Traditional Paddling and certification

First off, I am not trying to start the whole certification vs non-certification post all over again, this is a question for folks who use a traditional/greenland paddle and either have an interest in certification or have certified. But of course I can’t control the board and if you wanna start it all over again, you’re going to anyway.

But the question is, how many who have done certifications with the BCU/ACA have used a traditional paddle for their certification? Or if you used a modern paddle and you now use a greenland paddle more often, do you feel that the BCU training and assessment was an aide, or did it fail? Oh if you can mention the certification that you performed that would be great, as there is a great difference in the focus at least for BCU between say three star and four star.

how’s this for a rambling answer…
I did a BCU 3 star assessment last year (and the training along with it). Good times, BTW, with Shawna and Leon. I used my Epic Wayfarer.

Over the last few years I’ve switched back and forth between the GP and modern blade. The BCU assessment would be quite different with a GP (but I think you did it right?). I know there was a long thread on certification on the qajaqusa message board-very interesting. I still have yet to figure out what to do with my BCU patch and certificate. I almost pitched them yesterday, but for some reason stuck them back in the envelope and saved them (sorry off topic).

It seems to me that a BCU assessment could be done with a GP but I think the two forms of paddling are different enough to warrant a TQU (Traditional Qajaq Union, of course). I’m surprised that some enterprising Greenland style paddlers have yet to fill that niche.

BTW, My GP performed wonderfully last Saturday in spearing through the ice. Now I know why the Greenlanders used whale bone on tips and edges of there paddles. I had some minor damage-but nothing that can’t be easily repaired. I’m going to beef up the epoxy along the edge just a bit too.

The Greenland style braces are so different from a modern paddle brace that it seems that the BCU assessor would have to be knowledgeable in both paddling styles to asses a Greenland style Paddler. Add to that, the chest scull and balance brace, etc. There is a whole repertoire of moves (not that I can do them) that the BCU won’t even touch.

Getting back to your original question; the BCU training/assessment with the modern paddle has provided me with some benefit even now that I am back to the GP. The benefit for me is that after the training my boat control improved greatly. I’ve learned to explore the edges of my kayak. This has really opened up a whole new world to me and the edges (leaning and edging) don’t change depending on what paddle you use. But, without the BCU training and assessment I would have not discovered this new zone. Of course, I’ve known for a long time that I could edge and lean to turn but the training as provided by Leon and Shawna really helped me to explore this at a much more intense level. I may well do some BCU 4 training in the future, with GP or not, just to move my paddling skills up a notch. I’m sure, again, that the skills would translate to better boat control and more comfort in bigger seas.


You’ll find a good deal of resistance to such a thing among Greenland style paddlers I think. The subject of a skills program under the QajaqUSA banner has been raised on QajaqUSA before.

There is no “one” or “right” way in traditional skills. Just things that work (to varying degree) or don’t (and thankfully most of those have been weeded out by generations of Inuit who paid with their lives to). What works is not quite the same for everyone.

Learning is not just replication. It is also integration and adaptation.

Trying to codify Greenland skills into an assessable format risks turning it into some sort of commercialized shadow of it’s former self. A “McQajaqing” cookie cutter reinvention of the original. Standardizing these skills can distort and limit what may be learned to whatever the “system” has laid out.

Greenlanders do things differently. They have gear and techniques that vary from place to place and from person to person. Why shouldn’t we?

Greenland skills present a path, not a destination. Broadening and deepening skills in many possible ways - not some standardized checklist leading to a “5 Seal” rating or a “4 Walrus” Master Instructor certification.

Could a program be put together? Sure. Probably a pretty decent one with logical progressions and such. I hope it never happens in that way. With the growth of interest in traditional skills and equipment it may be inevitable, and there are some good points in the idea, but IMO the traditional teaching methods are effective, flexible and more appropriate.

Would I like to see more options/venues for Greenland style instruction and sharing? Yes. Certifications? No. To me that would be marketing something we do not own in a way that contributes nothing and potentially loses a lot.

I agree 100% with you

– Last Updated: Dec-05-04 11:06 PM EST –

Greenland style kayaking is 1000 years ahead of the BCU. It's more of an art form in many ways. Just get all of your BCU stars then paddle however you want. There's no need for the BCU to quantify Greenland kayaking skills. I for one hope they never start doing it.

read the post above
that wasn’t the question.

Reply was to johns913…

– Last Updated: Dec-06-04 12:07 AM EST –

...not you Keith. A reply to a reply. Open forum, remember?

But OK, back to your question (as best I can):

I don't think limiting your question to those already assessed - while I understand why you did - will get you much in the way of useful answers. Your asking people already through it and who have likely already made peace with whichever way they did it. All will no doubt have benefited in some way.

