Why Greenland Style Paddles?

So I’m new to kayaking, only been out on the water a dozen times, and I was wondering whats the deal with Greenland Paddles?

It seems to me that a modern paddle would weigh less and be more efficient.

So I was just wondering if someone could give me the 411 on the benefits of the greenland style paddle.

Thanks for your expertise!!!

Form Factor
The GP has an extensive technique associated with it. Most of said technique revolves around the shape of the paddle and the subsequent attributes. Specifically, many find it more tactile and maneuverable for a variety of traditional Greenland maneuvers. Additionally, those attracted to the traditional aspect of the sport find the GP alluring from that perspective.

That is a simplified answer. Invariably, you’re gonna get a bunch of GP users expound on the many advantages they experience with a GP whenever you ask about them. As you advance in the sport, you’ll develop preferences and knowledge that help you decide what you want out of a paddle. You may end up on a surfski with a wing paddle, or you may end up in a SOF with a hand carved GP. You may even end up in a rec boat with a plastic paddle. It all depends on what you want to do, and what characteristics you find important.

My one word of advice: Don’t let anyone convince you that you can’t be an “advanced” paddler, or that only advanced paddlers use a GP, or a wing, or whatever. Different folks, different strokes. Never more true than in kayaking.

Many people find that using a GP and the associated paddling style(s) is more comfortable for long trips. The bouyancy of the blades makes them feel light in the water. The shape allows a great variety of hand positions and easy indexing, which lets one use a wide variety of support strokes and rolls. The ease of making your own also appeals to a lot of folks.

In terms of efficiency, the consensus seems to be that a “modern” paddle is better for situations where acceleration is most important, such as surf and whitewater. For touring, it’s a tossup. The most efficient padle is a modern wing, but they have their own disadvantages.

For more information, check out these video clips:


Building your own:


efficient at what power output
methinks that’s where the breakdown occurs,like long waterlines=higher top speed the efficiency can’t be realized until the power output is up to a particular level. For the average person the reduced peak loading on each stroke translates to less stress over time,I assume.

I just like them better
No other reason I can really articulate.

I enjoy learning about and using all the various techniques that go with GP’s, and especially like the rolling aspect of them.

I have a couple of very good euro paddles, but they don’t get used much.


Less stress #1 rolling versatility #2.

– Last Updated: May-30-05 3:21 AM EST –

I must state I have less than 20 hours experience with a GP but here are some of the plusses. One is that a gp has a low profile in the wind. This comes from the shape and from the style of paddling. Since a gp is easier to extend (Much easier for me) extended sweep and rolling strokes become much easier. I do not know if rolls like a butterfly can be done with a euro paddle but I'll bet they are easier with a gp. Certainly the GP sweep and sculling rolls are much easier than their euro counterparts. and one of the reasons is that a small change in the climbing angle of the euro will radically change the roll, while the GP is much more forgiving of a small error.

Not exhaustive, Greg Stamer and Sanjay and many others who know a thousand times more than I about this subject (and even that figure is arrogant of me) post to this board, perhaps they will help. They could write a book, or at least a small treatise.

My new paddle …
awaits me in the form of a 2x5, 8’ northern white cedar board. $10.83 and some sweat equity is very appealing to me, though I’ve only tried GPs twice.


GP’s are not heavy
In addition to all of the advantages listed above, GP’s are not heavier.

My two lightest paddles are my GP made from western red cedar, and my carbon GP.

But don’t let weight be the main consideration of your paddle choice. Go with what “feels good” to you.

Like most of us, your tastes will change as your experience grows.

My initial interest in greenland paddles
was due to a bad shoulder. I read that they were less stressfull. It has greatly enhanced the time I can spend on the water paddling now. At first it felt a bit awkward, but after taking some lessons I learned some proper technique and have been enjoying it. There is much technique to be learned with a greenland paddle to get the most out bracing, sculling and rolling. I have found the paddle to be very rewarding to use and I feel limited when I paddle with a euro paddle. My current paddle weighs 28 oz. which would make it comperable to a pretty expensive euro paddle. You don’t get as much bite from the paddle stroke of a greenland paddle as compared to a large blade euro paddle but your paddling rate increases and over the long haul is less tiring to paddle with. Think of this like lowering gears on a bicycle when peddling up a hill. I think you should try as many different paddles as you can and see what works for you. Enjoy.

Because Greenlanders &
other arctic peoples couldn’t laminate wood/didn’t have much selection. GP’s work best with long, narrow, low decked boats & are fun to make & use. Lots of tapes on advanced rolling & paddling. If you decide to carve one, get a really good board. Have fun paddling!

vertical paddle roll
I heard about it so I thought I could try and if it didn’t work I could reset for a sweep,it was bizarre,a little wiggle of the blade with hip snap and I was up, talk about user friendly!

