Greenland style paddles have been used for hunting for well over a thousand years by the Inuits, they are now becoming very popular throughout the world. We have shipped them from Monaco to Australia. The original paddles were developed for windy conditions on open icy waters of the arctic, the narrow double bladed paddles gave the natives the speed and stealth to catch their quarry and the power to bring it home.
Revived for today's kayaker, this paddle's narrow blades exerts little stress to elbows and shoulders. Proper technique is to hold the paddle low with the hands a body's width apart and the unfeathered blades swung in a small circular motion with the blade canted slightly forward. This small motion minimizes arm movement and wind resistance and is sustainable for many hours. It has been said that the Greenland paddler may be minutes behind their companion with a large spoon blade paddle, but they are not nearly as tired when the day is done.
There are two continuing controversies about Greenland style paddles. First the blade shape and then the finish.
All paddle makers swear by their blade shape, and all of them are right. The picture from the World Championships in Nuuk, Greenland(compliments of Mark Molina) shows that it is an issue there also. But to simplify the scenario a bit, in this country we seem have settled on three basic shapes. First is the tapered shoulder style as used on our INUIT, a sharp shouldered style, the final shape is a long tapering blade with no transition. I made several sharp shouldered paddles for Mark Molina which we called the Davis Strait Special but never developed a feel for it and have never made the long tapering blade style. According to John Heath who did research in Greenland in the 70's and 80's the tapered shoulder style is most prevalent. Today the non-shouldered style seems to be used by many competition paddlers to facilitate sliding strokes. Which is better? I think the picture from Nuuk is a good answer, they all work.
The true aficionados and home built paddle makers continually discuss finishes. They maintain that either no finish or a simple boiled linseed oil finish is by far the best and only true finish. My research into finishes tells me that boiled linseed oil is the least water resistant finish available, and that the only good water resistant oil finish is Tung oil (gun stock oil). Unfortunately, it gets hard and gummy if too much is applied. If you're in to making your own paddles and want lots of practice then the linseed oil is probably the easiest way to go as it sure does not provide much long term protection and must be reapplied frequently.
To be honest about it, I spend more time finishing my INUIT paddles than shaping them. Part of that is practice from making many of them, most of it is that a good finish just takes many steps and a lot of time. My solution is to use a dynel tip for durability with fiberglass protecting the blades as the lightweight cedar is just too soft to take the inevitable banging on rocks, boats and cars. Then the paddle gets two coats of epoxy and a minimum of 3 coats of varnish. I've been making these for about 20 years now and many of those first ones are still out there being used.
The Technical Stuff
INUIT Our original Greenland style paddle, the INUIT, is designed to follow the lines that John Heath described in Sea kayaker Magazine about 25 years ago as the most common style of Greenland paddle found. I later had help from a Florida paddler George Ellis who passed away now many years ago. He was a native paddle specialist who helped in refining our paddles and determining some standard sizes. He said they should all be custom sized, but I resisted at the time. When I started making them his way it was obviously correct lengths in the last 15 years have ranged from 78” to 90” with loom lengths from 18” to 24”. The most common lengths are 86” and 88” with loom lengths from 19” to 21”. Every now and then I might have a paddle in stock, but the last 84-19 I built for stock hung around for 4 months while a variety of others went out the door, so I settled on keeping pairs of glued up blanks so they can quickly be made to size. The standard width is now 3-1/2” instead of 3-3/4” as it is easier for most people to get their hand around the smaller blade for rolling. I have made them from 3-1/4” to 4-1/2” on request. The methods I've developed to create paddles makes custom building the norm rather than the exception. I normally take 3 weeks from time of order to delivery to your door.
Take-A-Part paddles are available also. I've made them for years on request, but shied away from advertising them as a couple of early ones broke when they were used incorrectly rolling. I then added a kevlar seam tape to the connection which strengthened it sufficiently and have had no reported failures for many years. I currently use a homemade kevlar seam tape to keep the joint smoother. The TAP joint is a black Carbon ferrule system. I would prefer my older fiberglass ferrules, but they are no longer available.
Over the years there have been a there have been many methods of sizing paddles. Most of these were based on using true Greenland kayaks ie: very low, flat decks and quite narrow: Today most people and their boats are larger than the Greenlanders use.
LOOM LENGTH: The first and most important requirement is to get the loom length right. First put on your paddling gear, spray jacket and PFD. Then grab either a broom stick or paddle (a yardstick works also) and start rotating the paddle in a typical Greenland style motion keeping your elbows reasonably close to your body. Keep one hand fixed and allow the other to slide until it is comfortable. The important thing here is to not pinch your elbows into your sides. Now measure from the outside to outside of your thumbs. This is the loom length. A loom length that is one inch too short is terribly uncomfortable, one the other hand one inch too long you'll never notice after 10 minutes.
An alternative method and good check is while wearing all your gear and holding a yardstick, drop your elbows to your sides then move your forearms to a horizontal position. Again measure outside to outside of your thumbs. My criticism of this method is that people tend to pinch their elbows into their body making the loom too short.
PADDLE LENGTH: Again there have been many methods. The old style Greenland methods hand to do with body height and reach. That has pretty much gone by the wayside except for some of the purists. I've seen 6'2” folks in a tiny skin boat using 84” paddles and small women in 24” boats using 88” paddles. For most people a paddle in the range of 86” to 88” works well. Most folks with larger boats seem to like a slightly longer paddle, as they get more experienced and confident then they appreciate the slightly lower swing weight of a shorter paddle. In the early days I made a lot of 90” ones, now almost never.
Greenland paddles have been used in canoes, however since your hands are constantly wet and the blades drip, your always getting water in the boat. With the longer reach to get the paddle in the water, you really don't have much blade in the water. I've made a few that were in the 96” range for people with open Folboat style boats that had probably 30” looms. If you want to go this way please call.
The STORM is a complementary spare paddle I have. It is 68” long with an 8” loom and the blades shaped like an INUIT, normally about 3-3/8” wide. It is commonly used as a spare, fastened to the front deck and used with sliding strokes or as a long single blade paddle. Again if you would like a slightly different length or blade width we can discuss it. 72” is the longest practical length for me to make. Ive also made a few throwing sticks, one time a lady in New England sunk her boat after throwing her spear thru he skin boat. Oops.
One piece INUIT $260
Two piece INUIT $290
This now includes a plastic pipe shipping tube that is an excellent cartop paddle carrier.
Shipping: Plan on $30-$35 for 1 piece and $18-$20 for a two piece.