As a new kayaker, how much time will pass before you learn about a Greenland roll – a kayak roll? Probably not very long. Most people have likely heard of rolls long before they’ve even thought of getting into a kayak.
Those of us who get seriously hooked on kayaking, especially sea kayaking, quickly become interested in learning this Arctic art as well – and for some of us, it becomes a sport in itself.
And that is when you need a tuiliq!
The kayak and its gear
One of the great things about sea kayaking (and other kinds of kayaking) is that it doesn’t have to be a particularly expensive outdoor activity. Especially if you join a club that has kayaks, paddles, PFDs and more that the members freely can use as much as they like.
Another great thing about sea kayaking is that there’s plenty of opportunity for serious gear nerding!
One of the first things I spent my money on, and which made a great difference to my experience at the water, was a paddle.
Things have evolved a quite a bit since then: I now have three kayaks, four paddles, two PFDs, five spray skirts, a dry suit and a lot of other stuff – and then I have my tuiliq.
And what is a tuiliq?
A tuiliq is a Greenlandic garment made to keep you dry in a kayak. It is both a jacket and a spray skirt in one piece. It fits tightly around the cockpit coaming, tightly around the wrists and tightly around the face – ideally.
At the Arctic Ocean, among icebergs, seals and polar bears, the idea of getting out of the kayak and into the water was not healthy. If the kayak capsized, it was important to get back up quickly and as dry as possible. That’s where the kayak roll and the tuiliq shows its value.
Originally, a tuiliq was made of sealskin with waterproof stitching, and with openings at the face, wrists and cockpit that could be tied tightly to keep water out.
The way it is tied at the face, with the cords going behind the head, gives it a very distinctive look.
Dry and warm
The tuiliq is not only useful for capsizing and subsequent rolling. It’s a great winter garment in general. It keeps water out of the kayak in rough seas, and has plenty of room for a freezing kayaker to pile up on warm clothes underneath.
However, staying dry and warm, whether on the Arctic Ocean or in the Danish winter, requires that you don’t have to get out of the kayak if you capsize. Here in Denmark, you can get by with a wetsuit underneath, but it can get a bit cold having water in the cockpit so you’d better be sure to stay in the kayak.
The usefulness of a tuiliq comes when you are well practised in Greenland rolls. Not only at home at calm waters, but also out in the waves and wind, out at sea (where the kayak belongs) and feel safe there too.
My tuiliq is not made of sealskin
I am really happy with my tuiliq. It is not made of sealskin, but of modern materials, neoprene and with rubber around the edges where it is supposed to fit the cockpit coaming. When it is tied properly, no water gets into the kayak, even when you are doing a lot of rolls or are being washed over by one wave after another.
I now and then hear people, impressed when they see someone doing the hardest rolls, suggest that there is a lot of buoyancy in a tuiliq. That’s not entirely true, and it’s not what makes it suitable for kayak rolls. There is buoyancy in it, but it is also heavy in itself, and a regular PFD has considerably more buoyancy. It is the freedom of movement that makes a tuiliq suiteble for kayak rolls.
Buying a tuiliq
There are several different companies that make and sell tuiliqs. Either in neoprene or other materials.
For summer use, I consider getting one from another company. One in a thin material, preferably white, that doesn’t make it so varm – a tuiliq in black neoprene easily turns into a small sauna in the summer sun. Of course, it makes you want to get down into the water in a hurry to cool down, and in that way becomes an incentive to do more rolls, but if you also want to paddle around a bit, it needs to be supplemented with regular dips along the way.
A tuiliq should fit well, both for you wearing it and for your kayak. Serious companies that stock tuiliqs supply them to order, so that it fits your body whether you’re big or small, fat or thin, and so that it fits the cockpit, whether it’s a big keyhole cockpit or a small ocean cockpit.
Rescuing yourself and others with a tuiliq
The basic idea of a tuiliq is that you don’t get out of the kayak. If you do, it’s a bit of a hassle to do a self-rescue, or have a friend helping you back into the kayak. True, it can be done, but in the water the tuiliq is big and heavy, it’s not easy to swim in.
Conversely, it’s no problem to rescue a friend who’s capsized and exited the kayak – the rescue works just as well as with any other garment.
The tuiliq comes into its own when you well practised in Greenland rolls, or paddle in conditions where you are sure not to capsize – if such conditions exist.
Tuiliq and the skills at the water
A tuiliq makes rolling significantly easier because of the extra freedom of movement it provides, and once you’ve been in a kayak so much that rolling has become a natural part of kayaking, your sense of the sea and wind and waves usually gets to the point where you rarely capsize.
On the other hand, increasing skills on the water often make you want to get out where it gets a little tougher, a little more challenging. Then the roll really shows its worth.
Tuiliq in autumn
It is October. The temperature, both in the air and the water, is going down. The leaves are changing colour, the water has become clear, and here in Copenhagen harbour apples and pears are hanging out over the water ripe for the picking.
Traffic in the harbour has slowed as it gets colder and windier. There aren’t as many rental boats anymore.
I can sit warm and cosy in my tuiliq, munch on the pear I’ve just picked down with my Greenland paddle and, before my stomach gets too full, make some relaxed rolling. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining or windy.
The tuiliq keeps me warm and dry.