Faster commute
I don’t do fancy strokes and rolls. I just commute. About 2.5 miles each way. I’ve used homemade small-blade paddles for years. Can’t recall the last commercial paddle I used for any length of time. I made a GP from a piece of spruce last year, about 22" shaft because my boat is a little higher than old style yaks. Good thing, too, or I’d have to get my toes cut off. Paddle is very light.

The GP in a sliding stroke gets me huffing and puffing at what feels like a medium pace. But I’m pushing a white curl off the bow and get home in under 30 minutes. I’m able to maintain about 20% greater speed with what feels like less effort. Feels as if I’m using more of my body, too. Very easy to control the boat, lean into turns etc. Much more so than my old paddle. Gentle, too. And very stable with my hands further apart and the blade buried on the power stroke. I feel much more confident.

I get tired all over instead of arms and belly like my last paddle was doing, so I figure this is a pretty good paddle. I’m thinking of a storm paddle myself as a spare. Maybe that and a short leaf blade single paddle.

My commute, on east side about 1/4 way down traveling south to the skinny inlet. Pretty.


Steve Pery in TN

Perpetuating myths
Greenlanders had access to huge logs that regularly drifted down from Siberia (and still do). Not only were they not limited by material sizes, they DID use wider bladed paddles with their larger open boat type known as the “umiaq”. They also had glues made from animal blood. If they had found an advantage to wider bladed paddles for kayaking, they would have made and used them. The Greenland paddle evolved to its current shape because it was the best tool for the job the Inuit needed it to do, not due to some artificial limitation.

A couple of years ago
I wrote a piece or Atlantic Coastal Kayaker comparing “modern,” wing, and Greenland paddles. Here’s the section on Greenland paddles. If you’d like the rest, send me an email. Note that this material is copyrighted. (If you like it, consider subscribing to the magazine : )


The Greenland Paddle

I ordered my first Greenland paddle from a catalog. At the time I was using a standard Lendal® paddle with a bent shaft designed to keep the wrists straight throughout the stroke. This excellent paddle had cured the tendinitis I had developed when I started kayaking. Compared with it, my new Greenland paddle seemed to have no purchase on the water. Bracing felt insecure. I persisted, motivated by the conviction that the inventors of the Greenland kayak must have known what they were doing. I took lessons (with Fern Usen and John Raleigh), practiced, and realized one day that I was converted. Simply put, there is no more versatile paddle.

(Note: there is considerable variation among the native paddles of Greenland. The “Greenland paddle” that I describe here is the type now becoming popular in North America.)

The Greenland paddle is distinguished by its long, narrow, unfeathered blades (figure 1). Just as a glider’s wings might seem too thin to support its flight, Greenland blades look too narrow to provide any useful propulsion or support. But looks are deceiving—the surface area of the Greenland paddle is comparable to a standard’s, just spread over two or three times the length.

Greenland blades are thick and therefore buoyant. In cross-section they are diamond-shaped or elliptical. Their edges are rounded for strength, and because they are meant to be handled while paddling. They have no drip rings, and are doubly symmetric—there is neither a power face nor a “control hand.” The paddle is held at the “shoulder” where the long blade meets the short shaft, or “loom.” Traditionally, the user made each paddle to size. For example, the blade was made narrow enough to be gripped in the hand, and the length of the loom matched the width of the shoulders.

These physical characteristics lead to the following functional characteristics:

  1. The Greenland blade slips through the water rather than catching it firmly, especially at the beginning of the stroke. As the stroke progresses, increasingly more of the blade is engaged. It feels like pedaling a bicycle in a low gear. The stroke can be taken close to the boat, with the lower hand nearly touching the water at exit, reducing boat yaw and engaging the latissimus muscles. When pushing hard, Greenland paddlers “crunch,” adding the force of the abdominal muscles to the end of each stroke. Both effects compensate for the reduced power of this paddle at the catch.

  2. The paddle works with a wide variety of forward strokes. It can be held almost horizontal in headwinds or as high as an Olympic racer’s wing paddle. The hands can be placed close together or farther apart, changing the effective “gear” and the diameter of the grip. “Canting” the blade slightly eliminates flutter and increases the paddle’s bite (figure 2). One can vary the stroke height, grip width, and canting angle at will while paddling.

  3. The blade can be slid through the hands almost instantly into extended position, producing fantastic leverage for high braces, sculling, and rolling (figures 3 & 4). When paddling in rough water, the Greenland paddler will repeatedly extend the blade as needed. The standard paddle can also be extended, but holding onto a feathered fiberglass blade is difficult, and when slid through the hands, its shaft all too easily rotates in the hand, a loss of “indexing.” Because the Greenland paddle is held where the shaft meets the blade, or by the blade itself, it is always indexed (figure 5). Unlike standard paddlers, Greenland paddlers need never switch hands underwater or delicately rotate the blade into position before rolling. When upright, they are less likely to take an accidental slicing stroke.

  4. The blade can be slid into a partly or fully extended position with every stroke. This “sliding stroke” is unique to Greenland paddles. It increases power when sprinting, and is used with a short-loomed “storm” version of the Greenland paddle, which leaves no upper blade vulnerable to the wind.

