How to Eskimo Roll Your Kayak

A partially-underwater view of a man rolling a kayak

Jock Montgomery / Getty Images

Every whitewater kayaker will flip over at some point early in their paddling career, probably even on the first day. Even sea kayakers are susceptible to a potential mishap and will find themselves upside down on occasion. 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 life or death situation. For this reason, every kayaker should learn how to right themselves—flip back over, that is. Here are the steps to one method of flipping back over using what is known as the Eskimo roll.

The Setup: The Tuck and Paddle Position

A man rolling a kayak—only his arms and paddle are visible above the water

George E. Sayour

The first thing you must do upon flipping over is to bring your body forward and up against the front deck of the kayak. This is to ensure that you don't smack any rocks with your face. In the event that you do make contact with the river bottom, it should brush past your helmet and life jacket. Once fully tucked to the kayak, position your paddle parallel to the kayak (on one side) and reach your hands out of the water. This is the setup position of the Eskimo Roll.

The Sweep: Rotate the Paddle Perpendicular to the Kayak

A man rolling a kayak is underwater but about to break the surface

George E. Sayour

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. The idea is to get the outer blade up to the surface of the water. Rest your head on the shoulder of your outer arm that is holding the paddle on the surface of the water. You are now in the middle of the Eskimo Roll.

Step Three: The Hip-Snap

A kayaker emerges from the water after successfully rolling over

George E. Sayour

Contrary to what you may think, the ability to roll the kayak back over is driven by your hips. The paddle placement on top of the water is used for support. Keep your head down and on the shoulder of your outer arm. Snap your hips and begin to drive the kayak back over while applying pressure to the paddle blade on the surface of the water. The hip-snap is the driving force behind the Eskimo Roll.

The Recovery: Follow Through with the Roll

A kayaker paddles in a moving current

George E. Sayour

As your kayak begins to break the plane of the water it is imperative that you follow through completely and into a stable position. Keep looking at your paddle blade and the surface of the water throughout the Eskimo Roll. This will ensure that you don't lift your head up too quick which can often ruin your roll attempt even up until you are stable. Quickly regain your composure as you may still be in rough water or approaching an obstacle.