The History of the Greenland Style Sea Kayaking Movement


In 2008, filmmakers Tom Sharp and Dubside released a documentary about the origins of the Greenland style sea kayaking movement in the United States. The film was titled Modern Greenland Kayaking and was only available on DVDs purchased through their website, Dubside cut a short version which screened at a few sea kayaking events and paddling symposia. At the time, the fringe Greenland style sea kayaking movement benefited from having an ally in the editor of Sea Kayaker Magazine, Chris Cunningham, a builder of wooden boats and Greenland style enthusiast who had written a book on how to build skin-on-frame kayaks, titled, “Building the Greenland Kayak”. Tom and Dubside were hoping to get some publicity for the film in Sea Kayaker but unfortunately, the film was released just before the magazine's demise and it never had wide distribution.

In addition to Chris Cunningham, the film features George Gronseth of Kayak Academy, former Qajaq USA president Greg Stamer, Greenland kayaking historian John Heath, Greenland National Kayaking Champion Maligiaq Padilla, kayaking championship head judge Kamp Absalonsen, and founder of the Delmarva Paddler’s Retreat, Cindy Cole. Sea kayaking legend Freya Hoffmeister even makes an appearance!

The origin of the Greenland style kayaking movement in the United States can be traced to a gathering of about 30 sea kayakers at Camp Arrowhead on Rehoboth Bay, Delaware during the late 1980s, an event which would later become known as the Delmarva Paddler’s Retreat, now the premier Greenland kayaking event in the country. Interestingly, “Delmarva” was not originally an all-Greenland style event, and during the first gathering only a couple people even knew how to roll. When kayak historian John Heath first attended, he showed people how the Greenlanders taught kayak rolling. Eventually he brought 16 year-old Greenland National Kayaking Champion Maligiaq Padilla to Delmarva, and a strengthening connection between this group of paddlers and the Greenlanders resulted in the formation of Qajaq USA, the American chapter of the Greenland Kayaking Association, Qaannat Kattuffiat. Qajaq USA went on to host a number of annual events which brought Greenland style experts, kayak builders, and sea kayakers together for rolling instruction, paddle carving, and kayak building workshops all across the country.

Rolling compRopes

During the second half of his film, Dubside gives us a look inside the 2006 Greenland National Kayaking Championships in Sisimuit, including footage of the rolling competition where Greenlanders compete in sleek, low volume skin-on-frame qajaqs and wear traditional sealskin paddling jackets called tuiliks. Unfortunately Maligiaq Padilla was unable to compete, since he had been badly injured in a boating accident the day before.

The film spends a lot of time covering the Greenlandic ropes gymnastics competition, an event which Dubside says actually requires a lot more strength and skill and involves a great deal more maneuvers than the kayak rolling competition. This emphasis on ropes gymnastics is not surprising given Tom and Dubside’s earlier effort to popularize ropes gymnastics in their first film, Qajaasaarneq, an instructional film of "1000-year-old exercises for strength, flexibilty, balance, and coordination". Although seemingly unrelated to the modern sport of sea kayaking, ropes gymnastics is an important part of the Greenlandic kayaking tradition, and a competitor's performance in this sport makes up a large part of their overall score in the National Championships.

Modern Greenland Kayaking is an important document on how traditional Greenlandic kayaking techniques were enthusiastically adopted by paddling communities in the United States and spread all over the world. Over the years since I began sea kayaking, I have noticed how the general skill level in kayak rolling has increased, and I attribute that to the popularity of Greenland style, the availability of instructors who could teach these techniques, and of course to the availability of a great deal of information on the internet. The sport of sea kayaking owes a lot to the enthusiastic pioneers who forged a relationship with the Greenlanders at Qaannat Kattuffiat in order to spread this knowledge. Without the contributions of the Greenland style movement, sea kayaking would be a far less interesting sport indeed!

I am happy to be able to share the entire film here with the permission of Dubside.

