Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A Beginning

Kayaking has long been a big part of our lives. When my husband and I were working 12 hour days, six days a week, it was almost guaranteed that on that one day off we could be found out there somewhere in our kayaks. For a long time it was all that was keeping us sane. No matter how our work week had been, we had the serenity and peace of the water awaiting us when Sunday swung round. After more than ten years of a work routine that was taking a higher and higher toll on us, we decided we had to change.  We made some drastic changes. We reduced our work load and our commitments. We moved house – away from our business; no longer just a ten minute drive away, we can’t be trapped into spending extra time there. We no longer work full time in the usual sense. On three days per week, we work long hours, the rest of the week is ours. Sounds great doesn’t it?
There were some sacrifices to be made to be able to work less and enjoy more. Less work does equal less money, we live a simple lifestyle so we can afford to do the things we love.  But the very fact that we can get out and enjoy ourselves bushwalking, cycling, snorkelling, kayaking and more, any time we want more than makes up for the things we do without. I have learned a very valuable lesson – Simplify! Demand less of life, and it will actually give you more.
The simple things are best!
Now we have a weekend, we can enjoy camping again
More about kayaking (or Qajaqing)
We have both always had a strong interest and appreciation of tradition and culture. Our love of Japanese Martial Arts led to a deep love of the ancient traditions and culture of Japan. It was only a matter of time before our passion for kayaking developed in the same way. For most people, they are happy enough to paddle their modern plastic or composite boats, with their fibreglass or carbon paddles and marvel over each new innovation modern technology brings to this sport. So many paddlers out there, and so few have ever spared a thought to where it all started. I have to admit, I was one of them. But as my interest deepened, I began to explore and learn more. Then Wayne bought a Greenland Paddle, I have to admit, after trying it a few times it didn’t win me over. I loved my big ‘Euro’ blades, and I certainly wasn’t convinced that this skinny little stick was going to give me the power to keep up with other paddlers. So Wayne started paddling with his skinny stick, while I kept my nice new fancy carbon fibre toy. For Wayne, the paddle did exactly what he had bought it for – after spending most of his life training in martial arts, along with a variety of other high impact activities, he has an impressive list of injuries – including major damage to both shoulders. The traditional paddle is espoused as a gentle paddle, one that will let you paddle for long days without the impact on the body that the big European blades can have. It performed as promised, but being younger, I was still happy with my ‘euro’.
My favourite Euro paddle- no longer in service.
Then, bored and housebound on a stormy weekend, we picked up a DVD that had been sitting on Wayne’s shelf for a while, neither of us had gotten around to watching it before. It was an instructional DVD on Greenland rolling. Watching this simple DVD was to going change my kayaking experience completely. Watching the rolls, and the simple exercises, I found myself thinking, ‘that looks easy, I can do that’. The next day saw us down on the water and me achieving my first ‘balance brace’. The following week it was out with the DVD again to brush up on the details then down to the water to get my first Greenland roll. There is something about Greenland rolling that resonated with me – for me, it made a lot more sense than the commonly taught ‘C to C roll’ that I had always had mixed results from. Suddenly, our kayaking had changed its nature. We had gotten into a pattern of long paddles and long days –we considered less than 6 hours on the water not worth getting the boats wet for. Now we were adding play sessions each weekend as well as our long distance cruises. I was amazed at how much fun could be had being upside down in the water. Greenland rolling is strangely addictive. Once you’ve cracked that first roll, you want to do more. I found myself happily spending hours on the water, not actually paddling anywhere, just rolling, bracing and playing for hours, adding more and more rolls to the repertoire. 

