Doug VanDoren and GP???

This question is just out of curiousity. I am dabbling with GPs and have watched some videos and read a lot of posts here over the last few months about this subject.

One thing I have noticed is how many people comment that Doug VanDoren has created “his own” Greenland paddling stroke…one that is not truly conventional and using paddles that are not “true” GPs (Betsie Bay).

Well I don’t like the stroke that Doug shows on his video b/c I like a much higher angle stroke for one.

However, Doug claims that he developed this stroke from watching lots of old film footage from Greenland, reading, study, etc.

So how then is it that he’s got it all wrong?

Again, just curious since I have seen so many comments to this effect.

I guess my last question would be…who is Doug VanDoren? Is he some sort of respected teacher, etc? Is he just a sales rep for Betsie Bay?

What makes him an “authority” on Greenland Paddling…or is he not one?

Obviously people like Gren Stamer, Cherri Perri, etc. I can understand why they are respected authorities. Not sure about Doug.


definitely respected
Doug’s a great guy. Very modest and fun to talk to, a pastor in real life. He doesn’t flaunt his experience like other “sea kayak experts.”

I really enjoy paddling with him and hearing stories of all his adventures. But what I enjoy even more, is while he’s good at rolling and puts on an entertaining show of rolling skills at symposiums, he’s not a GP paddler focused solely on rolling. I know too many GP paddlers that spend hours rolling but I doubt have the stamina to paddle 5 miles. When Greg is in a boat, he is advancing the cause of paddling and encouraging people to spend time on the water.

Who knows where he got the idea…

– Last Updated: Sep-03-08 4:03 AM EST –

...that you had to use a GP with your knuckles scraping the deck, but he was apparently adamant about it, even stating at one point that Greenlanders that didn't paddle that way had "forgotten how to use their paddle properly",an incredibly arrogant thing to say. I guess he's backed off that in recent years, no doubt due to the overwhelming evidence that he was simply wrong. I've heard he's a great guy, but have never met him.


– Last Updated: Sep-02-08 8:50 AM EST –

Doug probably didn't create that particular stroke but most likely is replicating a variation of the stroke that probably was used at some point in Greenland. The Greenlanders had a much greater diversity of strokes and paddles than most people give them credit although the most common style that we've adapted is largely influenced by Maligiaq and the various West Greenland qajaq clubs. As for the Betsie Bay paddles, I'm not a fan but I'm sure if you look hard enough, you'd find some paddling culture that used something similar at one time or an another.

As for Doug himself, he is a VERY good kayaker who has found a way to maximize the efficiency of his chosen style and equipment. I can learn a lot from him and aspire to be as competent of a sea kayaker someday. I've taught g-style with him at various symposia over the last few years and I definitely have noticed a more liberal stance on the style as the years have gone by. With Qajaq USA events becoming more prevalent here in the Midwest, Doug now acknowledges the various styles and paddles. I have never personally heard some of the more stronger claims regarding G-style paddling from Doug in person so I can't comment about those stances.

I don't, however, agree with Doug's stance on rolling. It seems disingenuous to claim that G-stylers focus too much on rolling at the expense of paddling when it is abundantly clear that Doug has spent countless hours himself working on rolling. To claim that one aspect of the sport is inferior to another seems a bit narrow minded and I find it comparable to say a long distance racer criticizing a whitewater playboater or kayak surfer because they aren't really paddling or going anywhere. We all have areas that we are drawn to in this sport and in all honesty, I have yet to meet the mythical g-style kayaker who only rolls 100 ft from shore and never paddles anywhere.

Doug VanDoren
is an extremely competent paddler and can use the greenland paddle very efficiently. If you want to learn some good paddle strokes, you should spend the weekend with Doug at the Wawa Greenland Symposium. Most good paddlers use very similar techniques and spending an entire weekend with Doug gives you plenty of time to learn a lot.

