Thursday, September 14, 2017

Need an Inflatabable?

I've been testing the Walker Bay Airis Sport for for over a year, and have found a lot to like.


 On my first test I used rope for thigh straps. They made all the difference, increasing power, responsiveness, and stability. Straighten your legs and they fall away.

  • High pressure inflation. Using the same technology used in inflatable stand-up paddleboards (SUPs), it is inflated to near soccer ball presures, resulting in a very stiff, responsive boat, nothing like the pool toys that we think of.
  • Very stiff paddle. Whitewater-durable (I tested it at Great Falls, VA) and with a nice shape, it is far better than the typical paddle included with a boat. You can up-grade, of course, but you won't need to.
  • Very light. at only 15 pounds, it practically jumps on deck. It also fits easily into and included sturdy backpack.
The one vital upgrade is thigh brace straps. Whether from Walker Bay or one of many kayak accessory providers, they really improve both the comfort (better back position with knees bent)  and power of the boat.

Need a cheap thigh brace solution? A pair of old briefcase straps will do nicely.



Friday, April 7, 2017

Greenland Paddles

For an old guy, Greenland paddles win.

A Euro paddle blade is leaf-shaped, nearly half as long is it is long. Or rather that is what we have come to accept as normal and 21st century. It is superior for whitewater kayaking and racing, where it provides a positive, even harsh grab on the water.

But over the years I've run into folks using Greenland paddles with their sea kayaks.  Though the urban legend is that they were long and slim because that is the only thing they could make from drift wood, when you consider the craftsmanship that goes into a skin-over-frame kayak, that sounds like lame reasoning; these people could craft anything from a few bits of wood and sinew, and in fact, they used broad paddles in other craft. They developed what we now call the Greenland paddle because it has some unique advantages.

These are works of art. Mine was fashioned from a 6' x 3/4" x 3 1/2" (a common 1 x 4) board and a center of aluminum tube in a few hours, and probably performs better.

The length is about the same--a little less than 8 feet. The blade in only 1/2 the width of a Euro paddle, but the length of the blade is over double, resulting in greater projected area. Because it is not scooped like the Euro paddle, the catch is much softer, and it does not generate as much instantaneous power. However, because it has a higher aspect ratio, it actually creates greater lift once the stroke is underway.
  1. Lighter. My Greenland paddle is 25% lighter than my fiberglass Euro paddle.
  2. More buoyant for rolling. 
  3. More lift when used in a sweep stroke for rolling or bracing, because of the higher aspect ratio.
  4. More resistance and better grip on the water at mid-stroke.
  5. Smoother catch and release.
  6. Easier on the wrists, shoulders, and elbows.
  7. Quieter.
It was "1" and "6" that caught me attention. Although it does not provide the same acceleration, it is faster through the water over the long haul, easier on the body, and significantly lighter. I'm still not used to the look, but it is more efficient over a long day.

Downsides? A few, but they are minor.
  1. Harder to buy. But you can make them rather easily. They don't need to be laminated and beautiful.
  2. Not as much blade in the water in shallows. But you can use a shallow, more horizontal stoke.
  3. Most designs do not feather, but that can be fixed by incorporating an adjustable ferrule. 
  4. Typically the shaft is fatter (1 1/2-inch vs. 1 1/4-inch standard or 1 1/8-inch small). Hand size and whether you wear thick gloves (a smaller paddle works better with thick gloves) may dictate which is better, but I find the fatter shaft is harder on my wrist and hands. Personal preference enters in. 
  5. Learning a new stroke. Where a Euro paddle is simply pulled, the smoothest and most powerful stoke on a Greenland  paddle is delivered by a gliding pull with the blade moving at an angle, as when swimming the crawl efficiently. The blade is high aspect and generates a lot of lift when moving sideways. the stoke is also lower angle.

Feather. Most sea kayakers adopt a feathered paddle after some experience. By angling the blades about 60 degrees relative to each other, even when the arms cross between stokes, the wrists remain in a neutral plain, never flexing. The key is to pick a control hand that grips the paddle, and to let the shaft rotate in the other hand during the cross over. The non-control hand need never grip the shaft tightly. Gloves help.

Whitewater paddlers often use an non-feathered paddle--it can be problematic to keep track of the twist angle when paddling rapidly or throwing out a quick brace stroke. I use zero feather in technical whitewater.

Greenland paddles are typically not feathered, because a more shallow stroke is used, minimizing wrist flex, and by tradition. Many paddlers find an non-feathered paddle easier to roll, because similar to the whitewater case, they don't have to remember the feather angle. However, I have wrist problems and really like feather, although less than the traditional 60 degrees used with Euro paddles. My Greenland paddle is feathered only 30 degrees.

It's  little ugly, but by using aluminum tubing in the center I dropped the weight to about 65% of a common paddle and gave it 30 degree feather.  I am wondering if less or even no feather might be best for Greenland paddles. It may be a matter of learning a new stroke.


Where can you get a Greenland paddle? First, make you own. There are many on-line sites with instructions, and if you are handy in the wood shop, a basic paddle won't take much over an hour or cost more than $5 to make. You can buy them, of course, but artwork and craftsmanship cost money.

If you want adjustable feather or a Greenland paddle that can be broken down for storage, Duckworks sells carbon fiber ferrules for ~ $25. This also makes it possible to create feather. Duckworks offers two ferrule options:
  • Standard. Allows for O degree, 60 degree right, and 60 degree left feather. The shaft is 30.6mm (1 1/4-inch), which is generally considered standard for kayak paddles.
  • Greenland. There is no allowance for feather, although you can obviously mount the ferrule with some rotation to create a fixed feather angle. The shaft is 38.6mm (1 1/2-inch), the traditional fatter Greenland paddle diameter. 
Additional holes (you drill em') can create custom feather angles.


This is the elegant way to do it [details on Duckworks]. Add a slightly longer center section and 30 degrees of feather, and this is my dream paddle!