Side Sculling - one of my favourite techniques
After finding out just how easy it is to roll with a Greenland paddle, I started thinking more about paddling with one. To me, the GP represents tradition. Kayaking evolved in the Arctic Circle as vital hunting and survival skills. These tools were developed and perfected over thousands of years. If the skinny stick was considered the best tool for the job in those extreme conditions, then it was just insulting to reduce it to a plaything doing rolls as party tricks.
The paddle Wayne had been using was a commercially made two piece one. To me it always felt flimsy, it just didn’t give me the positive feel in the water that I liked from my euro.  Then I got my hands on a real GP. It was a beautiful work of art, hand crafted from Western Red Cedar, and custom made to my own measurements. The scent of cedar, and the warm glow of the natural wood finish just make you want to touch it. Then you just have to get it on the water. After my first paddle with it I was sold.  It paddled beautifully, giving me the power I liked in the water, as well as being light weight, highly manoeuvrable and very easy to control. I loved my euro paddles, and I had been through a number of them over the years before finding the perfect one for me, I haven’t picked up a euro paddle since that day. 
My first 'real' GP
This was when an opportunity fell into place and we took a big risk. We started up a new business and began importing Joe O’Blenis paddles from Canada. Our interest in Greenland paddling has been an amazing journey. As our interest deepened, we came to discover just how widespread the Greenland bug is. As a confirmed technophobe I was a reluctant convert to social media, but once there, I discovered an amazing online community of Greenland kayak enthusiasts. The internet has provided the opportunity for people from all over the world to freely share their experiences, give each other advice and encouragement, share a few laughs and welcome anyone who is interested into their world. Video clips are posted, questions asked, techniques and accomplishments shared, all without the ego and one-upmanship that you see in so many other sports. The thing that has impressed me most about this sector of the kayaking world is just how genuine its exponents are. It seems to attract a certain type – open, sharing, fun loving people who are eager to share with others.
I have to admit, our next big opportunity came from a Facebook conversation......


  1. Mel, your experience with GPs is very similar to mine. At first I was reluctant to let go of the perceived security of the big Euro blade and was not convinced of the strengths of the GP.
    It took me a little while to develop a decent Greenland stroke but now there is no turning back. I use traditional paddles (GP and Aleut) exclusively for all my paddling, including big seas, rough water and surfing.
    Rolling is addictive indeed... if only I was more flexible.

  2. Great Blog Mel... looking forward to many, many more from you. Thanks for coming over and taking part in our event this past summer as well :)

  3. Gnarlydog... it was the same for me. When I first tried a GP, it took a couple years for me to fully switch over as well. Been awhile now though since I last used a Euro...

  4. Gnarlydog, I have to admit, when I first started paddling with the GP, I always had my euro on the back deck 'just in case'. It seems to be a mental barrier for all of us when making that first transition. It wasn't untill I got out on a rough day that I really got the feel for the GP. Now I doubt I'd be able to switch back. :)

  5. Joe, thankyou there will certainly be many adventures to come, and thanks for having us - our 'Canadian Adventure' was an amazing experience with so many wonderful people - hmmm - might be a blog in that ;)

  6. Great blog Mel! I love the passion that eminates...
    I started out building my own GP's & have never used a Euro, due to having 1-1/2" removed from my right ulna, & no feeling in most of my right hand, from an injury in a car accident. The passion you feel for the rolling and traditional ways, is how I feel when I make the custom paddles I carve, using traditional tools. There is just a bond between the wood and I. The same bond that you feel when in your Greenland kayak.
    Looking forward to sharing your passion!

  7. I am bookmarking your blog. So many parallels (or is it synchronicity?) with my own experience. The teachings of ancient cultures and contemplative traditions have so much to offer us. My sense is that, the way things are headed, we will be turning to them more and more. I haven't yet ditched my Euro blades, but who knows :) Looking forward to more blog posts.

  8. Jill & Pam
    Thankyou both for your comments. So many of us are drawn to traditional ways,I believe it enriches our lives and adds depth to our own character, encouraging a greater respect for others. I think so many people find that there is something missing in our own cultures. In the race for modernisation, our cultures have sacrificed so much, but it is still out there to be found. It is great to hear from other people who share that same passion.

  9. Great post, Mel. Thank you. I admit I'm still learning and experimenting with the GP. A friend named Chris Tomer gave me a redwood GP, which I really like, but it's a bit too small for me. I hope to be getting a bigger one in the near future.