East Greenland Kayak Project 2011 - Tasiilaq Kayak Club.

This summer I teamed up with Susan, an old friend from 2004, who is a Danish kayak Instructor and used to live in Tasiilaq, together we ran a kayak workshop exclusively for local Greenlandic people living in Tasiilaq on the east coast of Greenland.

Nine people responded to the offer of some kayaking.
Several had never sat in a kayak before, however a few had been out a couple of times.
One chap was keen to consolidate his self taught skills and wanted to learn to roll, and eventually hopes to become a kayak tour guide for the local tourist office.

A father and son team, who were hunters, had a traditional style Greenlander kayak which we had sold when we left after the schools expedition in 2000 – this had been used to hunt many Narwhal and was decked out with hide deck lines and bone toggles and was paddled with a home made traditional Inuit paddle.
Interestingly, thin rope had been taped to the front of the hull, along the water line, as this reduces wave noise when hunting.

There were also two females in the group which was great as kayaking traditionally was very much “the mans” role within the community.
I estimate the ages within the group ranged from mid twenties to late fifties.

All were keen on perfecting their skills.

Only one Greenlandic person – Maria – spoke any English and several of the group didn’t speak Danish.
As I don’t speak Danish and my Greenlandic is very limited the sessions were introduced using mime, lots of dry land demonstrations and reference to picture books.

Initial instruction was done on land with demonstrations of rescues – everyone then copied these, much to the amusement of local bystanders.
At first I thought these were too boring for them and that they didn’t understand, however they were all just concentrating very hard and once it was their turn everyone had a great laugh, crawling about in the grass pretending to swim - which really set the scene for the following days.

Picture books to help explain

Once on the water the group were very enthusiastic about perfecting their rescues, and then later both the types of Eskimo rescue.
Although wearing wetsuits and kayak gear the water was obviously very cold and as many pre – dry run demonstrations were done as possible.
This felt very strange to me and not something I have ever had to do, to this level, before.
It worked well though and once on the water they all through themselves into their practice.
In fact it was always hard getting them to go out and have a proper paddle in the fjord as they much preferred practicing the safety drills and rescues – and like a group of youngsters you couldn’t get them out of the water and at the end of each day they always ended up swimming and messing about in the harbour.

The Narwhal hunter – deep in thought.

During the training they were able to cover a wide range of paddling skills.
Equipment, safety, group rescues, Eskimo rescues, self rescues with paddle floats, re entry and rolls with floats, towing, rough landings, ice landings and group awareness / leadership.

Living close to the sea they already have a good appreciation of the weather and the changeable sea / ice conditions and I am confident they can safely relate this to the kayaking environment.
On the final day I am pleased to say after much practice all but the two girls were able to fully Eskimo Roll.

Unfortunately for the girls this was largely due to the fact that the kayaks were too big for them and it was difficult for them to wedge themselves into them – also by then Maria was suffering from sore ears and had pulled out of the training..

It was a real privilege to have been able to have worked so closely with these people who had such an interest and commitment to learning these kayak skills.
They do have a raw talent and I am sure picked things up much quicker than many folk I have introduced in the past.
Kayaking with them enabled me, despite our lack of common language to feel we had really connected – and I had made some good friends.
Certainly they appreciated the opportunity and the time I spent with them and it was quite an emotional parting.

Paddles on the east coast,traditionaly were tipped with ivory to protect from ice.

As a result of this workshop several of the group have now joined the kayak club, joining with their peers will also help encourage others to take part.
The group was very motivated and at the end able to self teach and support one another, so I am confident they will spend the rest of the summer safely consolidating their new skills.

Next summer I again plan to spend some time with folk from this group and offer some further support – Lars, the young hunter with his fathers kayak is keen to take me hunting, should the opportunity arise.
Kristina – a young mum, has set herself the challenge of gaining suitable skills and experience, so she can safely paddle from Tasiilaq to visit her relatives in Isortoq.
This for her would be a journey of several days – being aware of the risk, she has already spoken with her uncle who will, when she is ready, accompany her in a support boat.

Many thanks to the Gino Watkins Memorial Trust for their support with this project.