  5. The Greenland blade sculls wonderfully. Beginning Greenland rollers are taught to scull to the surface, where they can breathe freely, before learning to roll. Sculling is also useful defensively in large waves or strong winds.

  6. The Greenland paddle’s buoyancy reduces its effective weight. When a light Greenland paddle is used with a high stroke, it becomes almost weightless. By comparison, even an ultra-light wing or standard paddle actually feels heavy. The buoyancy makes balance bracing and the one-armed “butterfly roll” easy (figure 6). It allows the paddle to work as an outrigger when entering and exiting, and for resting while underway. The paddle is so buoyant that some paddlers can perform a “paddle float” rescue without paddle float. Others use it to stabilize a “cowboy” rescue.

  7. A spare Greenland paddle fits neatly under forward or aft deck lines (figure 7). It is less likely to scratch the boat than a standard paddle, catches little wind, throws little spray, and slips out instantly when needed. A “standard” paddler who loses a paddle in a capsize must retrieve half the spare, roll with it, and then fully assemble it while avoiding capsizing again.

  8. A custom-sized Greenland paddle can be made in a day with a hand plane, from a two-by-four (often cedar or spruce), for under $20.

    Beyond these functional characteristics, the Greenland paddle permits entry into a unique corner of the sport: mastering the amazing variety of rolling, bracing, sculling, and play techniques developed by the original kayakers. This activity might seem arcane—some Greenland paddlers hand-sew Greenland paddling garments, make replicas of harpoons and other Greenland implements, and carry fake inflated sealskins on deck. But one doesn’t have to wear a tuiliq (one-piece sprayskirt/paddle jacket) and carve deck beads from antler in order to appreciate the utility of being able to roll a kayak a dozen different ways. I have spent many happy hours working on the 30 official maneuvers performed at the Greenland National Championships. (Many more happy hours await me, as I have several yet to learn.) Learning these maneuvers increases one’s confidence and “core body strength.” As a result of this type of practice, I often roll up before I quite realize I’ve capsized—and don’t remember which roll I used.

great analysis.
Best outline of the functionality of the GP I’ve ever seen. Thanks much.

Need help verifying that
Do you have any references for information that documents Greenlanders regularly finding and utilizing Siberian logs in kayak and paddle construction? When you told me that after I made a similar comment I was a bit shocked. Everything I’ve read has talked about scarcity of materials in relation to the development of the kayak and related items. So I spent an afternoon in a university library, and I couldn’t find anything to support the claim that giant Siberian logs were regularly washing up and being utilized in kayak or paddle construction. At least not during the period when the kayak is estimated to have come into use in Greenland. I’m not saying it’s not true, but it would be great if you could point me in the right direction if you have such info.

Post the question on…

– Last Updated: May-31-05 4:11 PM EST –

...the forum at www.qajaqusa.org. There are a number of Greenland historians there who can fill you in on the details far better than I can. The upshot of it is that large trees are washed away from eroding Siberian coastlines and riverbanks and regulary end up in Greenland. IIRC, this was not just an ancient phenomenon and it still occurs today. There are historical kayak frames and umiaq paddles that use much wider wood than a typical GP.

Thanks Sanjay
for that wonderful information. Now I have more answers to doubters when they feel the “weight” of my GP. One of my regular paddling buds swears by his Lendal carbon fiber light as a feather euro. I tried to roll with it once and did make it but it was close. He says I could paddle farther faster with a lighter paddle. I tried to explain that wood floats but to no avail. He has more degrees than I do so I gave up.


And all this time I’ve been thinking
that the major function of Greenland paddles was to provide a topic of discussion when “rudder vs. skeg” got boring. Who knew there was so much more?!

wood for Greenland kayaks
The following quotes are from from H.C. Petersen’s “Skinboats of Greenland”, pg 18-19. “Most Inuit groups lived north of the tree line. Although some could travel down to the forest areas to gather wood, this was impossible for most, like the Greenlanders. In Greenland, however, there was a supply of wood available in the form of driftwood coming from lands far away. The great rivers of Siberia and Canada which feed into the Arctic Ocean carry many trees out to sea every spring. There they are caught up in the stream of the Arctic Ocean and driven eastwards. At the easternmost tip of Greenland they turn south, down to Kap Farvel. The driftwood which has not washed ashore on the East Coast then continues up the West Coast. … Before the advent of European tools, the saw was unknown. The driftwood had to be split, using wedges, to the size needed and the pieces then worked with an adze to get the desired thickness and width.”

It’s worth clarifying that wood was scarce – It’s not like huge piles of logs were heaped up along the coast (I didn’t see any driftwood on my previous trips to Greenland). However, when wood was found, it was not just limited to tiny sticks and twigs as is commonly thought.

Today, most Greenlanders buy imported lumber at home supply stores for their kayaks and paddes – although driftwood is still considered superior by some Greenlanders.

Greg Stamer