19 December 2013

Technique: Greenland paddle speed

A debate rivaled only by the skeg-versus-rudder one has been nagging a few proponents from both camps: the diminutive minority of Greenland paddle users and the more popular wing ones.
There have been a few strong opinions over the last couple of months about the power and versatility (or lack of) of Greenland paddles.
Comments from both camps, (actually all three including Euro style) appeared on Forums and a few misconceptions remain.

Khatsalano in Greenland
Photo: Doug Simpson
Greenland paddles are deemed positively inferior by some paddlers when it comes to speed (among other things) with their supporting evidence being the measured speed (fact).
However we often forget that performance can be a subjective thing where one might find a tool better than the other for his/her skill level, strength and style of paddling.
The drive to categorically dismiss a paddle as inferior is often the erroneous desire to emulate the "big" guys and acquire the very same tools that their heroes use.
Often however these specialized tools might not fit the casual approach to paddling that so many kayakers have, leading to disappointing results.
As disappointment seems a hard reality to accept I see too often persistence with a paddle that clearly does not fit the user and his/her style of kayaking.

The perception that a tool alone was going to make a marked difference and make an average paddler a faster/more skilled one is way too common in so many sports.
I have seen it in bicycle riding where wanting to emulate a hero the weekend warrior purchases the incredibly overbuilt downhill mountain bike rig to then only ride mellow fire roads, to skiers on the slope sporting very stiff and long skis designed for high speed close-track conditions being used for Sunday crowded intermediate slopes; there are examples in all sports.
I see the same happening with kayakers where a slow paddler wants to buy a longer kayak thinking that they will then be able to hold pace with a moderate-speed group of paddlers. A shorter kayak in reality serves them better than a long one, for casual paddling.
A limited skilled kayaker buys a playful boat thinking that it will make him an ace in the rough waters;  an arm paddler thinks she will improve her speed by using a wing paddle.
All these wonderful tools mean very little in the hands of paddlers that lack the skills to actually get the benefit from these tools.

Photo: Peter Sandström

Back to the Greenland paddle: why is it such a slow paddle?
It is only slow because it is used by slow paddlers using the wrong technique.

Years ago I gave the wing a go and I totally sucked with it: I spent a whole weekend with it to get an understanding.
I now laugh at myself thinking that I would be able to go much faster with my slow kayak using a wing paddle and understood nothing about its potential and proper use.
I also thought that spending a whole two days was sufficient time to get a feel for it when really it might take me years to actually get any decent results from such a specialized tool.
Like any new kayak that I acquire I understand that it takes time to learn the new balance points and quirky traits, the same applied when trying a Greenland paddle.
And despite a few years of exclusive use of the stick only now I am starting to get some results and I am confident using that paddle in all conditions.

So how could I discard that wing paddle so soon?

Owen showing why wing paddles are better than Greenland paddles
Photo: EKSydney
After some research I realized that wing paddles were designed for sprinting and while some kayakers are using them for general paddling I don’t have the same goals that they have.
I want a tool that is easy to use, reliable in the surf and gentle on the body.
It appears that the wing requires strong body rotation (something that I lack) high angle strokes (something that I don’t favour) and even the best paddlers deem them not that suitable for surf work (an environment that I enjoy).

But am I any slower by using a Greenland paddle? was the question that was bugging me and I had to find out.

Surfing NL GP_1_c

Since I have been using the Greenland paddle my speed has not really increased (maybe it has but I don’t have a way to measure that) however I have not been falling behind when going on outings with my paddling buddies using Euro paddles.
One thing I do notice however is how relaxed my body feels compared to using Euro paddles, while paddling and afterwards; no more wrist and elbow pain.
Greg Stamer, a world class paddlers that uses both wing and Greenland paddles (and a strong advocate for Greenland paddles) says:

For short races, under 10 miles, in flat conditions, with a skilled and fit paddler,  a wing paddle is usually faster.  I paddle with both a GP and a wing. I find that I’m roughly two minutes faster per mile with a wing (unladen kayak, flat conditions). This however, is not a perfect comparison because my fastest kayaks (e.g. Epic 18x) are wide and deep as compared to my normal Greenland kayaks, and would benefit from a longer paddle and longer loom than I have now.

