Monday, August 29, 2011

Are Greenland paddles going mainstream?

I seem to do most of my paddling with my trusty basswood Greenland paddle and have done so for probably a decade now. I still get the questions from people asking 'Is that thing as good as a real paddle?'but not as often as I used to. I really don't remember what prompted me to purchase a Greenland paddle in the first place but I do remember it was from Dale Hedtke at the now defunct Boat House across from the Schmidt Brewery in St Paul. I took the thing out to Lake Calhoun and was aggravated and muttering for about 15 minutes as I attempted to figure out how to make that damn fluttering and cavitation stop. Eventually my muscles figured out the technique or maybe the paddle showed my muscles the correct technique, I'm not sure. As my skinny stick paddling progressed I slowly fell in with the riff raff that makes wooden boats, skin on frames, and carves their own Greenland sticks. At that time there was a growing group of Greenland enthusiasts but not that much general interest in the blades, a condition that seems to be changing.

Most of the kayak symposiums I've attended are offering an expanded Greenland or traditional learning path and I know a lot of folks who have either carved one or bought a Greenland stick to play with from time to time. I think that the majority of paddlers would agree the Greenland paddle is easier to roll with than the standard Euro blade. More companies are producing Greenland paddles and a number of clubs and other organizations are offering classes in carving a personal Greenland paddle. Just this last week however I became aware of a couple things that could be the tipping point for increased Greenland paddle usage. One was a review of carbon fiber blades in the October 2011 Sea Kayaker by Christopher Cunningham. The other was a post late last year by Eric Soares of the Tsunami Rangers about finally getting a Greenland stick in his hands. And loving it.

The Sea Kayaker gear review focused on three carbon fiber Greenland blades that are currently being produced commercially. I happen to know a paddle maker just west of the Reefer Creek deer camp, FivePieceRoy, that's making the things for fun. They are of commercial quality, a good thing in some ways but a bad thing if a guy happens to be sending one as a gift to his daughter in Iceland. Since it was 'obviously' a commercial paddle the authorities made her pay $250 in duty. Oh well. I have not seen the Northern Lights paddles but I like the idea of the insert that can turn it into a storm paddle. Of the three, Superior has been around the longest and Novorca is our local operation here in the Twin Cities. RonS, the owner and founder, was kind enough to throw a piece of basswood I had into his CNC machine and crank me out an Aleut blade. That blade style almost seems like a stepping stone between the Euro and the traditional Greenland paddle. I find myself using a bit of a modified wing paddle style when I use it and it is very quiet as it enters the water. I prefer wood personally because it just seems alive in my hands. It also has twice as much flex or whip as the carbon fiber, an attribute measured by Christopher Cunningham in his review. It makes me feel I get that extra snap or push at the end of the stroke. The warm feel of wood is a plus as well, and many times my paddling companions have had gloves on while I've been paddling along with my nice warm wood paddle shaft in my hands. That being said, carbon fiber is very popular and one fact is undeniable; it is amazingly light and strong. I have broken two Sitka spruce paddles, the only wood that seemingly can compete in the lightness category, so strength is an important attribute. I do hope to play with a Northern Lights three piece however, and rumor has it they will be arriving at Boreal Shores in the not too distant future. ChrisG offered to let me borrow his NL paddle, a ploy that I'm sure he hopes works as well as the time he let me borrow his NDK Explorer HV.

I was mildly amazed when I stumbled on to Eric Soares' blog post on his Greenland paddle experience. I think of rock garden play and surf battling as the domain of the gigantic Euro spoon blade and that seems to be where the Tsunami Rangers live. It sounds like it took ten years and watching John Heath, Maligiaq, Dubside, and Helen Wilson for him to finally grab one and head out onto the water. The bottom line on the experience: "Two thumbs up!". 'Fad or Future?' was the title of his post and that would seem to be the question.

All paddle styles have their pros and cons and it's fun to have more than one arrow in the quiver. It always takes me about 10 minutes to get adjusted once I go from one blade to the other but that's just part of the fun of paddling. If you haven't tried one, grab a Greenland paddle. I understand they are not contagious and can only enhance your paddling knowledge. If you really want to get your head around what the Greenland blade can do, head up to the Traditional Gathering the weekend after Labor Day. There you can rub shoulders with the riff raff I described in the first paragraph, watch Helen Wilson do her thing (and perhaps, like Eric Soares, be inspired), perhaps have a shot with Will Bigelow, and help thin out the overpopulation of styrofoam seals on Lake Carlos via harpoon. The bugs are gone and took the humidity along with them, the air is crisp, the water clear and warm, and its prime time in the Great Lakes paddling season. Don't miss it!

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