I happened upon an excellent post from kayaker extraordinaire Greg Stamer explaining the differences and also primary advantages a Greenland paddle has over other kayak paddle types, especially the wing paddle. More after the jump.
Here’s a quote:
To generalize, a racer is often trying to maximize speed over distance usually with an extremely light, unladen kayak. A sea kayaker is often trying the maximize the number of “miles per Snicker’s bar”, often with a heavy or gear-laden kayak, day after day. These are related, but are very different things and need to be viewed separately.
In a racing situation — very light kayak, 10 miles or less, using a very high stroke, I’m about 1.5 – 2 minutes per mile faster with my wing than with a GP. That’s not much for touring but is an eternity for racing. Unfortunately this is not a perfect test since my current “go-fast” kayaks have a fairly high foredeck that makes it difficult to fully bury the blades of my GP at the catch. I have won local races with a GP over wings, but if I want my best time I use a wing.
You don’t get something for nothing. The speed comes with a price.
With a wing (or other “Euro” paddle) you hold the paddle such that if you were to place the center of the shaft on your head, your elbows make a 90 degree, or slightly less, bend. To achieve a vertical stroke you must lift your arms fairly high, and that’s the rub. Even if you have the lightest–most expensive paddle available, mere ounces, you are still lifting many pounds on each stroke — the weight of your arms. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t use a light paddle (I buy the lightest I can afford) but you also have to understand the role of your technique in the equation.
With a GP, your hands are much closer together. You do need to ensure that your paddle shaft is long enough to generate good power (racers in Greenland often use 22″ or slightly longer paddle-shafts for this reason), but the closer hand position allows you to employ a high vertical stroke, without having to lift your arms very high. Unlike the high “chicken wing” paddle lift of the wing, your hands stay much lower, and you lift less arm-weight per stroke. I’m convinced that this is the reason my shoulders feel much better after many miles with a GP, than a wing.