My shoulders can handle a Greenland paddle much longer than a large wing, but that might not be true of everyone. 
In Iceland, Freya was often slightly faster with her large wing in calmer water. When it was rougher, I was slightly faster.  We finished at the same pace and same time. I still feel much safer in rough conditions with a Greenland paddle in my hands. 

Greg Stamer
Photo: Kam

But could I be really fast with a Greenland paddle if I wanted?
Could I hold pace to racers if I had a fast boat and got off the doughnuts and did some training instead of just playing in my kayak?

Start of Year_c

So what is the potential speed that I could achieve from a Greenland paddle?
If I took care of my canted stroke and studied the real masters of Greenland paddling I could real motor on the water. I could go way faster than anybody in the bay, with certainty. But I don’t.
What is holding me back is technique indeed, not my tool.

Maligiaq Padilla, the undisputed Greenland champion, has this to say:

1999 I was training for Sea kayak world championship, I took a class for wing paddles, I had it and use it, but cannot really comfortable with it, I choose to use my Greenland paddle.
For the world class 500m sprint I came #8 for the 32km #12 for 60km #7 I was pretty happy with the result, by the time my max speed was only 8,3 mph, I was the only one who use that stick.

2000 I went to Miami kayak challenge for 5 mile race, using Greenland paddle and Surfski
I came 1st their were several pro paddlers was there.

So I would just say, depends on skill level and experience and Greenland paddle is good for anything.

There I had is spelled out for me: if I want to go fast I have to better my skills, not just get perceived better tools.

Greenland Paddling Success
Photo: Fat Paddler

PS Greg Stamer says:
regarding the record set by Joe O’Blenis, the previous record for Vancouver Island was set by Sean Morely. Sean used a Nordkapp kayak and a wing paddle.  

10 December 2013

VIDEO: Surfing Vixen

My new kayak is tippy, with me on board.
A narrow beam and a deep V hull give me less initial stability but allow slightly higher speeds.
I have used the Johan Wirsen designed XP on the bay a few times; in milder conditions I chased the little short wind waves with ease as I can glide where usually I can’t with my other kayaks.
In steeper waves however the longer and less rockered kayak becomes more difficult to keep straight on the short waves. The bow seems to get caught in the wave in front of me while the stern is still getting pushed by the following wave, broaching the kayak.
Then every so often I get a decent longer wave and linking the one in front I get a free ride.

Conditions were rather windy with recordings of winds in excess of 25 knots all around the bay. The tidal flow was opposing the wind and the waves were starting to get blown over, flattening them. After an hour of surfing I no longer could paddle out against the wind as it increased beyond my skills: I had to call it quits. I pulled the kayak back to my launching spot and battled the wind trying to keep it in my hands once out of the water. I was tired, a bit frightened but happy to have overcome the initial tippines that I felt in the XP.


04 December 2013

Accessory: Hobkey sea kayak keyring

What is that on your keyring?
Obviously he doesn't know what a sea kayak is, I thought to myself.


It might be a talking point at a party or maybe a way to make myself not fit-in with the cricket loving fans but I like to remind myself of what makes me happy.
Marin from Hobkey has been following my blog for a while and asked me if I was interested in some samples of his unique sea kayak keyrings.
Turns out that he is one of my peeps from the old country and speaks my mother language: Slovenian. A very accomplished sea kayaker and rower himself (check his profile) he is passionate about this non main stream sport of sea kayaking.
He is the distributor of the sea kayak Hobkey and ships them directly to online customers but also wholesales them to retailers around the world.


The miniature kayak is made of PVC and meticulously reproduces a Fish-form skeg kayak with a keyhole cockpit. It really is a good model that almost looks perfectly like one of my kayaks!
The keyring is secured by a crimped stainless steel cable loop making the attachment rather solid. The little kayak is slightly flexible and will not snap when I try to bend it making the pendant durable. Marin's personal Hobkey is well used with a couple of keys rubbing against it and while the paint is getting a little scuffed it is still holding up well.

