Photography equipment and shiny-new skin-on-frame sea kayaks garnered Canadian paddlers James Roberts and James Manke long stares when the pair arrived in Qaqortoq, Greenland, last July. But after eight days of participating in the 2014 Greenland National Kayaking Championships, the outsiders we're heartily welcomed by one of the oldest paddling communities on earth.
Roberts and Manke relied on crowdfunding to make the trip to Greenland, and they were compelled to give something back to their friends and sponsors in the form of a documentary video. Additionally, their custom-made kayaks were donated to the local paddling club. Between filming and paddling, Roberts says the Greenland pilgrimage was hectic. "It was constant activity," says Roberts, the owner of Ontario Sea Kayak Centre, a guiding and training outfit based on Lake Huron's Georgian Bay. "We were always either filming or competing. As soon as evening arrived, we'd be downloading memory cards and charging batteries."
The pair recorded over 60 gigabytes of video footage in Greenland, and recruited professional videographer David Hartman to assist with the final edit. "I told Dave the whole story from start to finish and he wrote a script and structured the scenes," explains Roberts.
The result is a documentary that captures the friendly, all-inclusive nature of the Greenland National Championship — as well as timeless paddling skills. "The coolest part didn't make it into the film," says Roberts. "Because there were only two of us, we relied on a Greenlander to step in to join us for the team rolling competition. At this point, we had both done our individual rolling and the pressure was off. It was fun to roll alongside a local."
We caught up with Roberts to chat about his favorite moments of the award-winning film, Greenland Bound.
The Kids are Alright (5 minutes, 57 seconds; 12:20) "At the start, people were dubious of us. We were hauling around tripods, cameras and mics. We showed up with these beautiful brand new kayaks whereas theirs were beat-up and well-used. Everyone was like, 'What are these guys all about?' It was the kids who first warmed up to us. We chatted with them and joked with them, and as soon as the older people saw this they really opened up."
The View from Here (20:46) "Because of our schedule, we had very little time to look around. We were so focused on our paddling and filming goals. Then, on one of the races, I paddled out of the harbor and up the coastline. When I turned around and paddled back into the fjord, I came to a sudden awareness: 'Oh my goodness, I'm in Greenland … this is insane.' I was blown away by the view.
Rope Gymnastics (11:30; 18:07; 19:35) "I wanted to compete in every single event but I knew the ropes would be a huge challenge. I practiced at home and figured I could score enough points to qualify. The cool thing, they allowed you to have a coach with you for the preliminary competition. [American Greenland-style phenom] Dubside and [Greenlandic elder] Kampe Absalonsen were there to help me out. It ended up being a 30-minute coaching session and I scored enough points to qualify for the final heat.
Whatever Works (9:45)"The Inuit put more focus on what works rather than what looks pretty. Technique is less important. The water is so cold … for rolling, the goal is just to get up."
No Pressure (3:01) "As an international competitor you can't win the Greenland national championships, so you just go and take part. The greatest thing you accomplish is the experience of being on the water with Inuit paddlers in traditional kayaks. We make this point early in the film: Participation is the heart of the competition."
— Read Mark Jenkins’ feature story on the Greenland National Championships.
— Check out more of Hartman’s paddling’s films, chronicling the fury of Quebec’s Broadback River, as well as his take on a 27-day canoe expedition across the wilderness of northern Ontario in ‘Nine Rivers.’