II waters. Furthermore, don’t directly get in the river with no idea of how to roll; instead, practice first in flat water like a swimming pool, so you have the basics down. You can then proceed to experience the real circumstances in a river to further perfect the technique. It is highly recommended to wear a snorkeling mask when practicing in the pool.

Here is a step-by-step break down of how flip your kayak over using a technique called the Eskimo roll:

Positioning Yourself

If you find your kayak upside down, the first thing to do is to remain calm. Panicking would likely make your position worse. Next, you need to tuck forward against the deck of the kayak to protect your body and head from rocks or debris. If you go close to the river bottom, the impact should be absorbed by your helmet and life jacket. The paddle should be set on the water surface and be parallel to it. This is known as the set-up position.

Rotating the Paddle

Next, rotate the paddle blade at a 90-degree angle to the kayak in the outside direction. One arm should be extended as far as it can be to hold the paddle out of the water surface. This motion would likely cause a lift and start turning the boat.

The C-to-C movement or the hip flick

The next step is to initiate the C-to-C movement. The hip flick is the most important movement of the Eskimo roll. It is done by bringing the adjacent hip closer to the shoulder while still submerged underwater and applying pressure to the paddle for rolling the kayak back over. It’s called C to C because your posture resembles a C-shape as you do this movement. With this action, you should be able to bring the kayak completely underneath your torso again.

The Final Movement

Your head should be the last part of your body leaving the water. Don’t try to hurry, or else you will land upside down again. Follow through with the complete hip flick movement until your kayak is flipped over and stable on the water surface. Keep your eyes on the surface of the water and regain composure as quickly as you can to navigate the rough waters better.

It is important to realize that you may need to tweak your technique according to the conditions as you may not land upside down in the same manner every time. Once you have the basics down, this won’t be a problem for you.

Common Mistakes of Eskimo Roll

There are several types of rolls that you can use to flip your whitewater kayak, such as C-to-C kayak roll, sweep roll, back deck roll, hand roll, etc. All these techniques have their pros and cons, and depending upon one’s skill level, they might or might not work for you.

Eskimo Roll kayak

However, the Eskimo roll is the most popular one out of them. This is because, with practice, one can almost always perform it successfully. It isn’t too complicated to learn, and it just has a few steps. If you are a complete beginner, you may find it slightly tricky, but when done right, the Eskimo roll will always result in a smooth roll. It has a learning curve that requires continuous practice and people sometimes make mistakes during this time. However, mistakes will help you learn what not to do when you’re facing the real situation of being upside down in rapid waters and allow you to perfect your technique.

Here are some common mistakes people make while doing the Eskimo roll:

  • One of the biggest mistakes people make is being too stressed out when they are underwater. This isn’t ideal because it creates panic and clouds your judgment, which isn’t what you want if you’re upside down in rapid waters.
  • Another common mistake people make is to try and power through the roll with their non-dominant hand, which is supposed to be tucked in and hugging your rib cage. This may lead to the paddle blade going downward and will eventually end up turning the kayak back down. Your dominant hand is supposed to be making this move.
  • You aren’t getting air when you’re underwater, and this is something people get troubled about. This often leads to people trying to bring their head out first to be able to breathe, but they end up flipping right back over. Your head is the last part that should come out of the water, and with enough practice, this should only take a few seconds, so you have nothing to worry about.
  • Underestimating the value of flatwater drills is a mistake. Continuously practicing how to roll your kayak in a pool or a lake will help you develop the necessary skills, that, too, in a safe and enjoyable manner.

Tips for Learning the Roll

There are a bunch of tips and tricks that will surely help you learn the Eskimo roll in a better and more effective manner. These include:

  • Muscle memory is important. It can be incredibly helpful to practice the setup position over and over again during your drills so that you establish muscle memory of the positioning. This will help you to orient yourself better when you actually face the situation by simplifying the rolling sequence. You will make the right moves without even thinking about it.
  • The hip flick is the most important movement all the steps lead to; thus, it’s important that you master it. You can practice this movement by holding on to the shore or a friend’s boat while doing so to make sure that your head is glued to your shoulder on the side you plan to roll up on.
  • Once you have mastered the basic roll, it is important to branch out and practice different variations. These may require you to position or rotate your paddle differently, and you may be uncertain at first, but this will prepare you for all kinds of situations.
  • Developing a good form is essential to rolling a kayak which is why practicing and mastering your technique in flat water can be highly beneficial. It allows you to develop a good form without having to face a traumatic consequence. Being able to repeat the movement over and over again in the correct manner will create muscle memory, which will kick in when you’re actually upside down, and you’ll be able to roll over without thinking too much about it.
  • Rolling over should not hurt you. If you feel like your shoulder is hurting or your movements are too awkward and uncomfortable, then it is important to halt and reassess the technique you’re using. It is better to opt for a different technique or follow the instructions correctly, so you don’t get hurt.


It’s best to master the technique to a good roll, so whitewater kayaking becomes fun, and you can enjoy it to its fullest without any stress. Learning how to roll won’t just keep you out of danger in the water, but it will also give you the complete confidence to do new things that are currently above your skill level.

It is important to be patient while learning a new skill and perfecting new techniques as they take practice. It may come easily to some, whereas, for others, the process takes several failed attempts, but with continuous effort, you’ll get there eventually. Hopefully, this guide was able to play its part in helping you learn all that you need to know about rolling on a kayak so that you are able to enjoy whitewater kayaking without any fear of a mishap you can’t handle.