Is that a canoe?
I rolled my eyes and politely explained: "Close: it actually is a sea kayak..."

02 December 2013

Why a tippy kayak can be a good thing

A few months ago I paddled a new kayak that really impressed me: the XP designed by Johan Wirsen.
He lent me his personal kayak for a 500 km trip along the Swedish East coast. I had never paddled that kayak and I knew it was going to be very different to my British kayaks.
Along the way I really had a chance to test the kayak properly and I fell in love with it. The kayak was loaded with supplies and camping gear and it sat relatively stable in the water; I never had the chance to paddle it unloaded. I really wanted that kayak because it fitted me so well and allowed me to sit with my legs together, not splayed wide to fit under the thigh braces. It paddled with ease and responded very well to edging.
Once back in Australia I was lucky to get hold of a rare ultralight version; the XP is no longer in production because of copyright breach on the part of the manufacturer.
When I finally got to paddle the XP in my local waters I suddenly realized that this was a very different kayak. While the mould and shape were identical to what I had in Sweden I felt that my kayak was now so incredibly twitchy.

  Sculling Vixen_1_c

With its rather deep V hull shape and a narrow beam the unloaded kayak sat very differently on the water.
My first paddle in choppy conditions found me not in the usual relaxed style but I was bracing every so often to avoid falling in. I was concerned that this kayak might get relegated to “calm” days only but I really wanted to use it in all conditions. I took her out on challenging weather and despite feeling uncomfortable and needing to brace often I persisted.
Slowly my body got used to the tippiness and while I am not totally relaxed in her yet I can come back from a paddle no longer white knuckled.
I remember buying a few years ago another kayak (no test paddle) that I was disappointed with: I kept falling in. I was ready to on sell it but somehow persisted and developed the skill to paddle that demanding kayak. It later became my favorite surfing kayak, unfortunately the cockpit does not fit me that well.
As some say there is no such thing as a tippy kayak, just tippy paddlers I find that it takes a bit of time to overcome the initial low initial stability of a narrow hull. What I gain from my new kayak is increased skills and performance on small waves: I can easily surf wind waves that I can not in my British kayaks. While not perfectly suited to all the conditions that Moreton Bay offers (it’s a handful in short steep tidal flow driven waves) I find the performance superior to other kayaks I have.

Jeff Allen in Ocean Paddler magazine writes:
The other point about stable sea kayaks is that, if we take a beginner and put them straight into
a stable design, we gain instant success; they don’t need to learn a high degree of balance or effective bracing, they get away without the need to develop those most fundamental of skills. They develop the strokes in a stable craft /environment, but, when they move onto a more dynamic environment and try a simple sweep stroke in bubbly water, we see them capsize. 
A lack of balance and supporting blade angle are usually the culprit, which would have been their
first lesson had they started the process in a less-than-stable sea kayak. That is quite a radical
thought however, and (I hasten to add) is only my opinion. Much of our industry is based around
maintaining a good client base; happy customers will keep coming back for more.

  Surfing Vixen_3_c

In my previous life I used to ride passionately mountain bikes. My regular riding partner has a similar trail bike to mine. She was usually lagging behind a bit and I had to wait for her on some rides. She then decided to try riding a single speed on hilly trails. I thought she was mad to forego gears and make her riding harder; she sure will be a real drag…
And she was, for a few weeks. Then her technique improved, her riding style changed and her strength increased as she no longer wanted to get off on the hills she could not ride with the single speed. In a month’s time she was on my wheel and soon after she started to leave me behind.
I realized that by making her conditions harder she became a better rider since she wanted to ride that bike and not walk it, while myself I never pushed hard enough riding my geared bike: I could simply downshift on harder terrain. I never had the courage to go singlespeed but I wished I did; I would have ridden those Californian trails with more finesse and strength.