First things first, if you are considering getting a Greenland paddle, ensure you do some research on the ‘canted stroke’ first.
I am a relatively new convert to Greenland paddles, having paddled with euro style blades for 10 years. I mostly paddle the ocean, including week long kayak/camping expeditions. Day trips are usually in the 20-30km (half day) to 40km-50km range (full day). My preference for euro style paddle is a small blade and relatively short length. Currently a Werner Cyprus (carbon) 210cm using a 45 degree feather. My boat is a 580cm (19 foot) 55cm wide touring sea kayak.
Other than some very short plays I have very little previous experience with Greenland paddles. I have long admired the concept – the symmetrical and elegantly simple design – to me these were the paddles you would want to have if the s*$# really hit the fan due to ease of bracing, rolling, less windage paddling in high winds and reputedly more efficient distance paddling. For last few years I toyed with the idea of purchasing a Greenland paddle as my spare paddle so I could mix it up with the euro depending on conditions – but somehow never quite got around to the purchase. My first experience of any serious duration was with a laminated wooden shoulderless design from a relatively well known builder. I knew the principles of using the Greenland paddle but my first few attempts the paddle felt awful. Towards the end of a short 16km trip I was starting to get a little more comfortable with the design, though still paddling poorly (especially retraining the brain to the lack of feather on the left hand stroke). Despite this, the second half of the trip was towards the higher end of my cruising speed with other paddles, which I did not expect. I had already determined that bracing and rolling with the Greenland paddle was as good or better than a euro so I finally committed to a purchase.
In my previous half-hearted investigations I had zeroed in on Gearlab Paddles as my likely supplier. I wanted two-piece (but without an outwardly bulky ferule or needing tools) and I wanted carbon (wood seemed like too much maintenance). The replaceable polyamide plastic tips on the Gearlab paddle were a big plus in resolving one of the weakness I would just have to live with on greenland paddle. Lots of checking around the web revealed consistently positive reviews - a serious company, genuinely interested in the uses of the gear they make and improving the designs over time. I continued to look at other options, but came back to Gearlab.
The paddle choice was relatively simple – I wanted a touring design for long distances and I wanted shoulderless for wandering hands during paddling, bracing and rolling. So the Akiak model it was. Not so easy was estimating the correct length. In my initial years sea kayaking I went from 230cm to 210cm and found this a vast improvement – so much so that I now find a 220cm euro paddle quite awkward to use. My Werner is 210cm and I often think it is still a touch too long and I would like to try a 205cm version of that paddle. So I read lots on Greenland paddle sizing (including the guide on Gearlab’s site) and everything pointed to a much longer paddle – 235cm to 250cm! I am 6’4” by the way. I was struggling with ordering such a long paddle but was close to settling at 220cm – just to add some length to my euro preferred length as all indications were to go longer. In the end I emailed Gearlab with a tediously long list of considerations to paddle sizing. They suggested I go with a 210cm Greenland paddle as that is the length I have become used to paddling. This sounded good to me, but did create a new niggling doubt – the paddle blade gets a little smaller as the paddle gets shorter so would this thing, already the smallest bladed paddle in their line-up – be under powered?
I ordered the paddle anyway. As mentioned in other reviews, Gearlab handled the order impeccably. They are clearly very well accustomed to fulfilling online orders. They sent an email to confirm all order details were correct before shipping, and then the paddle was delivered (in regional Australia) only 3 business days after it was shipped!
Paddle was durably packed and came with spare tips and screws, some wax (to put on the ferrule joint if it is a little loose), instructions for how to change all the parts if need be and some promotional stickers.
On examination the paddle is well built. The join at the ferrule is not quite as perfect as my Werner (possibly the best ferrules in the business) – they is a hairline space on the Gearlab paddle between the two halves when joined though this is not in any way a functional issue. Sometimes if I twist the paddle deliberately I think I can feel a fraction of radial play in the join – then I try again and I feel nothing. I may or may not be imagining it and there is certainly no other play in the join – it is very solid.
