Photos and words by Maureen G. Nowak
I was the last holdout among my family and friends, swearing for decades that my light carbon Euro-blade paddle was “better” than their crafty wooden Greenland paddles. I knew that they had spent hours carving them to their unique specs, but paddling with their masterpieces felt like I was twirling a cumbersome broken tree branch. I remained intrigued by the tradition and heritage behind the Greenland paddles, but I couldn’t fathom how these sticks could be more efficient.
Then a dull ache emerged in my shoulder, a reminder of too much fall leaf raking and a harbinger of spring paddling woes. I proceeded to tirelessly search the Internet for the universal “perfect paddle.” It was a blustery winter night when I received an email response from the design engineer at Gearlab Paddles in Taiwan to my detailed questions. Several engineers who are passionate about sea kayaking founded Gearlab and their excitement came across in the email. His patient answers (in excellent English) combined with information on their top-notch website convinced me to take the plunge. Thanks to efficient customer service, I held my new Gearlab Greenland paddle just a week later.
After 192.3 miles of paddling four different Gearlab paddles, I am convinced that these are absolutely the BEST paddles – a sleek combination of Greenland styling and composite carbon technology. Each model is light, sturdy, buoyant and efficient. Their two-piece design (supported by an innovative Diamond-joint) makes transport convenient, while the interchangeable tips make even a paddling battle with rocks an easy fix.
The Gearlab Nukilik and Akiak paddles are the most traditional styles, the first with shoulders and the latter without. Both are available in sizes to fit most every body and in an array of fun colors. I find that they are ideal for long treks, with their thin blade edges slicing the water effortlessly. A storm version of the Nukilik is excellent for more combative waters. The new Kayakid paddle is designed with a shorter, wider blade for surfing waves, but my son claims it feels like a hybrid Greenland-Euro model and that it is his favorite for all paddling conditions. A new entry-level paddle is in the works that is likely to be ideal for beginning paddlers in shorter, plastic kayaks.
Transitioning to the Greenland stroke admittedly took some practice, but the effort rewarded me with a powerful stroke that utilizes core muscles. The lighter weight of the Nutilik paddle and power that I could leverage using the smooth shoulders made learning proper techniques easier than with traditional wooden blades. I can paddle all day in a variety of conditions without tiring, a feat that I could not equal with my Euro-blade. Many of my paddling companions have now ditched their carved Greenland blades for this revolutionary twenty-first-century paddle.
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