On Greenland Paddles

Now, at the risk of absolutely inflaming some GP users, I want to pose some questions and thoughts. We have all seen the praise the ancient design incurs, and indeed many people here have taken to them so much as to use them all but exclusively. I have seen the limitations acknowledged by various users of said instruments, though in general the praises seem to outweigh the negatives.

That said, it seems to me that the most likely driving force behind the innovation of the Greenland Paddle was “parts availability.” Which is to say, they made their paddles long and narrow because they had to. I mean, it could take them years to scrounge enough proper wood to create the kayak, and I don’t think there were many “Camano” shaped pieces of driftwood floating up. Add to that the inability to laminate together pieces of wood as modern technology allows, and you can see why they went long and narrow. In fact, it wasn’t only Greenlanders. If you look at European oars, you see the same thing: Long narrow blades whose width didn’t exceed the stock they were carved from.

That said, I’m not implying that the Greenlanders didn’t stumble onto a magic formula for an advanced paddle. But I do wonder if perhaps the development of an even more ideal paddle is being hindered by adherence to Greenlandic tradition.

To some extent, this has already happened. For example, laminated GP’s are relatively common, and one could make a strong argument that a laminated GP is superior to the traditional one piece construction. Same could be said for the Carbon GPs. But they all revolve around the same basic design. But I’m not talking about making an old design with new technology. I’m talking about taking that old design to the next level. A level that the Greenlanders of old weren’t able to reach, because their technology wouldn’t allow them.

About now you’re saying to yourself: “Yeah, they did that. It’s called a euro paddle, but we went back to GPs anyway.” Fair enough. Maybe in the design of the euro they ignored too much of the accumulated knowledge of traditional paddlers. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some middle ground. Perhaps a paddle with GP handling characteristics, but euro “bite” is possible. You know, a more pronounced GP with a blade that ends six to seven inches wide rather than three or four inches. (Or maybe it’s already being done, and I’m just a fool who doesn’t know about it…)

So here it is: Is the GP capable of being improved upon, or will any serious modifications ruin the traits that make it so enamoring? Is it possible to widen the thing up as modern technology will allow, or is it a pointless endeavor? I see sometimes where a GP user will say that he has trouble going back to a euro, so I think at least a wide GP could maintain commonality for uses where good acceleration is important, like in the surf.

But what do regular users of GP’s think on the subject? Is this an area that needs to be explored, or are all your needs already being addressed by the market? Feel free to rip the post to shreds, use it as a diving board, call me a jack ass, whatever. I’m just curious as to whether people really think the GP is the penultimate paddle, or whether there is room for improvement.

means “next to the last”. it doesn’t mean “really, honestly the ultimate”, which is the way it seems to get used on this board. so there would have to be something better.

yours in english language nazi-dom,


Use the right tool for the job
Many who read and post to this board are craftsmen as well as paddlers and they can tell you that no one tool on their pegboard will do everything. There’s always the right tool to do one job that may not accomplish another.

I think the same holds true with paddles, whether it’s a GP, Euro, storm, etc.

I prefer the GP for many reasons discussed at length on this board in the past, but a couple of weeks ago, I was paddling upriver and we came to a short stretch of rapids. The buddy I was with dug in with his Euro and blasted through while I paddled my ass off and felt like I was on a treadmill. Fortunately I had a Euro as a spare and switched. The point is the Euro was the right tool for this application…of course when we turned back and paddled downriver, I switched back to the GP.


give them all a try
I had many of your same thoughts when I started exploreing different paddles. I have made and tried many different styles of inuit paddles which range from wide blades like the euro paddle to narrow greenland paddles. Each style has a specific use with pros and cons but I just find the greenland paddle made from Chuck Holst plans to suite my needs best. You need to give these paddles a try. If you desire a paddle that is good for braceing, sculling , rolling and ease of stress on body joints I don’t think it can be beat. There are many different styles of greenland paddles and I don’t like them all. You just have to keep trying different ones until you find the one that suites you needs.

Custom paddle
I agree with the narrower GP I used in the past with regards to lack of bite but we shouldn’t forget that making the GP too wide will result in changes that must be made in hand positions during sculling,etc.

I had Don Beale make me a paddle that ended up 1/2" wider at the tip (4 1/4") with a stiff loom that gives me plenty of speed yet still allows me to grip the paddle the same. The Mitchell blade I had been using up till then at 3 3/4" wide was comfortable but not speedy.

Perhaps just customizing your paddle a little bit regarding the width would help you as it helped me.

