Kayaking Essentials – Underwater Composure

Joy Mandhotra

September 7, 2018

As a Kayak school we at Team4adventure love imparting the art of rolling a kayak to all our students. Even more so, to the students who are highly engaged and eager to learn more. There are many methods to teach students to roll. One might even grasp the concept and techniques of rolling a kayak quickly. Although that doesn’t surely imply success. As an instructor, you might do your student doing a couple of good rolls and feel he is good to go. In reality it is not the case. One missed roll and the students forgets everything taught to him.

Rolling a kayak requires a person to curb his natural instincts and act against them. So in the initial days, when a student after having learnt the roll misses one, the instinct take over. He pushes hard on the battle, draws out his head to fast, the sync of the hip and paddle is lost and a wet exit follows. This can be really demotivating for beginners. So there are a certain set of skills that precede an Eskimo roll. The most important one being underwater composure. We won’t really call it a skill as such but it is a trait you need to develop to go ahead in the world of whitewater kayaking.

What is the importance of underwater composure?

Underwater Composure

Underwater composure is the ability of an individual to maintain his calm underwater in different scenarios and positions. No one can ever stress enough on the fact of the importance of underwater composure leading towards learning a roll. It is an important element that can be overseen. Talking from our experience of running a school for kayaking in India , majority of our students, excluding non swimmers are not very comfortable in the river waters. There discomfort is justified as the river is not as friendly as a swimming pool. Moreover the feeling of being tied around in a kayak just adds on to it.

So before teaching students to roll, or even before starting the kayaking lessons for beginners it is crucial to make them comfortable underwater. Make them spend more time underwater in different scenarios and positions. The aim being disorienting them underwater without letting them lose their composure. We’ve compiled a list of drills based on our experience as well as world renown schools and instructors.

Here are few drills that can be done to enhance underwater composure

Before getting in the kayak, just float

Literally do that. Just get in and float. Spend time in the water with your PFD and all other gear on. It is a basic drill but essential. Even if you are a good swimmer it doesn’t matter. Try doing few strokes and you’ll obviously notice how different it is.


If you can do it, well and good. If you cannot just try doing your version of a somersault, the closest you can get. The aim here is to disorient yourself underwater. To lose sense of position and direction in the moment of action and to regain it as soon as possible and then maintain it for a considerable time.

The above mentioned drills are to be done without a kayak. The next in the series are ones with you in the kayak.

T Rescue/Bow Assisted Rescue

This is like you doing a roll without a paddle and with outside support. Most would agree that this drill is the mother of all drills preceding a roll. For this one, leave your paddle aside. Flip your boat while your hands placed on the sides of the kayak and body bent ahead, close to the deck. Once you’re underwater stay as long as you are comfortable while gently moving your hands against the sides of the kayak. Your instructor will then come and hit your boat with the bow of his boat. This boat to boat contact happens at the point where your hands are. Making it easier for you to locate the bow of your instructor’s boat. After having located it, all you got do is grab on it, try and bring your head close to the bow and then using your legs and hips, upright the boat. Do it often until you feel no effort in rolling the kayak.

Few Other Drills You Can try

Now there are a handful of more tricks for you to try out. Try holding your paddle in one hand. Flip your boat and then pass the paddle from under the bow of the boat from one side to the other only to grab it with your other hand. In close assistance with your instructors you can try out various things. Just make sure you ask for T-rescues’ time and again. While underwater in your boat, keep your eyes open. No matter how dark the water is, it is probable that you might see a point wherein light tries to enter water. Search for it, move around in that direction, feel your body movements and think about which direction you’re moving in. Having a sense of direction while underwater helps a lot.



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Joy Mandhotra

A renegade engineer. Breaking social constructs, exploring places, riding new adventures and discovering myself amidst it all.