The paddle that you use to move the kayak through the waves and over the ocean – which one should it be? A Greenland paddle or a Euro-blade, as a regular paddle is also called. It’s a good question, one that often arouses curiosity and provokes debate.
When aspiring new kayakers on our beginner courses at the club see the Greenland paddles on the rack in the kayak shed, we are often asked why you would want to paddle with one of them.
You can see discussions on Facebook, elsewhere online and on the dock about which paddle is the best – in general or for specific purposes.
There can be many reasons for choosing a Greenland paddle or a Euro-blade. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but what is in favour of a Greenland paddle and what is in favour of a Euro-blade, a regular paddle?
Is the Greenland paddle better than a Euro-blade, or vice versa?
In fact, there is no technical reason to choose one or the other. The speed can be just as high with the Greenland paddle as with a Euro-blade, and all the different strokes use the handle a sea kayak and other fun you can have in it go just as well with both. The difference lies in how you paddle with them.
If you want to learn how to roll the kayak, it’s better to learn with the Greenland paddle, but it also goes well with a Euro-blade.
Greenland paddle – the authentic choice
There’s something authentic about a Greenland paddle. It is the original tool in the same way that sealskin-covered driftwood structures are the ancestress of all modern kayaks. Just as kayaks have evolved in many directions, paddles have become a widely branching collection in many different forms.
It seems natural to choose a Greenland paddle if you’re paddling a Greenland kayak, whether it’s a custom-built skin-on-frame or a modern imitation in fibreglass. Similarly, it seems natural to choose a large-bladed Euro-blade or a wing paddle if you’re paddling a modern sea kayak made for speed, but you can easily do it the other way around.
However, paddling with a Greenland paddle is not just a matter of authenticity.
High and low paddle style
With a Euro-blade you use a high stroke while paddling, at least if you want to use the paddle to its full potential.
The Greenland paddle is made for a low stroke. An example of how necessity and purpose coincide. The Inuits only had driftwood available, and it has not been easy to find a good piece of wood. The idea of carving wide, thin paddle blade probably never occurred. Moreover, the low stroke of the Greenland paddle has been of importance both in headwinds and especially when hunting. It is not a good idea to sit and wave something big in the air while sneaking up on a seal.
A soft paddle stroke
The Greenland paddle naturally gives a soft stroke. It has a longer blade, and it takes a while to fully submerges it. When you apply power in the stroke, the long narrow blade causes the power phase to start gradually. Especially if you paddle long distances, this will reduce the strain on your body significantly.
With a Euro-blade you can actually do the same. Even before I learned to paddle correctly with a Greenland paddle, I had practiced having a soft feeling when I applied power in my paddle strokes. With a Euro-blade, it’s easy to rip or tear at the water when you start the stroke.
A soft paddle stroke with a Euro-blade is something you have to work consciously with – using a Greenland paddle it comes more by itself.
Weight and mass of the paddle
The weight of the paddle matters. Especially if you’re paddle long distances one day after another. I haven’t worked it out exactly, but you lift the paddle a lot of times in one kilometre, so even a weight reduction of a few hundred grams turns into many, many kilos after a long day on the water.
In addition, with the low paddle style of the Greenland paddle you don’t lift it as high as a Euro-blade, which also reduce how much you lift.
The swing weight is also important and favour of the Greenland paddle. It has most of its weight in the middle of the shaft, unlike a Euro-blade, which is heaviest at the ends.
Weight is worth considering in any case, and once you’ve decided what you prefer, it’s a good idea to spend your money on as light a paddle as possible.
Carbon fibre, fibreglass or wood?
Paddles are made of different materials. Cheap paddles are often made of aluminium and plastic. Don’t buy them. Good Euro-blades are made of fibreglass or carbon fibre, and Greenland paddles are made of wood or carbon fibre.
Wooden paddles are usually heavier than carbon fibre. These can be made very light. However, a well-made wooden Greenland paddle can be as light as a carbon fibre paddle, whether Greenland or Euro-blade.
