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Greenland Paddles

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Paddle Sizing and Fit

Greenland-paddle fit is usually determined by anthropometric (body) measurements. Please understand that these are "ball-park" measurements only. Experimentation and experience will help you to hone these measurements to find the perfect fit for you. 

    Overall lengthBone tipped paddle made in 1959 for John Heath

    For a full-size paddle, a very common measurement is one-armspan plus a cubit (the distance from your elbow to your fingertips). Another common method is to ensure that you can just curl your fingers over the top of your paddle, with it standing vertically next to you. In windy areas, and for ease in maneuvering the paddle underwater, some people prefer a slightly shorter paddle of an armspan plus the distance from the wrist to the fingertips. "Storm" paddles (short paddles used with a full sliding stroke) are much shorter—being one armspan long and with the loom only one, two or three fists wide.

    Blade width
    Blades can be as narrow as just over two inches to as wide as you can grip. For your first paddle, pick something between these two extremes and pick a width that is comfortable for you to grip.

    Loom length
    The loom dimension must match your body and the kayak you are using. A method to find a good starting point is to stand, shake out your arms (relax), and allow your arms to hang at your sides. Lift your forearms so that they are parallel to each other and horizontal to the ground. Your arms should not be held against your sides—let them "float" (e.g., you should have enough room that a cloth rag stuffed under each armpit should fall to the ground rather than be held fast by arm pressure). Now make a "circle" with the thumb and forefinger of each hand. These circles indicate where the paddle-shoulders should be (where the roots of the blades begin).

    Generally the loom must at least be as wide as your kayak—so if your kayak is much wider than a standard Greenland kayak you may have to improvise. Another method to determine loom length that involves your kayak is to sit in your kayak holding a broom-handle and discover where you hands naturally fall.

    If you are uncertain about the loom size when making your first paddle, a conservative approach is to make the loom a little shorter than you think is right and the overall length of the paddle a little too long. You can then widen the loom (if necessary) and shorten the blades (if necessary) as you gain experience with the paddle. In this way you can slowly tweak it and discover a good fit. It's easy to take wood off, but not so easy to put it back on! Once you know your ideal paddle size you can skip this exercise.

Common Mistakes

Although you will certainly make some mistakes on your first paddle, here are a few very common pitfalls to avoid:

  • Don't make the blade tips or blade edges too thick
  • Many "first-time" paddles have very thick and "blocky" tips that make a silent, powerful stroke almost impossible. Make the radius of the edges and the blade tips sharp enough for good bite, but not so sharp that they are uncomfortable in the hand. The radius of the tip should match the radius of the edges. The tip should come to a gentle point, it should not look like someone just cut off the end of the blade.

  • Don't make the blades too flat
  • The cross-sections of a GP are quite sophisticated. Planing is fun, but if you remove too much material, not only will the shape be less than optimal but the paddle will probably be too flexible as well. This is especially important in the paddle shoulder area. This area should be full and thick so that it fills the hollow of your palms and provides the necessary stiffness.

  • Don't add any hardware that makes it difficult to slide your hands over the blades and loom

  • Don't make the loom (paddle shaft) too long (or too short)
  • Realize that a GP is gripped with only the thumb and forefinger of each hand on the loom, the remaining fingers are draped over the roots of the blades. This causes the blades to tilt forward (top edge toward the bow). The forward stroke is done in this position (canted blade stroke). If you make the loom too short, then you risk wrist injury due to the side-to-side wrist action that results. Some Greenland paddles are intentionally made with a short loom (one body width to just a hand width), but these paddles are intended to be used with a full or partial sliding-stroke.

  • Do look for a good piece of wood
  • Ideally you will use vertical grain lumber (quartersawn or riftsawn). This wood, when viewed at the very end, with the board sitting flat on its wide face, has the grain running straight up and down. The grain should look like tight pin-stripes running the length of the board face, from one end to the other. Should the grain run-out in the loom area (diagonal grain), or have knots or other defects in the loom, the board should probably be rejected. Flatsawn lumber is often used too, but it is much more flexible than quartersawn and is prone to warp. Hardwood is too heavy for a GP, except for use as armor for the edges and tips. Choose a light, yet strong, softwood. Western red cedar, spruce and pine are often used. Redwood has been used as well, but some people find it too brittle for their tastes.

Making your own Greenland Paddle

Help is online! No matter where you live you can always consult advice for your paddle-making questions on the Greenland forum, or search the archives for answers to past questions.

One of the beauties of the Greenland-style paddle is that not only is it an excellent performer, but making one is also an inexpensive, fun and rewarding project. Imagine making a paddle for $20 that works better than many commercial paddles costing $400 or more.

Getting started in Greenland-style is not always easy, because few kayak shops stock good Greenland-style paddles (GPs). There are a few reasons for this, the first being that Greenland-style, while growing, is still not as well known as other recreational kayaking disciplines. The other reason is that a GP is such a personal item, that an "off-the-rack" paddle probably won't fit you very well. Sooner or later many, if not most, G-style kayakers either make or buy a custom paddle. This is not surprising when you consider that a GP must be tailored to your grip size for holding the blades, the loom length for determining your hand spread and the overall length.

Fun Fact: "Boning" a Paddle

A common practice among some Inuit was using a smooth bone, rubbed hard on the paddle, to compress the surface fibers, close the pores and polish it. "Boning" or "burnishing" a paddle in this way is easy to do and helps harden the surface of a soft, newly sanded WRC paddle. Although a bone is ideal, anything harder than the paddle, as long as it is smooth and rounded, can be used. The shaft of a large screwdriver or a burnishing rod works well.

As a bit of trivia, "boning a bat," using a soup bone or large cow bone, used to be a common practice in the old days of baseball for preparing a wooden bat prior to hitting with it for the first time.