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The Problem With Bomb Proof Rolls

The Problem With Bomb Proof Rolls – I think instructors who perpetuate the concept of a “bomb-proof” roll do their students a disservice.

First of all, there really is no such thing as a “bomb-proof” roll. The term alludes to a roll that’s so reliable, and so fine-tuned, that it never fails. That’s misleading and unrealistic. Every experienced instructor knows that given sufficient “conditions”, everyone eventually bails and swims – and in fact, the best paddlers I know have all taken swims at one time or another.

It’s also a potentially dangerous idea to plant in a student’s head because, as many studies have amply demonstrated, people have an unfortunate tendency to overestimate their abilities, and deluding yourself into thinking that your roll is “bomb-proof” can have undesirable consequences – particularly for less experienced paddlers.

Think about it: If you have a “bomb-proof” roll, why would you waste time worrying about the possibility of a swim? Why bother learning or practicing rescues? Why bother dressing for the water temperature? Why practice swimming with your paddle? Why avoid paddling solo in gnarly conditions? For that matter, why would you even wear a PFD?
“It’s no biggie, Dude, ’cause I got a bomb-proof roll!” is the kind of attitude that can get any paddler, no matter how experienced, into “deep trouble”.

As instructors, we should be discouraging our students from thinking this way, because when it comes to safety, a humble and realistic mindset is our friend, and machismo is our enemy. Despite what a lot of hyperbolic writers have written over the years, nobody “conquers” a mountain, or a river, or the sea.

Words: Moulton Avery

What are your thought on this?


  1. Andrew Bonney

    Absolute load of rubbish! Have any Qiwi’s read this? Barny Young?
    An instructor instructs someone a coach coaches someone to the best of their ability and I’m not going to take anyone into a grade 5 canyon without a bomb proof roll!

  2. Oli Kershaw

    Totally disagree with the idea that having a bombproof roll means you won’t think about safety, be prepared for a swim or neglect to understand the implications of soloing. That would be a failing in a coach.

    The roll is one of the most important whitewater skills and having a “bomber” roll will undoubtedly save you an unpleasant swim at some point.

    Maybe we should just stop coaching forward paddling in case people think they’re too good to learn how to turn…

  3. jimyak

    nothing is 100%

  4. Georgia Henderson

    Don’t really agree with the article at all to be honest…. not that I claim to have a bomb proof roll. I feel that anyone who takes whitewater kayaking should strive to have a bomb proof roll, it certainly makes life easier, and lets be honest a lot of the time the safer option is to roll up and stay in your boat rather swim down a rapid. However, this does not mean that once people become fairly confident in their ability to roll that they automatically want to run G5 solo. Any experienced paddler knows that a bomb proof roll does eliminate risks on the river. Whether you have an amazing roll or not, the hazards of huge holes, siphons and strainers are still going to be there.

  5. Dave Bland

    Hmm… yes all good paddlers swim, but in reality their swims are not caused by simply failing to roll. It’s almost invariably an un-rollable-from situation, or a recognition that bailing and saving energy is wiser than continuing to fight. Either way, a bomber roll is a prerequisite for the top grades.
    Yes, there is a point that at the learning grades, a bomb-proof roll can act as a false sense of security and possibly encourage stuff to be paddled that shouldn’t be or even become a substitute for paddling technique. However for every instance of this, there are probably many more where a roll has avoided a potentially nasty swim due to a learning error.

    • Nick Bennett

      I agree Dave, if you are swimming on Grade 5 because your roll failed then that should trigger a real moment of reflection. There are so many variables in white water. Having the skills you can dial in on easy water or even on the flat water before stepping up is a good idea for sure. Most swims that good paddlers have on hard white water have nothing to do with their ability to roll, knowing when to tag and when to stay put can be really important.

      I also don’t think that being good at rolling makes people do stupid stuff. We all do stupid stuff, I think this is because we are all a bit stupid. Seriously we do a stupidly dangerous activity for fun. Roll or no roll that’s dumb. We should all get into video games or something much safer like that.

  6. Jamie Greenhalgh

    I actually think our problem the vast majority of developing paddlers is lack of belief in their roll making them swim in potentially dangerous situations. We need to be strengthening self belief not cautioning it. I see the other commenters on this post agree.

  7. Phil

    To the author – I think you’re taking things a bit too literally and can’t think of anything else to write about…

    Bomb proof roll should be encouraged. I would say that 99% of kayakers that claim to have a “bomb-proof roll” don’t just go and paddle class 5 just because of that…those that paddle class 5 tend to have the other skills to match…

    Those that have a bomb-proof roll generally are intelligent enough to not take things too literally and understand that after 2 minutes fighting in a hole their roll doesn’t mean shit.

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