Euro versus Greenland is sea kayaking’s answer to the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry—the tribal loyalty is so rabid that you forget everyone is still playing the same game. When it comes to the forward stroke, though, Greenland- and Euro-style paddlers have more in common than die hard fans of either style would care to admit.
Know the Difference. Low-angle, or Greenland-style paddling, originated in the high Arctic fjords, where the first sea kayakers discovered that keeping paddle blades low minimized effort in strong, gusty winds. Dowel-shaped Greenland-style paddles and their modern, quill-like brethren have narrow, low-resistance blades that are meant to rev at 60 or more strokes per minute to maintain cruising pace. The traditionally large, stubby blades and high-angles of Euro-style paddles were developed on the river and applied to ocean kayaking. The larger blades and a more vertical stroke mean greater torque and quicker acceleration.
Think about your angle. It’s the most important difference between Greenland- and Euro-style forward stroke techniques. When paddling in the Greenland tradition, your upper hand should remain below your chest, keeping the paddle at an angle of 45 degrees or less. For Euro-style, your upper hand should stay at chest height or greater, with the paddle shaft closer to vertical.
Adapt the style to the situation. The Greenland-style forward stroke is best suited for touring. Using a narrow-bladed paddle is like cycling in the granny gear: Minimal resistance makes it possible to cruise for hours on end. The increased torque of the high-angle Euro-style makes it more suited for fitness buffs, surf fiends or tidal rapid fanatics who need to make tight turns with bow draws.
Work on your posture. It’s the foundation of any efficient stroke. Sit tall, maintaining four points of contact in the boat: The footrests, thigh supports, seat and backrest. Wind up your body as you prepare to grab the water. Rotating at your hips, twist your chest to face your offside and press gently with your onside foot. Plant the paddle at your toes and fully submerge the blade.
Untwist your upper body to power the stroke. Your torso is the engine of an efficient forward stroke, with most of your paddling power coming from body rotation. Your arms are the transmission—their primary job is transferring power from your torso to the paddle. Keep your lower arm (the one nearest the power face of the paddle) as straight as possible, and your upper arm slightly bent. As you rotate your body with each stroke, keep your upper hand level to maintain a consistent shaft angle. Once you’ve mastered the concept of torso rotation you can apply the same technique to both Greenland and Euro strokes. Your paddle shaft angle is the only change.
Resist the urge. Don’t extend the stroke beyond your seat, regardless of style. At this point, you’ve maximized forward propulsion and your upper body is properly aligned for the next stroke. Extend, plant, untwist and feel your boat surge forward. The rhythm and flow of an efficient forward stroke transcends the boundaries of sea kayak technique. – Conor Mihell