Modern Greenland Kayaking, a film by Dubside (2008) from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

Freya Fennwood prepares to compete in the 2015 Greenland National Kayaking Championships

Freya is going to Greenland from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

We caught up with outdoor action photographer Freya Fennwood at the South Sound Traditional Inuit Kayak Symposium (SSTIKS) this past weekend while she was training for her upcoming trip to participate in the Greenland National Kayaking Championships. She brought along a sporty new kayak, custom-designed by her father, John Lockwood, owner and designer of Pygmy Boats, the Port Townsend manufacturer of wooden stitch-and-glue kayak kits.

After the rolling demo we sat sat down to talk with her about her preparations for Greenland. Here is the full transcript of our interview:

Andrew: What inspired you to take the trip to Greenland?

Freya: My father designed a boat specifically for me and specifically to do Greenland rolling. We came to SSTIKS actually, and Dubside was like, “You guys should go to Greenland with this boat! Freya is really good! I think she could compete and do well!”

It’s really not about doing well. It’s just a really good excuse to go take this boat there and go participate in the paddling culture, which is something that I’ve been born into and been in my whole life. To go to the birthplace of kayaking sounds like a really awesome experience, so I’m really excited to see what it’s like there, to meet the people, and participate in what they do.

Andrew: Can you tell us about what you mean about being born into the kayaking culture?

Freya: I’ve been paddling boats — in boats— since I was 18 months old. My dad designed the first kayak for me when I was 5. It was built by the time I was 6, and I paddled that. Then he designed me another boat, maybe when I was around 10, the Osprey 13. And that was my next boat, and then he didn’t really design me another boat until he designed the Freya. He decided to call this boat the Freya after me, which is pretty sweet! Can’t complain. Gotta boat named after me!

Andrew: How did your father get interested in Greenland style?

Freya: Really it’s not something he’s been into for super long. He probably picked up a Greenland paddle about 5 years ago. I remember as a little kid at kayak symposiums, seeing people with Greenland sticks and just thinking it was the silliest thing I’d ever seen. And then my dad comes up to me — he is just raving about this paddle and how it doesn’t hurt his shoulders, and how he can paddle twice as far as he could with the Euroblade. And I was like, OK, I’ll try it out. And I tried the Greenland paddle and I was like, Oh, I’m pretty young but this does actually NOT hurt my shoulders as much. I can paddle just as fast or faster, and longer with the Greenland paddle. So that kind of interest in Greenland paddling started from using the paddle first and then getting more interested in the boats.

The Pygmy boats my dad designs are definitely based off of traditional Greenland kayaks — he’d have to tell you —some big book of classic Inuit designs. His designs definitely take from that, but we’re only starting to come out with lower volume boats that are really made to do Greenland rolls really well in the past couple years.

Andrew: Tell us about your kayak. Was it designed specifically for rolling?

Freya: The Freya is really optimized to be a rolling and a kind of rock gardening play boat. We optimized it specifically for rolling, to do forward finishing rolls really well, and to do layback rolls really well. So the boat has more rocker than any other boat my dad has ever designed. It has more volume in it than a traditional, typical rolling skin-on-frame kayak, which actually helps it pop and roll up more. But it has a really low rear deck. My dad has designed this recess that is actually something that he came up with, that Pygmy has got a patent on, that really allows the back deck to be super low and then pop up to have nice volume, to have the boat flip back up. So really people are surprised when they see the boat. They think it looks really too-high volume, like, “Oh, thats probably not going to be that easy to roll.” And I’m like, “No, I’m decent at rolling but my boat is really good at rolling.”

Andrew: So you are taking the Freya to Greenland? What does it take to get a kayak over there?

Freya: We took the boat, and the shop cut it into 3 pieces. So it’s actually a three-piece take-apart kayak. We got the specs from the airlines — exactly how long the segments are allowed on the flights — and we cut the boat to those specifications. It’s bolted together at the hatches essentially.

Andrew: What kind of training have you been doing to prepare for the kayaking competition?

