There are only a few weeks left now when the water will be fluid in Minnesota. The Fall (Autumn) represents the transition from green to brown as the leaves move through the intense colors from green to reds to golden yellow before finally falling brown and withered. The water clarifies as sediment and vegetation falls to the bottom of the lakes, and slowly but surely the temperature drops until the water moves no more.
As the air temps dip into the 30F’s and the winds pick up, the usual lake dwellers depart, towing their fishing boats, wake setters and jet skis. They leave behind them peace, nature’s noises replacing the hum of motors. This morning was no exception, the thermometer read 34F as I pulled out of the garage with my ruddy skin-on-frame qajaq strapped to the roof of my car. The beach was deserted, just me and the wind-swept leaves caught in the occasional breaking wave on the sand.
I cherish these last few paddles, the opportunity to enjoy the lakes before they become treacherously cold. Sure, it was cold by summer standards but compared to the sub-zero paddles that herald the closing of the lakes this was idyllic. I wore two layers of fleece under my tuilik, my head enveloped in fleece under its nylon hood. The added insulation keeping me toasty, a warm cocoon from which to observe the action of the waves on my qajaq.
The waves were lively, not the long swell of the ocean, instead the familiar short chop of lakes, a mess of steep breakers destined to keep you awake. The wind gusting 20mph was kicking up spray from my bow as it buried under one wave and rode up over the next, the water washed down the low decks of my low volume rolling qajaq. Perfect conditions to play with some new paddles.
Two different paddle makers had sent me their Greenland paddles to try, both coincidentally from Finland; Kajak Sport had sent me a carbon fiber paddle, and Lahnakoski had sent me three wooden Greenland paddles. All four paddles shared a similar characteristic, a very flat tip section of the blade. The last 8 to 10 inches of the blades were nearly flat, the blades were thin at this point and the edges coming to a small radius. I was interested to learn how this would feel.
Kajak Sport was started in 1989 by four sea kayakers and explorers from Finland. Initially they built sea kayaks. But soon they realized that there was a very limited selection of true sea kayak components available for manufacturers of sea kayaks. Eventfully they became one of the premier suppliers to the kayak building industry. Finland has some amazing coastline to paddle, it is no wonder then that Kajak Sport values the Baltic Sea, which is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. They are doing their bit to protect the environment focusing on environmentally friendly manufacturing and packaging as well as minimizing their carbon footprint.
The Kajak Sport paddle is branded Inuksuk, it has soft shoulders and an oval loom shape. The loom is adjustable in length from 215cm up to 228cm, the adjustment is controlled by a small lever which locks the two pieces together. The first time I used it I pushed the lock the wrong way and found myself with a paddle that was growing in length, I quickly fixed my issue and then found it to hold robustly. I played around with different loom lengths, it was very easy to adjust underway and I could feel the difference that the adjustments made to my power and control. I enjoyed the experiment, but when I finally came ashore I found I had set the paddle to 218cm, my normal length, I guess my body knows what is likes.
Since 1936 the family owned company Lahnakoski has manufactured tools from wood. As their workshop is located on a river and quite near the sea, it was only a matter of time before they started making wooden oars and paddles. These eventually became the main products of the growing enterprise in 1960s. Initially all their kayak paddles were “European style”. Over the years the Sandström brothers made some wooden Greenland paddles as well, but only for their own use. As Greenland paddling became more popular, Lahnakoski launched their first Greenland paddle in 2013. This paddle was based on their own experience and on the experience of Tatu Hirvonen, a Greenland paddling instructor from Raahe, Finland. Their paddle received a lot of positive feedback, so they introduced a second paddle this time made from Western Red Cedar, which is much lighter than their original one. Last winter Lahnakoski was contacted by Pata Degerman, he was part of a team planning a trip to Greenland in August 2016 and wanted a reliable paddle for the icy and stormy conditions in Greenland. One of the team members, Sigurd Schultz, worked with Lahnakoski and helped them re-developed their paddle to make it even more suitable for Greenland. The shaft was stiffened, the blade tips reinforced with epoxy. This paddle will be available on their website in December 2016.
The three wooden paddles Lahnakoski sent me represent the current three styles of paddles being made now. In the Spring of 2017 they will be adding a shorter “storm” paddle and a norsaq to their collection. Two of the paddles were very similar, made from laminated Alder and Aspen trees these paddles feel strong, there is little flex to them. When I spoke with Maligiaq Johnsen Padilla a number of years ago, he told me that a Greenland paddle should be strong enough to do a pull up on the loom. These paddles passed that test with flying colors. The expedition version has extra strength in the loom and white epoxy dipped tips harkening back to the original bones tips the Inuit fitted to their paddles. The third paddle was the same shape as the other two but made from red cedar, thus lighter and more flexible, and correspondingly more vulnerable. Its tips were also dipped in epoxy, clear this time, to help protect them.
The blade dimensions of the Lahnakoski paddles were beefy, I could feel the marked difference between the Kajak Sport Inuksuk and the Lahnakoski paddles. Combine the larger blade size with the added weight of the expedition paddle and you could tell you had a real powerful tool in your hand.
As a mentor of many paddlers who show up with many different kayaks and paddles, I can immediately see the attraction of the Inuksuk as a flexible paddle that can be adjusted to suit many different paddlers and kayaks. Its blade was very forgiving, the flat tip helping teach you to paddle with efficient canted strokes. The sharp edges combined with the tip design made sculling effortless. I would prefer not to have the joint be so prominent on the loom, and I certainly would not want to practice any sculling rolls with that on the keel or deck, but that is a small price to pay for the flexibility this paddle offers. The blade shape reminds me a great deal of the paddle that Anders Thygesen made for me, the shoulders are different, the Inuksuk has more pronounced shoulders, not something I usually paddle with but I found it comfortable for the few miles I paddled.
The Lahnakoski paddles were all the same basic shape, wide blades, parallel edged for most of their length, creating great power and control when needed. The shoulders were soft, almost nonexistent, I liked this transition. The blade shape immediately after the loom was rounded, I have grown accustomed to a more pronounced flat area, a diamond cross section immediately after the transition, but I know a great number of people who prefer this softer more rounded shape. I felt very comfortable paddling the cedar paddle, I felt immediately at ease with it. The added swing weight of the expedition paddle took a while to get used to, but over time I became accustomed to it and appreciated the solid feel of reliability it gave me. I could feel the strength this was paddle was designed for, and could imagine paddling with it in the icy waters of Greenland for many miles, and perhaps even a few miles in Minnesota this winter as the lakes become icy.
Rolling with all four of these paddles was effortless, the flat tips just requiring the most minimal rotation to achieve a climbing angle. They sculled to the lake’s surface as if drawn by invisible hands to the wave crests. I was glad my head was wrapped in fleece, protected from the chilling lake waters whipped up by the breeze.
I had half expected such flat blades to cause the paddle to be twitchy or flutter, but I experienced no such things, each stroke felt smooth and reliable. The powerful blades propelled me swiftly through the chop, the water rushing along the deck as my motion pushed the bow of the qajaq under and over the waves.
Buoyant, strong, and beautiful, a great set of Greenland Paddles. You should give them a try; I know I will be continuing to use them as the season changes.
Photo Credit: Jason Sexton, Monkey Brain Photography.
This article was first published in Ocean Paddler Magazine, Issue 55