Most of the proposed improvements

– Last Updated: Mar-18-05 9:35 AM EST –

change some of the good design features.

Break it down into the parts.

TIPS: Changing the tips to be wider or more spooned makes it so that the blade can't be gripped easily from any part of the paddle.

Blades: same thing, changing the blade to be bigger or wider, or more concave like a euro makes it so that the paddle is hard to grip for rolling, bracing and sculling.

Loom/Shaft: changing this makes it so that there is ineffecient indexing, such as the Betsie Bay Paddles, (greyak must be loving this).

The paddle is really more than the sum of it's parts, the reason why it works so well is that it is simple.
If you try and change one part it's just not the same. For analogy, if you remove the edge from U2, you have a very clunky rhythm section with an overzealous obnoxious frontman, and if you remove larry and adam, you have to over intellectual artsy/fartsy showmen with no soul. You see what I mean? The paddle is more than the sum of it's parts, it is its parts, plus how they all work together.

However there are other traditional paddles that are not from greenland that have different characteristics and benefits, I would try Harvey Golden's website for details.

Sometimes there are things that people do that just make sense, and tinkering with it F*%ks it up. Like americans wanting Guinness Lite, what's the point?

A Toksook paddle might be considered such a hybrid. Bear in mind that increasing the blade size of a GP type paddle while maintaining the cross section that provides lift will result in a heavy paddle.

lol nice U2 analogy
…although I slightly disagree about Bono having no soul. :slight_smile:

It’s not just the shape/design of the paddle. It’s how you use it (Where have I heard that before?). The Greenland paddle used with a canted stroke has to be taken into consideration. It’s not a stroke that comes naturally and takes a while to develop. To me the canted stroke adds that extra power missing from a standard paddle stroke.

Reference this site http://www.qajaqusa.org/

Greenland paddles
>That said, it seems to me that the most likely driving force behind the innovation of the Greenland Paddle was “parts availability.” Which is to say, they made their paddles long and narrow because they had to.

There is a materials limitation, but it deals primarily with the thinness that you can make a solid-wood paddle – not so much the width. There is a common misconception that Greenland paddles were cobbled together from twigs. In many areas of the arctic, such as West Greenland, huge logs of driftwood from Siberian rivers arrive on the coast. These logs were then split to a managable size. You will find very wide blades used for the umiak paddles in Greenland. It doesn’t take much technology to fit a wide blade to a slotted paddle shaft. Paddles in the arctic vary widely. Some of the variations are shown on Harvey Golden’s website at http://www.traditionalkayaks.com/Kayakreplicas/Paddles.html .

A “Greenland” paddle must be tuned to fit your body and your kayak. If too wide, then you will not be able to slide your hand on the blade. This extension allows you to extend as little or as much of the blade as necessary. In other words, you have almost an “infinite” range of “gearing”.

Regarding bite, this depends largely on fine technique. Poor forward stroke technique with a GP results in poor results. Although this can be said of all paddles, I think the GP is more sensitive to forward stroke technique, although is less sensitive of technique for sculling, rolling, etc. Please note that it is very easy to make a Greenland paddle too long and too wide resulting in a paddle that is very difficult to “push” through the water.

Maligiaq Padilla uses a GP that measures under 3" in width. He tried wider paddles but found the change of cadence and resistance resulted in slower speeds for him. YMMV. This is where the paddle needs to fit the kayak, engine and the application. I know at least one Greenlander who uses a paddle that is about 5" in width.

There is a lot of sophistication in the Greenland paddle design, and it is easy to obliterate many of these design features by well-meaning “improvements”. That said, feel free to experiment – the Greenlanders certainly do. They experiment with longer/shorter/wider/thinner paddles, paddles with rounded blade edges, paddles with very sharp blade edges and more.

Regarding laminated paddles – IMO this is a materials availabilty problem. But it is OUR availability problem (it is getting tougher to find high-quality lumber). A solid, quartersawn paddle is generally lighter than a laminated one – unless you start getting into features such as a hollow loom, etc. Each layer of glue adds weight. Since the grain of a (quarter-sawn) solid GP is oriented in the proper direction for the stress, there is little benefit to laminating the wood grain in different orientations, except for the tips. Quartersawn tips can split. I don’t have any “problem” with laminated GPs, but don’t assume that just because a GP is laminated, that it is somehow “superior”.

I think the carbon Greenland paddles are great. My only problem with them is that, although the shoulders, loom shape and paddle shape is excellent, I prefer a slighter longer loom. Too bad I can’t just go at the loom with a file like I do with my cedar paddles… :wink:

Greg Stamer

well he has a soul,
but in the band analogy, that’s how I put it.