Some greenland paddlers refer to the word traditional, to mean what they feel is traditional. But the more I research, the more I learn that traditional greenland paddles and kayaking vary greatly and people use what works best for them. Don’t get caught up in any one school of thought about greenland paddling. Every class I take from any competent paddler teaches me something new.

As a sea kayaker

– Last Updated: Sep-02-08 3:59 PM EST –

and not a traditionalist, in my opinion Doug Van Doren is probably the most skilled and competent sea paddler using a traditional blade I have met and paddled with.

His paddling and teaching abilities are more in line with people like Shawna and Leon from Body Boat Blade than they are with the folks who are competition rollers.

I have learned an incredible amount from Doug about paddling, rolling, and leadership. I have probably been more influenced by Doug than any other single coach I have worked with. (Nigel Foster, Shawna and Leon, Kelly Blades, Ron Smith)

I won't stoop to debate with the historical re-enactors about which stroke is more accurate or more correct, whether or not it is truly Greenlandic or not, if you're curious you can go back and search the archives.

I tried to set the record straight several times and Brian Nystrom who has not met Doug or paddled with him will automatically contradict anything I say and drag another famous traditional "style" paddler into the discussion.

I will say that having met and paddled with some of the terrific folks from qajaq training camp (qajaq usa). They are a great, very fun bunch. Their focus and approach to kayaking is very different. Not better just different than Doug's.

I can say from seven years of paddling with Doug he is one of the fastest, most effecient, safest paddlers on the water I have ever met. His stroke is a thing of beauty that should be watched and studied. He is truly the pastor of disaster on the water! As a fellow instructor on the water at Wawa, he was out paddling, surfing, doing rescues, towing, and leading trips in the beautiful gnarly mouth of the Michipicoten river last weekend. (watch for details ;)

I would encourage you to come to either Grand Marais, WMCKA, or the Greenland Style Symposium in Wawa if you want to learn from one of the best coaches in the US.

GP style
Years back, John Heath had an article in Atlantic Coastal Kayaker and I believe in Sea Kayaker as well, talking about the GP stroke and use and it was similar to what Doug VanDoren shows in his video. I remember when the canted stroke phenomenon made its appearance in the GP world and I questioned that on the Qajaq site. I believe Greg Stamer pointed out that that was apparently used for quite a while according to paddlers he spoke with. I know for a fact that many paddlers use a GP in any way they want and it proves to be a very effective and efficient tool without having to cater to any one exact paddling discipline. I paddle with one 99% of the time and I paddle with loads of Euros and GP users - some who use canted strokes and everyone does the same things with no obvious advantages to any one style. My stroke is just like using a Euro. I don’t think anyone is wrong or right in this conversation and I think any paddle can be used in a multitude of styles successfully. If anything, I think GP users get more obsessive about paddle use than paddlers using Euros.


– Last Updated: Sep-02-08 7:22 PM EST –

Met him at symposiums a couple of times when I was living in Michigan. Don't know about the "authentic" argument, but I found him to be enthusiastic, entertaining, and happy to help anyone who was interested in learning.

I have yet to meet any coach/instructor/expert that I completely agree with, but I've learned something from all of them.

I suspect that "authentic" paddling styles are like "authentic" cusine -- there's a lot of regional and local variation.

Just a note for added reference
One thing I have not mentioned as this probably relates to a really good article Greg wrote in the MASIK newsletter for qajaq usa.

Traditional style paddling has only had it’s recent boom due in large part to Greg, John Heath, and here in the Midwest Doug Van Doren. But there was a time in the not so distant past when Greg/Doug/John Heath and several others on the east coast were the only paddlers/people interested in what traditional style paddling had to offer.

There were many many paddlers and instructors who thought you could never be as effecient, safe, or powerful as a paddler with a euro paddle. There were many skeptics about the lollypop sticks and what purpose they played. And Doug in some ways purposefully set out to be every bit as good a sea paddler as the coaches that were dismissing the greenland paddle.

