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Greenland Kayaks
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Greenland Kayaks

Greenland kayaks first came to the attention of Europeans in the 17th century when whalers brought them back from their hunting trips up the Greenland coast. These kayaks ended up in European museums and when British builders first started building recreational sea kayaks, they used these Greenland designs as a starting point. Consequently, a good portion of modern sea kayaks still show strong signs of the Greenland influence.


The frame of the Greenland kayak is strong yet light weight.

Greenland kayak design varied over time and also from one community to the next. However, we can divide Greenland kayaks into roughly two categories, West Greenland and East Greenland kayaks.


This modern day replica of a West Greenland kayak shows the upswept ends and raised bow that allows this boat to deal with rough water if need be.

The West Greenland kayak is characterized by a flat low deck with gracefully upsweeping ends, hard chines and a pronounced vee bottom. This is the premier boat if you want to learn Greenland style rolling. This is a sporty boat, typically low volume, well suited for playing in waves and surf. It comes into its own in rough water.


Greenland kayaks in stormy seas.

The East Greenland kayak looks similar to its West Greenland cousin when viewed from above. But when viewed from the side it lacks the strongly upturned ends. The East Greenland kayak also has strongly sloped sides converging on a narrow almost flat bottom. Rocker in this boat is minimal. Unlike the West Greenland kayak whose deck is higher toward the front than the back, the East Greenland kayak has a relatively level deck throughout.


East Greenland kayaks keep a low profile in the water to avoid disturbing the hunter's prey.

The East Greenland kayak is a handsome boat with a low profile that makes it well suited for hunting in protected waters. However, in rough water, the low bow allows quite a bit of water to come up on deck and the straight keel gives it a tendency to spear into waves unlike its West Greenland cousin with its greater amount of rocker. From what I can tell, the East Greenland coastline was hemmed in by a lot of ice which made for frequent calm seas. For calm seas they made boats with as low a profile as possible to allow them to closely approach the game they were hunting.


Greenland kayaks are double ended allowing the hunter to paddle backward at a rapid pace after harpooning his prey, in this case a walrus which could easily use his tusks and great bulk to crush the hunter's kayak.

While the Greenland kayak has adequate storage space for day trips, it is a low volume boat and not the ideal choice for packing a lot of gear for week-long camping trips. If you want a high volume boat, consider the Aleutian kayak or baidarka.

The pronounced vee bottom of the West Greenland kayak gives it good tracking ability. The vee is a little disconcerting for first time kayakers since the boat at rest wants to settle out to one of the flat bottom planes on either side of the keelson. However, once you start paddling, the Greenland kayak settles nicely into the upright position. While the pronounced vee bottom of the Greenland kayak gives it good tracking ability, it also makes quick turns more difficult. However, if you lean the boat over so that one of the chines digs into the water, you can turn it quite nicely and more quickly than if you stay strictly upright.

The East Greenland kayak also tracks well and is suited for rolling. But its long straight profile makes it a better choice for flat water than rough water and surf.


An East Greenland kayak in placid, ice bound water.


All content copyright © 2004 Wolfgang Brinck. Personal non-commercial use permitted.