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Tips and Techniques - Sweep Roll

To C to C or Sweep, how do you know which roll is right for you?

I can truly say that I like and use both and that it’s unique to each person’s physique and boat. I am a petit person (5’ 0 “) with decent flexibility. There are various boats I find easier to roll with a sweep than with a C to C and vice versa. For example - some Freestyle (whitewater) kayaks with planing (flat) hulls, hard chines, and bulbous middles, are more challenging for me to roll using the C to C. Because of the boats box-like design and my compact stature, I sometimes find it hard to contour my body around the boat and to get my paddle up high enough. So in this case I use the sweep roll, because it does not require the same degree of range of motion and extension. For someone who is taller and has good flexibility this might not be a problem for them.

When I roll my Romany LV Sea Kayak (shown in the pictures below), however, it’s a different story. In comparison to the kayak(s) I mentioned above, this boat has a displacement (rounder) hull, softer chines and is low volume. Because of the boat’s design, I have an easier time contouring my body around it and rolling up, whether I am doing a C to C, sweep, hand roll, etc. So, when I am in the Romany or boats with similar characteristics, my roll of choice is usually the C to C, probably because it is the first roll that I learned and the one I’ve spent the most time on.

As a general principle, the C to C works well for flexible paddlers and displacement hull kayaks and the sweep roll works well for paddlers with limited flexibility and planing hull kayaks. I recommended taking a lesson from a qualified instructor, trying them both, and then picking the one that works best for you and your boat.


The Set-up Position

The set-up is the starting point for the Sweep and C to C roll. It’s a position that helps orient you to the surface, as well as protects the torso and head. When you’re practicing try not to rush this step. Go over, slowly count to three, and make sure your paddle and body is in the right position before moving on. By doing it slowly and methodically you will be able to develop the proper muscle memory and avoid potential shoulder injury. Below I have listed some of the key points essential to a good set-up position.



1. Paddle

2. Torso

3. Arms

4. Head

5. Lower Body

Execution Phase

Boat rotation, body rotation and the path of the paddle are three of the main components involved in executing the roll. In a right-handed sweep roll the boat rotates up and to the left, while the torso and paddle link together and rotate out and to the right. When done simultaneously you and your kayak should be upright and centered at the end.


1. Boat Rotation: To rotate the boat back underneath you, leg movement and hip rotation needs to be initiated at the very beginning of the sweep and continued throughout the roll.

(1 st) Apply pressure with your left foot on the foot peg, like you are trying to push the boat forward.
(2 nd) Apply pressure with your left thigh (on thigh brace) and hip, like you are trying to lift the boat off of you and then back underneath you.
(3 rd) Apply pressure with your right foot on the foot peg, like you are trying to push the boat forward.
(4 th) Apply pressure with your right thigh (on thigh brace) and hip, like you are trying to lift and bring the boat back up underneath you.


2. Body Rotation: Link your paddle to your torso. Just like in the forward sweep stroke you use to turn your boat, you need to move your body and paddle in unison and rotate. This position will help you to get more extension and leverage, as well as protect and put less pressure on your shoulder. To help maintain this linkage, try some of the pointers below:



3. Path of the Paddle: The paddle should be an extension of your body rotation (as
described up above). Some paddlers don’t even need their paddle for support and can roll
a kayak just with boat rotation, body rotation and their hand for support and extension.
Try to put minimal pressure on your paddle (just enough to give you some support) and
let your upper body and lower body to do most of the work.

The Finish Position

At this point your boat should be back underneath you, your body upright, and your elbows drawn into your sides. A proper Finish position puts you in a ready position for another stroke, minimizes the exposure of your upper body and protects your shoulders. There are variations to the sweep roll where you finish up laying on your back deck and that Finish Position has its pros and cons. I prefer teaching (at least initially) the one shown below for reasons that I have already mentioned. 



1. Offside Arm (left)

(Think of a waiter carrying a tray of dishes)

2. Torso

3. Head

4. Onside Arm (right)

5. Onside Blade (right)

*The head comes up last. Moving the head from a position over the water to a position over the kayak occurs as a consequence of the kayak rotating underneath the paddler.

Rolling is an important self rescue to have in your bag of tricks, plus it’s a lot of fun to do. I have had a few students learn how to roll in one lesson. For me, it took two years before I got my first roll (I’m a slow, methodical learner). Most paddlers will fall somewhere in the middle. While I know that you will want to master this skill ASAP, remember - it is a journey. Don’t try to shortcut any corners on your roll, if you do your shoulder could pay the price. By doing it slowly and methodically you will be able to develop the proper muscle memory for a roll that is effective and safe. Remember…

“Only those who have the patience to do simple things perfectly, ever acquire the skill to do difficult things easily.”

Johnann C. Schiller


Kent Ford’s DVD – “The Kayak Roll” is an excellent resource on the sweep roll.