Over a decade ago the venerable John Heath and a young Maligiaq Padilla visited Half Moon Bay where I used to live. John told tales of traditional Greenland kayaking, and Maligiaq gave a Greenland-style rolling demonstration with his American-made Greenland kayak and his skinny little wooden paddle. Naturally, I was enthralled with John’s vast knowledge and very impressed with Maligiaq’s amazing ability to roll his kayak using unimagined techniques. Maligiaq taught Tsunami Ranger Captain Jim Kakuk several of the rolls.
Over the years I heard and read more about Greenland kayaking. Five years ago, two of my friends made Greenland kayaks and paddles. I oohed and ahhed at their beauty. I fondled the slim wooden paddles and enjoyed the feel of the soft wood. I wondered how good these paddles would be, compared with my trusty paddle, a compressed Kevlar surf paddle designed by Merv Larson.
Then two years ago I met Helen Wilson and Dubside at the sea kayaking conference in Port Townsend, Washington, and once again got excited about Greenland, its people, boats, and paddles. My interest was piqued yet again last February in New Zealand when I watched superb Greenland paddle roll demonstrations and witnessed the keen interest Kiwis have in Greenland kayaking.
Three weeks ago University of Sea Kayaking founder Wayne Horodowich and Jim Kakuk were visiting me, and we had a lively discussion on the Greenland paddle. I mused, “I would sure love to try a Greenland paddle.”
Two days later I met kayaker Chris Tomer at a café near the Rogue River in Oregon and tried to sell him an autographed copy of my book CONFESSIONS OF A WAVE WARRIOR. He thumbed through it and was interested in the book. He offered to swap me a paddle for it. I thought, “What? A ping pong paddle?”
Chris took me out to his truck and pulled out a beautiful Greenland paddle, characterized by its slim blades. Chris made this sleek paddle out of a single block of redwood. I picked it up and fell in love with it. I figured he was joking about the swap, but he wasn’t. He was doing me a big kindness, and tears filled my eyes. We met as strangers and left as friends. Serendipity…or fate?
Something can look nice and still not work worth a damn. I told Chris I would test the paddle and give him a full report. Last week I joined up with Tsunami Ranger John Lull and went for a paddle inside and outside Princeton Harbor in Half Moon Bay. First I familiarized myself with the paddle while John took pictures. On the very first forward stroke I noticed that it fluttered, as Chris told me it might. I couldn’t remember the detailed advice he gave me to correct it. I learn best by feel, so I kept at it and in five minutes the paddle taught me how to wield it. I loved the way it leapt out of the water at the end of the stroke and positioned itself to enter the water.
I backpaddled and practiced a few sweeps and sculls. So far, so good. I rolled with the paddle a couple of times and found it was easy to set up, as the lack of feathering reduces the possibility of making a mistake in blade placement. Then I paced a guy in an outrigger canoe and found that the paddle does well at speed. It has a fast and easy turnover rate which encourages quick bursts of speed.
Next I swam with the paddle. I know, most people don’t do this, but I always prepare for the worst and wanted to see if it hindered or helped me. It was great; in fact the best paddle I’ve ever swum with. Just as in kayaking, the paddle assists in swimming.
Finally, it was time to test the stick in the ocean. John and I bucked 15-knot winds and rain to venture into the open sea, where the paddle performed admirably against the wind, while running, and at beam and quartering seas. The slim blade made up for the lack of feathering, in that the blade did not catch wind like a big modern blade does. I don’t understand the physics; I just know it works.
I would not say I paddled faster with the stick than with my Merv surf paddle, but it was a hell of a lot easier than stroking with a wing paddle. I did not surf with it, but know it would have done fine. I would never use it in rock gardens, as it’s too gorgeous to let get broken. I will use it when paddling on flat water or open seas.
My verdict: Two thumbs up! The Greenland paddle has been used for a thousand years because it works. It will be used for a thousand more. Regarding anything Greenland, especially its paddles, Eirik the Red says “Check it out!”
p.s. If you want to converse with Chris Tomer about Greenland paddles, contact him at email@example.com.