Why preserve the history of Kayaking?

Greenland is often hailed as the origin of modern kayaking. One could point out that the Inuit of Greenland migrated from the east and the west, bringing with them paddling knowledge and skills. The Inuit unquestionably made the qajaq (skin-on-frame kayak) their own, adapting its design to cope with the inhospitable climate of Greenland and the limitations of the available materials. It is apparent, through the lineage of designs, that the Greenland qajaq has heavily influenced the design of modern sea kayaks and use of techniques that are prevalent today around the world.

In 1984 a group of young Greenlanders were visiting a museum in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland. They saw three kayaks from the 16th and 17th centuries. They were so impressed by the craftsmanship displayed that they formed QAJAQ club to preserve the building and paddling skills of their ancestors. These skills had all but disappeared as the power boat replaced the qajaq as the means of hunting. Within a year QAJAQ Club had over one thousand members. Eventually the club’s name was changed to Qaannat Kattuffiat, which literally means kayaks club, Qaannat being the plural of qajaq, the Greenlandic way of spelling kayak.

One way in which Qaannat Kattuffiat helps preserve the qajaq culture and traditions is via an annual competition. Many towns have formed their own qajaq clubs, and they gather annually to test their paddling prowess against each other. In 2000 a group of paddling enthusiast from the USA, that included John Heath, Cindy Cole and Greg Stamer, attended the annual competition in Greenland. Greg was invited to speak at the Qaannat Kattuffiat board meeting. Later that year Qaannat Kattuffiat approved the creation of an American chapter and that, briefly, is how Qajaq USA was established.

Image reproduced by kind permission of Harvey Golden

What does that mean to you?

Since Greg Stamer started the organization in 2000, Qajaq USA has been dedicated to supporting Qaannat Kattuffiat and their efforts to preserve, study and promote the traditions and techniques of Greenland Kayaking while seeking to further the appreciation and development of Greenland-style kayaking in the United States.

Each year Qajaq USA helps organize a series of events across the country, from Florida to Washington to Michigan to Delaware. These events provide paddlers the opportunity to experience using traditional skin-on-frame qajaqs and equipment and to learn about the Greenland paddling culture.

Every quarter Qajaq USA produces an electronic newsletter called the Masik, full of carefully curated content about traditional paddling events and happenings.

Periodically Qajaq USA produces the printed journal called QAJAQ, filled with historical information and documents, many translated into English for the first time. It is a tremendous way to immerse oneself in the history and culture of the Arctic paddlers.

Of course, there is also the organization’s website and forum to be maintained, plus the social media sites like Facebook which are used to share traditional paddling and qajaq building knowledge plus news and information about events.

As if all that wasn’t enough of a reason to help support the organization, it also maintains several fleets of historically accurate replica kayaks. These kayaks travel to the various sanctioned and affiliated events to allow attendees to experience firsthand what it means to slide into and paddle a Greenland qajaq. As well as the qajaq fleets, there are a multitude of replica Greenland Paddles and neoprene traditional paddling gear including tuilik and akuilisaq (the traditional version of a paddling top and spray skirt).

All this work and equipment costs time and money to produce and maintain. That is where the Qajaq USA members can assist. To become a member, you donate $35 annually to assist the organization fulfill its mission. If you are already a member then thank you, please consider renewing your membership so we can continue to fulfill the organization’s mission. Once a member, please consider volunteering your time by joining one of the many working committees, and help us continue to share the knowledge of traditional Greenland qajaq paddling across the USA.

As a nonprofit membership organization (and one of only three affiliated “qajaq” clubs outside of Greenland), Qajaq USA depends on the contributions of members and volunteers. Thank you for considering supporting our mission, and I look forward to seeing you afloat at one of the Qajaq USA sanctioned and affiliated events.

My own reasons

In my eyes, there is no more beautiful kayak than a Greenland qajaq. From the rising curve of the sheer line, to the concave forward gunwale, the classic lines simply appeal to me more than the lines of modern kayaks such as the P&H Delphin or the Rockpool Taran. Unquestionably modern advances in hydrodynamics have produced higher performance specialized kayaks. But for its original purpose, none beats the Greenland qajaq.

I originally “discovered” Greenland style kayaking whilst paddling through the chain of metropolitan lakes in Minneapolis with my wife. We came across a group of local sea kayakers, one of whom was performing rolls with his Greenland paddle. This initial introduction led me to develop what has now definitely become an obsession. My collection of paddles numbers in the fifties and my kayaks in the teens. I have built many replica kayaks and Greenland Paddles and find great pleasure in the connection that I feel when using both qajaq and paddle that I have crafted myself from the simplest of materials.

From the very first time I saw a Greenland kayak roll performed, I knew there was something special about them. Performed well Greenland rolls can be elegant, graceful and purposeful. There is an inner quality to them that is missing from many modern techniques. Since witnessing my first Greenland style roll, I dedicated myself to studying, learning and sharing the Greenland rolling and paddling techniques. I developed this website https://qajaqrolls.com and a book and DVD through which I attempt to pass on that knowledge freely.

So why worry about preserving the past? Why preserve the Greenland Qajaq Culture? It is my belief that history has value. Amongst the many things history can teach us are skills, values, identity, and it can provide a legacy around which communities can be sustained. Traditional paddling is the common parlance in the United States for paddling using Greenland (or other Artic heritage) equipment (Paddles, kayaks, etc.). The USA Traditional paddling community sustains and passes on the knowledge gained from the Greenlanders, of how to build, paddle, roll and hunt from a qajaq. The community also sustains the values of freely transferring its knowledge through peer mentoring, rather than instruction and certification.

By understanding the origins and history of the qajaq we are better able to appreciate the entire sport of kayaking. Whether it be a K1 racing in the summer Olympics or sit on top rented on the beach in St Tropez, the origins of the design, and skills needed to propel, can all be traced back to the ancient hunters of Greenland.

I believe that the kayak’s history should be preserved for future generations to learn from and appreciate. I am helping to preserve the Inuit Qajaq Culture through my efforts to support Qajaq USA. I hope that you too value the history of the kayaks we use today , and will consider supporting the preservation of its history by joining me and becoming a member of Qajaq USA.

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