Whether you are highly experienced or an occasional weekend warrior, rolling a kayak is an essential skill. We asked 9 expert kayakers to share their most important myths about rolling a kayak, and none of them could quite agree.

9 myths about rolling a kayak

Myth #1: Muscle memory will save you

“Some say it’s like riding a bike—once you’ve learned it, you can just jump back into it at any time. If you’ve been away from kayaking for some time, chances are muscle memory isn’t as strong and you can find yourself swimming.”

— Andy Hill, C1 world champion

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Myth #2: Flexibility required

“I have taught classes where the women in the class learn how to roll much faster than the men. The men sometimes get a hurt ego, and play it off as the women being more flexible. Are you flexible enough to lift your arms above your head?

Then you are flexible enough to roll a kayak. You don’t have to be flexible in order to roll. I have seen a stiff 76-year-old man learn to roll, he just needed to find a different technique to do it.”

— Brooke Hess, U.S. National Freestyle Kayak Team

Myth #3: It takes great strength

“People think rolling a kayak is hard. It’s not about strength, it’s more about technique and finesse than anything else.”

— Katie Kowalski, Canoe Kayak Canada National Freestyle Team

Myth #4: Forward or back is better

“The myth is it’s easier and safer to roll up staying forward, or that it is easier to roll up finishing back. Even if the argument is that your face may be exposed, it is safest to be upright. How you get back upright the quickest is the safest.”

— Nick Troutman, pro kayaker

Myth #5: Your roll can disappear

“The myth of the disappearing roll. Sometimes in turbulence, beginners and intermediates find their rolls disappear. They flail and cannot get up. This is because they have practiced their rolls in a certain way, from one starting position, but turbulence forces the boat, their body, and their paddle out of position.

The roll is there, but you must practice doing it with power from any starting point. That’s what is meant by a combat roll.  And the myth of the hip snap—people tell beginners to snap their hips during the roll, which is confusing and false. The only place where you exert force on the boat to turn it upright is through the knee pushing in the direction of the roll. You don’t need a hip snap—your hip will follow your knee.”

— Doug Ammons, explorer

Myth #6: Rolling is elementary

“Rolling a kayak is like riding a bike. Truth: Rolling a kayak is only like riding a bike if the bike is upside down and underwater with rocks and trees flying by. Too many times we downplay how difficult a reliable roll is to master or maintain. The secret to the roll is long-time boaters must practice, and beginner kayakers must have patience.”

— Ben Stookesberry, explorer

Myth #7: Some boats are better

“A myth about rolling a kayak is some boats are harder to roll than others. Here’s a fact about rolling—anyone with a good hip snap can roll any appropriately sized kayak. Truth.”

— Stephen Wright, pro kayaker and coach

Myth #8: Pros are perfect

“The myth about rolling is that pro kayakers don’t swim.”

— Rafa Ortiz, pro kayaker

…and Myth #9:

“That it’s hard.”

—Bren Orton, Send co-founder

This article was first published in Issue 57 of Paddling Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.


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  1. Totally disagree about “myth” some boats are harder to roll is a MYTH. No its TRUE. Not saying you cant roll this boat but I can roll this other boat. I can roll any boat. What i am saying is some roll easier. Greenland style of boat being so low in the water roll like a plank of wood where some high riding boats roll much harder. I get into a friends greenland boat I hand roll it with ease. But have much harder time hand rolling my much higher riding valley boat. I can easily roll with a paddle any of them but all boats dont roll as easy as others. That’s a FACT. I compare boats to see. Then I can say yea that boat rolls easy but this boat rolls harder. I can roll all of them but this one requires more effort.

  2. Myth 6 – You don’t need a hip snap
    Myth 7 – anyone with a good hip snap can roll
    So which is it, do I need a hip snap or not!

  • Paddling instruction like other sports instruction has evolved to provide athletes with better cues for performance. Hip snap is a left over term from when boats were lower volume with narrower beams and lower deck heights. This kept the paddler’s legs in a much straighter position with the knees in a much lower position. With modern boats the knee/thigh brace is greatly improved ergonomically (knees more comfortably bent) and creates a more natural ability to feel and drive the knee up into the deck of the boat. Driving the knee up always drives the hip up. Snapping the hip only can result in the hip slipping out of the hip pad with out re-righting the boat.

  • I have always felt that the term ‘hip snap’ is misleading and confusing for beginners, so I agree with the second paragraph on Myth 5. However, I was then disappointed to read your statement Myth 7 when you state “anyone with a good hip snap can roll any appropriately sized kayak.” That statement reinforces the ‘hip snap myth.’

  • As an instructor and kayaker for over 30 years, I also take issue with the “myth” that some boats are harder to roll. Which boats are harder will depend on the style of roll that a paddler uses, but some boats will be harder to roll for some paddlers. A high back deck may make it more difficult for someone who uses a Greenland layback roll. A kayak with a cockpit that is too large for the paddler will make it much more difficult, and in some cases impossible, for that paddler to roll. I would also take issue with the “myth #5”. When teaching beginners to roll, it is very common for them to have some success at rolling in flatwater, and then come back two days later and find themselves unable to roll – in flat water. The problem is that when learning, the muscle memory isn’t strongly ingrained and the person is obviously making some mistake that they are unable to diagnose and correct at that time. With time and practice (and perhaps help from another paddler) the roll will come back. Way back when I was learning to roll 25 years ago, I successfully rolled in a borrowed whitewater kayak at my first lesson, and then proceeded to “lose” my roll for several years until I found the right instructor who helped me get it back by putting me in a kayak that was much easier to roll than my own kayak.


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