Roll Like an Eskimo

When capsizing makes your Florida kayaking experience feel a bit too much like a snorkeling experience, bring yourself topside with an Eskimo roll!

Stay upright while kayaking in Florida with the Eskimo roll

Imagine yourself off the coast of Jacksonville, kayaking in North Florida’s finest ocean waters. You’re having a great time when the storm clouds start to roll in, claps of thunder resounding in the distance. The wind starts to bluster and the water gets choppy—then, suddenly, a wave capsizes your vessel, turning you upside down in waters you’d most certainly like to remain upright in.

What do you do?

Though we sincerely hope you don’t ever find yourself in this situation, it’s important to know how to react if you ever do. Whether you’re an intermediate level kayaker or a seasoned pro who’s been through a scenario like this before, one move is invaluable to any kayaker who finds himself suddenly underwater: the Eskimo roll.

The Eskimo roll is most important in whitewater and ocean kayaking, where you may frequently find yourself capsized by the challenging rapids and waves. If you only plan on doing casual touring, you can usually avoid capsizing by keeping an eye on the weather—but it’s always good to know proper safety techniques, just in case.

Before you tackle the Eskimo roll, you’ll need to make sure that you’re comfortable with the other kayak safety moves like bracing and hip snapping that make up its essential components. It’s also important to learn how to do a wet exit in case you find yourself unable to successfully roll yourself back up. Once you have these moves down, follow these steps to start practicing the Eskimo roll.

  1. Get ready. Lean forward and keep your posture tight, placing your paddle parallel to the kayak’s hull with the power face of the blade flat on the water. A roll can be performed on the right or left side, but it may be best to stick with the side of your dominant hand. Leaning like this will keep your head from hitting any underwater objects, but it will also give you a little momentum to complete the roll. Whenever you feel like you’re about to tip over, assume this position to orient yourself and stay safe.
  2. Get wet. Stay in the setup position and roll your boat towards the paddle, twisting yourself to face in the same direction. Hold your breath, because you’re going under! Count to three and let the kayak stabilize in the capsized position, then position the forward blade of your paddle flat against the water’s surface.
  3. Sweep! Just like doing a low brace upside down, sweep your paddle out and in, moving the blade in a smooth arc at a medium speed. The brace will naturally pull you towards an upright position as you finish the sweep.
  4. Recover. As the brace pulls you upright, keep your head down and finish up with a powerful hip snap to bring yourself back above the water.

Of course, the best way to get a handle on the Eskimo roll is to take a kayaking class that teaches it. If you think you’re ready for the Eskimo roll, sign up for an intermediate kayaking course or enroll in one of our advanced rolling clinics. Happy paddling!


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