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Greenland Kayaking?

Posted Oct 10 2005 12:00am

He has no friends
But he gets a lot of mail
I’ll bet he spent a little
Time in jail…
I heard he was up on the
Roof last night
Signaling with a flashlight
And what’s that tune he’s
Always whistling…
What’s he building in there?
What’s he building in there?
We have a right to know… tom waites

Friday afternoon I loaded up wood from our old dead elm tree to take out to the Devil’s Lake State Park group camp. Today everyone from the North East Sea Kayakers would be arriving for the weekend. Mary had to stay home having had a tooth pulled just a couple hours earlier. She was not going to get to show off her new rolling skills. A major disappointment for her. I arrived at the south shore parking just in just in time to see a flock of Current Designs boats landing on the grass beside a cacophony of multi-colored vehicles. In amongst the flock were hidden a bright red Greenlander & a brand new Black Beauty. Alex got his new rolling boat! Cool! It seemed like just a short time ago that he had ordered his Qajaq from Peter Strand.

If you’re fairly new to kayaking, I’m thinking now may be a good time to give you a little intro to Greenland Kayaking. Especially if I’m going to start spelling Kayak with a “Q”. Tough assignment. So, I’ll take a deep breath, roll up my sleaves, and get those typing fingers ready. Oh, and remember. . I’m no expert, so for what it’s worth;

When you hear things like “Qajaq”, or “Pondscum”, “masik, or “pawlatta” you’re slipping into the dark world of Greenlandic Kayaking. Often our first exposure to Greenland kayaking is that funky 2×4 looking thing you first see someone paddling with at a local lake. Right away you know that stick thing can’t be normal. (oh, now I get the Tom Waites thing) From that introduction your next impression may be one of weird rolls and odd wardrobes. Often those Greenland folks tend to remain sort of an enigma until something happens and you suddenly find yourself being drawn into the cult. Then you’ve had it. Only a de-programmer of extraordinary skill will ever save your soul.

Ok, well that’s a bit over the top. I hope so anyway. You see, all kayaks owe their existence more or less to the indigenous people of the artic. To some extent even if you paddle a small recreational kayak on your local lake you are paddling in the wake of ancient seal hunting cultures of the far north. (yes, that means north of Wisconsin) Today for better or worse, we tend to group them all together under the term “Greenland” when talking about kayaking. However traditional kayaking really encompasses many cultural, regional & historical variations. Traditional or “Greenland” kayaker’s are generally folks who have taken a special interest in reviving these ancient skills and it’s easy to see why.

As kayakers many of us cannot avoid the slippery slope. First you get on the water, then you need a longer boat, then you want to roll, then you want to roll 30 different ways. With so much emphasis on rolling in the sport, it’s not suprising that many kayakers eventually wander into the Greenland camp, if only for a visit. There are just so many cool rolls. Outside of Greenland kayaking your best “chix-on-dox” show-off skills are side-sculls and hat rolls. Nice to be sure. But within traditional rolls you have such fun things as “Spine Rolls”, “Storm Rolls”, “Reverse Sweep Rolls” and so many others. And let’s face it, we all want to look cool. .

But really it’s much more than that. Some people are taken with the history and cultural beauty. Knowing that not long ago kayaking skills had all but died in their native lands. For some of us we see that Greenland skills also take us up another notch as kayakers. learning new skills keeps kayaking exciting. It also can’t be over-stated that Greenland rolls do have a purpose. Much more than showy technique, put together they provide a pallet on which a truly “bombproof” roll can be built. It’s hard to imagine a situation where one of the Greenland rolls would not get you back up. Remember, originally these rolls were developed to keep hunters alive in some really god-awful situations and sea conditions. Even non-rolling types have found that just switching to a “GP” or Greenland Paddle has been a blessing as it causes much less physical stress to use, less wind resistance, and is so buoyant you can practically use it as additional floatation! Traditional kayaking has much to offer, even to recreational paddlers.

For some people traditional kayaking is almost akin to religion. I know this has slighted some. Certainly this ocassional “Puritanism” has caused some folks resentment and keeps them away from this important part of sea kayaking. I’ve heard some very mixed reactions roll around when a group guys in Tuiliks (the traditional paddling jacket of the Inuit) go paddling by. Yes, there are people who take a superior “Star-Bellied Sneech” approach to the whole thing for sure. But that’s true in anything humans come into contact with. Interestingly though, the most talented and most well known traditional kayakers are just the opposite and do a real service to the sport. Names like Cheri Perry, Greg Stamer, Turner Wilson, Freya Hoffmeister, Dennis Asmussen and others are always mentioned in the same breath with their patience, good humor and willingness to teach.

For my part, I’m happy to accept crumbs from the table of this great tradition. I’ve no want to go head-long down the traditional path, yet I know there is so much there to learn. So for now I paddle both with my Greenland paddle and my big Lendal blade depending on the day. One day I practice my C to C roll and another I’m working on my chest scull. To me it all seems to blend nicely. I’m happy not to be a “this” kayaker or “that” kayaker. I just want to be a competent sea kayaker. Yet, yesterday as I pulled the mini-cell Masik from out from the Keyhole cockpit of my Nigel Dennis Explorer and I looked over at Alex in full Greenlandic garb & new black boat, I couldn’t help but reflect back to a year ago when I was proud to have one solid roll and Alex was just becoming confident that he could roll his Sonoma. Must be something in the water. I doubt I’ll ever don a Tuilik or buy a rolling boat. . . But on the other hand, I’ve heard someone say that before. .

More To Learn;

1. QajaqUSA – Greenland Kayak Club – Everything you want to know about traditional kayaking
2. Tuilik (Read “THE TUILIK-THEN and NOW) - Tradtional Spray Skirt
3. Masik – A curved deck beam, often in the range of 6-7cm wide, that supports the front of the cockpit coaming.
4. Pond Scum – Waldon Pond Traditonal Kayak Club
5. Star Bellied Sneech – Dr. Susses Character. :)

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