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Greenland Paddling Techniques

Greenland paddling techniques like all paddling techniques were developed to propel your boat forward. However, Greenland paddles are distinctly different from the commercial spoon blade, aka Euro-paddle that most recreational paddlers are familiar with. It is not surprising then that Greenland paddles require a different sort of stroke from what you might be used to doing with your Euro-paddle. This page is an overview of those techniques.
Drag and Lift
You will see both of these terms bandied about by paddlers with an engineering education, especially around the greater Seattle area where former aeronautical engineers have taken up paddling. The topics of drag and lift while seemingly innocuous can easily cause flame wars and name calling in paddling discussion forums. Hence the use of these terms is best avoided. However, it is worthwhile to know what they mean.

Drag and lift are both forces that you generate when pulling your paddle through the water. Both of these forces act to move your boat forward. Drag is the force generated by pulling your paddle straight back in parallel with the direction of travel. You are moving your paddle backward, but the direction of dag is in the forward direction. Lift is the force generated by moving your paddle at right angles to the direction of travel. Like drag, lift is also a force in the forward direction.

Depending on how you paddle, your forward stroke will be a combination of both motions. At the start of the stroke, your paddle will be farther from the boat. As you pull, your paddle blade will move both closer to the boat and toward the back. Therefore, you are generating both lift and drag forces.

Cruising and Sprint Strokes
Greenland paddlers have a cruising as well as a sprint stroke. You can see these on the qajaqusa website. In the cruising stroke the paddler keeps his/her arms fairly low and uses a combination of lift and drag to create forward motion. In the sprint stroke the paddler holds the paddle in a more vertical position similar to Euro style paddling and depends more heavily on drag.

In addition, Greenland paddlers do a little forward crunch in the course of the stroke to give the stroke a little extra kick. This capitalizes on both the torso and leg muscles.

Sculling Braces
Greenland braces depend almost entirely on using the paddle in a sculling motion. The thin flat profile of the Greenland blade makes it extremely efficient for this purpose. Secondly, Greenland paddlers were extremely competent and so were unlikely to capsize except during a hunting accident where they might be tangled in a harpoon line with a seal or walrus pulling on the other end. Consequently, Greenlanders developed a wide variety of braces, many of them assuming that you were capsized but couldn’t necessarily roll up because of entanglement. The key point of all these braces is to get your head above water so you can breathe until you can figure out a way to roll back up.

Back brace, paddler is in the water, torso turned toward the surface
Chest brace, paddler is in the water, torso turned toward the bottom
One armed extended paddle brace hand above or below the loom
Paddle brace, paddle behind the head torso turned skyward
Various one handed sculling braces using the bottom of the kayak as a fulcrum

Many Greenland rolls are simply extensions of braces. If you have mastered the Greenland braces, rolling back up is simply a matter of sweeping the paddle a little more forcefully and the same motion that held your head above water, now lifts your entire body out of the water.
The Greenland paddle
The Greenland paddle in comparison to the Euro paddle has longer narrower blades and a shorter loom.

Factoid #1: Given two paddles with equal blade area, a longer narrower narrower blade will have more resistance to being pulled through the water. That is, the longer narrower blade will feel like a bigger blade. In engineering speak, it generates more drag. Lowest drag would be generated by a perfectly circular paddle blade. Another way to look at this factoid is to recognize that for two paddles of equal area, the longer, narrower one has a greater total amount of edge.

Factoid #2: Given two paddles of equal size and shape, the one with the sharper edge will create more drag, that is, it will give you more pull.

Factoid #3: The amount of thrust your paddle generates increases with the square of the velocity that you move it through the water.

Greenland Paddle Ergonomics
Greenland paddles are easier on the arms, hands and joints of the paddler than Euro paddles. There are a number of reasons for this.

Reason #1: In cruising style paddling, the paddler holds his/her arms low to the deck. This minimizes arm movement and lifting of the paddle. Even though your paddle doesn't weigh much, over the course of half a day, you will be lifting it thousands of times, and that effort adds up. Keeping the paddle low also minimizes stress on rotator cuffs in the shoulders.

Reason #2: Greenland paddles are unfeathered. This minimizes wrist motion, one of the prime contributors to carpal tunnel problems.

Reason #3: Greenland paddles have the blade surface spread out over a longer distance along the axis of the paddle. This means that as you dip your paddle in the water, resistance to pulling increases gradually as you immerse more and more of the blade. With the shorter Euro blades, immersion of the full blade is more sudden. While this is a benefit for sprints, it also puts more strain and shock on joints, muscles and ligaments.

Reason #4: A wooden Greenland paddle should have more flex than a Euro paddle. Again, stiffness is an asset for sprints, but leads to more stress on the joints. Flex in a paddle is like springs on a car and results in a smoother ride.

Reason #5: The long thin blade of a Greenland paddle lets you paddle with a higher cadence than with a Euro paddle. The higher cadence uses your body's power more efficiently and leaves you less fatigued at the end of the day.

Reason #6: Greenland paddles exit the water effortlessly at the end of the stroke due to their long narrow shape. Euro paddles due to their spoon shape tend to stick at the end of the stroke and require an extra effort to pull out of the water, that is, they are not meant to go through the water sideways. Greenland paddles are.

Greenland Paddle Safety
The Greenland paddle in my opinion is the safest paddle to have on board. By his I don't mean that a paddle in itself is safe or unsafe, but that the features of the Greenland paddle are such that they leade to safer paddling. Here are some of the features that make Greenland paddles superior in this respect:

Feature #1: The Greenland paddle is symmetrical in three planes. There is virtually no wrong way to hold it. Turning it upside down or reversing it left to right leaves you with the same configuration.

Feature #2: The Greenland paddle when held on a flat deck with one blade extended naturally turns into an outrigger with the outboard blade parallel to the surface of the water. When held on the deck in the middle, the faces of both blades of the paddle are parallel to the water. You can rock your boat to either side and the paddle will offer resistance unlike a feathered blade which will knife into the water if you lean to the wrong side.

Feature #3: The loom of the Greenland paddle is oval. In addition some Greenland paddles have shoulders that give your hands a positive index on the paddle. If you capsize, you can tell where you are on the paddle strictly by feel and roll up without having to think about orienting the blade properly.

Feature #4: The standard Greenland roll is a sweep roll with an extended paddle. The narrow blades of the Greenland paddle let you grasp a blade easily with your inboard hand. The extended paddle roll is sure and virtually foolproof and gives you confidence of rolling up every time.

All content copyright © 2005 Wolfgang Brinck. Personal non-commercial use permitted.