This article frist appearted in the March 2016 issue of Atlantic Coastal Kayaker and is reprinted here by permission of the author. Thanks Ben.

2015 Delmarva Greenland Padders' Retreat, by Ben Fuller

The bumper stickers on my old Saab wagon help me keep track of how many Delmarva Greenland paddling retreats I've driven to. There is a “W” Chicken Hawk sticker which meant that I got the wagon in the fall of 2004, a few years used, and took the 500 mile cruise south as a fast way to check the warranty. It has a big turbo so there is no trouble with a roof rack and trailer and on that first trip I had only my plywood stitch and glue NorthBay.

I remember driving past the entrance to Camp Arrowhead after dinner time, maybe a few times, punchy from the drive, before I found it and turned in. Indeed dinner had gone, but there were a couple of kilt wearing paddlers in the dining room, one from Montana and one from the Left Coast, as well as a few from New England. Since socializing was happening, I put a bottle of apple nectar from Normandy on the table, which was promptly consumed. My kind of people.

I don't remember much of that year's program, only that I was pretty stiff despite decades of paddling so fancy rolling would be a challenge, and indeed it has stayed that way.

But I do remember some years.  Delmarva is exposed to Northeasters, and one year it blew very hard. On that shallow shelving beach it meant surf, and plenty of it, an ideal place to learn rough water. It was challenging enough that a roll was required before people were let outside to play. A few years later we were hit by a distinctly unpleasant four day rain and wind storm.  Drysuited and tuilik wearing paddlers did not mind, but some  activities were curtailed. My new fleece paddle bag became a muffler.

Language changes. Kampe Absalonen who came out some years ago instituted Kampe's rules. Kayaks are kayaks. Boats are boats. Kayaks are part of the paddler. People ride in boats. Kampe's rules require a dollar to be put in a jar every time you use the “b” word. That jar is raffled off at the end of the event. Veterans just put a 20 in at the beginning. This year the concept was extended to Iqyax, which the Russians called baidarka. Tuliks are the combination spray skirt and hooded paddling jacket used in Greenland, while Aquillisaqs  are the spray skirts that are tightly fitted to cockpit and waist but provide slack for rolling.

So how does it work? It revolves around the Greenland concept: if you know something, help someone else learn. Volunteer mentors lead sessions, maybe focus on special skills. Many of them have advanced ACA and BCU training and endorsements but you won't find a credential list.  A few guests are invited; their expenses are picked up but not their time. These could be from anywhere in this country or from away: an Everglades challenge kayak winner, the lady who went on to paddle around South American and Australia, the persons who started the Walden Qajaq Society, the author of the monumental Kayaks of Greenland, the editor of QAJAQ USA's historical journal, the man who started Kayak Japan, the US master of Greenland ropes, the American who brought the qajaq from Greenland to England which started the British style sea kayaks and the British engineer that drew it up,  the many times Greenland national qajaq champion...... are only some that I remember.

Delmarva provides many paddlers their first exposure to skin-on-frame qajaqs. QAJAQ USA has a fleet of about a dozen, different styles and sizes that will fit paddlers from under 100 lbs. to some that  could be six and a half feet tall. Many years there is chance to take a week long kayak building course that results in a kayak to be launched and paddle on Saturday of the event. There are also courses that let people build a Greenland paddle and there are sometimes courses  that let people make their own akuilisaq or tuiliks. Many of the Greenland rolls are far easier in a well fitted skin-on-frame. And additional skin-on-frame qajaqs are brought by participants for the use of all.

It also lets people try Greenland gear. On the QUSA kayak trailer are bins of tuiliks and Aquillisaqs as well as paddles in different styles and lengths. Norsaqs, originally the throwing stick that lengthens the hunters arm, are available for rolling as are harpoons for throwing. 

This last event may have been the most memorable. The preliminary material promised return visits from John Pederson, a qajaq hunter and teacher from Greenland, and Anders   Thygesen who had paddled the length of Norway in his Iqyax, and teaches building of both Iqyax and qajaqs in Norway. In addition, from the Midwest came Christopher Crowhurst who has produced fine free instructional rolling materials. And as usual there was Dubside, the American paddler and ropes expert who has medaled and judged in Greenland competitions, would help people learn the ropes.

John had been here in 2009 and taught the most memorable paddling clinic I've ever taken. He reminded us that the craft we paddle for pleasure are really hunting machines, and what was important was not how fast one could paddle but how quietly. And that efficient paddling mechanics was important no matter how slowly one paddled. One needed to feel each stroke, not make idle chatter on the water. Very Zen. John led a mentor training session and then 3 clinics.

Anders was also back after presenting his long trip and helping with rolling and stroke work the year before. This year he worked on kayak rescues, something that is different with small cockpit skin-on-frames, showing participants the merits of a homemade sea sock.

Weather cooperated providing some pushy wind and waves for a couple of days. This allowed some of us to work on rough water paddling and surfing skills, exploring the abilities of a Greenland paddle to extend for sweeps and braces as well as the use of a sliding stroke to climb up wind. Some of the participants were experienced rough water paddlers with conventional paddles where bow draws and cross bow moves are part of the paddlers repertoire, strokes that are less efficient with a long narrow blade. They delighted in the power of a sweep and brace using their Greenland paddles.

The sea state drove home the rescues shown by Anders who was helped by Don Beale who had led Friday's paddle building. And Christopher repeated his combat rolling clinic he had run successfully the year before. Serial rolls, rolling on whistles, and showing a variety were all part of this.

Anders introduced a new activity: the two hour qajaq. Four teams, using supplied wood,  tape, and cling wrap, designed, built raced and rolled four qajaqs. While many previous Delmarva's had kayak skinning demonstrations, this was new. The winners were from Greenland.

It was Greenlanders that made this a Delmarva to remember. Qaannat Kattuffiat, Greenland's national paddling club sent their president, vice president, treasurer and the current Greenland national qajaq champion. Besides winning the qajaq build-off they were everywhere. They led a harpoon clinic, and helped people with rolls and strokes. All powerful paddlers, they showed why on the ropes: these hang in every Greenland qajaq club and are there for all. Members grow up on with ropes; working with them provides the strength and flexibility of gymnastics for only the cost of a couple of ropes strung between some poles. With the short paddling season and extremely cold water in Greenland, these are essential tools. There are only two swimming pools in Greenland, no place to teach rolling in the way we Euroamericans often do. (And did they enjoy the Camp Arrowhead pool.)The grace and balance of the Greenlanders were apparent just from boarding qajaqs. Once they tried some on the beach to check fit, and sorted through paddles on offer, they typically walked out on the dock often in jeans and tuilik, balanced their craft with the paddle and slid in dry shod. They got out the same way, no sand in the qajaqs, no booties or drysuits needed. They reminded us that Greenland water is very cold and every effort is made to stay out of it.

 They were joined by Maligiaq Padilla flying in from Alaska where he now lives with his family. The competition qajaq that he designed was so narrow that only he could keep it upright.

 For the paddlers who were able to stay on Sunday night, the beach bonfire was spectacular. The three losing kayaks were stripped, set up in a pyramid and set alight. Burning man meets Delmarva. All of this fueled by that premier sports medicine provider, Dogfish.

 So what will we do next year?


Delmarva Paddlers Retreat


We must have made it big time -we're in a mainstream publication! You'll need to go to their site to read about our article in Delaware Beach Life. Marla Aron's photos of Rosanna Lovecchio graces the opening page of the piece.

Delmarva Paddler's Retreat