Friday, May 25, 2012

Euro vs. Greenland: Teacher Knows Best about Paddles

Welcome, Guest Blogger, Mark Whitaker from Columbia River Kayaking!!!
When I first started paddling in 2004, it was so that I could be an assistant guide for Elderhostel programs and beginner tours here on the lower Columbia river. I had no idea that eight years later, I would be a BCU four star leader, an L2 coach, and that kayaking would be my main source of income for over half the year as well as a means of getting out to go birdwatching, fishing or just plain exploring all year round. In 2007, I became one of the owners of Columbia River Kayaking, LLC, here in Skamokawa, WA.

During that first year, I was paddling an old plastic Necky Looksha IV from the rental fleet, and using one of the old rental paddles. I didn't mind the boat so much, except for the rudder, but I did not like the paddle at all. It was heavy and long, and seemed to have a mind of its own when it came to how it interacted with the water. I struggled to learn to roll with it, and was successful only some of the time.

That fall, I went to the West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium for the first time, and took a couple of short, on-the-water classes. The first one was a class comparing and contrasting three kinds of paddles: the standard "euro" blade paddle, a lightweight carbon fiber wing paddle, and a Greenland stick. I was intrigued by the Greenland stick, and the next day, I took a class just about that paddle and how to use it effectively.

I loved how well behaved and neutral the blade was in the water, I loved how it braced, I loved the larger diameter shaft and the feel of wood in my hands, as opposed to fiberglass, and I soon would come to love the way that using a Greenland stick would connect me to the history of kayaking, and a whole lot of other nerds who felt the same way. 

When I got home from WCSKS that fall, I immediately went online and found a set of instructions for making a Greenland paddle, went to Home Depot and scrounged up a perfectly clear cedar 2x4 out of the decking bin, and carved my first of several Greenland sticks. I never looked back at that heavy, long and cumbersome rental paddle again, and for several years, I used Greenland sticks exclusively. Rolling became not only easy, but an end unto itself, as I worked on the competition list of Greenland rolls.

After a couple of years, I got involved in the BCU coaching track, taking first the old L2 course, then the new L1 and L2 courses. Along the way, the feedback that I got from my teachers included the advice that I should learn to be proficient with a Euro paddle as well as the Greenland stick, since most of my students would probably be using the Euro blade. This was not something I wanted to hear, as my main experience with Euro paddles was limited to those old, heavy ones from the rental fleet. 

But then I tried out a carbon fiber, foam core Werner Ikelos, and realized right away that it was not at all like those old heavy clunkers that I was used to. Still, having gotten used to the skinny blades of a Greenland stick, the big fat blade on the Ikelos was more than I wanted, so in August of 2008, I finally coughed up the dough and ordered a bent shaft, 205 cm, carbon fiber Werner Cyprus, the smaller bladed version of the Ikelos. 

For the first year or so, this mostly served as a spare paddle and as an instructional aid for demonstrating things. I wasn't really crazy about it, and still preferred the GP most of the time. But I gradually started making myself use it more and more for "regular" paddling, so that I could become better at it. Now, a few years on, the Werner has actually become my primary paddle for most situations, and my custom Beale Greenland stick rides along as the spare. I still trade back and forth between both paddles during the course of a day, but my initial dislike of the Euro style paddles has been largely left behind.

Some of the things about this paddle that I have learned to love are similar to the GP, actually. Cedar GPs are traditionally much lighter than most fiberglass paddles, and the carbon fiber paddle is even lighter still. This makes a big difference over the course of a long day.

The smooth back of the carbon fiber, foam core Werner blade, as opposed to other Euro style paddles with a "spine" down the back of the blade, allows the carbon Werner to behave in a more neutral fashion in the water, making it far less "grabby" and "twitchy" than other Euro style blades can be. This makes it an ideal paddle for teaching beginners, since people can focus on good form without having to deal with the paddle's tendency to twitch and dive around.

I prefer the bent shaft to the straight shaft. It feels easier on my wrists, for one thing, and also makes indexing the Euro blade for rolling a much easier and quicker task. In a real pinch, when the surf is thrashing me all around, and I need to roll up quickly, and from any strange position, I'd still rather have a GP in my hands, but the Werner has been a very friendly Euro blade to roll with, and over the last year or so, I've gotten much more comfortable in rough water with it in general.

Over the last couple of years, I've tried several other makes of Euro paddles, but none of them have impressed me as much as the one I already own.

Check out Mark's paddle of choice the Cyprus on Werner TV

Photo: Mark Whitaker, Paddle: Werner Paddles Performance Core Cyprus

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Green River, UT

Green River, UT
Photo: Shawna Franklin