Freya: We’ve been thinking about potentially going for couple years and so I’ve been slowly learning. I learned how to roll about 4-5 years ago. I didn’t actually know how to roll, like as a little kid. Most of our kayaking is flat water stuff that is really close to shore. You would needn’t to use a roll.

So I learned how to roll, and then I ended up being kinda decent at it. And it was fun just to learn all these other ones. And then the possibility of going to Greenland really motivated me to learn a lot more rolls. I probably wouldn’t have learned this many rolls if there wasn’t a purpose to it. A roll generally for me is for a purpose. I learn to roll so I can go into rougher, wilder conditions. To roll in 30-some ways, the purpose for me is to go experience Greenland.

Andrew: Have you been consulting and asking for advice from some of the other people who have participated?

Freya:  I’ve talked to Dubside, and he’s taught me rolls here at SSTIKS, and has really informed us about Greenland. I was just up in Victoria with James Manke. He went and competed last year in Greenland, and he gave me a ton of information. I learned that I was supposed to preregister, and the registration was due last week! Hopefully it worked out. He contacted a person who is the head of registration, and was like, “We have this girl, Freya. She’s coming to Greenland! She really wants to participate! She had no idea there was registration that needed to be done!” So he’s been a huge help with his knowledge. But there’s a lot of information that’s hard to find.

I’ve talked to Helen Wilson, and she’s been super helpful. But there’s just a lot you don’t really know until you get there. They all say you just have to go with the flow, and go with the intention of just participating and having fun. The schedule may be two days late, so I’m just going and hoping to hang out in a beautiful place and meet other people who like to kayak.

Andrew: Do you know if there are any other international competitors going?

Freya: I have no idea if there are other international competitors. I don’t believe if there are any Canadians. I don’t know if there are any Americans. I don’t think so, so I'll find out!


Highlights from Kayak Academy’s Greenland Rolling Competition

Kayak Academy's Greenland Rolling Competition: Interview with Dubside from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

Dash Point Pirate TV caught up with Dubside for a brief interview in the middle of Kayak Academy’s Greenland Rolling Competition at Lake Sammamish on August 23, 2009. Dubside discussed the importance of maintaining tradition by learning the Greenlandic names of the rolls, given the explosive popularity of Greenland Style and its adoption by “mainstream” sea kayaking in the United States.

Dubside also outlined plans for a much bigger competition on Lake Sammamish, based on the National Greenland Kayaking Championship, that will include rope gymnastics, races, rolling, and harpoon throwing. No other country other than Greenland holds a serious traditional kayaking competition, so hopefully Kayak Academy will be able to pull off this very ambitious project. The challenge of traveling and shipping kayaks and gear to Greenland discourages a lot of highly skilled American kayakers from competing in the Greenland games. I’m betting that these people will be crawling out of the woodwork to attend an event like this. When it happens, remember that you read it here first!


Kayaking legend Maligiaq Padilla also judged the event. In addition to teaching skin−on−frame building classes he has been building kayak models during his stay in the Pacific Northwest. Tom Sharp displayed one during the event −− an exquisitely crafted frame carved from yellow cedar, based on Maligiaq’s own racing kayak. It takes Maligiaq about the same amount of time to make one of these models as it does to make a full-size frame. They will sell for just as much, probably even more. Expect to see this work of art featured at the Inuit Gallery in Vancouver, BC. 


Oh, by the way, I guess I should mention that I won the highly coveted Golden Harpoon Head with a score of 165! Competition was stiff, and I was very lucky Warren Williamson didn’t show up (he was busy surfing his Illusion at the tidal race at Skooks). I had practiced norsamik masikkut, kingup apummaatigut, and ikusaannarmik niaqoq/pukusuk patillugu all month, but when the time came I didn’t score with these at all. Having to wear a bulky PFD (for insurance purposes) really hurt me. I think it’s time to get one of those small inflatables! Many thanks to George Gronseth and Barb Sherrill of Kayak Academy, Dubside, Maligiaq, John, KayakGrrl and all the other volunteers who put together such great event!

