Kayak and paddle design in Kullorsuaq Greenland an interview with Nikolaj Jensen

Interesting details about kayaking for hunting

Gail Ferris







In Kullorsuaq Greenland on July 20th, 1995 I visited Nikolaj Jensen because I had been told that he is a most extraordinary kayak builder.  Nikolaj’s sons who actively hunt by kayak are Lars and Nathanial.




000 Kullorsuaq Nikolaj Jensen, Jetta Bang portrait


www.nkhorizons.com/KitditStormPaddle.htm from Aassiat area

www.nkhorizons.com/Ilulissatkayakpaddles.htm from Ilulissat Museum


www.nkhorizons.com/NeilsMoellerPaddleUpv.htm a new paddle made by Neils in the 1990’s in Upernavik


www.nkhorizons.com/CurvedShaftPaddleUpv.htm an interesting purposefully bent shaft kayak paddle in Upernavik


www.nkhorizons.com/NathanialJensenPaddle.htm from Kullorsuaq, Upernavik area

www.nkhorizons.com/KullorsuaqKayakLarsJensen95.htm watching Lars demonstrating hunting from his kayak

www.nkhorizons.com/NikolajJensenkayakpaddle.htm detailed drawings of paddles in Kullorsuaq

www.nkhorizons.com/DisabledKayakLaunch.htm images of how I launch and how Lars Jensen a Greenlander launches using his paddle




I communicated my interest in kayak design to Nikolaj by sitting on the floor demonstrating kayak paddling and showing him some of the measurements that I was interested in obtaining. 

               Nikolaj shared with me several extremely important aspects of kayak and paddle design.



001 Kullorsuaq Nikolaj Jensen with Hans his eldest son sitting on his lap, Jetta Bang portrait


The paddler has enough room to paddle with a stroke that extends the paddler's arm of the opposite side ending the hand at the waist of the paddler.  Nikolaj said that this stroke is only used on calm water and I immediately agreed that when the water is rough a much shorter stroke is best.

Regarding paddle design, the length of the loom is slightly greater than the width of the kayak.  The loom length is the width of the kayak and the knuckles of the closed hand.

               The circumference of the loom is not measured with the thumb and index fingers meeting, instead the loom is measured by the thumb and index finger including an opening of about 2 cm to allow the thickness loom to have sufficient strength. 

He mentioned that it is very important for the cross section of the paddle is a diamond or rhombus, which means that the paddle has a rib.  He greatly prefers to make his paddles thicker than many of the other paddles I have seen in this area so that the paddle is strong.


drawing made in 1995 by Gail Ferris in Kullorsuaq



Therefore the paddle should have a rib down the middle of the blade so that the paddle will not flutter in the water, especially during the initial moments of hard paddling to accelerate the kayak.  He makes the loom rectangular but does not make it thicker on the flat blade side he makes it thicker on the cross section side this is the opposite of all the paddles I have seen elsewhere in Greenland south of Upernavik Commune. 

The loom is carved where the blade starts with a 45° angle as a step up.  I carefully measured one paddle used by Nathanial Jensen, which had a distinct rib and another paddle used by Lars Jensen, which happened not to have such a distinct rib.


drawing made in 1995 by Gail Ferris in Kullorsuaq



               The paddle length is determined by the combination of the length of the loom and the blade the loom at the left side the blade out to the right side ending with the arm extended out on a 30° angle the hand out flat.  I'm not sure at all about this and to try to better understand this I had Lars measured.

               Kullorsuaq and Tassiusaq are where the Greenland kayak is used only for hunting the Narwhal because they is on the very edge of Melville Bay Narwhal come to this region.

Nathanial's kayak had the chins set so that it is a flatter broader kayak than Lars kayak.  Nikolaj told me as is to be expected that every kayak he builds is different because it is planned according to the paddler’s body dimensions.

               Nikolaj showed me that he measures the length for the foot to the back by bending the feet back as far as comfortable with the heels together with the legs straight out and the feet splayed in a V to the sides rather than straight up. 

The height of the cockpit above the knees is planned so that the knees will be bent slightly upward to firmly touch the knee support cross beam, seeqqortarfik ajaaq, with the feet to be extended forward pressing against the foot support cross beam, tukerumiaq ajaak during rough water conditions and the knees must be well braced to execute the roll. 

This does not take into account the distance between the kayaker's buttocks and the back support cross beam, isserfik ajaaq which I am not sure about.  Probably the kayak paddler is sitting firmly against this crossbeam to maintain sufficient leverage. 

Neils Møller of Upernavik said that the paddler is measured with the feet pressed back and the legs straight out. 

Lars Jensen, Nikolaj’s son, said that the distance is measured with the feet straight up and the legs straight out.

               The kayak paddler sits with his feet splayed in a V to the sides rather than straight up.  This is one of the physical discomforts that a Greenlander must adapt to for kayak paddling.

               In Kullorsuaq the Narwhal whale is hunted by kayak because the silence of the kayak allows the hunter to approach more closely.  The paddle is designed to be as quiet as possible by having the surface finely sanded or scrapped as smooth as possible with a piece of glass so that the paddle does not create any noise by dripping water. 

I also learned about stone hammer handles are scraped with glass to smooth them no finish is used on these handles.

Gail Ferris