Greenland Technique: Strokes—By Greg Stamer
There is abundant overlap between a forward stroke with a Greenland paddle and that of a "spoon" or wing paddle, 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 bent 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 well-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 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 helps 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 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.