Quest for the Golden Harpoon Head!


Kayak Academy's "Greenland Week: Instruction with the Masters" is going to wrap up this weekend. George Gronseth and Barb Sherrill have been hosting Dubside, Helen Wilson, and Maligiaq Padilla this week for classes in rolling and paddling technique. There may still be some time to sign up for a last minute class if you are interested. I understand that Maligiaq will be here for another couple weeks or so holding Greenland skin on frame kayak building classes at the Skin Boat School.

One event not to be missed is Greenland Week's final rolling competition on Lake Sammamish State Park, Tibbetts Beach, this Sunday August 23rd between 10 AM and 4 PM. Registration is at 10 AM and the fee is $10. The competition will be judged by Dubside and Maligiaq, and the first prize is one of Maligiaq's golden harpoon head medals! This is one of the actual medals they give away during the National Kayaking Championship in Greenland! These things are so sought-after in Greenland that once an athlete wins one, they never, ever take it off again! (of course, Maligiaq probably personally owns something like 70 of them). 

This competition is likely to draw some highly skilled rollers, so it'll be interesting to see who shows up. It will be fun just to show up and compete. Participants also get a commemorative t-shirt! Contact Kayak Academy for more information.

Now excuse me while I go out and practice my rolls!

PRESS RELEASE: Maligiaq will be in Pacific Northwest in April 2009

Granite Falls, WA, February 1, 2009 -- 7 Seas Video Productions and The Skin Boat School are excited to announce the April 2009 visit by Maligiaq Padilla, seven-time Greenland National Kayaking Champion. During April 2009. Maligiaq will be conducting a ‘Greenland Skin on Frame Qayaq Design and Construction’ seminar. Maligiaq will give 2 sessions on the principles and techniques he was taught in Greenland, in addition to the design characteristics he looks for in his training/competition qayaq.

Maligiaq and Corey Freedman (SkinBoat School) will conduct classes together to prepare for the filming of the classes planned for August 2009. Tom Sharp ( 7 Seas Video Productions), will create a 2-hour documentary of the August building classes for DVD distribution and broadcast release of the video documentary series, "Greenland Qayaq Construction, with Maligiaq."

Maligiaq came to the USA in 1998 (with John Heath) as a Ambassador of Greenland Qayaqing and has become the most influential person in the Greenland Qayaq Community worldwide. Maligiaq won the Greenland National Kayaking Championship in 1998 at the age of 16. In addition, Maligiaq has won 7 of the last 10 Championships. In 2005, he was involved in the Arctic Peoples' Symposium at the Smithsonian in Washington DC where he built a Greenland Qayaq that is now in the Smithsonian's Collection.

Maligiaq has been traveling and teaching around the world for the past 10 years and returned to the USA in the summer of 2008. We are very fortunate to him for 30 days in April and in August for build classes, filming the Qayaq building sessions, and the Rolling and Stokes technique sessions in August through George Gronseth and the Kayak Academy in Issaquah, WA. (

For more information on Building Classes see April enrollment for the class starting on April 17th or the classes in August (documentary filming sessions) are now open. Build sessions will be held about 8 miles east of the Arlington, WA, exit off I-5 near Silvana WA. Heated indoor workshop space for icky weather and lovely outdoor space across the driveway at the shop for nice weather. (Directions and specifics available with enrollment.) Building Classes are $1700.00, all materials and tools supplied, plus lunch during class, (Deli/Pizza).

August Dates are available for Rolling, Strokes and Ropes Techniques through

Class sessions and personal appearance events are in the works, so stay tuned. This is a great opportunity to have fun and learn with a Qayaqman from Greenland.


