Question: I am in my mid-40s, and fairly new to kayaking. I built a touring kayak from Chris Kulczycki’s book, “The New Kayak Shop.” It’s a large volume boat, and has a fairly high rear deck. Also, I’ve played hard over the years, and my back isn’t a flexible as it once was. Do you think rolls that finish forward are a better place to start given the high deck and less-than-super-flexible back?
Answer: I would suggest a layback roll if you can do it safely, even with limited flexibility. Your finish position will be with your head back, chin in the air and eyebrows hanging down. It is not so important that you are able to touch the back deck as it is that you are able to be floppy over it. If you can hang in this position and not be in pain, this is the route that you should take.
In rare cases a forward finish roll is better as a first roll. These rolls are good for people who have had back injuries, or other issues, that prevent them from being comfortable in the layback finish position. For these people, I teach a forward finish roll as a first roll. Some flexibility is required for forward finish rolls as well, since the paddler needs to be able to come up hunched forward on, or close to, the front deck.