follow us on Twitterfollow us on Facebookfollow us on YouTube
subscribe to RSS feeds

« back to all blogs

Getting Inuit

by

Eskimo Roll, Kayak Roll, C to C, Sweep Roll, blah, blah, blah. If you're a kayaker you've heard from the beginning that you're going to need to master this bugger or as they like to say, make it "bomb-proof". First, let me say I've yet to meet anyone who enjoys being strapped to a kayak and held upside down; it's disorienting, water eventually seeps into your sinuses and it's claustrophobic. Houdini called his trick the water torture cell for a reason. Yet for all its unnatural elements; if you can somehow stay calm, ignore the discomfort and understand a few general principles of physics, a successful kayak roll is nothing short of magical.

From what I can tell the Inuit invented the kayak roll out of a very basic necessity, they couldn't swim. It's a bit ironic that a culture so dependent on the oceans never bothered to learn how to swim.

But then again how quick would you be to practice your crawl if the water remains at or below freezing most of the year? If you ever get the chance to watch an Inuit kayak rolling exhibition you will be amazed at the level of control, agility and command of their environment the Inuit have developed. I watched a man kayak upside-down, meaning he extended his arms out of the water, placing the paddle across the bottom of the kayak which was exposed and paddle in a large circle. He then rolled up without so much as a gasp for air out of the frigid water. When asked if he was a champion kayak roller, he sheepishly admitted that all the "good" rollers had traveled to a neighboring village for a festival. He hadn't made the cut.

So how does it work?

If you're into physics it involves a few basic principles.

Newton's Third Law- action equaling opposite reaction.

Torque- paddler must generate a torque in the opposite direction (upward) greater than the downward torque they and the kayak are creating.

Buoyancy- our density is only slightly greater than that of water. Therefore, when we're under water the force of buoyancy is almost as large as our weight, creating weightlessness.

The formula looks something like F2*r2=M2>F1*r1=M1

All the steps that follow are designed to support one of these three principles and the order and manner in which you perform them does matter.

The Set Up:

The first thing to remember is it's not what you see, it's what you can't see that generates the torque and momentum that's affect your buoyancy and brings you upright. My first reaction was, ok looks like the paddle delivers the torque and it's the resistance of the blade on the water that I'll lean on. Wrong. The thing you'll need to focus on is to let the knees and hips do 80-90% of the work. The biggest mistake you can make is to learn a roll that relies too heavily on engaging the paddle blade. This will expose your shoulder and easily lead to a strained or even torn rotator cuff. To this point I prefer the Twist Sweep Roll to the C to C.

So you've taken a deep breath and rolled upside down. Now what?

1. Once upside down, twist, tuck and bring your head and chest to one side and skyward. Placing opposite elbow to knee, left elbow to right knee or vice versa, place your forearms against the side of the kayak and reach the paddle up to the top of the water.

2. Now what to do with that paddle. First, keep your grip light. I like to hold the paddle with my fingertips to ensure I'm not choking the shaft.

3. To protect your shoulders imagine you have a rock under your back armpit, this will force you to focus on twisting your core during the roll and not unwinding with only your arms.

The Roll:



1. Remember the knee you connected with your elbow. Well forget it, or better disengage it by dropping it, it's the opposite knee we need now. The opposite knee meaning the one furthest away from your head, this is the one that's going to perform all of the magic, or at least get the show off the ground or in this case out of the water. Now focus on driving this knee upward while using your hips to start sliding the kayak underneath you. This is your torque which needs to be greater coming upright than exists with the paddler and boat upside down.

2. Now at the same time your knee and hips are moving the kayak, bring the flat blade of the paddle across the surface of the water by twisting your torso from the forward position back until your chin touches your shoulder. I like to remember, right knee up and follow the right blade back. You will feel the momentum of your body and boat working together. It will feel fluid and smooth, this is where the force of the buoyancy is equal to the weight of the displaced water providing a sense of weightlessness.

3. During this final stage of the roll you should be looking down the extended shaft of your paddle, elbows forward and in, hands chest high with your weight centered, but most importantly you should be upright and breathing.

Presto, you've just successfully done and Eskimo roll. Ok, probably not, we know it's not as easy as following a few steps in a blog but understanding the physics behind the roll and the steps that generate the torque and buoyancy needed are the first steps to creating a little rolling magic of your own.

Categories: Kayaking