Tom Sharp , President, 7 Seas Video


BREAKING NEWS: Tom Sharp Speaks


This YouTube video is just in from Tom himself.  While standing on a picnic table in front of 150 kayakers, at the Deception Pass Dash, he denounces Qajaq USA, declares the demise of, then proceeds to hand out all the remaining inventory of DVDs for free.  People snatch them up like zombies scavenging a corpse.
This was a particularly poignant moment for me. I was also there when Tom began shooting video of Dubside on the ropes for Qajaasaarneq, and shot the video I used for This is Warren.  It started and ended at Bowman Bay.  
I think there are very few people who have done more to popularize Greenland Style kayaking in recent years than Tom and Dubside have with the publication of their three videos Qajaasaarneq, Greenland Rolling with Dubside, and Modern Greenland Kayaking.  It is very unfortunate that kayakers in the future will probably no longer have access to these videos, except maybe as rare bootleg copies.  

Deception Pass Dash 2008: A Totally Epic Race!


Here is a picture of my new kayak. It is the first production kayak I've ever owned. All my others were skin-on-frame or homemade wooden composites. So yeah I actually did make that paradigm shift after all.  I think the whole time I was looking for that perfect playful low volume rough water kayak I must have really wanted a fast touring boat. When a friend let me try his Epic Endurance I was so impressed by the comfort, speed and maneuverability that I knew that this was the type of kayak I needed to go farther and faster. Hey if it's good enough for Freya Hoffmeister it must be good enough for me!  I know this kayak is ugly as hell but I think once I start covering the deck with corporate logo stickers it will look much better.

I had my Epic for week before the Deception Pass Dash and had only paddled it 4 times. During that week I switched back and forth between using my Werner Ikelos blade and my Superior Kayaks carbon Greenland paddle. I think I hadn't used my Werner for at least a couple years (since the Baja Incident), but I convinced myself that by using it I could paddle something like 0.2-0.3 knots faster. It was actually not very easy to determine that because of all the confounding currents on Puget Sound. 




Using my Werner in the race turned out to be the biggest mistake of the day. For one thing I am pretty rusty with it for rolling. For another the conditions turned out to be pretty challenging.  Lisa J recently posted the recorded wind speed in knots on the SKSB-NW message board:


"The strongest conditions of the last 48 hours reported by Smith Island were: Sun 12/07/08 SW 7 @ 956, W 14.77 G20.855 @ 1056, SW 13.9 @ 1156, SW 19.11 G26 @ 1256. That was right about the time of the race and probably consistent with the carnage, including a jet skier at the end. Patrol boats reported 5' breaking at that south end of Deception Pass Island before the last boater came though and we all came back through 6+' cresting waves from all directions half the way back into Bowman at about noon."   

The steep waves reflecting off of Deception Island demanded a lot of bracing.  Just after rounding Deception Island I pulled out into a protected spot and switched to my Greenland paddle. That cost me a couple minutes but WOW did I feel so much better! I felt like I was ready for anything and I was finally able to take advantage of the Epic 18x's speed on flatter water. Pushing against the ebb current was not a problem this year compared to last and being able to precisely control tracking with the rudder was a real pleasure. 

There was a brief moment of relief when the safety crew around Strawberry Island told us "It's all downhill from here!" Of course they didn't count on the wind channeling through Canoe Pass, the steep standing waves in the channel, and all the chaotic water around Deception Island that we had just gone through before. It was actually a much tougher fight back with the wind and waves in your face but totally exhilarating.  
There was a guy surfing the standing waves in the middle of Canoe Pass. I don't know if he was part of the rescue team or what.  It wouldn't have surprised me if he was a racer.  More than a few people must have been tempted to forget the race completely and take advantage of the rare opportunity to play in such fantastic conditions.




Some results:
There were 126 racers.
Thirty-two did not finish.
I finished 12th out of 16 in my class ("fast sea kayak") with a time of 87 min 12 sec.  I was the last in my class who finished.
According to my GPS the course was 5.93 nm.
Fifty-two percent of those in high performance kayaks ("surf-skis") did not finish compared to 25% of those in fast sea kayaks and 22.5% in sea kayaks.  
The video below was filmed by Dubside from the Bowman Bay dock and the on water footage was taken from the back of my kayak.



