Simplifying the Roll with Helen Wilson

About a year ago I started thinking about making an instructional rolling DVD. I wanted to show people that a roll doesn’t have to be quick and violent, and that a Greenland roll is gentle on the body… and it doesn’t even require a Greenland paddle.

I went to a local film production place and enthusiastically told the representative about my project. She looked at me with a confused expression on her face, and I realized that I either needed to drop the idea or find a kayaker to do the filming.

Soon after that I saw a trailer for a DVD called Paddle California. It was made by Bryant Burkhardt. I had instructed with Bryant for a few hours during the 2009 Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium, but had not seen him since. Still, I decided to contact him.

As it turned out, Bryant was the missing link to this project, and the two of us began putting the DVD together. I made an outline for the format, and Bryant drove to Arcata for a long weekend of filming in various locations around Humboldt County. Over the next few weeks Bryant and were in regular contact, with Bryant doing the editing and me working on sound.

Once everything was put together, we met again for a very long weekend of continuous work. We re-filmed what we didn’t like, added film that was missing and began the long process of burning DVDs and watching them again and again.

Amazingly, it was done late that Sunday… just as planned. At 6 a.m. the following day Bryant and I watched it one last time, agreed that it was good to go, and I took it to the post office. All I had thought about since beginning this project was the DVD, and I was surprised by the powerful emotions that I felt handing it over to the woman at the counter.

The DVD has three chapters and a bonus section. The first chapter teaches a balance brace and a standard Greenland roll (which can be done with any type of paddle). The second chapter troubleshoots the roll, and the third chapter is a progression to more advanced rolls. The bonus section is on forward finishing rolls.

Thanks to Tahe Marine, Kokatat and Joe O’ Paddles for providing financial support for the DVD, and to Outdoor Research for additional support. I also want to thank Bryant for working with me on this, Michael Morris for being my student and taking the skin off a qajaq so that I could use it and Alex Wilson, my son, for always laughing at his mother’s crazy projects (he’s also the person who has been labeling the packages for all the pre-orders).

To order DVDs click here. For Trade or Dealer inquires, call (206) 661-3745, e-mail or visit

4 Responses to “Simplifying the Roll with Helen Wilson”

  • Helen, I’m looking forward to seeing the DVD. It looks like you’ll be filling a missing link in Greeland style rolling instructional videos.

  • Becky Lundin says:

    Helen – I’m also looking forward to seeing your DVD. Loved the trailer, can’t wait to see it all. I’ll be getting together with a few friends to watch it, then go practice!!

    I’m very excited for you! Congratulations on all your hard work. :o)

  • Jane Rosalind says:

    Helen, I’ve just viewed the DVD. Well done for sure. It has clear instruction/explanations, with progression of skills needed to move the kayak, and repetition of key points. The Bonus section on forward ending rolls is grand, but too short: please make an advanced or “Part II” DVD dealing with these rolls.

    Thanks for all the effort you and others have put into creating this teaching tool.

  • Moulton Avery says:

    Bravo Helen!

    One of the things that touches me deeply, and that I think about often when I’m out on the water, is the debt of gratitude we owe our Inuit brother and sister paddlers. Their ancient heritage forms the bedrock foundation of sea kayaking. Without it, sea kayaking would not exist, and river kayakers would be paddling canoes.

    This gift of knowledge that the Inuit bequeath to the world gives a lot of meaning to my paddling. I can’t do all their moves, or pronounce the beautiful names of their techniques, but I can sure appreciate the richness and complexity of their gift, and aspire to learn as much of it as I can.

    Back in the day, when John Heath made his rounds promoting that heritage, he spoke in the Chesapeake Bay area, and every single paddler who heard what he had to say was simply awestruck. I know I was. Amid all the horror stories of decimated native cultures, here was a small but powerful ray of warm sunlight & it was our incredible, unbelievably good fortune that this magnificent heritage was still alive.

    You’re a keeper of the flame, Helen. In my book, that’s no small thing; it’s huge. Your knowledge, dedication, commitment, teaching ability, respect for the Inuit heritage, and your modesty about your skill – all have my highest respect.

    Of all the developments, gear enhancements, boat designs etc etc that we’ve witnessed over the past three decades, nothing moves me as much emotionally as what you and others are doing to pass this incredible “gift of knowledge” on to other sea kayakers.

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