I had dinner with over a dozen paddlers tonight (going away party for friends) including some instructors (two who have been to the Greenland comps) who are very much into GPs, as were most in attendance. Various courses and people who had taken what with GP/Euro and what instructor(s) came up during conversation. Several mentioned having to re-learn euro for various portions of training. Some used both, switching back and forth for various sections. Maybe some of them will reply - but I don't think they hang out on the boards.

The main thing I picked up from everyone there on this subject is: Instructors vary considerably in their knowledge and acceptance/allowance of GPs and any technique variances appropriate to them.

Things are changing, but in different ways and at different speeds in different areas. That's why I don't think you can get much in the way of universally meaningful answers. Maybe some more interesting stories though. That would be good to read too.

Your question (or at least the broader GP/instruction issue) has a lot of interest for folks like me who use GP - and want to advance our skills. I would definitely want to use my GP for any courses. You just posed the question in a way that I could not answer though, so I didn't.

johns913 raised a point I could discuss - and so did.

The irritation you showed in your reply about my post not answering your question just reinforces my distrust of regimentation/structures/limits, and the need to maintain the more open approach to learning Greenland skills I posted about.

It all relates.

Tell me what YOU think in YOUR posts Keith (that's interesting), not what you think I should post (that's out of line - even in a thread you started).

Same to me as the "TQU" thing, and certifiation in general. Folks can tell me how they paddle (very interesting), not how to paddle (which is partly how I'm coming to view the various certification programs, but not instruction in general).

“It seems to me that a BCU assessment could be done with a GP but I think the two forms of paddling are different enough to warrant a TQU (Traditional Qajaq Union, of course). I’m surprised that some enterprising Greenland style paddlers have yet to fill that niche.”

Tell you the what, I think some are trying to do exactly that. But, like the ACA to BCU thing.

Another martial arts story. Can’t help since the parallels are there about skills develop, mindset and possible life and death based on that. I love the Flipino martial arts (weapons work leading to hand to hand, as opposed to mostly the other way around). The FMAs are very much still “alive” because the home it comes from is still very much in strife. Good skills means the practitioner live and others… well. But, in this country, not surprisingly, there are efforts to “codify” various FMA styles. Frankly, it satisfies folks here who need to feel that they are progressing and certification/ranking does that. Back in the Phillipines anyone can start a style, you just have to be good and willing and able to prove it in “real life.”

Anyway, there is this guy I trained with on and off. Guy knew my background and never claimed to my teacher. He knew I just wanted to train and that I trained in a lot of different things. We get along well. No hassle. I went to one his classes after a year had passed. By then he had a “right hand” student. This kid, being the “right hand man”, young and full of himself took it to himself to make the most minor corrections in my stances or whatever. I could just see that “patronizing attitude” in his demeanor. Anyway, end of the class, folks put on the equipment and did some stick sparring. Me having a background and “right hand man” being the most senior student were paired together. I lit his head up, left and right. His helmet was like a drum. I didn’t get the same treatment again from him in class. Proof is in the pudding. BTW, I have been lit up myself by others in other schools and settings. All part of the training. You see, most systems have a framework to train and develop skills but there is a lot of leeway to develop individual styles based on individual physical and mental traits within a style as well as across styles.

I see TQU like I what I see is happening with FMAs in a western environment. Seems desirable for folks in this milieu. Some can and will implement such a structure. Structures are good things to bring folks up. But, don’t confuse it as being the one and only way.

I think my rambling analogy may be relevant. Maybe not.


Non dogma has merit
I have zip background in greenland style and zip in martial arts, save for my freshman year in college having a black belt room mate who used me as a practice dummy every time I returned!

I think one of the better things for me to do as I get older is to resist getting dogmatic, it is so easy to do. So I like to hear people disagree on things, shakes up my brain. Good to see that there is wide range of ideas in any group, community, and that different cultures see things in other ways as well.

I think what I am trying to ask is
from folks who have had training, and maybe this relates to all formal instruction whether sanctioned by some governing body or not, (aca/bcu); if they felt that modern paddling instruction informed their use of the traditional/greenland techniques for paddling, including sea kayaking, canoeing, white water or surf. Or if they felt that traditional paddling only informs modern paddling. Is the dialog between the disciplines really one way, or is the interpretations, or for lack of a better word prejudices held by the paddlers that making the dialog one way? I am genuinely interested in the answer to the question I posted, because I don’t know the answer, not because I don’t want to tell you what I think. I know what I think, I was interested in what other people think.

And to Greyak, or anyone else, I am not trying to dictate your response, or control it, but I am asking a specific question, and if you miss the point of the post, I felt it within my rights to point out that fact, but of course if you want to hijack it and rehash the same three-five arguements we have here all over again go ahead.

the short of it is
that you didn’t have experience directly related to the question, but felt you wanted to comment anyway.

