Can you breathe underwater? No? Then you're going to want a darn fine roll if you ever want to get anywhere with kayaking! I've always said that rolling is the most important skill in our sport and I think this is especially the case for beginners. I haven't heard a good coach say otherwise.
In learning how to kayak, to playboat, and to run hard drops, you are going to end up capsizing. If you want to stand a chance of progressing and surviving, then you are going to need a good roll. The more time you spend underwater, the more control (and style points) you lose and the more danger you put yourself into. You want to get upright as soon as you can.
- For beginners. If you can't roll at all then you're gonna want to get yourself into a nice warm pool filled with nice hot girls and learn away. I found that the easiest way to learn was to have someone guide my paddle through the water for the first few shots.
- Teach your body. When you first start rolling you are going to find it difficult to keep your technique good because you will be panicking, especially if you are upside down in the middle of a rapid. Basically you're going to have to roll thousands of times before it starts to feel natural. Up until that point, you are going to be relying on your head to control all of your movements. The problem is that your head will be too busy freaking out as soon as you are out of control and underwater. The best thing to do is to get as much practice in as possible while you are in a safe and controlled environment. This way you are more likely to be able to perform when under pressure as you will need to think less about what you are doing.
- Chill and time. Most messed up learner rolls are messed up because the kayaker has tried to rush it. You're better off having one good attempt that is a bit slow, than having lots of half hearted hacks which just end up wasting all your energy.
- Go with the water. As you get better at kayaking and rolling, you will realise how essential it is to roll with the water. This means that it is absolutely essential that you learn to roll on both sides. The sooner you start rolling on your weaker side, the better you will be! It's worth mentioning that rolling with the water means your head should come out of the water on the downstream side. This aides the roll of your boat and also means that you will be pulling on the flow as you go. It also means that you come up leaning and bracing downstream - rather than rolling up only to get window-shaded and have to do it all over again!
- Use your momentum. As well as going with the water, it is easiest to roll with your own momentum: this means completing a full circle of rotation rather than changing the direction of your movement halfway through.
- Types of roll. There is often a debate over which type of roll is the quickest, easiest and safest to use. Remember that the most important thing is that you get back upright, first time, every time. The best boaters I know don't stick to one kind of roll- i.e. back deck, forward screw, etc- instead they do whatever best suits their situation. If they capsize on the back deck then they do a back deck roll, if they capsize on their front deck then they do a forward screw, etc.
Learn how to roll and then do it a million times, then do it a million times more. Learn to take your time and really focus on technique- you'll waste a lot less of your precious breath that way. Use your momentum and go with the water - make sure that you can roll on your weak side or you're gonna be toast! The bottom line is that you should do whatever works best for you... You want to aim to get up first time, every time because the more time you spend underwater, the more danger you are in.