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Greenland Paddles

A Greenland style paddle is a must if you want to master Greenland style rolls and braces. Or even if you just want to hone your one and only survival roll, there is no finer paddle than a Greenland paddle to do it with.

The Greenland paddle in my opinion is also one of the safest paddles that you can have on board your kayak. The shape of the loom and the orientation of the blades is such that even if you capsize and cannot see where you are, simply sliding your hands along the paddle will automatically put your paddle in the right orientation for rolling back up. There is no guesswork about which way the blades of the paddle are oriented.

Correct hand placement on a shouldered paddle puts your thumb and forefinger at the end of the loom up against the root of the blade and the other three fingers wrapped around the root of the blade.

If you have an unshouldered paddle, you can put your hands pretty much anywhere you can comfortably hold the paddle.

How to Hold a Greenland Paddle

Sizing Greenland Paddles, the Modern Version

The correct size of a paddle depends on your strength, the length of your arms, the width of your shoulders and also on the width of your boat and the kind of paddling you plan on doing.

Those are a lot of factors to consider, too many in fact for anyone to use as a rational basis for choosing a paddle. Let us take a more pragmatic approach.

If you have no experience at all with Greenland paddles, let me recommend an unshouldered 88 inch paddle. This is a paddle that will accomodate boat widths up to 23 inches and let you paddle with a nice brisk cadence. But it will still have enough of a bite on the water for the occasional sprint.

If you prefer a shouldered paddle, the distance across your hands as you are holding your paddle should be within an inch or two of the width of your boat in front of the cockpit. If the boat is much wider than your hand placement, you end up doing too much moving back and forth of your arms.

The best way to size a paddle is to have a number of them available to try with your boat. Then you could simply pick the one that feels best to you and best matches your boat and your condition. Several options are possible; your paddle is just right, it is too large or it is too small.

A too small paddle is fairly easy to tell. When you try to apply maximum power, the paddle makes a sucking noise as air is drawn down the back of the blade. A too big paddle in contrast seems ponderous because it offers too much resistance to the water and pulling it through the water makes your arms feel like they are coming out of their sockets. But if the paddle is just right, it lets you exert your maximum effort without sucking air while at the same time letting you pull it through the water at a rate of one stroke per second or better.


When your hands are properly positioned at the roots of the paddle blade, the distance between your hands should be roughly the same as when you have your arms hanging straight down at the sides of your body. This amount of hand separation assumes that your boat is two hand widths wider than your hips, another Greenland rule of thumb. Another way to approach this is to say that the outside edges of your hands should be about as far apart as the width of your boat forward of the cockpit.



Blade length on a Greenland paddle is about 25% to 30% longer than the the length of the loom. This gives you adequate leverage on the blade. If the blade is too long, you won't have adequate leverage and will feel underpowered unless you move your hands farther apart which on a shouldered paddle is not a practical thing to do.

Sizing Greenland Paddles, the Traditional Version

Greenland paddles were sized to let a paddler paddle comfortably all day with an empty boat, and still have enough energy left at the end of the day to tow home a seal or two.

Traditional rules of thumb for sizing kayaks and paddles, also known as anthropometrics are to be taken with a grain of salt. There are two reasons for this.

The first is that they are only a rule of thumb and traditional builders were under no obligation to follow them. The first rule of building is to make something that works, not to follow rules slavishly. I will give some rules of thumb here, and they seem to work well enough for someone my size, that is, someone six foot tall and with a six foot armspan paddling a Greenland kayak with a 21 inch beam. But I know that in times past Greenlanders were shorter than modern Westerners and if they had actually followed these rules of thumb they would have gotten kayaks and paddles that were considerably shorter than the ones that they actually built.

The second reason not to slavishly follow rules of thumb is that they don't scale well or don't scale linearly. Most rules of thumb are about linear distances. However, various aspects of boat performance often change with the square or cube of a given dimension.

Having said all that, let me give you a traditional way to size a Greenland paddle as reported by John Heath. The traditional way is to make it as long as the distance from the ground to the tips of your fingers with your arm extended over your head so that the last joint of your fingers just curl over the tip of the paddle.

Another traditional way to size the paddle is to make it as long as an armspan plus the distance from your elbow to the tips of your fingers. This incidentally is very close to the distance where you put your arm over your head.

Greenland rules for sizing paddles apply to Greenland kayaks which as we have said before are about 21 inches or less in width and have a low foredeck. If you want to get a Greenland paddle for a recreational kayak with a deck that is wider than 21 inches, you will want a longer paddle than Greenland rules of thumb would give you.

To order or to talk about a custom paddle, contact:
Wolfgang Brinck, 1615 Seaborn Ct. Alameda, CA 94501
Telephone: (510) 846-5488
email: my first name followed by nomadic at gmail dot com

All content copyright © 2004-2016 Wolfgang Brinck. Personal non-commercial use permitted.