Why is that funny?..

"It seems to me that a BCU assessment could be done with a GP but I think the two forms of paddling are different enough to warrant a TQU (Traditional Qajaq Union, of course). I’m surprised that some enterprising Greenland style paddlers have yet to fill that niche."

Quoting myself above. Actually, I don’t advocate any type of Greenland certification. But, the possibility is within reason. I was really just trying to round out my answer to Keith-which got things off track somewhat. Sorry about that Keith.


Very nicely put, Greyak
I agree completely.

As I’ve said before…
…there is value in training (it’s the value of certification that’s questionable). However, it’s up to the student to determine what works best for his chosen equipment and physical abilities. For example, I took a Nigel Foster “Wind and Waves” class with a GP. There were definitely areas where the techniques he teaches were less effective with a GP than a Euro paddle - at least when executed as he demonstates - but the underlying prinicples of his method are still quite useful. It’s all about using the wind and water movement in conjunction with an understanding of the dynamics of a moving boat to aid turning in the desired manner. You work WITH the elements and let them do much of the work for you, rather than AGAINST them. That basic understanding transcends differences in equipment.

The same can be true with any training, as long as the trainee’s gear preferences and physical abilities are taken into account and he/she is not forced into some predetermined mold of what’s proper technique. There is no “one way” with either paddle type. You won’t see much of what Nigel Foster teaches in the BCU handbook, but it works beautifully and it’s arguably a better approach.

Being dogmatic is simpler

– Last Updated: Dec-06-04 9:52 AM EST –

Teaching by imitation and repetition (rote learning) is easier on the instructor, as there is nothing to think about. There are no variables. You teach one way and that's it. If the student performs the skill the the same, they pass. If not, they fail. Black and white.

On the other hand, an instructor who is non-dogmatic can be far more effective, as they can help a student who cannot learn or perform in the prescribed manner to achieve the same goal through a different path. However, this requires observation, insight and analytical thinking, which is considerably more difficult for the instructor and requires a different mindset, and probably more experience. It's a vast gray area. Sing's story of the "right hand man" is a perfect illustration of this.

It's also much simpler to put dogma into a concise textbook. It's far more difficult to create a manual that delves into the multitude of variables in the physical and psychological makeup of students, not to mention differences in equipment. For that reason, codified instructions and methods should be viewed as a starting point, not an end in themselves. Rigid interpretation of the text leads to disention, disagreement and is a disservice to students.

You Called It…

– Last Updated: Dec-06-04 10:08 AM EST –

I say give it five years. Someone will be offering a "certified" Greenland program. While there is currently no such thing in Greenland, you'll see it enacted in the western paddling communities. For all the good and bad reasons I have stated here and elsewhere. Eventually, the "demand" of such a system may well end up in a "reverse" cultural adoption/adaptation in Greenland itself. This has been the trend in other indigenous pursuits that have developed a "western" following.

There is no stopping it. Some, like me, will simply not participate in it.


I think Nigel’s classes
are a perfect example where there is an exchange between the two, or as you put it where there is a transparency, or irrelevancy concerning the two disciplines. Really it is more about paddling than about the paddle. I wonder why there aren’t more of these types of instructors and classes?

a slightly more direct response

Sorry to see your well-defined question turn into another anti-certificationfest. I don’t strictly fit the profile for respondents (and so far neither do any of the other responders) but I do come quite a bit closer to a match than many of those that have responded so far. I planned to respond to you via email because I don’t match your defined profile and do not wish to publicize my certifications in this public forum, but I felt compelled to respond when I saw the thread move towards the old anti-certification theme.

I’ve been using both GP & Euro’s since ‘99. I must admit that while I found the GP very interesting during my early years I chose to learn to come to terms with Euro technique first because I was impressed with the depth and well-defined progression of the BCU system. Since Greenland is so loosely codified here, anything goes, while on the Euro-side there is nothing to hide behind. You either learn to come to grips with a Euro technique or your progress through the system slows to a halt. As I near my final Euro-style skills and teaching certifications, having based the foundation of my skills on the Euro technique, I will assess for these final certifications with a Euro stick.

What I think the general public misses is that Euro-training isn’t about the paddle or strokes optimized for that paddle but rather it’s a system of learning designed to teach skills that translate to all styles and all disciplines of paddling. Just as there are stroke modifications that take better advantage of the Greenland-sticks there are similar but different stroke modifications that take better advantage of the Euro-shovels. Neither other of these equipment-specific modifications are part of the Euro teaching system because the system isn’t about equipment solutions but rather about building solid equipment-independent and non discipline-specific skills.

