April 2008

Greenland Style is Hot!

I just went to the CPA Greenland Paddle Making Workshop last Saturday, and I was amazed at the number of people there. By now, you know that I have gained a lot of interest in the Style of Greenland Paddling (sometimes called Traditional Style), and it was wonderful to see so many other people showing interest too. You will probably hear more about that event from our ‘CPA Cruise Director’ Gina Cicotello, but let me just say that there were 29 people making or finishing paddles, and at least 6 more there purely to help out. Amazing!

So what is this Greenland Style Paddling anyway? From the looks of it, it is an infection that quickly finds its way into your paddling style and grows and grows and grows. The more you try it, the more you like it!

Seriously, Greenland Style Paddling is many things. What seems to make it so infectious is that you can take it in to be your own just a little or a whole lot. It can be just a way to make paddling easier, or it can become a lifestyle; depending upon how prone to infections you are. Let me start at the beginning.

The Paddle:

Most people get introduced to Greenland Style Paddling when a friend hands them a home-made wooden-stick-looking paddle; probably one that was carved out of a western cedar 2”x4” piece of lumber at a cost of $30 – $50. What one immediately notices when this type of paddle is used is the soft effect on the body. Since the paddle is light and thin it does not take lots of muscle to pull it through the water, nor does it grab large amounts of water when pulled. You can say that it is more ergonomic than its spoon-bladed cousins. Some people immediately enjoy this feeling, since it is less jarring on the shoulders and back. Of course the trade off is that you cannot do sprint-like starts as well as with the spoon-bladed paddles. But everyone has their style.

The History:

Now we are talking my reason for coming into this style of paddling. I love the fact that I am re-enacting history. People used these same styles of paddles and even similar boats as our kayaks thousands of years ago to sustain their life and their culture. It is such a draw to learn about those Arctic cultures which somehow designed and built such perfect tools that meshed the actions of man and boat into perfect harmony on the water. A people who had mastered the art of controlling a craft so light that you can carry it with one hand (we are talking a skin-on-from kayak here), yet so versatile that it could instill confidence to be used in nearly any condition nature could throw at it.

The Self-satisfaction:

Some people come to Greenland Style Paddling simply because you can make all the gear yourself; just like it was done a thousand years ago. You can carve the paddle, you can build the skin-on-frame (SOF) kayak, and you can even make the spray-skirt and tuilik (the head to waist suit that locks out water). A real sense of self achievement and satisfaction comes from paddling in the gear you painstakingly crafted yourself. I have personally made a couple of paddles, a wooden version of a Greenland Style kayak, a skirt, and am working on my tuilik. It is a great feeling of accomplishment every time I show them off, and every time I paddle in them too.

The Work-Out:

Those traditional paddlers must have really been in shape to be able to do all that they are reputed to have done. Not only the paddling, but also the many variations on the kayak roll that was perfected, and even the off-water workouts they went through as training. There is a Greenland Style conditioning technique called Qajaasaarneq or more commonly Greenland Ropes that really helps one get in shape for paddling when not on the water. This technique builds strength, endurance, and technique; all focused towards the style of Greenland Paddling. I have merely begun to practice it, but I encourage you to try it with me sometime. I’ll bring it to SK102. Then there are the balance boards (sometimes called stools) which can help you craft your balance in a kayak. And traditionally these were designed for children to learn skills before they even got into a kayak for the first time.

The Challenge:

To me the ultimate draw and the ultimate challenge to Greenland Style Paddling is the art of the kayak roll. No culture took the fact that a kayak could be rolled to such a pinnacle of success as did the peoples of West Greenland. They explained that a kayaker needed to be able to accomplish the righting of their craft in any condition with (or often without) any item in their hands, be it the paddle, a harpoon, a hunting knife, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (well maybe that is an exaggeration). But it is this striving towards ultimate control in the sport that makes it so much of an exhilarating draw. Not so much a physical challenge as a mental one. You ask yourself every time you go out to practice your technique, what can I do a little differently today that will help me do just one more type of roll?

Now agreeable, all of the things I mentioned above are not for every paddler out on the water, but I must say that Greenland Style Paddling is infecting more and more people. Whether it is a gentler paddle, the chance to learn about the history of the sport, the chance to build your own gear, or the sheer fact of the challenge – there is so much to this Greenland Style of Paddling. If you have not tasted this style yet, I hope that I might have tempted you. The next time that you are paddling at one of the Piracies and someone paddles up next to you with a Greenland Style Paddle, just look at it longingly, and the owner will undoubtedly say “Do you want to try it?” Just beware that I told you it was infectious…..very, very infectious!

The CPA is not a Greenland Style Paddling Club, but every year more and more of its members show signs of this style in their paddling. You can find examples of this at the yearly Greenland Paddle Making Workshop, SK101, SK102, the new hopeful Greenland Style Event being planned for this summer, and even at your local Piracy. If you want even more information, I encourage you to look into one of our sister clubs, Qajaq USA.

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