He was specifically invited to Wales for a five star training by Nigel Dennis to break down the barrier for the BCU to traditional paddling. The prejudice has largely died out now because BCU paddlers (at least in the US among coaches I know now) are agnostic to paddle preference largely due to competent paddlers like Doug and Greg.

Greg’s article about being overly jumpy about being a minority I think relates to this time.

Lighten up Francis! Said Uncle Hulka.

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I got a chance to paddle with Greg Stamer last week for a few hours on Lake Michigan. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed it and I can also say that I learned much from him as well. I would also be eager for the chance to paddle with Doug VanDoren or any other human being or animal that could teach me something, or share a good time with me. I don't care who is "right", I care about enjoying the sport, learning the Greenland culture, and improving my skills. There is no "right" boat, paddle, water conditions, culture, or any other thing relevent to paddling. Learn as much as you can from as many people as you can and use from it what you feel helps you achieve the goals, or experiences, that you find pleasure with.
I can say this because I am a relative novice compared to these guys and do not have the personal investment, or "dog in the fight". I don't like it when I feel presure to do it "right" like so and so. Even as a relative novice (to Stamer, VanDoren, and others who have accomplished much) I am capable of having someting to offer even them, however minor it may seem. Enjoy each other and the sport and use what is right for you. Having said all this, please allow me this bit of snobery "For me, kayaking is about the challenge of nature and the open water. I practice Greenland rolls for fun, but mostly to take me further into the open water. One learned step at a time". Just one low level opinion. Bill

paddling styles
Hi Matt,

Others have pointed out how much Doug has contributed to the renewal of Greenland style paddling. If you want the history of the move from the Euro/BBK/van Doren paddling style to the Stamer et al canted stroke, take a look at Greg’s chapter in John Heath’s book "Eastern Artic Kayaks. Great read–the whole book.

Personally, I started with a BBK paddle and the vanDoren tape. Made an easy transition from an AT Xception. After paddling with folks who used the canted stroke and a lot of reading, I moved to a more traditional blade and the canted stroke, which takes more of an adjustment as it really is quite different from Euro style. The angle issue is a red hearing. Many very good paddlers, Greg among them, don’t use a particularly low angle stroke or, better, vary the stroke from low to high depending on conditions/need all the while maintaining cant as appropriate. BTW, if you ever get a chance to paddle with Greg, he’s amazingly graceful in his use of the GP–I think of him as the Nigel Foster skinny stick paddling.

As an object lesson about the transition, should help make it clear that there’s nothing you can do with a Euro that you cant do with a GP.

Back to low versus high angle. Recalling the reason for the switch, many but perhaps not all GPers would agree (true Y/N?) that a canted low angle stroke will be much easier on your body. If you get a GP and use it like a Euro, your purpose as I understand it(high octane paddling with less stress on your tendons) will not be well served. Basically, you probably need to rebuild your stroke like Tiger Woods rebuilt his golf swing to see if it’ll help with tendonitis.



The wedding of palo
Just an observation-

Last week I saw the 1935 production by anthropologist Knud Rasmussen of “The Wedding of Palo”.

Great archival footage of greenlanders in their boats.

Of note to me was their paddling style- exceedingly vertical strokes. Also, no “stomach crunches”, but a lot of torso rotation is very apparent. The area it was filmed is in east greenland.

Certainly not conclusive evidence by any means, as Greenland paddling style likely varied regionally as much as the boat design.

I bet Greg, Cherri, Turner etc.
would show you what they have been taught and believe to be effective but they would also be open to another interpretation.

Hey, if you make your boat go effectively for many miles without injury ya must be doing OK eh?? Guy is onto something that makes him happy and works great for him…cool!

Maybe there is no “right way” only safe effective variations???

bingo Salty
there is no right way. Only safe and effective means to get there according to the individual paddler. Everything else is pure BS.


