There is abundant overlap between a forward stroke with a Greenland paddle and that of a "spoon" or wing, but to use a Greenland paddle to its full effectiveness you will employ techniques unique to the Greenland paddle. One potential hurdle to using good technique is having a Greenland paddle that is shaped well and fits you properly. For information on paddle-sizing and paddle-making, please see the Greenland paddles and paddle making page.
Many experienced "G-style" kayakers use the "canted-blade" stroke technique, where during a forward stroke, the paddle is held so that the blades are tilted slightly forward (a diving angle where the upper blade edge is closer to the bow of the kayak than the bottom edge). While this may seem like a contrived way to hold a paddle, it actually is very natural but only if your paddle fits you well. Generally you hold a Greenland paddle with only your thumbs and forefingers on the loom (paddle shaft). Your remaining fingers drape comfortably over the roots of the blades.
As an experiment, try this; hold an arm in front of you and open your hand with a neutral wrist (neither bend upward or downward). Now, look at the angle of your palm. Your palm is not vertical, but is tilted strongly forward. When you put a good-fitting Greenland paddle into your hand and hold it in the manner described above, it will tilt forward naturally, the same as your palm. What is the "proper" degree of tilt? Don't worry about that. It will be vary from person to person. Also remember that this is just one technique. It's not the only way to use a Greenland paddle.
The canted blade stroke buries the blade quickly (you want to wet almost all of the blade -- almost to your hand), eliminates or reduces flutter and ventilation and gives a much stronger feeling of power. Chris Cunningham of Sea Kayaker magazine wrote that using this technique felt as if it transformed his GP into a wing paddle. Interestingly enough, many practitioners of wing paddles feel right at home with a GP, and many of the same stroke elements work quite well.
Holding the paddle
I hold a Greenland Paddle with my knuckles set behind the blade edge. The edge of the blade runs between my knuckles and the adjacent finger joints (slightly closer to the latter). This permits a relatively strong (forward canted) blade angle. My thumbs and forefingers are on the shaft with my other fingers draped over the blade roots. In this position the paddle-shoulder area fills the hollow of my palm and the cant angle is natural and requires no manipulation to maintain.
If I align my knuckles with the blade edge, I find this uncomfortable as I can't "push" with the flat of my palm and the blade is oriented too vertically for my tastes. Alternately, aligning the blade edge with my (middle) finger joints results in too much blade angle for my tastes. Having said that, closely observe what others are doing, experiment, and find what works for you.
A proper catch is vital for good technique. You need to bury those long blades quickly and cleanly. One common method, using the canted blade stroke, is to simply drive the blade quickly into the water, along the bottom edge. The diving blade angle will quickly submerge the blade (good for overcoming the buoyancy of most Greenland paddles). Another popular technique is to adopt the wing paddle "spearing the salmon" technique. As you get ready to immerse the blade, use your upper hand and arm to laterally thrust the blade tip into the water as if you are spearing a fish. With practice you can use both of these techniques together.
In use a Greenland paddle should be virtually silent, except for the sound of water leaving the paddle on exit. If you hear a "scratching" noise (sounding like drawing your fingernails over cordura fabric or walking on fresh snow), your paddle is ventilating. This means that you are drawing air into the water at the catch. Work on your technique until this noise disappears. A common error is to lightly "dip" a Greenland paddle into the water so that only a few inches of the blade are immersed. You must use the entire blade! The blades are buoyant, so you may find it difficult to bury them at first. This should happen quickly, otherwise your stroke will almost be completed before you have brought the full blade into play. Using the (diving) angle of the canted blade stroke will help to ensure that the long blades bury very quickly, even when using a vertical stroke. This will bring your lower hand close to the water, but not necessarily into the water.
A common mistake is to assume that a Greenland paddle is only intended to be used with a "low" stroke. With a proper catch a Greenland paddle works fine for both a low (horizontal) stroke and a high (vertical) stroke. Many Greenlanders hold the paddle at about a 45 degree angle for "normal" touring. I invite students to experiment -- holding the paddle low for shallow water or for casual touring, bringing the paddle to about 45 degrees for fast touring and bringing the paddle fully vertical for fast sprinting. You will discover that since your hands are relatively close together (as compared to a spoon or a wing paddle) that even when you are holding the paddle blades high for a sprint, that your hands can still stay relatively low -- at about chin level or less. Not having to raise your hands so high on each stroke saves energy over a long day.
