Greenland paddles have always captured the imaginations of many due to the simplicity, feel and connection experienced by the budding paddler and the history and culture associated with them. The notion of using a paddle that stems from thousands of years of trial and error, by the same people that bestowed the world our beloved kayak, holds a certain allure. I have even heard Greenland paddlers referred to as purists. That has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
Like many, my first experience of a stick involved trialling a fellow paddlers beautifully hand-crafted cedar paddle for a whole 10 minutes. Unsurprisingly, I took a silent dislike to this slow, fluttering length of wood that looked beautiful but performed like a length of 2x4 timber. Naturally, I couldn’t possibly tell the owner my true opinion of the paddle he had invested so much time, labour and love into, so I told him it was nice whilst secretly being thankful to have my Euro-paddle back within my grasp. My next encounter was a little more involved. After openly expressing my closely guarded opinions of Greenland paddles I was persuaded to try again. It wasn’t hard to convince me - I was tired from a few days paddling and on this occasion the stick was a welcome relief. With a little coaching from my purist colleague and some alterations to my paddling style, such as using a cantered stroke and utilising dynamic hand positioning, my original romantic notions of Greenland paddling were realised.
Since then I am always seizing opportunities to use someone else’s paddle, however, despite my new kinship and admiration of the Greenland paddle, I have never owned one. In an ideal world, I would have a Euro paddle and a Greenland with me, so then I can switch between the two. When the opportunity arose to test GEARLAB's split composite Greenland paddles I found myself a little excited. Perhaps I could use these as my splits, and always have the option. After a time, maybe I will even become a purist.
Sliding these paddles out of their cardboard cartons and bubble wrap sleeves revealed a thing of beauty. They really do look smart. All three paddles have a very high quality finish, are made of carbon and are remarkably light. On further inspection, the build quality and attention to detail is a lot higher than anticipated and incorporates some innovative engineering. Somehow, they instil a sense of pride when holding them; a sense of pride that my visiting Nan didn’t share whilst I excitedly show her and referred to them as sexy.
All three paddles are splits, and feature a Diamond Joint (D-Joint). The joint itself is made from titanium alloy, which is marketed as lightweight, corrosion resistant and providing strength and rigidity. They fit together with ease and the join line is almost invisible. They all feature a very low-profile carbon release button and have clearly had a lot of thought invested to allow sliding/changing grip positions along the shaft. This creates a smooth and sleek finish and comes with a small block of wax for joint care (a nice touch, I thought).
The blades are protected by exchangeable polyamide paddle tips and are, apparently, the first of their kind. These are more than just a sheath that protect and cover the tips, and are integrated into the design in a seamless, uniform fashion. The blades themselves have sharp edges and appear to have come straight out of an aerospace factory.
ON THE WATER
Whilst paddling, there is no movement whatsoever in the joint and this didn’t change throughout the six weeks of testing. I tend to lose or misplace wax care packages so I purposefully failed to treat the joints and buttons to see if the quality of this joint would remain - it did. I didn’t notice any failings in performance due to the exchangeable paddle tips and these do provide great reassurance when amongst the rocks or shallow ground. These tips do take quite a battering, eradicating any pre-conceived notions that they would require changing after every paddle. I intentionally damaged the tips on the Nukilik whilst rock hopping. This trips purpose was to give the paddle a beating and involved me navigating a rock garden maze on the west side of Portland, Dorset pushing off the rocks. Although they eventually split, I wouldn’t imagine this happening from the occasional knock. These paddles are extremely light, which took some getting used to as it felt as if I was shadow paddling. All three paddles are extremely buoyant due to being hollow which really adds a sense of security when bracing. Rolling is effortless. The sharp paddle edges really cut through the surface, allowing a clean and silent paddling experience. Although these are composite paddles they still deliver the same feel as you experience when paddling with a wooden stick.
The shape of the AKIAK resembles a traditional style Greenland paddle; it features a shoulderless design enabling the traditional freedom of a dynamic paddling grip and delivers the same feel as you would experience when paddling with a wooden stick. The colour of these paddles matched that of my P&H Quest LV and when stowed as splits delivered a very low profile, which is aesthetically pleasing. Paddling over long distances was effortless. They are an absolute pleasure when solo paddling, offering a real connection with the sea, wildlife, environment and surroundings.
- GEARLAB PADDLES AKIAK
The NUKILIK features a shouldered grip design, providing a very positive grip. I found this to be an exceptional paddle for more dynamic environments. The loom is wider, which offers a greater variety in grip positioning. Both offer a more aggressive feel to the paddle and provide added security when bracing and manoeuvring amongst rocks, resulting in a Greenland paddle with performance capabilities you would associate with a Euro paddle. That said, on longer journeys it presents a similar feel and aesthetics to the AKIAK.
- GEARLAB PADDLES NUKILIK
The KAYAKID is advertised as excelling in surf conditions and it is easy to relate to this claim just on its appearance. The blades are wider, taper off in a teardrop shape and, as claimed, offer more power, acceleration and support. This is complimented by a similar shaft to the NUKILIK, however the shoulders are more pronounced, which only increases the positivity in grip and bracing. Rolling with this paddle felt as easy, if not easier than rolling with my Euro paddle, which surprised me. I find rolling with Greenland paddles to be a smoother, more composed method of rolling - a form I wouldn’t necessarily adopt when wiping out on a wave. Somehow, the KAYAKID facilitates rolling in anger using whatever technique comes instinctively. Bracing into bottom turns is very positive and due to the sharp edges of the blade, if they enter the water off angle it soon corrects itself; a feature that is present amongst all three paddles.
- GEARLAB PADDLES KAYAKID
THE BOTTOM LINE
There has been a lot of thought and care involved in modernising this traditional piece of paddling equipment, which is evident in the design, build and finish on all three paddles. They are light and buoyant, their sharp edges cut through the surface, remain silent and the reassurance of detachable tips allows a playful element. GEARLAB haven’t just modernised the Greenland paddle, they have captured its soul.
The AKIAK for me offers the same experience as one would receive from a traditional wooden paddle and is beautiful within its own right.
For those who enjoy play, the KAYAKID rivals a Euro paddle in terms of power, support and performance. In surf, overfalls and conditions it provides a playful feel and instils confidence. The NUKILIK is a great all-rounder, capturing the essence of the Greenland tradition whilst also offering a more aggressive feel for dynamic conditions. For trips that incorporate a multitude of environments with some decent rock hopping, this is the one that arguably offers a perfect mixture of the AKIAK and KAYAKID.
Perhaps somewhat controversially, there is no criticism to report on all three paddles. They are fantastic in every sense and I am sure that the ability to carry great quality split Greenland paddles as spares will only add to their popularity. Am I a full convert? No. However, I will be buying myself a GEARLAB paddle to carry as a spare, enabling me to switch between my Euro and Greenland Paddle when I see fit, and who knows, perhaps as my Greenland skills and confidence improve...
’ There has been a lot of thought and care involved in modernising this traditional piece of paddling equipment which is evident in the design, build and finish on all three paddles. They are light and buoyant, their sharp edges cut through the surface, remain silent and the reassurance of detachable tips allows a playful element. GEARLAB haven’t just modernised the Greenland paddle, they have captured its soul. ’ - Andy Taylor
About the Author
Andy Taylor comes from a composite engineering background and works as a Sea Kayak Coach and Guide. He is currently in higher education studying Coaching, Sports Psychology and Biomechanics as well as developing a Not-for-profit organisation that utilises the experience of sea kayaking as a platform for motivational therapeutic interventions. He can be contacted by email – firstname.lastname@example.org
The original review is reported on the Ocean Paddler issue 56.