Coordinator’s Column: Whether Greenland or Euro, paddle on!

Are you a Greenland  paddler or a euro paddler?  Well today it is a matter of  preference.  Since I started sea kayaking, I noticed that  more and more people are  using Greenland paddles.  When I first picked up a euro paddle and started  sea kayaking, I found them  awkward since I was a  lifetime canoe paddler  and canoe paddlers really do not have much use for the second blade.

I found the Greenland paddle could be used like a canoe paddle when needed so it suited me the best. I think most kayakers know the history of the two paddles with the Greenland paddle being several thousand years old while the euro paddle only a few hundred. As the story goes, the Europeans looked at the crude inefficient mode of travel by the Inuit’s and like everything else, they thought they knew better. After all, the locals were savages who walked around with reindeer fur clothes, chewing on blubber and using sticks for paddles to propel their funny-looking boats. The Europeans have been exploring the artic or far north for the past few hundred years and would travel north with the best of equipment and supplies (so they thought) but would barely last six months before starving, freezing to death or dying of scurvy. The explorers who succeeded were the ones who realized the locals have been living and surviving in that environment for thousands of years. As it turns out, blubber is loaded with vitamin ‘C’, reindeer fur is extremely warm, and that stick is efficient after all.  

The Inuits and people of the north are the ones who invented the first kayaks and other than the materials they made from, little has changed. If the Greenland paddle is used properly it is easier on your joints and can propel you just as fast as a euro paddle. When paddling with a Greenland paddle the load is spread out over the length of the blade rather than all at the tip like a euro paddle. I know many paddlers who still prefer the euro paddle and some that switch back and forth.

I am fascinated with the arctic, so I read a lot about explorations. Two good books I would recommend are Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez and Dangerous River by R. M. Patterson. The interesting thing about Patterson is that he is writing about himself. Patterson spent several years exploring different parts of Canada’s far north mostly by canoe. Dangerous River is about his prospecting in the Yukon Territory where his primary mode of travel was by canoe. Arctic Dreams is about the history of Arctic exploration and details many of the failed missions.

I started sea kayaking while living in Florida and remember frequently passing rec boaters who would always comment on how inefficient our paddles were but then we would point out that we were passing them.

So, whether you are a euro paddler, a Greenland paddler or both, paddle on!

Bill Smith


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