They appeal to hot-rodders
I’m not a fan of wood, but I like the low cost and ease of modification. My current gp is undergoing its third rebuild, and I can’t wait to see how it affects my paddling. I lightened it, accentuated the diamond shape and will re-inforce the tips with epoxy or 'glass, as soon as I stop dithering about it. I may even shorten it a bit, given Greg’s advice above.

The shaft on my gp is made of two pieces of clear spruce, splined on the sides and inlaid with more spruce. This makes for a very light but strong paddle, as the grains run every which-way. (A bear to plane though…)

I dont think theres anything inflammatory about your post. I do think, if you want to compare paddles of old, that you should include the Kodiak, King Island, and various single-bladed paddles made by Inuit over the centuries. These show clearly that they were quite capable of making blades as wide as they wished.

My own experience with the GP started from knowing nothing - I think Id seen a picture of one once, I knew it was long and skinny. The first attempt was… Well… I sold it at a garage sale for $5 to a lady who wanted to use it for a curtain rod :slight_smile: And when I tried it I hated it, it wasnt a very good paddle. But I gave it a second try, thinking I hadnt evaluated it fairly, and saw what I had to change. I made another paddle, and repeated the process. I had made 8 or 9 paddles before I saw Holst’s plans, and by then I had come to the same conclusions.

I changed widths, lengths, thickness profiles, edges, shoulder and tip shapes, until I had paddles I liked. So Im quite comfortable with the shape I have. Id suggest to anyone to do the same - carve several paddles and change the things you see fit to change, and evaluate the differences for yourself.

We really know little about ancestral Inuit, there isnt much evidence. Thus its unreasonable to assume that they did this or didnt do that for whatever reason. Based on my own experience, I think that the GP is shaped as it is because thats the shape that works best. And as others have pointed out, if you arent happy with yours then its either a technique issue or its a paddle that doesnt fit you and your boat as well as it could. Try a canted stroke technique. Try a wing technique. Try changing your grip positions on it, opening or closing up the loom length to find what is comfortable. The neat thing about a GP is its versatility - it isnt limited to one stroke mechanic. ANd have fun! -Don

Great responses!
I’m really enjoying Harvey Golden’s site, there really is a ton of info there. Some of those GP variations are very interesting.

The consensus seems to be that a GP’s magic lays in the balance of its design features and how they can be refined to individual users. Which is exactly what I was asking; whether or not there may be a more optimum configuration? I suppose the real answer is that there is no “one” optimum setup, but rather that a GP is great because you can tune it to such an extent.

That is a common myth
many people have offered to me suggesting the only reason the Inuits made skinny paddles was because they only had narrow pieces of driftwood to work with.As Greg noted they did use wider paddles for the Umiaks but if in doubt go to the library and draw out some books on Inuit art,tools and artifacts and you will see examples of brilliant craftmanship,nice wooden boxes,harpoons with quick release shafts and locking points,bird spears with secondary hooks on the shaft,etc.If they wanted wide paddles they would have made them,no problem.They were amazing craftsmen especially considering it was bitter cold ten months of the year then two months of black flies to enjoy before winter set back in.As the other posters have eloquently put it,they made them that way because thats what worked.



I agree with your conclusion

– Last Updated: Mar-18-05 8:44 PM EST –

I like traditional gear and I have tremendous faith that if I use it as it was intended it will do me well.

Harvey has an excellent collection of boats and gear. Notice that each new replica comes along with it's replica paddle. A greenland paddle is not the right gear for a lot of his kayaks. With his latest addition, the Koryak, he's finding the hand paddles to be of choice.

I liked GPs right off the start but I didn't truly understand how sweet they were until I built a real Greenland kayak. Like fly fishing, a balanced outfit is the key.

And as the Olde Inuit said, the Inuit were quite the craftsman (and women), if they needed it they built it. They were very good at joining wood/wood or wood/bone.

“That said, it seems to me that the most likely driving force behind the innovation of the Greenland Paddle was “parts availability.” Which is to say, they made their paddles long and narrow because they had to.”

–Sorry if this is redundant, I have not read all the replies to your post. Your point is one that others bring up as well. And it makes sense until you see the size of the logs that roll up onto the shores in Greenland. Now, I have not been to Greenland. But, people that have tell me that some huge trees come in on the coast. I have been amazed at the size of some of trees that are thrown on shore in Lake Superior. If you have ever seen anything like that-it would be easy to understand that the Greenlanders could have chosen just about any design for the paddle (at least from a source availability standpoint).