Nail the Sea Kayak Back Deck Roll

While the back deck roll is far less common than the sweep or C-to-C roll, in some situations it’s the fastest because it skips the setup step required by some other rolls. It’s particularly useful for surfing situations where you often flip in a stern rudder position, which sets you up perfectly to execute a quick back deck roll. It’s so fast, you may even be able to keep riding the same wave. 

Some paddlers say the back deck roll puts undue strain on the shoulder and leaves the face exposed to injury, but in reality, if you keep your hands in front of your body and don’t overextend your arms, the back deck roll doesn’t present any additional risk to your shoulder. The primary restriction for this roll is the boat—high stern decks and tall seatbacks prevent you from lying back far enough.

If you use an offset paddle with a right-hand control feather, it will be easiest to perform the back deck roll flipping to the left, with your right blade doing the work as shown here. If your blades are unfeathered, it won’t make any difference which direc- tion you choose to roll.

  1. Begin by sitting upright with your paddle held comfortably in front of your chest, elbows low and wrists cocked back so that your right paddle blade is facing down, parallel with the water’s surface. You’re now forming a rectangle with your arms, paddle and chest. This rectangle should stay relatively intact throughout the roll. From this position, start to lean back onto the stern deck and aggressively turn your head and upper body to the left.
  2. Think about trying to kiss the stern deck of your boat as your head leads the way through the twisting motion of this roll. Plant the power face of your left paddle blade at the stern of your boat. As you continue to flip, keep turning your body and get your right blade in the water as quickly as possible. This right blade will provide the support to roll the kayak. You are now effectively lying on the back deck with the kayak upside down above you.
  3. Continuing to lead the way with your head and body, push your right blade out in a wide arc above your head, past your stern and out to the opposite side coming back toward to your toes.
  4. As the blade clears the stern and sweeps toward the bow, hip snap the boat upright by driving your right knee skyward. Your wrists must remain cocked back throughout the sweep to maintain a sculling angle on the blade, keeping it near the surface and providing the high brace that your hips need to roll the kayak upright.
  5. Maintaining the rectangle between your arms, chest and paddle, continue to swing your body forward through the last part of the roll, raising your head last. When your right blade finally reaches your toes, your boat should be completely upright and your body in a good position to take the next stroke. 

Cover Shot of the Adventure Kayak Magazine featuring articles on mastering the kayak roll.This technique feature originally appeared in Adventure Kayak, Early Summer 2007. To learn more self-rescue skills, download our free iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch App or Android App or continue reading here for free.

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