Greenland / Euro (who's paddle is better?) by Jay Babina
I used the word “who’s”
because so much of our attachment to things comes from an identity to the
I never understood the emotional attachment to things that we have no responsibility for. In this case, the paddle, which was designed by people we don’t even know. The Greenland paddle, most likely designed by the Greenlanders and the Euro paddle, maybe the American Indians or some other canoe paddling culture from who knows where. How the Euro’s assumed responsibility for this has never been proven. Perhaps it’s because they put the blade on both ends and claimed it theirs? Whatever happened, I don’t think anybody knows the real story. One thing we do know - we didn’t invent it and to get possessive and attached to it’s identity only gives us another useless emotion to carry around.
Who’s faster? If we were to use identical boats and exact clones of the paddlers who all paddled at the same rate, the one with the larger blade surface would win. That’s a pretty cut and dry, non emotional, easy to understand fact. And since it’s machines doing the paddling, we can also call the larger surface paddle - more efficient. However since we’re humans and have to deal with fatigue and stress, efficiency has to be also analyzed from that standpoint as well. We have to evaluate how much can be done with the paddle as well as for how long. A tool that can only be used for a short period of time - shorter than is needed to complete the job is inefficient. Thus... a paddle that has enormous blades and tires you out in minutes would be totally inefficient for the paddler using it.
In propelling our craft forward, we make an evaluation as to how much thrust we can provide and for how long. Our blade size determines our rate of paddle stroke and longevity is based on our strength and endurance. And, the greater part of this choice is determined by the manufacturer who made the paddle. In Greenland, you make your paddle. It’s a no choice event. Even if the “Euro” paddle was understandably magical, to use one there would be one of the worse crimes known to a Greenlander.
Can a paddler with a Greenland paddle totally smoke a paddler with a Euro paddle - absolutely. And can a Euro-paddler smoke a Greenland paddler... absolutely. Our fitness, and boat are really the determining factors, not the paddle (and in that order). Many official western kayak racers use the Euro paddle because, just like my clone example, they want to push as much water as possible and usually train to be able to achieve this. The well trained kayaker/athlete can push a lot more water than the untrained paddler with any kind of paddle and thus go faster and hopefully longer. The real testing of stroke rate v.s. the blade size has never been done simply because, once again... we’re humans and are subject to stress and fatigue and, our bodies are all different. I personally think that kayak racers pick high-end, off the shelf paddles that seem to feel right with them and test their times which is more often based on their fitness and stroke refinement.
Back when the Greenland or native paddle was developed, there were no trophies for anything. Their paddle usage was survival. It meant the ability to hunt for food and move around through the waters to other ice and land masses. The paddle was crafted from found wood and over time evolved into the one we commonly see. They learned to roll back up from a capsize and had to have a no-thinking positive rolling tool that left no room for error. Errors in kayaking meant death in those frigid waters. Because you hold the blade, the indexing of blade angle is done for you guaranteeing that your blades are doing what you expect. I think this is the number 1 main advantage of the native paddle. (for me) The Euro’s or developers of the paddle-shaft and blade paddles never considered rolling into the design of the paddle. These skills were learned and adapted to the paddle after explorers saw Eskimos doing these things. (the Pawlata or extended paddle roll)
A Greenland paddler user will average about 1 1/2 strokes to 1 stroke of the Euro-paddle to keep the same speed. This is something I noticed from years of paddling in mixed groups. Which is better? You’ll have to tell me. I like the faster rate and have adapted to it in my own personal paddling style. The few times I have sprinted (raced) other kayakers, there has never been any clear cut winners. If I was feeling exceptionally strong that day, I would pull ahead or... sometimes another paddler with the Euro-paddle might do the same. These are simple 200 yard sprints just for kicks. The longevity of a racer has to do with endurance and fitness and not the paddle. The one major point I want to stress is that the narrower blades of the native paddle are totally capable of sprinting from a standing position as well as any large blade paddle. My favorite analogy is the bicycle racer who starts in a low gear when sprinting off the line. Once they get going, they will switch to higher gears according to their strength and fitness.
Most of what I have stated so far is hard, cold fact. My opinion about the two paddle types is actually more equal than most of you would suspect. In my own paddling style, I use a lot of bow rudders for correcting. I find the larger blade paddle way more efficient for this technique as well as with the use of stern rudders. The stern rudder is very useful in surf. The Greenland paddle does the job, but not as strongly as the larger blade.
Bracing is a double edge sword. The larger blade will give you more support, however any mistake made will be hard to recover from. And, if you use a feathered paddle, you have something additional to worry about. I think more beginners capsize due to mistakes made with blade orientation than anything else. One thing I learned well in my years of Euro-paddling is bracing and slicing the blade out of the water front and back. I think many paddlers go to the Greenland paddle at a point when their basic skills are in place and bracing becomes an act of finesse and the thinner blade is more than efficient for the job. The much used practice of extending the paddle is also easy and accepted with the native paddle and can also be executed quickly.
There are good paddlers who can roll well and do tricks with the Euro-paddle although they are rare. The Greenland paddle is just way easier to roll with mostly because of it’s being non-feathered and indexed to the user’s hands which also makes it easier to maneuver around under water. I think the frustration of rolling with the feathered Euro paddle has converted many people to the Greenland paddle. I know how hard I worked to perfect my roll with the feathered Euro-paddle. It was quite a chore to get to the point where I knew I could roll up from any capsize. You can see the look on a beginners face when they successfully roll with the Greenland paddle. They look at it as if contained a magical property and they want one - now!
I personally enjoy the pure and simple act of paddling with the Greenland paddle. I like how it feels in my hands and the smooth easy way it cuts through the water. I’m usually amazed of how fast the boat is going for the little effort put in. I also like the fact that the Greenland paddle never seems to be affected by harsh winds whereas the Euro has scared me a few times when I felt like it was being pulled from my hands as it fluttered in the wind.
Most stores carry very few Greenland paddles if any. The beginning kayaker is automatically handed a Euro paddle (usually too long) and this is the accepted norm until she or he tries few different things and begins to make some decisions based on their own opinions. With the big teaching agencies, (ACA, BCU) the Euro is what is used. They seem to now accept other things but for the most part it’s Euro all the way. This also propagates the immediate acceptance of the Euro paddle as the normal paddle for kayaking. However what was once revolutionary is gradually becoming extremely popular and the big teaching agencies have been force to address it’s existence. I personally really don’t know if this is from awareness or just monetary opportunities. Never-the-less, the Greenland paddle is appearing more and more.
My friend Dave Snow always ribs me about my paddle. “Its good to have some wood along in case we have to build a fire” I usually reply “those big white blades make a good signaling device, as long as it’s not too windy”.
There’s really no wrong or rights in this choice. We’re not hunting for survival or racing for a living. If what you’re doing is bringing you pleasure and satisfaction, you have achieved all that you can do. Just always remember that the other paddler is probably achieving the exact same thing with the paddle they are using!