Q: You have stated that the Greenland Paddle (GP) can act as a wing when the GP is used in a high wing type stroke. Have you done a test in your fast kayak, GP vs wing to determine advantages of one or the other with respect to efficiency and/or speed in non racing situations, eg., outings from 5 to 15 miles?
I have acquired both a wing (Onno) and a GP (Novorca) in the last year and have been learning both. At 4.2 kts, my traveling speed, the GP feels more efficient, but I can go at least 0.2 kts faster with the wing. Jerry
A: Jerry, Although I realize that you said non-racing situations, let me use that as an example, first, as it helps to clarify the issue.
To generalize, a racer is often trying to maximize speed over distance usually with an extremely light, unladen kayak. A sea kayaker is often trying the maximize the number of “miles per Snickers bars”, often with a heavy or gear-laden kayak, day after day. These are related, but are very different things and need to be viewed separately.
In a racing situation — very light kayak, 10 miles or less, using a very high stroke, I’m about 1.5 – 2 minutes per mile faster with my wing than with a GP. That’s not much for touring but is an eternity for racing. Unfortunately this is not a perfect test since my current “go-fast” kayaks have a fairly high foredeck that makes it difficult to fully bury the blades of my GP at the catch. I have won local races with a GP over wings, but if I want my best time I use a wing.
With a wing (or other “Euro” paddle) you hold the paddle such that if you were to place the center of the shaft on your head, your elbows make a 90 degree, or slightly less, bend. To achieve a vertical stroke you must lift your arms fairly high, and that’s the rub. Even if you have the lightest–most expensive paddle available, mere ounces, you are still lifting many pounds on each stroke — the weight of your arms. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t use a light paddle (I buy the lightest I can afford) but you also have to understand the role of your technique in the equation.
With a GP, your hands are much closer together. You do need to ensure that your paddle shaft is long enough to generate good power (racers in Greenland often use 22″ or slightly longer paddle-shafts for this reason), but the closer hand position allows you to employ a high vertical stroke, without having to lift your arms very high. Unlike the high “chicken wing” paddle lift of the wing, your hands stay much lower, and you lift less arm-weight per stroke. I’m convinced that this is the reason my shoulders feel much better after many miles with a GP, than a wing.
For long-distances, even many surf ski racers lower their arm position, and don’t maintain the very high vertical stroke that is common for shorter courses and K1 sprinters. Holding the paddle lower offers more stability in chaotic seas and is easier on your shoulders (less arm lift), but the tradeoff is that you introduce more yaw and lose a touch of speed. Of course, sometimes stability is more important than raw speed. To paraphrase Oscar Chalupky, no one is very fast when they are upside down.
Wing or GP? For touring it’s really a matter of preference — what stokes your passion, what feels better to you, and what works for you. In a heavily loaded kayak, and for long distances, I prefer a GP — it’s much easier on my body. A wide blade is not an advantage when you have a heavy load, are towing someone, and in similar situations. That said, wings are used by some kayakers on long expeditions with laden kayaks, so you will need to experiment to find the best choice for you. If you do choose a wing for a loaded touring kayak, I recommend that you experiment with a small blade, rather than the midsize or large blades that are popular for racing.
For playing — blending strokes, rolling, linking strokes, I love the feeling and symmetry of a GP — it feels to me like dancing on the water. I don’t get this feeling with a wing. A wing is more one-dimensional, designed for the forward stroke, and while that is what we do most of the time, it might not always match how you play. A wing is not nearly as versatile as a GP for blending strokes although you can make it work if you are dedicated. For example, to scull with a wing, I have seen some paddlers turn the blade over, to use the back of the paddle. Awkward, maybe, when compared to a GP, but it works.
I have set speed records around Iceland and Newfoundland using a GP. Around Iceland my expedition partner used a wing. I was faster in some conditions and my partner was faster in others. The point is that the paddle type was not the critical factor. For some ultra-long-distance events, often the goal is to simply “keep the kayak moving” and success is more a function of mental toughness, gruesomely long hours in the kayak, smart trip planning, an efficient route and ability to paddle in conditions rather than simply an impressive top speed.
To use a GP effectively I strongly recommend that you use the canted blade technique, where you allow the top edge of the blade to tilt forward (matching the angle of your palm when your wrist is held in a neutral position). The canted blade stroke buries the blade quickly, helps to eliminate flutter and ventilation, and gives a much stronger feeling of power. There’s a common misconception that a GP has a lot of “slippage” or has a much faster cadence than a wing, this incorrect. Try this technique and the blade will feel like it is planted in “mud”, the sensation is very similar to using a wing. Chris Cunningham of Sea Kayaker magazine wrote, “switching from the beginner’s stroke to the [canted] stroke was very much like switching between a standard paddle and a wing paddle. The increase in the pull on the paddle is readily apparent”. Interestingly enough, many practitioners of wing paddles feel right at home with a GP, and many of the same stroke elements work quite well. For more information, please see the Qajaq USA technique page.
In the end, you might view a wing and a GP as complementary, depending on what you want to do, rather than as one type being “better” than the other. Think of a golfer deciding between a driver and a 2-iron, for instance. It’s a matter of the selecting the right tool for the job. For touring, try them both. If you continue to use both a GP and a wing they will both teach you something and make you a better paddler.