What factors make the transition from rolling a whitewater kayak to rolling a sea kayak so challenging? The KayakDave.com staff chimes in:
Captain Hank’s Take:
My club has roll coaching and practice year round, employing indoor and outdoor pools. I’ve noticed that whitewater paddlers often have trouble making the transition to a sea kayak and even beginners seem to do better with the short boats. The larger size of the sea kayak was usually blamed…
That never seemed likely to me. A sea kayak is narrower and usually has more arch to the deck. In theory (my theory), it should roll easier. Observing the attempts, I came to the conclusion that it’s the longer paddle, not the longer boat, that makes the difference. The whitewater paddlers were initiating their hip snaps too early, perhaps used to the timing with their shorter paddles. I’ve had some success by starting them in a sea kayak with a whitewater paddle, explaining the difference and then making the switch. Food for thought.
Kayak Dave’s Take:
I agree with Captain Hank’s theory and observations here. It certainly seems like a sea kayak should be easier to roll considering that they’re narrower, more cylindrical in shape and lack the hard rails of whitewater boats. However, this is definitely a case where physical intuition does not match real world observation. My many years of teaching roll clinics and my recent work with the MIT Outing Club during their winter pool sessions has shown exactly what Captain Hank has observed; beginners are more successful at learning the roll in the shorter, white water boats.
There’s a lot of reasons why folks struggle to learn the roll and these reasons can be broken up into three main categories: underdeveloped mechanics, poor boat fit, and being uncomfortable under water. The shorter paddles used with the whitewater boats certainly help to tighten up the mechanics by making the set-up and brace positions easier to achieve. However, I posit that positive boat fit plays a major role here too.
Whitewater boats are designed to be worn; they have tight, well-outfitted cockpits with thigh braces and even hip pads to really lock you into the kayak. In contrast, most sea kayak cockpits, even those that are well-outfitted and padded out, provide a looser position that allows you to float a bit more. The tighter fit of the smaller whitewater boats translates the energy of the hip snap more efficiently into the roll thus allowing beginners to be quite successful at learning to roll in the pool. If you’re sliding around in your cockpit you’ll end up missing the roll more often than not especially if your mechanics are still in the development stage.