In time your stroke will become very powerful, solid (like the blades are "planted in mud") and extremely quiet, but it takes practice to reach this point. If you are just trying a Greenland paddle for the first time expect to give it a few weeks. If you are used to a different paddle type at first the paddle may feel as if it flutters badly and has no power. This is quite normal and disappears once your technique improves and you gain experience with the paddle. Interestingly enough, when a Greenlander tries a recreational "spoon paddle" for the first time, the result is often the same -- Greg Stamer
Video by Peter Gengler, provides a contrast between a "crunch stroke" per Maligiaq Padilla and a "torso rotation stroke" per Greg Stamer. Both paddlers demonstrate and explain on a kayak erg during a class at Delmarva.
John Heath describes Maligiaq's forward stroke, including the forward tilt (canted angle) of the paddle blade. Archive copy from WayBack Machine.
Essay on Maligiaq's paddling mechanics including the canted blade stroke and differences between what is often taught in the U.S. as versus what is commonly practiced in Greenland. This ties in with the video link from the 2011 Delmarva Paddlers Forum.
Basic information about using a Greenland kayak, including outfitting, comfort, carrying the kayak, and more.
Selected Blogs and Other Sites
This site contains excellent videos, gear reviews, kayak sailing, and other interesting information with an emphasis on using the Greenland paddle. Some favorites:
Greenland Paddles Used in All Conditions
Bumping around in waves 2.0
Backsurfing with Northern Light Paddle
Greenland-style stroke articles from Greg Stamer's Blog;
Forward Stroke with a Greenland Paddle
Greenland Paddle /Wing Paddle
Greenland Kayak and Weathercocking
Catch Before Unwinding. How?
What's the Best Length for a Greenland Paddle?
Have a favorite link you don't see here? Find a broken link? Please contact us.
Eastern Arctic Kayaks -- History, Design, Technique by John D. Heath and E. Arima
With contributions by John Brand, Hugh Collings, Harvey Golden, H.C. Petersen, Johannes Rosing, and Greg Stamer. Includes Greenland-style technique information by Heath, H.C. Petersen and a chapter by Stamer on "Using Greenland Paddles (covers one method of using the canted forward stroke in detail). This book is rich in kayak surveys, history and information about Greenland and East Canadian Arctic kayaks. Heath and Arima provide a broad context of the history and cultural significance of these kayaks. The surveys by Heath, Harvey Golden, Hugh Collings and John Brand (excerpts from Brand's "Little Kayak Book" series), should be useful to many builders. Available at the Qajaq USA Online store.
Commercial Videos (Greenland Strokes)
Qajaq USA has no financial ties to the following selections. These suggestions are provided only as a service to the Greenland-style kayaking community.
The Wedding of Palo
This fictionalized documentary was filmed with Ammassilik (East Greenland) natives and records Greenlandic life in the 1930's. Kayaking legend Manasse Mathaeussen is reported to have performed some of the rough-water kayaking stunt work. In addition to a wealth of cultural information, and scenes of kayaks and umiaks, there is enough kayaking footage, including close-up scenes of a partial sliding stroke, to keep Greenland-style kayakers very interested. Subtitles in English. Details from Amazon.
While not strictly technique related, or even strictly Greenland-style, Justine's videos capture not only the passion of sea kayaking but also introduces you to a number of the personalities associated with Greenland-style paddling today. Good action footage, including Greenland paddles in action provides some great technique hints. The video series includes"This is the Roll" featuring Turner Wilson and Cheri Perry.
Although primarily dedicated to "mainstream" technique, Nigel Foster invites Greg Stamer to provide instruction for Greenland-style kayaking. Volume 5 (Forward Paddling) contains a lecture on the canted forward stroke method with a Greenland paddle. Volume 6 (Rolling and Bracing) contains a lecture and short demo on "Greenland Rolls and Bracing". Also included is discussion of safe, rapid and effective paddle extension with a Greenland paddle.
This 39 minute instructional DVD by Greenland style practitioner Doug Van Doren focuses on the forward paddling stroke (non-canted stroke) the sweep stroke, draw, bow rudder, stern rudder, low and high brace, reverse paddling, and low brace turn.
While there are many techniques specific to Greenland paddles, the basic fundamentals are unchanged from paddle to paddle. Wing technique and Greenland-style technique are closely related and the wing technique tips is this video are very useful to Greenland-style paddlers who want to learn how to use torso rotation, leg drive and their core for endurance and speed.
For video clips of stroke techniques, please see the Greenland Kayaking Video Clips.
We would love to hear from you! If you have suggestions for technique links for this page, found a broken link or have other ideas to share, please contact us.