Since I am a avid student of all of paddling I also carve my own GP’s, built a couple of traditional style boats and regularly paddle Greenland style when I’m not teaching Euro or involved in higher-end training (5*-ish). I am also deeply involved in teaching Greenland style technique and rolling up to intermediate-level to Greenland aficionados and Greenland-curious Euro paddlers. I carry 3 paddles when I’m out for a day paddle - a Euro split on the back deck (a spare for others), a hand carved 7’ GP and a 6’ Storm paddle. My modified Norsaq is with me every-time I launch a boat, period, no-exceptions. Lastly, I am an avid student of the Greenland capsize maneuvers and practice and train twice a week in an effort to learn to perform each and every of the 30 Greenland capsize maneuvers. I paddle with notable Greenland paddlers often enough to keep me working hard on these skills throughout the year.

These days I paddle Greenland 80% of the time and Euro 20% of the time, not necessarily because I think the GP is a superior tool but because I’m studying Greenland skills to further my overall paddling knowledge and skills,. Given my background I’m loathe to understand why so many people on the GP-side are so religiously anti-Euro, except that I now believe that the most-vocal anti-Euro’s are people that do not respond well to structured learning systems and possibly their bitch is about the system rather than the content.

I believe that my Euro training has allowed me to learn about paddling in the most efficient manner and afforded me a foundation of skills that translate very well into all other paddling disciplines. My extensive training has produced solid foundation skills that have served me well when I trained for WW as well as when I got “back” into Greenland paddling. At this point I can move between the camps without so much as a moments stumble, switching from GP to Euro and back. BTW my Euro’s are feathered at 60-75°.

I hope this response is close to what you were looking for. If not I apologize for clogging the bandwidth. I have little doubt that this post will generate few responses since it’s not about certifications per-se but rather about the skills. The anti-certification crowd doesn’t want to talk about skills, they just seem to want to tear down a system that they don’t understand and have no personal knowledge about. Such is life, some things will never change.

FWIW, notable Euro-style instructors that embrace GP technique include Leone Somme, Shawna Franklin, Steve Maynard & our own Steve Scherrer and many of his gang of high-end west coast paddlers.



I will not list my training and certifications here but many that read this BB know my Euro training and cert’s to be extensive.


– Last Updated: Dec-06-04 11:44 AM EST –

I am turned off by "dogmatic" folks on either side of GP/Euro divide.

I like talking about "skills" but in context of paddling venues and not in context of certification.

I approach paddling like I approach my martial arts training. When folks talk about certification, styles, their teachers etc, ad nauseum, my eyes start to roll over. When folks talk about skills and mindsets and, better yet, are able to relate these to where they are actually used and needed, then I am way interested.


come on out west!
we teach all of our courses with whatever paddle you want to use. We even have a fleet of loaner GP’s.

A paddle offers motivation and support. Figuring it out with different styles and techniques builds a good all-around paddler.

I took my BCU 5* training using a GP and had no problems. results were more important than actual technique. I find I can do just about anything with either GP or Euro.


with all due respect . .

– Last Updated: Dec-06-04 11:52 AM EST –

You are the exception to many rules. I suspect your martial arts training goes back decades, affording you a sense of body awareness that is off the chart and so you do not fit the profile that the structured learning systems are designed to teach to.

Your approach and your suggestions that other people take a similar non-structured, just-get-out-there-and-do-it approach doesn't work for many of the middle-aged, non-physical, sendentary-lifestyle people for whom the structured programs are designed. Your words ring true for some and fuel the anti-establishment fire for others but do not speak to or for a large percentage of the still-developing paddling population.

Why is it so hard to take your often repeated "live and let live" approach to those that *do* benefit from working from within a structured program? I certainly agree with you that no "school of learning" can take anyone all the way to true mastery but for many people structured learning it is a quick and efficient method of skills acquisition up to and including an advanced level of skill.

The point has always been about practical application of skills acquired, it's not the structured side of the argument that works against this. The argument isn't greenland vs euro it's structured learning vs unstructured learning. The greenland side says that codification/ certification is at the core of the problem. The euro side says that codification/certification isn't perfect but is more effective than nothing.

"I approach paddling like I approach my martial arts training. When folks talk about certification, styles, their teachers etc, ad nauseum, my eyes start to roll over. When folks talk about skills and mindsets and, better yet, are able to use the skills where they are actually used and needed, then I am way interested."

Do people really have a choice? If we are to talk about these things then we need some common frame of reference from which to base our discussion. How else would you know the difference between people that just "talk the talk" and people with real-world experience and practical skills?

cheers, (the classic now-non-demoninational but formerly british-style paddling salute)