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Learning the Greenland-style Storm Roll Part 1: The Foundations

kayak storm roll

Being a Greenland-style kayaker I take great pride in my ability to roll. I’ve spent many hours practicing and honing tiny details to make my rolls smooth, graceful, and quiet. And I am not alone. There are tons of us out there. We are a bit of an odd bunch, even amongst kayakers, because we’ll get together and not actually go anywhere. We just gear up, paddle out a ways into deepish water, roll and then head back in. We call that a really great day on the water. We really work hard on getting better on our rolls. It’s mainly for fun but there is a use for having a pile of rolls at your disposal. Having a roll opens up so many opportunities for growing your skills as a paddler; it lets you explore surf and current and bumpy water with a bit more confidence. One roll that always seems to get people hung up while learning is the storm roll.

Describing the Storm Roll

The storm roll is a forward finishing roll. I imagine that if you are Greenland-style paddler, you know the difference between a forward finishing roll and a layback roll, but if you don’t know what that means let me explain. We break rolls up into two basic divisions: layback rolls and forward finishing rolls. Layback rolls are just like they sound; you end up laying on your back deck at the end of the roll. Forward finishing rolls end with the paddler leaning forward, usually as close to the front deck as possible. Most people learn the layback rolls first then move onto forward finishing rolls once they have a ‘bombproof’ layback roll so that when they miss the first few forward rolls they can just resort to their layback roll.

The storm roll starts with the paddler leaning forward and ends with them leaning forward. The position the paddler ends in a very stable ‘low brace’ position with the paddle in the water. This is where, according to Greenland paddling mythos, the name comes from. The roll is usually done in rough stormy water because it ends in a much more stable position than a layback roll. There are a lot of fine subtle points to this roll so learning it can be a challenge. The best way to learn a storm roll or any roll for that matter is to go to a symposium or paddlers gathering like GLSKS or Qajaq TC or even a local pool session with someone that knows their stuff so that they can watch you and give you feedback. Hopefully I can at least give you some ideas on how to progress through the storm roll and give you some ideas of what you’re doing right or wrong. So without further ado let’s get started.

Storm Roll Video

 Storm Roll Learning Progression

Warming up on shore for any roll is an important step to increasing your flexibility in the boat and also to reduce injury. Yoga is an amazing tool. Seriously, do yoga. It helps.

Just like any other roll or paddle technique there is a progression of learning the techniques that develops the base on which to build the techniques. We’ll start just with body and boat motion. A good warm up for the storm roll or paddling in general is to start sitting straight up and rock your boat from one extreme to the other back and forth. In the process start leaning forward and back trying to get your forehead as close to the deck as possible while still rocking your boat. This type of motion of keeping your body close to the front deck while rocking your hips helps loosen up your lower body for the motion of the storm roll. I do this type of rocking every time I get in my boat to see if my cargo is secure and well balanced or to loosen up for rolling.

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Warm up for the roll

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Using the Bow of a Boat

Once you’ve warmed up it’s time to get wet. Put the paddle away for now though. For the first step in the progression we’ll use the bow of a friend’s boat. Any empty boat works well. The idea with using the other boat is that it gives you support that you can use to right yourself even if the storm roll technique isn’t spot on.

To develop the motion for the storm roll start leaning onto the bow and keep your body leaning as far forward as possible. Try to stay facing shoulders down with a heavy forward curl in your back. From any level of boat lean try to rock your hips and swing your body back over your boat. If you keep yourself tucked forward this should require relatively little force on the supporting bow. Just like a layback roll the squarer your shoulders are to the surface the easier to roll will be.

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Be careful when you are practicing these motions. It’s easy to allow your elbows to lift past your head or behind your shoulders. This is the danger zone. Remember to try to keep your elbows below and in front of your shoulders like a boxer to reduce the risk of injury. This is also where you have strength. You don’t have control and strength at the limits of your reach.

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Using boat for rolling support.

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Paddle and Bow of the Boat Practice

If you’re starting to get the feel of using the boat for support then you can upgrade to using your paddle with the end supported on the boat and perpendicular to the centerline of your kayak. Be careful not to put the tip of the paddle on the boat but closer to the loom. I’ve seen paddles break with too much force on the tip.

Using the paddle on the boat for support the motion is similar to using just the bow. When you get into to the water your shoulders will twist from being facing down to facing up. This position will be just like the set up position for a normal layback roll. Now pull on the paddle and lift yourself through the water. Remember to roll the boat over first then bring your body up next. Keep your head low to the deck and rotate your body so you come out of the water with your shoulders facing down. And all the while remember that your palms will be facing down and your knuckles will be facing forward.

You can do this type of practice roll two ways. The first way is to keep a grip on the paddle the whole time and dip into the water on the side you come up on. Then come straight back up. Once that is making sense for you then you can try capsizing away from the support boat and go underwater all the way around to the boat and your paddle. This might be disorienting at first so having someone in the support boat to position your paddle or move your hands can make things easier since you don’t have to search around for the paddle.

Discovering the body motion is the hardest part of learning any roll. Depending on the person and the boat sometimes people get the motion of the roll in one brilliant “Aha!” moment and sometimes it takes many practice rolls to slowly develop the technique. This all leads me down to say, practice, practice, practice. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it immediately. If it were easy it wouldn’t be as much fun to learn all of these techniques.

Using the boat and paddle to practice Storm Roll

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Progressing to the Water

Using a support boat is a great help to learning the storm roll. But now let’s move to using just the water for support. You can do similar progressions like you used with the support boat for learning to use just the water. Extending the paddle perpendicular to the boat so one blade is over the boat will give more leverage for learning. Starting with having the paddle floating on the surface you can capsize toward the paddle and without pulling down on the paddle yet get both hands on the loom (shaft) of the paddle. From here it is the same motion as using a boat for support. Remember the order of body motion. The three Bs of rolling. Bum, body, brain. Using the paddle for support the first part of the brace gets your boat rotating back to upright and then your body follows, and your head comes up last. Remember to keep forward. And just like any other roll if you lift your head during the roll you are sabotaging your technique so keep your head low. At this point where you are just using your paddle you can use a spotter in the water to help watch your technique and give you feedback and to help get you into good position.

Another common way of working on the storm roll is called The Continuous Storm Roll. It involves keeping the paddle above the boat and capsizing and recovering repeatedly. It gives you a chance to do many storm rolls one after another. With this version you capsize without taking your paddle with you, reach around your boat when you’re under water, grab your paddle, switch both hands to the same side and roll up. You can also do this type of practice with your paddle on your support boat or with a paddle float on the other end of the paddle.

Continuous Storm Roll

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Continued in part two of Learning the Greenland-style Storm Roll.

Tim Gallaway on a Lake Superior beachThis is a guest post from ACA L4, Coastal Kayaking Instructor and Greenland kayaking expert Tim Gallaway. Read his other contributions. Check out his website Kayaking to the Sea.

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