Knowing how to roll isn’t a prerequisite to enjoy kayaking, but a dependable roll will transform your paddling experience. It will increase your confidence on the water immeasurably and encourage you to play with new techniques, safe in the knowledge you can quickly recover should you capsize. There are many different ways to roll, but learning how to sweep roll a kayak is one of the most basic.

A successful roll depends on good technique, not on power, so any reasonably fit paddler with the dedication and patience to practice can learn. Tip over and follow this step-by-step guide to unlocking the easiest roll.

4 easy steps to sweep roll your kayak

step 1 of the kayak sweep roll
Step 1, lean all the way forward and position your paddle. | Photo: Rochelle Relyea

1 Lean all the way forward

To set up for the sweep roll, lean far forward from the waist so that your chest is on your foredeck with your paddle held parallel to the boat.

2 Follow your forward blade

step 2 of the kayak sweep roll
Step 2, sweep your forward blade and follow it. | Photo: Rochelle Relyea

Sweep the power face of your forward blade out to the side, arcing the blade toward the stern with your back arm being the pivot point. To keep your blade from sinking as you sweep, maintain a sculling or climbing angle on the blade. This means angling your blade so the leading edge is slightly higher than the trailing edge, so it creates lift. Extend your body out to the side, following your blade with your head to get yourself as close to the surface as possible.

3 Hip snap the kayak upright

step 3 of the kayak sweep roll
Step 3, hip snap the kayak upright. | Photo: Rochelle Relyea

As you sweep your forward blade out to 90 degrees, actively weight your paddle, using it for support to keep your body floating close to the water’s surface, and hip snap your kayak upright while keeping your head in the water.

The hip snap is the most important step in any roll, and it’s also a skill that will make your braces much more effective. Also known as the hip flick, the hip snap refers to the action of rotating your hips to right your kayak while your body and head remain in the water. Initiate the hip snap by driving your lower knee skyward.

4 Swing your body back to center

step 4 of the kayak sweep roll
Step 4, swing your body back to center. | Photo: Rochelle Relyea

Once you’ve hip snapped your boat upright, swing your body back overtop of your kayak. The key to completing a roll without falling back in the water is keeping your head down until your hip snap has rolled the kayak almost completely upright. This fights your natural instinct to get your head out of the water as quickly as possible.

One of the best ways to keep your head down is to watch your active blade throughout its motions. Think in terms of a subtle movement, drawing each vertebra back upright starting at the base of your spine and flowing all the way up to your neck, with your head coming up last.

This is how we roll. | Photo: Rochelle Relyea
Follow these simple steps and learn how to sweep roll a kayak. | Feature photo: Rochelle Relyea

Paddling Magazine Issue 65 | Fall 2021

This article originally appeared in Paddling Magazine Issue 65. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or download the Paddling Magazine app and browse the digital archives here.


Follow these simple steps and learn how to sweep roll a kayak. | Feature photo: Rochelle Relyea



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