Why does the Greenland Paddle work?
What kind of paddle is that?…
“What IS that?”
“I’ve seen one of those before? Does it work?”
When you paddle with a Greenland Paddle, get ready for these questions. People are very curious about “the stick” you are holding in your hands. They can’t quite believe you are going to go kayaking with it. Then they are amazed when you not only hold your place in the group, but do it with ease.
Why does the Greenland Paddle work? The answer comes from human physiology and exercise metabolism. Simply put, the the Greenland Paddle works because we humans are not all that strong. We can put about a tenth of a horsepower into a paddle when sprinting, and less when cruising. That skinny blade is plenty good and pretty efficient in transforming energy from your muscles into forward motion.
The Greenland Paddle is not a good paddle for aerobic whitewater kayaking. In playboating, the paddler needs to really grab a piece of water and hoist themselves out of an eddy or upstream RIGHT NOW. The effort takes a couple seconds and is an all-out anaerobic event like weight lifting. After moments of rest, the series of anaerobic pulls then continues. For this kind of play, the whitewater kayaker needs to have a big shovel to pull hard against the water – for a moment.
The Greenland Paddle shines when it comes to the constant effort of travel. No shovel is necessary, as the goal is adding a little extra energy with each stroke to make up for drag. (Drag is mainly due to interaction of the kayak on its wetted surface, and to some extent, interaction of the upper deck with the wind.)
There is a maximum practical speed for any length of kayak called the displacement hull speed. This is the speed at which the bow wave travels and this is completely dependent on the water line length. With an outboard motor, it is possible to drive a canoe or a run-about above the hull speed into planing. A kayak can also plane – usually down the face of a wave while surfing, or when pulled by a kite. But paddling any distance never leads to a planing hull speed.
Racers push this hull speed at its upper edges, trading a lot of energy for going a little faster than the hull speed. But for most of us, traveling below hull speed is plenty good enough for a day’s workout. And the Greenland Paddle is plenty efficient to achieve 3-4 miles per hour – hour after hour.
So why does the Greenland Paddle work? Because it is good enough for the human engine. There is no way that the human physiology can continue to pull to the full potential of the “euro” paddle for more than a few minutes. Even then, the muscles are operating anaerobicly and will quickly need to get rid of their lactic acid debt. The Greenland Paddle allows the fit cruising kayaker to quickly get up to near hull speed and maintain that speed for hours on end.
An additional advantage of the Greenland Paddle is wind resistance. The wide-bladed shovel paddle is also a wind scoop. Therefore “euro” paddles are often set up so that the alternating exposed paddles are feathered into the wind. The angle between the two faces is normally about 60 degrees. With the Greenland Paddle, the paddle faces are parallel to each other, and the paddle is held at a lower angle. The paddle face is narrow enough that for almost all conditions, wind resistance is negligible. For the most severe conditions, a special shorter paddle is used with a sliding stroke, so that much less paddle is exposed. This is most useful when paddling into winds above 25 knots.
Of course, with the feathered “euro” paddle, the kayaker needs to roll the wrist with each stroke. For some kayakers, this wrist rolling is an aggravating repetitive motion and causes pain or numbness of the hands. No studies have been done yet to find out if wrist rolling is related to carpal tunnel syndrome. However, for those with wrist problems, a Greenland Paddle may offer less stress.
Speaking of stress, the Greenland Paddle can save the shoulders of kayakers learning to roll. Far too many novice kayakers hurt their shoulder’s rotator cuff by pulling hard against the resistance of a “euro” paddle while learning the rolling movements. Experienced sea kayak paddlers have said that when learning to roll, the experience is about 90% effort and 10% thinking. A couple years later, it is about 10% effort and 90% thinking. A Greenland Paddle can effectively make it more difficult to pull extraordinarily hard during a roll recovery. This aids the beginning roller to apply the right forces earlier in the learning process, while possibly saving the shoulder joint from injury. It is still possible to injure a shoulder with a Greenland Paddle, used in the wrong way, but is a little safer. (The same way that riders can fall from a motorcycle or a bicycle. The bike rider is less likely to sustain severe injury.)