One of the Greenland paddles I have, one Andreas Holm has made from western red cedar, is as light as the Wener Cyprus I also use.
Which of the two you choose can have many causes. Some people choose the Greenland paddle because they want to avoid injuries and feel that the paddling style doesn’t strain their body as much.
There are differences in how the two paddles are used: how they are held, how they are put in the water and how the stroke is started. What goes for both is, that the rotation of the body drives the kayak forward.
For example, if your wrists get strained from paddling with a feathered Euro-blade, you might want to switch to a Greenland paddle. However, I know someone who use a Greenland paddle precisely because she had problems with her wrists, but in spite of that remained in pain. It was first when she switched to a Euro-blade with an ergonomic shaft that the pain did go away.
It made me think that wrist problems might be caused by griping the paddle shaft too hard. In climbing, one of the most common beginner problems is holding the grips too tightly, which tires you out quickly and can lead to injury.
Shoulders and body rotation
Shoulder problems are often caused by a lack of body rotation. At one point I had a lot of pain in my left shoulder (old climbing injury). This made me pay ekstra attention to how I paddle, and I soon found out that if I used my body correctly, it didn’t hurt. As soon as I used my arms too much and didn’t rotate my body, it made my shoulder ache. In this way, an old climbing injury became a strict teacher in a correct paddle style.
The lack of body rotation with both kinds of paddles puts undue strain on the shoulders and arms and can lead to injury.
Injuries, though, is not something to worry about if you are just enjoying a quiet trip in good weather now and then, you can splash along as you please. It is first when you start paddling often, long and maybe hard that it’s something to be careful to avoid.
Still, it’s a good idea to learn how to paddle properly whether it’s a Greenland paddle or a Euro-blade you’ve chosen. You can paddle longer without getting tired, and you will have more time and enjoyment on the water.
I use both Greenland paddles and Euro-blades
For a long time, I preferred my Cyprus from Werner. Paddling with a Euro-blade suits me well, and on my trip along the west coast of Sweden I paddled with nothing else, without any problems.
Early on I tried a number of different Greenland paddles and also learned to use them correctly. However, I kept returning to my Euro-blade.
Things have changed though. Since I started to practice kayak rolls for their own sake, I have gotten so familiar with a Greenland paddle that I have become really fond of paddling with one.
I alternate between using one or the other. It allows more time on the water as the load on the body changes slightly depending on which one I paddle with.
A bouquet of paddles
You can’t have too many kayaks, and you certainly can’t have too many paddles either. No one says you have to settle for just one.
I have four at the moment two Euro-blades, one of fibreglass and one of carbon fibre, and two Greenland paddles, one of wood and one of carbon fibre.
All four have scratches and marks from all the trips they have been on.
I don’t use the fiberglass paddle much anymore – mostly just to swipe sheep and goose droppings from campsites. The other three I use a lot.
Join a community and pick your paddle
Which paddle you use is mostly a question of what suits you and your paddling style best. A question of what you want on the water, both technically and ethically.
The two who currently have the most kilometres in our club’s paddling log are using a wing paddle and a Greenland paddle respectively. Mads uses a wing paddle. He has twice won the Danish Championship in Oceanrace and trains every day, about 10 kilometres at a high pace and also paddles long trips in between. Tobias doesn’t paddle quite as often, but usually paddles longer distances and uses a Greenland paddle. Number three in the log, Charlotte, uses both.
Try it out
The best advice is to try different paddles and find out what works best for you, and what you like best. That’s another good reason to join a kayaking club or some other community: you can get good instruction and a good chance to try different paddles, and that way find out what you prefer. Then you are well equipped when you decide to buy.
One thing in favour of a Greenland paddle is that it’s easy, with a bit of skill, to make one yourself.
Having your own paddle, whether it’s a Greenland paddle or a Euro-blade, is a great joy, and it becomes a very personal piece of equipment – almost more so than the kayak itself.