Greenland Paddles Can’t Get No Respect

greenland paddles

In the Fall 2015 issue of Adventure Kayak, James Roberts writes an article called Stickin’ It To ‘Em: Greenland paddles are superior in every way to their wide-bladed brethren. In the article he states, “It’s time Greenland paddles got some respect.” He then goes on to point out the myths and benefits that he finds when using a Greenland-style paddle (GP). I’ll list these below. While reading the article, it felt like being transported back to the late-90s or early 2000s when the online paddling world at argued about which was better. I thought this issue was settled back then with the conclusion that you paddle what you like. But, it seems that GP users still feel like they deserve some type of additional respect from the paddling community.

Here are Roberts’ myths/advantages:

  1. Greenlanders knew what they were doing and had no lack of resources, so they built GPs based on the perfection of design and not the limitations of materials.
  2. GPs have just as much power as Euro paddles, but you have to use it differently.
  3. GPs cause less fatigue and have less wind resistance due the the narrow blade and that you can use a sliding stroke to keep less of the paddle in the air.
  4. A GP sliding stroke creates more leverage.
  5. You can index them easier for rolling and the wood floats and makes rolling easier.
  6. They get pulled around less in rough water.
  7. They’re quiet.
  8. The greatest benefit is a deep connection to his or her own blade if the paddler makes his or her own blade.
greenland paddles
Two of my Greenland paddles. The one on the left is now decorates the boat house. The one on the right gets used now and then.

While I can’t comment on the first point, because without a time machine we have no real idea why they were built the way they were, but different blade shapes did evolve. Some were larger with blades reaching five inches. Harvey Golden in his book, Kayaks of Greenland, writes, “It is interesting to note that some of the earliest preserved Greenland kayak paddles (1600s) are in fact much wider than examples dating from periods (e.g., today) where wide boards are plentiful and reasonably priced.”

Points three, four, five, seven and eight are debatable, especially point eight. For example, on a 560-mile trip I used a wooden GP and it gave me serious blisters after the first week. This was a paddle that I built myself and had used often. I switched to a Euro blade and the blisters cleared up. I hated my wooden hand-made GP at that point. I’ve also built several Euro paddles, but I can’t say that I developed a strong connection to either types even though I built them. I’ve also built and designed canoes and kayaks, but my personal favorite boat is my NDK Romany, although I’m really likely my Dagger Alchemy lately. A deep connection may occur to some, but it wouldn’t to others. Also, you can use a sliding stroke with a Euro Paddle and it also gives additional leverage. An oval shaft on a Euro blade helps with indexing. Euro paddles can be extremely quiet. I have a AT Xception Superlight that’s quiet on the water and I’ve had loud GPs. Wood Euro paddles are also very buoyant for rolling.

I think there are real advantages for GPs and some of them are:

  • Can be less fatiguing and less rough on the shoulders (so can Euro paddles with different designs)
  • Cheap and easy to make

But everything is a tradeoff. Some disadvantages include:

  • To get the same blade area in the water the GP has to go deeper or longer.
  • Euros generate power faster.

The key is that you pick what is going to work for you and paddle with it. GPs are cool, but so are Euros. In kayaking when you hear someone say, the thing I use is superior in every way to every other thing, walk away. It’s like when you see Buddha on the road and need to kill him. Same thing applies. Go out and figure out which paddle works best for you and get someone who knows how to use that paddle to show you how to use it the right way.

And GP users, please, lets move on from the Greenland-paddles-get-no-respect-Rodney-Dangerfield complaint. It’s old and tired.

greenland paddle on wood pile

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  • That AK article didn’t sit well with me, either—anything so absolutist raises red flags. “The key is that you pick what is going to work for you and paddle with it. GPs are cool, but so are Euros. In kayaking when you hear someone say, the thing I use is superior in every way to every other thing, walk away.” Agreed. Thanks for putting my thoughts into words.

  • I use Euro, GP, & Aleutian. I can’t imagine why anyone would limit themselves by using just one.

    • No wing? :) Agreed. I use Euro and wing paddles now. Now and then I’ll mess around with a GP. I also have four different Euro paddles that I like to use. They each feel different and work well in different situations.

  • Bryan you nailed it. I was dissapointed by the positioning and attitudes expressed by James. I love my collection of GPs but in no way would I claim they are superior in every way as the article expressed. Painting the picture of superiority, in my opinion, only hurts the attempts to continue to grow adoption of the GP. I like your list of benefits. Like you, the first GP I made hurt my hands, over time I learned ho to make wonderful ones that work with my body. There are many bad GPs out there, and fortunately also many good ones…..

  • (Should have posted this yesterday.) This article from Kate Hives seems apropos:

  • Well I still think GP are better for rolling. We had a guy in class who was struggling with his roll. put a Greenland in his hand and we had him rolling right away. I use euros for creeks/whitewater but in big waves in the Great Lakes the GP is just better. Well for me at least. I can roll up many more ways than a euro which I can roll with too just not near as many ways. But nothing is absolute. BUT I use a carbon fiber Greenland, 22 ounce carbon GP is just great. My wood ones feel like lead now.

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