Cold-water kayakers keep Greenland tradition alive
By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor
ST. PETERSBURG -- An avid angler and open-water hunter, Joshua Broer wanted to get back to basics.
"This is how it all started," the 29-year-old Tarpon Springs native said. "In Greenland, for hundreds of years, people fished and hunted seals out of kayaks."
Long before fishermen began navigating the shallow waters of West Florida in "flats boats" that cost more than most automobiles, indigenous peoples around the world pursued prey in paddle craft that made barely a sound.
"Kayaks are the ultimate in stealth," Broer said. "You can creep right up on a school of reds. Now that is the way to fish."
Broer, who began his outdoors career chasing snook, trout and red drum around Anclote Key, adopted Greenland-style kayak paddling because of its tradition.
Like an archer who uses a longbow or angler who ties flies, Greenland-style kayakers practice what has taken generations to develop.
"I try to keep it as authentic as I can," he said. "But unfortunately, some things we must do without. Seal skins are a little hard to come by in Florida. So we settle for fiberglass."
While plastic sit-on-top kayaks are the most popular person-powered craft in the summer months, the winter's cooler water temperatures call for an enclosed boat, similar to those paddled by Inuits of Greenland for centuries.
"They had to get close enough to the seals to harpoon them," Broer said. "And once they did, there was always a battle that would usually end up capsizing the kayak."
So any Greenland-style kayaker worth his salt must know how to roll and right himself. "We learn 30 different types of rolls," said Broer, who is studying to become a British Canoe Union instructor through Tierra Verde's Sweetwater Kayaks. "And each one has a different use."
The proper rolls in cold water can make the difference between life and death.
"It comes in handy here, especially when you are fishing," Broer said. "But it takes a while to learn to roll with a fishing pole without losing the fish."
Broer learned many of his skills from Greg Stamer of Orlando, who has achieved legendary status among hard-core kayakers for his ability to compete with the natives of Greenland in competitions. "There aren't many people who are into the sport," Broer said. "But those of us who are get pretty serious about it."
Another trademark of Greenland-style kayaking is a paddle that doesn't really look like a paddle.
"There are no trees in Greenland," Broer said. "So they had to make paddles out of whatever they could find. And that was usually flotsam, or whatever washed up on the beach."
These sticklike paddles are handcrafted from wood and cost about half of what a state-of-the-art European-style graphite kayak paddle costs.
"When you first see a Greenland-style paddle, you ask yourself how could something like that work," Broer said. "But you would be amazed at how quiet and efficient they are. They are ideal to use when you are fishing."
Broer also wears a traditional Greenland-style tulik that seals him at the waste, face and wrists, keeping cold water out of the hull.
"In Greenland they wear sealskin, but here we use neoprene," Broer said. "They get pretty hot, so that is why Greenland-style paddling is more of a winter sport."
Broer has gotten used to the stares and awkward glances from fishermen, even though his kayak probably makes less noise than the electric motor of most live wells, but he takes it all in stride.
"You just live with it," he said. "This is my thing. This is what I do."
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