The popularity of Greenland paddles has been growing rapidly. I no longer feel like being the "ugly duckling" when I meet other paddlers on the water and while there is still some disdain in certain circles the majority of the paddlers are accepting GPs as an alternative style to the high angle big blade Euro paddling.
But like all things that are different and don't conform to the status quo, they attract resistance by the old school masters. Ironically Greenland paddles are one of the oldest forms of paddles, it's just that modern materials have allowed for advancements in paddle design that led to short and wide blades that then became the norm and the old form was nearly forgotten (even tho short and wide was not unknown, just not as popular as in modern times).
The renessaince of the Greenland paddle would seem to be driven by nostalgia and would appeal to sea kayakers that work with timber and like to make their own equipment.
And that is true for the vast majority of the Greenland paddlers.
As Greenland paddles excel for rolling and plenty of paddlers practice the art of rolling with GPs, they are often also associated with paddling in calm conditions where an easy steady pace to cover distance is often sufficient and matches the speed of Euro paddling.
But things change when we talk about dynamic waters.
A lot of paddlers shake their heads when I suggest that the GP is a very useful and powerful paddle in the textured waters. Surely there is a difference between the skinny stick and the fat blade, is their argument.
Yes, there is an undeniable difference between the "big water" short blade of white water inspired sea kayak paddle and the distributed surface of a GP.
I would like to emphasize the "distributed"
A lot of Greenland paddles have a surface area that is similar to touring Euro paddles. Yep, if one measures the whole blade of the GP the numbers add up. If the GP is on the long side (230cm+)the surface area is actually surprising large and can exceed the widest Euro paddles, however I find no need to have an extra wide or long GP for playing in dynamic waters.
A typical cruising GP stroke is a low angle one where often just a portion of the blade is inserted into the water.
That is actually all is needed to cruise in a sea kayak: very little effort in propelling that hull in the water.
If one wants to then push the kayak and get close to hull speed more energy is required. While the common conception is that one has to paddle "faster" (higher cadence) to go faster with a GP I tend to change the angle of insertion of the blade into the water.
Once my stroke angle becomes higher I can deliver more blade into the water (more surface) and I have more resistance (less "slipping" back of the paddle) to apply more energy to my stroke. I can travel just as fast with a GP than with a EP.
So how does that translate to dynamic water paddling?
James Manke using a Greenland paddle (Northern Light) in all comditions
I use a higher angle when paddling in the surf zone, where I want a faster acceleration with my kayak; more blade enters the water allowing me to have more grunt.
Of course, water being a fluid substance, will flow around the skinny GP easier than a fat EP and while the difference is noticeable is not impossible to overcome. It is at this moment that I apply a higher cadence to achieve the desired initial propulsion in my kayak.
I think of it as driving a smaller engine car that is delivering the desired power by revving higher than a big block V8; the feel is different but the results similar.
So, in the surf zone where acceleration is really needed I have a higher angle and a higher cadence.
It is a short burst that is needed to get me gliding along with the energy of the wave.
The biggest benefit I find in a GP is the gentle support that it offers in a high brace.
As I surf along the wave I often broach, where my kayak is suddenly in line with the wave and getting pushed along sideways. If I don't want to get tipped I use a high brace to stabilize myself, like an outrigger.
As the waves can be occasionally powerful when I broach, the paddle in a high brace position tends to get elevated to the surface of the water. I feel that with a Greenland paddle that force is never as strong as with a wide bladed EP where a high position of my elbow could risk getting me a dislocated shoulder.
I seem to be able to contain that force and try to keep my arm in a much safer location.
Few can demonstrate the validity of the of the GP as an all rounder paddle better than Warren Williamson can in this video of extremely fast and turbulent waters of Deception Pass in WA, USA.
And while the current record of paddling around Vancouver Island is held by Joe O'Blenis with a Greenland paddle, we even have the Brits joining in the retro revolution with paddling around their big island .