Kayaking Technique Forum

Find advice on all aspects of kayaking and using small boats on big water

Re: Greenland stroke (long) *Pic*
In Response To: Greenland stroke ()


There are a number of variations on the canted blade technique. You are quite correct that for the stroke that Maligiaq performs, the blade is sunk quickly on the catch and then it is moving *slightly* upward throughout the remainder of the stroke. This is not shown on John Heath's diagram (posted below), but Maligiaq and I talked about this in length. This can either be very subtle or quite pronounced. George Gronseth wrote about a "zig zag" stroke, a quick down and up movement (bury at the catch and paddle moving upward to exit), when he visited Greenland, but this description caused plenty of confusion among American paddlers and Maligiaq said that he was not familiar with this variation. By testing with a knotmeter, I find that if I bury the paddle too deeply, my speed suffers. I would amend John's diagram by having the catch bury the paddle slightly deeper than is shown, with the paddle rising slightly toward the exit, and with the forward tilt increasing as the stroke progresses, particularly toward the exit.

The low stroke that you refer to, that is considered "proper" in the U.S., is not sacred in Greenland. The paddle is held very low to very high (almost vertical), and ever nuance in-between. Most Greenlanders that I observed held the paddle at about a 45 degree angle for "normal" paddling. The guideline that I observed in Greenland is that although the paddle tips can be held high, the hands are not. In other words, for a high stroke your elbows will remain low and somewhat close to your side (NOT glued to your side). Your pushing hand rises to shoulder level by raising the forearm at the elbow (the elbow does NOT rise or move outward like a chicken-wing), before the pushing hand punches foreward and downward. If you are holding the paddle lower, the hands won't rise quite as high, but the arm motion is the same.

Two popular variations that I encountered both deal with the exit phase. For both of them the forward tilt of the paddle increases during the stroke. For option one, the paddle exits well past the hip and is lifted upward. Although you are lifting water, if you get the blade angle right, you will get a boost or "kick". To practice this you can sink a vertical blade behind your hip, angle the blade forward and pop it out.

The second variant is to use a very long paddle stroke and the forward tilt increases abrubtly at the very end of the stroke until the blade is almost horizontal (this is caused by the pushing hand moving foreward and downward). The blade is not lifted upward to exit, but is simply sliced forward through the water to recover (this is shown in John's diagram). Both Maligiaq and Kaleraq Bech teach that this is helps in rough conditions, since the blade is less likely to be slapped and stopped by a breaking wave. When I perform speed trials using a knotmeter, this technique gives me the fastest results, with a slightly lower cadence.

The canted blade technique is not "new". Maligiaq learned it from his grandfather, who was a seal catcher on Vester Eyland. According to John Heath, these were some of the most skilled kayakers in Greenland. The forward tilt is also described by Eugene Arima, in his book on the Caribou kayak, when he discussed technique with the (Canadian Inuit) elders. The kayaks used to hunt Caribou were extremely fast and unstable and the foward tilt allowed a quick brace by simply rolling the wrists forward.

I saw tremendous variation among the Greenland paddlers, so my advice is not to get too dogmatic about what is a "proper Greenland stroke" and find what works for you. From your questions, it sounds like you are experimenting and doing just that.

Greg Stamer