This summer I was on a mission, a mission to get a new roll. For several years my rolling repertoire had been stagnant, my efforts focused on helping others learn to roll, through mentorship, my work for Qajaq USA, and running Qajaq Camp. Last year I was suffering from burn out, too many rolling clinics not enough focus on what was important about rolling to me. Rolling is not just an act of recovery for me, as I described earlier this year, rolling is a craft and is becoming an art for me.

This past winter I spent a few pool sessions trying, with little success, to get an elbow roll. I thought I could build my way there, a narrow, low, rolling qajaq, perfectly fitted using all the concepts I could imagine to ease the rolling process. And whilst all these mechanical aids helped me roll, none of them made the elbow roll come to me. I could with luck achieve a dynamic roll one in twenty times, but it was thoroughly unsatisfying.

I say to many people, that I love mentoring now more than I love rolling. I am not sure that is always true, but this year it was true. I have had the privilege of getting to know a very special paddler. Someone who came to the pool this winter with no roll and, in fact, barely any paddling experience. Subsequently, they learned a hand roll, in a matter of minutes. Since then they have gone on to learn all four hand rolls and stretch my rolling mentorship to the limits of my imagination. Working alongside them as their skills developed this summer, I saw the passion for rolling ignite within. Their passion became mine and my desire to progress was reignited. I am profoundly grateful to have been a part of their journey, it put me back on the path of mine.


Mentoring has illustrated for me, many times, a few of life’s lessons; if you keep practicing and failing, you are going to get really good at only one thing, failing. Sometimes you just need someone else to point out what you are doing wrong, you can’t always spot your own mistakes. And last but not least, other people know a hell of a lot more about rolling than I do.

With no small danger of being labelled sexist or accused of overgeneralizing I think it is worth pointing out something that rarely gets talked about. It relates to the varying body weight distribution between men and women. Men (generally) carry their weight higher up in their torso and woman (generally) carry a greater proportion of their weight in their hips. Why is this important? Consider, if you will for a moment, the impact of the weight in your hips, low in the kayak, potentially helping to right you. Compare this to the weight of your torso above the deck potentially trying to capsize you. Now I am not asking for sympathy from all the great female kayakers, I am simply pointing out that men and women may have to roll differently because of their varying weight distributions, and this variation is often overlooked by mentors. Having less weight in my hips made me think more about what my lower body weight was doing.

For many years I have focused on the power leg, the one that drives the kayak upwards righting it. I have written little about what to do with the rest of your lower body. Which brings me to the romance of Latin dancing. Cuban motion, as my dance instructor calls it, involves the weight shift from one hip to the other, commonly used in dances like the rumba. One challenge with rolling with no hands is how to get your weight to transfer from the support of the water to the support of the deck. Dragging your head first will leave behind your torso. What is needed is to move your torso first and lag your head behind. The easiest way to describe it is to imagine heaving yourself on the back of the kayak using only your obliques, the stomach muscles that run along the side of your body. However, for me it is wholly unrealistic to expect these muscles to pull my large mass onto the deck, I simply don’t have the strength. Instead what I discovered is the role my hips and legs can play in this motion. Much like during Latin dances if I drive my non-power leg forward it has the same effect as tensing my obliques, it pulls my torso across the deck. So rather than thinking about my obliques the answer for my body has been to use my non-power leg to drag my torso forward. I keep my toes in contact with the deck and drive my heel forward, creating tension on the far side of my body which pulls me up and allows the roll to complete gently. The motion in my hips is very similar to the Cuban motion of the dance floor, it’s hard to believe that ballroom dancing classes have helped my rolling, but they did.

Another area of focus that has increased my consistency has been how low I keep my head. The elbow roll forced me to reexamine my head motion. I discovered I was tensing my neck keeping my head higher than it could be. I now have the expectation that my head connects with the gunwale and consciously raises up to get onto the kayak deck. This process has helped me keep my head low and supported by the water until the last possible moment.


Applying both the opposite leg driving forward and the more relaxed neck to all my layback rolls has dramatically improved them. My hand rolls now don’t use my hands, they simply come along for the ride, my layback rolls with the paddle have improved to the point where the paddle just sweeps along with my body and there is no effort applied to the blade.

I like all my rolls to be done slowly, I feel that rushing them and making them be dynamic is somehow incomplete. This opposite leg drive concept has allowed my elbow roll to become very consistent and very slow. I gently inch my body out of the balance brace position and across the back deck with no dynamic thrust just a gentle transition from the waters support to the back deck.

I am a romantic at heart, I think that is why rolling a kayak is more than a matter of survival, for me, it is becoming an art form for me to express myself. Be that through sharing my passion with others or performing myself, rolling takes me to a happy place.


Dance Me To The End Of Love – Leonard Cohen

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Oh let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon
Show me slowly what I only know the limits of
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on
Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long
We’re both of us beneath our love, we’re both of us above
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the children who are asking to be born
Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn
Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in
Touch me with your naked hand or touch me with your glove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love


The Roll – Christopher Crowhurst

I rest
Floating upwards
Cradled by the liquid bosom
Tension leaves
Back arched like a lover in ecstasy
Tears flow to join the ocean
At peace afloat in love


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Two Taiwanese neoclassical paddling enthusiasts and a carbon stick.
What is Greenland kayak rolling?


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