26 June 2012

TECHNIQUE: Greenland paddles used in all conditions

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 .



  1. same here - GP is my primary paddle for everything from cruising to surfing although I will try Aleutian during some surf session to see if I will appreciate the extra lift in the 'bubblies'

  2. A lot of the guys here who have made the switch to the GP would agree with you. Personally, I'm struggling with a decision to go to the GP or buy a crank shaft paddle to take pressure off of my wrists and shoulders. The only disadvantage with the GP I can see is when in rock gardens getting the long blade into the water among the rocks.

    Tony -)

  3. Great article Gnarlydog. Thanks. I took up sea kayaking 20 years ago after 20 years of whitewater kayaking and now I have switched entirely to a GP which the Inuit call a pautik. I find the pautik superior in every situation except shallow, aerated water which is what white-water paddles were designed for. In the early 70's the Brits adapted the Greenland SOF qajaq design and made the first fibreglass kayak, the Anas Acuta. For some reason the Brits used this new kayak design with a whitewater paddle instead of a adapting the pautik from Greenland. The tide has turned and many kayakers are now discovering that the 6000 years of design and testing behind the pautik produced a better paddle for everything except white water. It is better for rolling, touring, surfing and ocean rough water paddling. I have talked to many kayakers who have injured or dislocated a shoulder using white-water paddles and white-water rolls. That is a risk that I no longer accept...there is a better way.

  4. This is about as good of an article about the use of a Greenland paddle that I have come into contact with. We are lucky to have access to a Master willing to share his knowledge.

    1. "Master"? ... you make me smile :-)
      I am certainly no Master, actually just average, but I do like to share my findings.

  5. Another nice article! Thanks!

  6. Hmmm. Love my Superior Kayaks GP but still not convinced on bracing. My feeling is that a Euro blade will save me from capsizing far more reliably than a GP. Just my feeling or opinion - not saying it's fact.

    1. Anon, can I ask you a question? how long have you paddled with the GP and can you scull?
      I didn't gain confidence with a Greenland paddle until I learned how to scull. After that any "support" stroke with a GP seems to often automatically end up in a scull motion, even if just briefly. While I feel more immediate support from a EP when I "slap" that blade on the water, the GP offers me the same confidence, just differently.

  7. Hey Mr GDog, Thanks for responding. I'm a big fan of your boat modification articles - I've made two of the reed-switch electric pumps and they work great ! I only wish I had your skill and experience with composites - my own glassing projects begin with grand ideas and end with dodgy outcomes ;-) Re the GP truth be told these days I'm mainly a flatwater paddler who occasionally ventures out to sea. Have had a GP for a couple of years but swap between Werner Ikelos & Epic wing & GP so no solid commitment to mastering the GP. That said yes I can scull for support (Euro or GP) something I learned as a young bloke many years ago. When I first tried a GP I was amazed at how easy it was to roll with it. And it's fantastic for cruising. But my reflexive braces are all from time over the years with big fat Euro blades so I guess I am an instinctive slapper not sculler. Anyway thanks again for your reply. Mick

  8. I took a kayak surfing class this weekend and the water was choppy with a 6 second period, so mostly mush. When you catch a wave, do you try to catch it from behind, wait for the wave to come to you? I think there is a big difference between catching a wave and being caught by a wave, but I do not know the difference. I simply have not learned how to approach a wave to catch it. I spent a lot of time swimming my upside boat in and relaunching. I was completely exhausted.

    1. CFB, when I started kayak surfing I spent way more time swimming then actually kayaking.
      I only managed to get any good once I learned how to roll as I was wasting too much energy with getting back in the boat instead of learning how to ride a wave.
      On the other hand, if the waves were long, clean and gentle I was having great fun even before I had a solid roll.
      Steep short waves are way harder to manage then long non-spilling ones; finding those without a crowd (a busy place is where accidents between users happen) was harder than surfing itself.
      Eventually I got my roll and that opened up more possibilities of paddling to locations where surfers or swimmers won't go; I could roll back up if I fell in instead of schlepping my capsized boat back to a distant shore.
      In non spilling small waves I would have a buddy help me back in the boat as I was rather lousy with a cowboy reentry.
      As for timing on the waves, that will come with time in the surf zone. I can't explain the feeling of when to paddle and body movements necessary to get a decent ride; it's like trying to describe how to ride a bicycle.
      People used to tell me what to do etc. but it was a matter of time spent in the waves that did it.


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