Combat Rolling Practice

I had the unexpected pleasure of cold-weather combat rolling in the surf the other day (yes, in February), and it was a good reminder of the need to practice rolling in the surf.  I took off on a wave and was headed left, when the wave steepened and dumped, before I could get my brace in place.  This happens on sandbar breaks, where the sea floor changes heights quickly.

I didn’t have time to get into any semblance of a setup position and was “windowshaded” over to the right side, and bounced around for several seconds.  My paddling buddy said he couldn’t see the boat in all the whitewater.  When things calmed down, I rolled up, but it took a little time to get my body position sorted out.

The reminder lesson was that it can take some time before you stop bouncing around, and sometimes you just have to ride it out.  But, it’s likely not as much time as it feels like, and you have plenty of air.  Just relax, keep your head tucked close to the boat (or the back deck in this case since the water was pinning me back), and roll up when you’re not bouncing around so much.

I plan to do more practice as the water warms up, just as a good reminder.  Here are a few combat roll practice sessions you can do in the surf.  Remember, don’t do these when there are surfers or others in the water around you, as you’ll be out of control while upside down.

  • Get sideways to the wave right after the impact zone, and capsize as the water reaches you.  Work both sides (left side to the wave, right side to the wave). Remember to roll up with your blade on the ocean side.
  • Get sideways like above, but don’t capsize before the wave reaches you — capsize as the wave reaches you, capsizing toward the beach.  Remember to tuck your head and start in the setup position at first.  Later you can hold the paddle different ways.
  • Line up facing into the waves and capsize as the wave is about to break on your boat — ride out the rough part, roll up and keep paddling through the surf zone.  Do the same thing with the wave coming from behind you as you face the beach (not surfing).
  • Finally, on some smaller waves, capsize while you’re surfing forward — you’ll have more momentum going and it adds some degree of difficulty.

Reminder — wear a helmet, do this with a partner nearby, and you should already have a reliable flat-water roll before attempting these.  Warmer water and smaller surf is best.  This is based on East Coast beach breaks, too.