Shoulders or No Shoulders for Greenland Paddle?

I notice that most Greenland Paddles are made with shoulders. Gearlab made a model without, and have a new model coming out with shoulders. Which do you prefer and why?

I’ve made and used both. I prefer no shoulders because I tend to move my hands depending on the activity.

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I have both shouldered and no shoulder GPs. I prefer the shoulder which serves as indexing. However, I usually only paddle the GP on long paddles or for roll practice/play. The slide stroke has never been an issue for me when using a shouldered GP.

I have used a GP for ~15 years. Many of those years with a Lumpy shouldered paddle. About 5 years ago, I started using a shoulder-less and prefer it now. Your hands will know where to go, regardless of the shoulders.

If looking for a Carbon Fiber GP, look at the Gram 9100D. It is a 2 piece GL paddle and feels much better than a Gearlab. The Gram weighs only 19oz’s has a slightly oval loom and soft shoulders. It feels much more natural, than a GearLab. I have had a few GL-s over the years, and sold them all. The Gram 9100D is now my go to paddle. Umingmaq sells the Gram GPs in the USA. Small dealer who is basically a one man show. Super nice guy.

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I have made several of them now for myself and for several friends. Most prefer the shoulders but for me, I prefer the shoulderless style. I have used both and I like both,---- but I like the shoulderless a bit more.

Thanks @Medawgone, would you believe a friend showed me the 9100 paddle this weekend and highly recommended it? He had the 3 piece, that can break down into a storm paddle by removing the center. I think that’s the 9100T. I like the soft shoulders, and the fact that the material still has some traction. I gather you consider the soft shoulders pretty much like a no-shoulder paddle. I found the shoulders smooth enough to slide my hand over them easily.

My only worry is that the Gram Kajak paddle doesn’t have durable replaceable tips - the paddle is fully carbon fiber to the tip.

Would you suggest the 2 piece D or the 3 piece T, and why?

My friend also mentioned that he had owned 4-5 Gearlab paddles and that all developed problems, including taking on water.

Thank you @szihn, what did you make them out of? Western red cedar? If so, have any tips to share for a first time paddle builder?

I just tried the Gram Kajak paddle that @Medawgone recommended and it’s as smooth as using a shoulderless paddle in terms of ease of sliding your hands over the soft shoulders. It’s possible if you mimicked the shoulder angle on that paddle on the paddles you make that you could have the best of both worlds.

KayakingOtter getting red cedar here in the middle of Wyoming requires a special order and is very costly, so I have made all mine from either Ponderosa pine or Poplar. My friend Len has made several from Sassafras and they were wonderful. SUPER springy. In the old days Sassafras was used to make wagon springs and so it’s nearly impossible to break and yet is light and floats well.
Tip for building?
Well, the use of a chalk line to mark the centers of both sides and the edges too is the one thing that has made it pretty easy. I snap the lines and then use a straight edge to mark over those lines with an ink marker so I don’t rub them off in the building process. Layout should be done with precision, and I work to the lines but overall it’s fairy simple and straight forward for GL style paddles. Ribbed Aleut paddles take a lot longer. In fact I’d say a ribbed paddle takes be about 2X as long to make . I work with hand tools to earn my living and have done so for over 1/2 a century, so I am fairly quick at it compared to some folks that do hand work as a hobby only. But I think anyone can do a good job if they don’t try to rush. Take the time it takes to do good work and never hurry. Just do it right one time and you’ll not need to do it 2 times to be happy.
Aleut paddle by Steve Zihn, on Flickr
Aleut paddle 3 by Steve Zihn, on Flickr
PB180001 (1) by Steve Zihn, on Flickr
GL Paddles by Steve Zihn, on Flickr

The two piece is all I need. I do not travel enough, to warrant the three piece. Plus I have a few storm paddles, that I already own. I also have a 2 piece wood paddle, with a Gearlab ferrule. It is my back up in the surf zone.

I have a friend who has both the 9100 and the 9000 Gram. He uses the 9000 in the winter when wearing gloves. The larger shoulders of 9000, are easier for him to grip the paddle with bulky gloves.

I had a friend destroy a Gearlab Kalleq recently in the surf. Snapped the tip off where it is screwed on. Ripping the screws and threads out. He is trying to see if Gearlab will replace the paddle. Doubtful, since I sold it to him second hand. I used it 4-5 times, before selling it to him, last year. Have not heard the results yet.

I’ve been using and enjoying Greenland paddles for a long time (always shouldered). I used an Aleut once and didn’t care for it. Does the Aleut paddle do anything better than the GP? I’m just trying to understand the appeal. Thanks.

If you’re new to using a Greenland paddle, I suggest starting with a shouldered version. The shoulders position your hands properly and are also very helpful when learning the canted stroke, as the pressure from your fingers wrapped around the shoulders naturally cants the paddle. Once you’ve learned the basic GP stroke mechanics - which are quite different from a Euro paddle - they’ll transfer to a shoulderless paddle if decide to try one. In the end, it’s a personal preference.


Almost all homemade Greenland paddles are one piece. The advantage of a one piece paddle is lighter weight and easier fabrication. The advantage of a two or three piece Greenland paddle is easier storage and transport. Multipiece paddles tend to be more expensive as well.

Shouldered or not comes down to personal preference as @bnystron said.

I forgot to mention that if you start out with a wooden paddle, you can always modify or remove the shoulders, or make other changes to help determine what works best for you. If you drop big bucks on a carbon fiber paddle right off the bat, you’re stuck with the shape, like it or not. Honestly, I don’t know anyone who uses a GP that hasn’t tried several shapes before they found their “perfect” configuration.


I have made just a few so not an expert. I like the last one I made where the shoulders are not real pronounced but are there to help you get your hands in a good position to cant the paddle for the forward stroke. I made a quick video of surfing an SOT with this paddle, but the lighting does not give a good impression of the shape of the shoulders.


My preference is for shoulderless. I find my grip on the edges of the GP is sufficient for “orienting” the cant of the blade. Playiing in the “rough”, I like that shoulderless allows my hands to slide effortlessly/unconsciously to where I need to grip the GP as needed in the moment.

As much I mostly surf with a Euro paddle, I actually mostly paddle with a GP (the longer cedar one) when paddling my SOT Scupper Pro (15’x26"). The GP is great for rolling a wider SOT. If my technique is off, I can go for a second attempt with the extended paddle. The lift of the extended paddle is huge. Have never blown an extended paddle roll with the SOT yet (of course I just jinxed myself).


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That’s what I refer to as “soft shoulders”. I made my second paddle like that, but ultimately went back to more pronounced shoulders. Again, it’s just personal preference.

I’m one of those exceptions: Made the transition from a euro blade (Boreal Designs, OrcaXL) to a graphite GP made by Superior Kayaks, which has shoulders. Tried a friend’s wood GP, and thought that GP was the way to go. That was 20 years, and never regretted the decision.

Here you go, fun vid of someone surfing with a Mega Bullit IC and Gearlab GP:


Thank you for the referral of both the Gram Kajak paddle and Umingmaq. My 9000D arrived today and it is a very nice piece of kit! Matt at Uminmaq was outstanding to deal with and I recommend him if you need anything he sells. I hope to give the paddle a trial in the next couple of days.

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Glad you had a good experience. I am getting ready to order two more Gram GPs shortly. One will stay in my other vehicle. I also am getting my father a 225cm, for when he paddles his WS Pungo or CD Kestral. His 220cm is a tad narrow, for the wider rec boats. I know you will enjoy the paddles. Good Luck.