The bellyak roll is a fundamental skill for paddling whitewater. The main function of the bellyak roll is so that you are able to maintain connection with the boat and stay on line. This leads to a happier time on the water, gives a stronger sense of control which leads to confidence, which thus equals more fun. And he who has the most fun wins. We read that in a book. To help you along, here’s all you need to know to flip and dip your bellyak.
What Happens if I Flip Over?
Swims happen. Sometimes you lean left when the river wants you to lean right, and you find yourself in the water. The good news is that the bellyak is very easy to remount/self rescue. But let’s face it. It’s way cooler to roll. If you’re off your boat swimming, then you aren’t in control, and you aren’t having as much fun as you could have. The good news is you don’t have to spend $900 on clinics and hours of lake practice…the bellyak roll can be mastered by most people in a short amount of time, often in the first few hours of paddling.
As you feel yourself about to roll over, your instinct may be to grab the handles. Not so! Bear hug the boat like you would hug your favorite hound dog, wrapping your arms all the way around. The key is to create a solid connection via your arms and your chest to the bellyak.
It’s Mainly in the Legs
Once upside down you will be hugging the bellyak close and telling it secrets. Your legs will be in the water, because of gravity. Perform a quick scissor kick to maintain your momentum and get the boat fun side up. Imagine wrestling an alligator and trying to flip it over on it’s back. That’s what you want to do.
Back Upright: Almost There
Once your boat is back upright, you will be oriented as in the picture below. At this point you will want to swing your legs back on top and get back in position.
The bellyak roll from the back
Not Maintaining Momentum
The roll is something that happens as soon as you feel yourself flipping over. The key is to GO WITH the roll, and use that momentum to bring you all the way around. If you don’t maintain momentum you will lose connection with the boat and have to remount from the water. This works, but isn’t as quick. Or as fun. Like we mentioned.
Not Bearhugging Tight Enough
If you give your bellyak a half-hearted hug, it will leave you. Hug it like you mean it.
No Sense of Urgency
We see this all the time…people just flop off and don’t even try to get back on. Have some urgency. The safest place on the river – and also most fun – is on top of your bellyak, paddling in control. TIP: Imagine the water is filled with starving pyranhas and you have to get back upright, or else some fish is going to be wearing your skin. You don’t want that do you?