Greenland Paddles For The Modern Day Paddler
by Curtis Gashlin
Over the years there have been many discussions about the supremacy of a Greenland style paddle over a European style paddle and vice-versa. The argument exposes very deep convictions, even emotional expressions by a defender of either paddle type.
I want to change things a little and maybe alter or even just provoke some thoughts. Many defenders of the Greenland paddle and Greenland style of paddling seem to flock around a historical purpose of some sort, paying homage to the arctic peoples and their history of hunting and surviving. There are those who will paddle skin on frame kayaks and dress as close to the historical Inuit as possible. There are those who see all the rolls used by the past arctic tribes as if kayaking must revolve around them. For many, and especially those who teach Greenland style, it’s all about how things used to be. All good. Something I find interesting is many of those who size themselves for the perfect Greenland paddle jump right into an off the shelf, one size fits most retail sea kayak. The arctic folk not only sized their paddles but also their kayaks. The paddle and the kayak were a pair, if you will.
A Greenland paddle for a modern day paddler is not paired up with a custom sized kayak but needs to account also for the off the shelf sea kayak.
Using different kayaks sometimes can require using a different size paddle when the only thing that changed is the kayak, not your body.
Fitting Greenland paddles to work best with a modern sea kayak can result in the need for several paddles if there are different size boats on your kayak rack. Since the kayak is not made for your body it is not really mated to your paddle, if your paddle is fit to you via traditional methods.The above picture shows carbon fiber greenland paddles, courtesy of Qajaq Rolls. My own are sized for a over the counter sea kayak. My traditional paddle measurement would require a fairly short paddle with a somewhat narrow loom. When accounting for my particular retail sea kayaks’ width, freeboard and other criteria the loom and the blades became longer and the paddle in general becomes much longer in length. There is a huge difference when you include the kayak you really use as opposed to pairing up a custom fit paddle with a custom fit boat.
So what does it mean if a kayaker prefers to use a Greenland paddle but is not interested in all the history? Greenland paddle users don’t have to follow a culture to enjoy their choice of paddle. You see kayakers using Greenland paddles in all types of water conditions. You see people use euro paddles and Greenland paddles interchangeably. As far as use is concerned, basics are basics where paddle strokes and maneuvers are involved. For me, I find a separation of uses more in an advanced list of activity. I prefer a Euro sometimes and others I prefer a Greenland paddle. I think it just will come down to what you feel most confident with sometimes or what aspect of paddling is most important to you. As an example I will say that in rougher conditions or sometimes even high wind conditions I feel better using a Euro paddle, and think for me it works well. However, in those same conditions I personally have more confidence if I have a Greenland paddle in my hands. The reason for this is that I put more importance on my ability to roll up from any possible situation or position or physical limitation I may confront. I tend to be more willing to paddle outside my comfort zone with the Greenland paddle because I feel in control that I will always get back to breathing under my own power. I do not feel this way with the Euro (though that can change with practice). I can roll fine with a Euro but I sometimes feel that returning to a setup position in some instances is a complete wasted step. ( I don’t like wasted steps). Why can’t the return to a setup position be an actual part of the roll? Why can’t wherever I land in the water become my setup position? Well, for me, with the Greenland paddle in my hand it is.
I think that instead of kayakers choosing sides or thinking that those using paddles from history are using old technology or they are missing out on the best use of high tech paddle strokes, we should all understand that each paddle has usefulness in modern paddling. Though for some, paddle strokes and maneuvers done with either paddle may feel different than the other, used properly, they all work with either paddle. The choice is what are YOU the happiest with. Ignore the arguments and the opinions and paddle on!! They both work. No disrespect to anyone but I personally have no interest in the history of the Arctic Peoples for my paddling enjoyment, I am not hunting for my meals, and I see myself to be as modern as my Euro using brothers and sisters.
Is one better than the other? I will never answer that question because I cannot. I absolutely find pleasure with each. I use a Greenland seemingly more because I personally find satisfaction with it for the things I enjoy most. I know my Euro friends all feel the same with their choice of weaponry.
This is a cool thought: when the seas are bigger than my ego and the slap-wall clapotis is bouncing me more than my logic, I just have these words; “give me the paddle that gets me out of danger the fastest”
About The Author
ACA Instructor & BCU 3 Star Certified kayaker, Curt Gashlin is an enthusiastic member of the Mosquito Lagoon Paddlers based in East Central Florida as well as the Orlando chapter of the Tampa Bay Sea Kayakers . He's been kayaking since 2002.
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