Third Annual Deception Pass Dash (2008) Part 1 from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.



Third Annual Deception Pass Dash (2008) Part 2 from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

BREAKING NEWS: is closing!



Tom Sharp has announced that is closing on Monday 12-8-2008 at 0900.  That will be the deadline to order any DVDs from the website.  The future availability of the three DVDs, Greenland Rolling with Dubside, Qajaasaarneq, and Modern Greenland Kayaking, even from retailers like Sea Kayaker Magazine, is uncertain.  Any remaining inventory might be donated to libraries.  So if you were thinking of getting any of these DVDs now is the time!

Slaves to the Machine


When Dubside was editing his movies he made a rule that he would only use his computer on odd days. Video editing is very labor intensive.  He recognized from the day he let his Macintosh into his apartment, the monster of high technology would insidiously work its tentacles around every part of his life if left to wander around unrestrained. 

The implementation of every new technology follows predictable phases. In the first phase it is a novelty, a shiny new toy that leaves you thinking, "This is really cool! But do I really have a use for it?” In the second phase you realize the full potential of this new tool, which eventually results in incredible savings in time and labor, and allows for a flowering of creative expression not possible before. It's nothing short of revolutionary. In the third phase it turns you into its slave. You can tell when you've reached this phase by the excessive amounts of time and effort you spend maintaining, upgrading, and feeding the system. The inevitable system crashes leave you bewildered, sitting in the dark. These moments force you to ponder: “What will we do without it? What did we ever do without it?” With prolonged deprivation, you might become intensely bored, moody, irritable and start trembling like a junkie in withdrawal. 
This describes the experience I went through with my new iPhone, which I am using to write this today. I passed from Phase One to Phase Two within a couple days.  Now I can post to my Facebook while sitting on the toilet -- and can't imagine what I used to do before that!  I'd be lost without my iPhone, having become so dependent on it to organize my entire life, keep me connected, informed and entertained.  I expect that in the future it will be indispensable in navigating through the inevitable age−related cognitive decline. 
Dubside knows of the power and dangers of new technology. He is a true Luddite. His refusal to own or drive a car is well known.  It's probably not surprising then that it took a great deal of effort to get him to use a cell phone for the first time. At first he insisted that someone else hold the phone, and he would speak to the other party through the person holding the phone. As far as I know he still doesn't surf the Web or use email. I am pretty sure that he will never read this post or any of the other things I've written about him unless someone prints it out on paper and hands it to him. But his mistrust of technology didn’t stop him from using a video camera and Final Cut Pro to communicate and popularize Greenland style kayaking. In the end he had the strength to turn it off and walk away, having declared victory in accomplishing what he and Tom Sharp had set out to do -- documenting on video Greenland traditions in three movies: Qajaasaarneq, Greenland Rolling with Dubside, and Modern Greenland Kayaking. 
Recently I subjected my family and myself to an experiment. For one day a week we would not use the computer: no electronic games, no Internet, no email. We got bored quickly on those days and discovered that there were several hours in the day that cried out to be filled with something. You can only play board games by candlelight for so long. Unfortunately, everyone filled the time watching TV or taking naps late in the day. After a few “no computer days” my son declared that the whole experiment was pointless and started immediately playing World of Warcraft again with the awesome new Wrath of the Lich King expansion pack. Total failure. 
It’s time to face the fact there is no simply no turning back time and going back to playing board games by candlelight, unless you want to live your life like Ted Kaczynski, or unless civilization as we know it collapses. Those of us who can't walk away might as well embrace this technology fully, completely, and unapologetically. We will remain slaves to the machine, but hopefully not without occasionally reaping some benefit from these enormously powerful tools. Someday maybe emancipation will come, when the Internet reaches the fourth and final phase: obsolescence. Then a newer, shiner toy we can scarcely imagine today will have emerged, perhaps setting us free once more before luring us into its own trap.