On the water after only about 50km and a few rolling sessions I am impressed enough to believe this will become my primary paddle and not my spare as originally intended. The kicker here is the paddle’s success with forward propulsion. I had always expected the Greenland paddle to be great for bracing, technical strokes and rolling – and it is. But I am probably also a bit faster with the Akiak than my Werner on the forward stroke. Maybe my euro technique is poor (if is far from perfect) but I doubt it is that bad – I have certainly had no problems with speed or efficiency against others to date. Early days with the Akiak technique wise but Coach Garmin says I am sustaining speeds of between 8km/hr and 9km/hr when conditions are reasonable over distances (7km and 10km) including on a no-current inland water.
I focussed from the very start on getting the canted stroke working and whilst that added to the initial awkwardness it is paying off. Still more work needs to be done. The canted stroke does feel like it has the Greenland paddle working like a wing paddle and the paddle absolutely feels like it is ‘planted in mud’ to use someone else’s phrase. Judging from the feel of the paddle and the speeds on my GPS I am confident in saying that this little paddle has more grip (power) than I can utilise in my kayak. The paddle, when used with the canted stroke at speed forces good body rotation as it is simply too much strain on the shoulders to continue arm paddling for long. I also find my paddling cadence no faster than the euro. I hold the Akiak with quite a wide grip. Compared to my Euro stroke my Greenland stroke starts slightly less forward (otherwise I find it hard to get the right canting angle) and finishes a fair bit further back (which does not result in loss of efficiency like the Euro). I paddle at a variety of angles through a day but often use a reasonably high angle, close in stroke. My Greenland style thus far is slightly lower angle generally (I wouldn’t call it low angle) and I can keep it close in or move out like a wing paddle. I am very slightly faster it appears with it close compared to the wing style stroke. The euro does not seem to like my wing style stroke at all. All up the paddling experience has been nothing like what I expected from my research expecting that Greenland paddles are high cadence, gentle on the body, long distance paddles. Compared to the wooden greenland paddle I tried earlier the Gearlab paddle is more comfortable in the hand and seems to be a little more forgiving of paddling strokes (not as prone to ventilating). I don’t find any problem with any lack of grip on the carbon and I like the smoother feel of the composite finish in the water.
In terms of wear on the body, I haven’t done any long enough trips to test but to date after a 30km paddle there was no soreness to report. That trip involved some heavy direct headwinds for a stretch – never fun or fast but the paddle is easier to control than a euro in those conditions. I haven’t had much issue with fatigue with my Werner either so can’t really compare. The Gearlab paddle is heavier than the Werner but I don’t notice any greater swing weight (and paddling into a good wind it is certainly less weight in the air).
I am also very happy with the 210cm length and can’t see a need (or desire) for longer. Holding the paddle normally for a roll there is less support than the Werner (due to the less width out the end) but extending the paddle about 20cm-30cm (not a Pawlata) seems to give about the same support as the Werner. This is easily done in a fraction of a second underwater. I can still roll without any extension almost every time. Typical of any Greenland paddle fully extending the paddle (Pawlata style) gives a slow roll with so much support you just about can’t fail to come up.
Where the Werner Cyprus paddle has been a standout for me (it is overall a very, very good paddle) is the instant, predictable and secure bite the blade has in any conditions – particularly great in surfing or in confused seas. Still to test the Greenland paddle for this. I note Gearlab has the wider bladed ‘surfing’ Greenland paddle models for this however the Akiak may yet be sufficient for me in ‘conditions’ on the ocean – I’ll need to test to see.
In all I can’t fault Gearlab’s paddle or their service and a full five stars from me. Price is competitive relative to the Greenland paddle completion (including wood) and other quality paddles.
I am also in a stage of being in slight shock as to the potential of Greenland paddles generally but my rating of Gearlab does not include this factor, just their paddle quality and service.
In summary: • Get the canted stroke concept into your head as early as possible and work on it. • Don’t be afraid of going to shorter paddles, in line with euro lengths. • Don’t be mistaken to thinking this style of paddle is about high cadence, gentle paddling. You can do this but get the canted stroke right and there is more power in these paddles than you can likely use.