A new old world

I awake to a clear blue sky sunrise over Delaware's Rehoboth Bay. On the windless placid water a kayaker is doing rolls. From my distance it is hard to see if a paddle is used or not. No splashes disturb the water or the early morning silence.

Scattered on the beach at Camp Arrowhead there is a wide variety of sea kayaks. From the 'familiar' glass-fibre to 'Greenland-style' wooden 'stitch-and-glue', 'wood-strip' and the most traditional of all: 'skin-on-frame'. I now realize that I have entered 'a new old world' of kayaking. Greenland paddles and tuiliks everywhere. Not a single 'euro' paddle to be seen.

The DelMarVa Paddler's Retreat is held for the 16th time. Some four years ago organizer Robin Snow decided to make the transition to an 'all Greenland style' event and the 'Retreat' became the birthplace of QajaqUSA. The 100+ participants come from all over the USA, but mainly east coast.

Friday 1 October 2004
The official start is Friday evening. But during the day Margaret and Ray Killen host a paddle-making session. Twenty people cut Greenland paddles out of wood. All the paddles get finished to a point that they can be paddled with. I join Will Bigelow, Dan Segal and Shawn Baker for a short paddle on the ocean at Cape Henlopen. I can use Dave's Anas Acuta and get my first experience of the 'masik'. Although this sea kayak is already 'low volume', a foam-pad under the front-deck forces my legs down. I have still one inch of knee movement and Will asks if I need another block of foam (!). With Will's neoprene tuilik and a Greenland paddle I am all set. Two skin-on-frame kayaks and one glass-fibre one push off the beach into the surf. In the evening Kenneth Taylor gives a very interesting lecture with slides of his visit to Greenland in 1959, at a time at which kayaks where still in regular use for hunting. Apparently only in 2003 QajaqUSA and Kenneth got into contact. All attendants are 'glued' to their seats to see the old but still in all aspects brilliant slides and hear Kenneth' first-hand accounts.

Saturday 2 October
First thing on Saturday morning is Greg Stamer teaching a class on forward paddling with a Greenland paddle. Next for me is an 'advanced rolling' class from Turner Wilson, Pavia Lumholt and Harvey Golden. Mark Schoon and Mel Rice of Carpe Diem Kayaking lent me their Nigel Dennis Kayaks Explorer sea kayak for the weekend. In February this year I learned the basics of chest sculling. That is, I could then chest-scull forever, but was not able to recover from that. Now with a few pointers by Turner the chest-scull and recovery is there! Next is the reverse sweep roll, which, in my learning stage, is just falling backwards and setting up to the chest-scull position and then recover. As an 'intermezzo' I learn the 'forward-finishing butterfly roll'. Last is the storm roll. When I fail the storm roll I revert to the standard sweep roll, which must look terrible. My 'bombproof' roll is automatic with a euro paddle. Now I am struggling with the fact that the Greenland paddle is unfeathered. I can 'tick-off' four new rolls; not bad for one morning of instruction and practice. In the afternoon I attend the 'forward-finishing rolls' class by Dan. As I already did forward-finishing rolls this morning, this class is in my case all about improving. A succession of 'under-the-hull' storm rolls is the fancy 'trick' I take away from this class. And Dan has 'imprinted' upon me that all Greenland rolls should be executed slowly; no power and no splashing! Cheri Perry and Dubside give an entertaining evening presentation of their attendance at the 2004 National Open Kayaking Championships in Qaqortog, Greenland. They practiced a lot and did very well in the competition. They share with us their wonderful experiences, great stories and beautiful pictures. If that is not all, they do a night-time 'dressage with music' in the lighted swimming pool. Dubside gives a whole new meaning to 'skin-on-frame' as in the Greenland competition and here he performs all the rolls in a, slightly modified, Feathercraft folding kayak. At the 2003 Anglesey Sea Kayak Symposium, Greenland kayak champion Maligiaq Padilla sparked my interest in traditional kayaking from the skills perspective. I am highly impressed from what I see Dubside and Cheri do with their kayaks; a 'ballet' that looks as if it does not take any effort to do at all; no power, no splashing... How not to awe at seeing three people perform 'straightjacket rolls' like clockwork...

Sunday 3 October
Cheri runs the class on hand-rolling. She first let us all put blocks of foam under the front deck as a 'masik' to force the legs flat on the bottom. Today I do not have a good feel for the kayak or the water. I am probably tired from yesterday. The main thing though is that I at least manage a proper throwing-stick lay-back roll. By the nature of holding the throwing-stick it is a hand-palm facing up; maybe a small but definitively a major progression for me today. And off course the balance-brace position is where all 'lay-back' rolls will start from. After lunch, Dubside does a 'competition-style' demonstration of the 'rope gymnastics'. He gets up to 460+ points, which is an improvement on his performance in Greenland.

The 'Retreat' draws to a close. Now I have a whole year to practice my newly learned skills at home in the Netherlands and make sure that I can be at DelMarVa again next year. Thank you Robin and all the people that helped for making the 'Retreat' such a great gathering of 'Greenland style' enthusiasts. Thanks also to Will, Turner, Dan and Rich for making a 'euro' feel at home in the new world.

Next stop on my '2004 USA sea kayaking tour' brought me to the Sea Kayak Georgia BCU Week. There UK sea kayak coach Gordon Brown gave a lecture on his 2004 visit to Greenland with Duncan Winning. Tracing the origins of the seal-skin-on-frame replica that Kenneth Taylor brought back and it's 'offspring' in the form of the many 'modern-day' glass-fibre sea kayak designs. What a small big world...


- Qajaq USA (see photo gallery for DelMarVa 2004 pictures)

- DelMarVa Paddler's Retreat

- Cheri Perry in Greenland 2004

- Walden Qajaq Society

- Carpe Diem Kayaking (Mark Schoon & Mel Rice)

This article was published in the April 2005 issue (No. 154) of BCU Canoe Focus.

© A.M. Schoevers