Thanks. Well looks like I stand corrected on Doug. Glad to hear it. I just was not sure for various reasons…I had heard so many bash on his “correct” stroke and could only find his video for sale on the Betsie Bay website…and he paddles a BB kayak and uses their paddle which most here it seems tend to say is “wrong” when it comes to GPs.

I guess I am always looking for the textbook “right” answer. This may be partly due to my type A personality and having spent my entire adult life in the military where there is always a text book answer to everything.

I am not fully sold on the GP yet, but am finding it to my liking in many ways. I am not looking to be a hard core Greenland type, but rather am looking for an effective tool that will help me to continue to enjoy this sport while reducing my paddling enduced injuries. Seems that the GP may help me in the regard.

As to right answers vs. what works for you…So far I prefer my Betsie Bay paddle over my Beale paddle. Seems that the consensus is that the BB paddles are not fully optimizing the advantages of the GP. Maybe true. I don’t know.

I will try a few others, but maybe Salty is right (yet again…) and I should go with what works for me.

Someone in one of my other posts suggested to skip the BB paddle as a “transition” paddle and go straight to a “true” GP. My goal here though is not necessarily to become a true Greenland Paddler but to find what works best for me. That is the desired endstate.

So, maybe I should be happy with the BB paddle. So far I like it and it works well for me (as for Doug apparently).

Am I getting a little off subject here? Maybe.


Don’t limit yourself
to only the Betsie Bay paddle and a Beale paddle. There are many variations of a greenland paddle that can offer much different performance. Keep trying different paddles. It’s almost a never ending journey.

sounds expensive

Just got done making the
take apart hybrid aleutian/gp paddle on the Tom Yost site. going to try it out tomorrow but expect that it will do well. Basically it is a GP on one side with a flat side on the other,

I also have a “true” Aleutian paddle that Greyak made for me that is a beaut with the pronounced ridge line on one side and very slight concave surface on the other that is quickly becoming my favorite paddle because of its versatility. For a real workout I use a woodwing paddle he also made that is a variation/combination of an aleutian with a wing. pretty weird looking wooden paddle but with proper technique as in a wing stroke it is very effective.

I have a Beale class GP and a Tuktu class GP both which I made at Delmarva the last two years that I really enjoy.

Point I am trying to make is yet again, they all work and part of the real fun is to try and figure out why certain paddles were designed the way they are. The different varieties are fascinating just as all the hunting gear is fascinating.

I may be wrong but wasn’t it Greg Stamer that made the comment that there are as many variations of a Greenland stroke as thee are Greenland paddlers?


Contradict what, Keith?
There’s nothing in your post that I would argue with. Moreover, the only issue I ever had with Doug Van Doren was with his claim that his method was the “true” Greenland stroke. Since he apparently no longer makes that claim, it’s all water under the bridge as far as I’m concerned.

I’m critical of the BBK paddle design, as it’s optimized for Doug’s technique, which makes it less versatile than more traditional designs. However, the BBK paddle/Van Doren technique combination moves a boat very effectively.

I have repeatedly said that I don’t know Doug nor have I paddled with him and I defer to people such as yourself when it comes to his skill, coaching ability, etc.

Yes, I agree that trying different paddles is the right idea.

So far I prefer the BB. I like its blade profile better than the beale, I think it fits me better, and I just prefer it to the beale’s loom.

I am going to try a Cricket paddle as well. I just ordered one (found someone who actually stocks them so there is no wait for a custom order)

Seems the Cricket paddles have a blade that is similar to the BB but with a more conventional loom and shoulder, but that is a little more square than the Beale.

I think the other challenge and variable here is finding the size you prefer.

Of course there is the textbook answer on that but I am not sure if that is what is best for me for various reasons.

I think having one that fits me right will make a big difference too.

That may be part of the reason I like the BB…you are not limited in hand spacing due to the loom length. I can space my hands however I like. Maybe I am just tending toward what is really my natural hand spacing.