How to do an Eskimo Roll? 

Every kayaker will flip over at some point in his or her early paddling career. Flipping over in a kayak is really just part of the game and can actually be fun, but there are other times when being upside down in a kayak can lead to a dangerous situation. For this reason, every kayaker should learn how to right themselves in these situations.

The Eskimo Roll is a technique which is practiced in sit-inside kayaks. For non-sit-inside kayaks, then you will need to learn other techniques for re-entry.

Whether your kayak flips due to rough water, or simply from losing your balance, you can keep yourself safe by learning how to roll a kayak. The Eskimo Roll is one of the most common techniques to recover the situation if you ever happen to capsize.

Remember that learning to roll can be quite easy, but doing it in real life situation is different. So keep practicing regularly.


In this blog post we take a look at the steps instructed by Buck Johnson in this video, learn how to Eskimo Roll a Kayak in Monterey at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Let’s dive in!

So the first thing you should remember while doing an Eskimo Roll is that you need to be relaxed, the more relaxed you are, the more limber and easy it is going to be to roll the kayak.


There are 5 points in rolling –


1. Setup:
Setting up for a roll is important, not only during practice but also during normal kayaking. It will help you roll over quickly and efficiently.

The first thing you need to do is to bring your body forwards and up against the front deck of the kayak. This is to ensure that you don't smack your face into any rocks.

Lean forward towards the deck and keep your head down. Keep your right arm almost straight and place the paddle as forward and as far down as possible. Sit firmly, meaning that your knees are touching the deck, and your heels are against the bottom. This will prevent you from falling out of the kayak during the roll.

2. Sweep:
After you have setup your position for the roll, lean slightly to the left and you will capsize. Now that you are upside down under the water, do not panic and you need to take control of the situation. It is so important to try to stay calm since panicking is the fundamental reason why many Eskimo Rolls fail.

Lean forwards more and push your nose towards the deck. When you are sure that your paddle is up as high as it can go, rotate it around so that it is perpendicular to the kayak. Reach your top arm as far over the kayak as you can. Your bottom arm should be extended out as far as it can be. You are now in the middle of the Eskimo Roll.

Now we are ready to start the roll. The basic idea of the recovery is to sweep the paddle against the water’s surface. Your first task is to get the kayak straightened. Keep your upper body and head close to the surface but do not lift them out of the water. This will give enough support to first righting the kayak and eventually to getting your upper body out of the water. Your upper body is strong, so use it to do the stroke.

3. Hip Rotation (a.k.a. Hip Snap)
Now that the kayak is almost straightened, it is time to get your upper body on top of the kayak. Contrary to what you may think, the ability to roll the kayak back over is driven by your hips. Keep your head down and on the shoulder of your outer arm. As you press down against the surface of the water, use your hips and dominant knee to rock the kayak upright with the force of your pull. Snap your hips and begin to drive the kayak back over, while applying pressure to the paddle blade on the surface of the water. As you rotate, leave your head and shoulders in the water for as long as possible

The hip-snap is the driving force behind the Eskimo Roll.

4. Keep your head down:
Eliminate the temptation to lift your head out of the water early by keeping your ear against your shoulder. Your head will be the last part of you to emerge from the water. Lifting your head and shoulders out of the water too early (they are heavy!) can zap the momentum from your roll.

5. Recovery:
As you come up from your roll, rotate your knuckles towards the back of your wrist. This will help you brace yourself against the water with your paddle, as you find your balance again. Recover yourself and try to regain your balance again. Shift your bodyweight forwards, as you’ll naturally come up from your roll with your bodyweight slightly backwards. Paddle ahead normally.

A Few Tips on How to Do a Perfect Eskimo Roll

  1. When you are practicing for the first time, remember the position from where you start. When you roll the kayak you need to get back to the start position pretty fast, so that you don’t end up falling out from the kayak.
  2. You should always grip the paddle in the normal way and just rotate your upper body and then place your paddle on the left-hand side of the kayak. You always need to check that the right-hand blade is kept in the power face up position because it is important for the elevation of the kayak.
  3. Now that you are able to flip, and be upside down, all you need to do is to stay calm and hold on.
  4. When it’s time to roll, we should sweep the paddle around in an arc because this helps you to get the support needed so that your upper body will be out of the water.


Here is the full video where Buck instructs Josh Lenn and Kyle. 

(embedded video below)