19 June 2013

REVIEW: shoulderless Northern Light Greenland carbon-fibre paddle

The new Northern Light paddle recently received is different: it's a shoulderless version of the three piece carbon fibre Greenland paddle that Paul produces. 
The sectional loom is the same as all the other Northern Light paddles (Greenland and Aleut) but this blade is much narrower than my standard Greenland paddle, which I have been using for all my paddling.


I have grown to love the Northern Light Greenland paddle that, despite my best efforts to destroy it, has never let me down.
Despite me abusing it, all I managed to create was a hairline crack in the insert after a wave dump and high brace onto a bank of sand, which was later easily repaired. 
No other paddle would stand up to the abuse I now subject my Northern Light paddles.

The new carbon-fibre Northern Light paddle is shoulderless and my hands slide along the shaft without feeling the familiar notch of the shoulder. Initially I thought I needed to feel my hands centred on the paddle and the blade’s shoulders of my Greenland were the reference point, but as I paddle kayaks with skegs I tend to wiggle a bit and often extend the paddle on one side.
Ruddered kayakers find it odd that waves slide my kayak sideways a bit and make it broach just so slightly needing corrective strokes.
To address directional changes I use sliding strokes where my hands let the paddle extend to one side; all without being even aware of such technique.
I no longer keep my hands in the exact same position on the loom (as I used to with Euro paddles); they are literally all over the place.
When I want to accelerate hard I extend my Greenland paddle to insert more blade into the water and create more resistance.  If I want to correct my direction a bit, I extend the paddle and slightly sweep, all unconsciously. This new paddle lends itself perfectly to my “wandering’ hands.


The Northern Light “Skinny” Greenland is incredibly smooth and has an organic feel in my hands.
The edges are very fine allowing silent insertions into the water; canted strokes feel effortless. It
literally slices through the water.
The “Skinny” has been in the works for a while and Paul spent a lot of time talking to some of the best known Greenland kayakers like Maligiaq and Dubside before he and Carlos (his former partner) came up with the dimensions for this paddle.
The paddle has actually been in production, with prototype testing going on for over a year now.

I thought that such diminutive paddle (if compared to big blade Euro style) would lack purchase resulting in reduced kayak speed.
But as Maligiaq demonstrates, a fine edged Greenland paddle used with correct technique (canted) and a higher cadence can produce hull speeds equal to larger blades, the proof seems clear in his results against world class sprinters.

As the blade is so fine I expected to experience some flutter, as most Greenland paddles seem to have in the first ten minutes or so until my brain “learns” the traits of the new blade and adjusts.
The “Skinny” was immediately at home with me and no adjustment was needed. Canting it was super easy (maybe it’s the pronounced flat surface on the loom) and I noticed no splash, even if I purposely tried to use a sloppy stroke. It was also a surprise to see rank beginner kayakers trying this paddle and loving it immediately with very little wobble when sprinting.

Northern Light paddles size comparison: Aleut, Greenland and "Skinny"
Small hands will find this skinny paddle easier for sculling (compared to the standard Greenland) as it allows the blade to sit more comfortably in the palm closer to the end of the blade.
Furthermore the "Skinny" can be converted from a full size adult paddle to a perfect child paddle; this was a very important consideration when designing this paddle.  

With the use of the included insert the "Skinny" makes a smooth paddle for the budding new paddler. 
Weighing a bit less than the standard Northern Light Greenland the "Skinny" is just as modular as the original.
Paul has maintained the concept of a 3-piece paddle where the loom is the variable part to accommodate for different size paddlers.

The unique ability to break down the paddle in sections small enough to allow air travel as part of check-in luggage (fits perfectly inside a large duffel bag) makes this paddle a trusted companion for remote locations. 


But how does it handle the choppy waves?
No different than the larger sister original Northern Light Greenland.

So why not use the “skinny” all the time?
All paddles have their strengths and the NLP “Skinny” is no different.  The sharp edges lend themselves to more technical paddling as it slices through the water allowing for a higher cadence when paddling distances and also for sculling rolls.  A lot of times a thicker paddle allows one to rely on the volume to auto correct a bit when rolling.  The “Skinny” requires good technique in this regard.
The noticeable difference I could feel was when I accelerated from a standing start; I felt just a little bit less resistance in the water and maybe a stroke more was needed to bring my kayak to cruising speed.
Side by side with my paddling partner Adventuretess we swapped paddles back and forth; using a perfectly synchronized stroke our kayaks maintained the exact same speed.
I can only conclude that the “Skinny” offers enough hydraulic resistance to propel a kayak to hull speed.

I had no chance to try the “Skinny” in the surf yet, where a big blade is desirable to be able to suddenly accelerate down the face of a wave; that’s where the Northern Light Aleut shines. 

On my planned trip to the land of the long shadows I was planning to take the standard “fatty”; I am now reconsidering and want to have the "Skinny" with me.


  1. Very nice review, can´t wait to try this paddle :)


  2. Wonderful post! Beautiful paddle! Lucky paddler! ;)

  3. On the Paul Northern Lights Paddles facebook page:

    Maligiaq Johnsen Padilla: Last couple days I paddle 2x28 miles with that paddle. Not bad!

  4. and...no reason not to take both. the two skinny blades will take up hardly any room in your bag

    1. for fear of flying with too much luggage I left the Greenland NLP at home and just took the Skinny on my recent trip to Scandinavia. Guess what? loaned it to my paddling partner and she would not give it back to me; and I ended up paddling 500Km with a wooden stick. I will take you advice next time :-)

  5. Hi Gnarls-
    Thanks for the great review! This spring I switched to a "stick" that I made from western red cedar and hung up my 90 degree feathered euro blade. That's the feather angle I learned on back in the day and I figured it was going to be a major transition, but it was really very smooth. Perhaps it’s easier to go from a 90 to a stick than the opposite way – I don’t know or care because I’m never going back. It’s much more versatile than my old euro and far easier on my aging wrists.

    I used my stick in surf a bit and personally found it better suited to me and my 1984 hard-to-turn Nordkapp HM. I love my stick, but sadly it developed a crack which quickly expanded so I must now find a replacement. It was very helpful to read your comments about the NL’s hardiness, use in surf etc. Dubside let me try his NL paddle at a couple of pool sessions this past winter, so I have an appreciation of the high quality of craftsmanship, but there’s not much room to paddle in any pool, so that adventure awaits me.
    Moulton Avery

    1. From old school 90 degrees (!) Euro to suddenly Dubside's loaner NLP? good to hear that you are exploring new, or should I say, old territories. Once you go black you don't go back :-)

  6. That's for sure. No going back, and glad of it. I had an opportunity this summer to take a Greenland paddling skills class taught by Alison Sigethy and that really was helpful. The 90 degree couldn't be less appropriate for sea kayaking. Who cares if it slices cleanly and efficiently through the air as the blade moves forward? That same blade is a sail when the wind is coming from either side - a position from which it's, um, a wee bit easier to do a half-roll;-) It's good to see more respect worldwide for the Inuit designs. Yeah, we joke about "sticks", but the reality is that it's a hydrodynamically sophisticated piece of equipment with many centuries of R&D behind it - a claim my 90 euro could never make...


Thank you for taking the time to comment.
Because of spam received from unwanted manufacturers/retailers all comments are now moderated. Allow a few days for your comment to appear when the operators of GnarlyDog News are on safari.