Rolling always looses against the perfect brace

The last few weeks I have been working with a guest that wanted to learn how to roll their kayak.  It is always interesting to learn why someone wants to learn this skill.  I have also been reading Pam Forsyth’s blog posts about her journy of learning to roll: Rolling as religion, Both sides of the story, . And these things got me thinking on my own evolution as a kayaker into a paddling coach.

Some people roll for attention, others roll for necessity, and a number of paddlers know how to lessen the need of rolling.  I roll for the body awareness, stretching, and abdominal strengthening that can occur when the maneuvers are done correctly.  It can be like yoga with a boat attached to you.  However, Sean thinks that the below cartoon is why I roll.  See, he does not know how to roll…

Bubble Street - 06 June 2006

…without a paddle float…LOL

I never thought I needed a roll until one day the motion of the ocean taught me humility.  I had been paddling for two years…I came out of my kayak in four foot breaking swells between Mullet Key and Egmont Key, Florida.  I was shocked because I had paddled in more challenging waters.  But this time I went over, came out of my boat, and could not get back into it without the assistance of Sean.  I doubted myself, and I was a little fearful of paddling again…

After that I put my energy into perfecting emergency reentries in rough water, and learning how to roll.  It took me a long time to learn to roll.  I just could not get the rhythm down and it was painful.  Then after several rolling instructors, I met a paddling  coach that told me a secret to rolling.  It was that rolling should not be painful; furthermore, rolling was not important.  A successful roll was a sign of an unsuccessful brace.  Hence, a brace was the key to having fun on the water.  For braces truly let you naturally move without thinking.

I practiced my brace in rough and confused waters near friends that could assist me with a bow, stern, or put-across rescue.  I practiced sculling for support with a modern euro blade paddle.  Then I discovered Greenland Qajaq traditional kayak techniques and learned how to perform side sculling and chest sculling with a Greenland paddle.

balance brace

After all of those hours of practice playing on the edge between clouds and sea grass I discovered that I had not had an unplanned capsize for over a year.  But I had also developed water on the brain.  I fell in love with the allure of Greenland kayaking because it rejects modern technology to embrace the technology of history.  I also think I could have been a seal in a past life… so I started to learn how to roll with a Greenland paddle.

Bubble Street - 12 Feb 2008

I can perform, as well as teach, twelve capsize maneuvers.  But I have realized that the perfect roll always looses against the perfect brace in real life applications.  Rolling improves balance, timing, and bracing.  And a perfect roll in eye shot of a non kayaker can scare off or entice them into trying out this lifestyle.

Nevertheless, playing between air and water does put things into an interesting perspective, and I always have fun when a guest learns how to lessen the chances of an unplanned capsize.



  1. Hi Jeff – I recognise that inflated ego (in myself!). And how easily it deflates too. I’m working on my brace, honest. Apparently, my kayak club’s off to the infamous Falls of Lora (see This is the Sea 3) next weekend, albeit at neaps. I’ve a feeling I’ll be doing more swimming than bracing or rolling. I do know what you mean about trying to self-rescue in rough water. It seems like a non-starter compared to rolling, although not capsizing in the first place (bracing) is best.

    Just read the previous entry and was quite shocked to hear your story. That must have left you so shaken. Very sorry to hear, and for the people involved and their families.


  2. I found your blog recently and have been visiting it . I think your way of thinking is good. keep up the good work. If interested in link exchange please contact me.

  3. Hey Jeff and Sean, long time it has been. I just came across your site again and enjoyed reading the posts and info. I too have been busy with raising two kids and also running a outfitter business. Just started a paddle shop in Tarpon Springs on the Sponge Docks. Are you going to be at Earth Day on Honeymoon? Keep up the good work.

  4. Hi Mike, it has been awhile. I do check your Facebook status occasionally. Being a Dad is an awesome adventure. Congratulations on opening the paddling shop in Tarpon Springs. What’s the address? It is possible we will make an appearance at the Earth Day Festival Sun. April 13th. Maybe we can schedule a meeting place to enjoy the music, food, and drink.

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