They were in Greenland for a kayaking competition, but James Manke and James Roberts were fortunate to witness some very personal and familial cultural moments along the way.
Representing Canada at the National Greenland Kayaking Championships last month, Manke, from Langford, and Ontario resident Roberts medalled in every event they entered. Manke captured international gold in the kayak rolling event, while Roberts won the portage race.
Organizers took the unusual step of placing the Canadians in a competitive group with Greenlanders rather than other international paddlers, a challenging situation given the profound language barrier. But any apprehension on the part of the locals soon melted away when the pair’s sincere love for the sport and wish to promote this traditional form of paddling came through, Manke said.
“Once they realized we were there with good intentions, they embraced us and it was a good thing,” he said.
During one particular short-distance race, as Manke was paddling between icebergs in waters between 2 C and 3 C, a group of people in a truck on the shoreline got out and started chanting “Ca-na-da, Ca-na-da,” he said.
“I sensed they felt some kind of connection between Canada and Greenland. It crosses over between the countries, the kayaking and hunting. I think there’s definitely some kind of connection there.”
While the pair had prepared for the physical tasks they’d be facing at the event, the mental aspects were more challenging, he said.
The rolling event, in which competitors aim to complete as many of the 35 distinct rolls as possible in a set time frame, was particularly taxing, Manke said.
“I was wanting to collect the most points I could get so I definitely skipped some. It was definitely harder than I thought it would be. There’s a level of anxiety that sets in with judges and so many people watching. That’s part of the mental game that some people are really strong at, but I found it was something I was not as strong at.”
Performing well under pressure was one thing, but the Canadians were struck by how much the Greenlanders value kayaking as a cultural tradition. Their hope, Manke said, is to inspire the next generation.
“When the kids were competing, that’s when people would get the most excited. The whole family would be out watching and the dad would usually be out on the water with them. Whoever won, their mom would be rolling around (in celebration) on the dirt. They want to make a big deal about it for the kids, who also really look up to the adults.”
In between races, Manke and Roberts were filming footage for a documentary on the competition and their experience which they plan to release later this fall on YouTube and through Manke’s website, qajaq.ca.
Hear the stories, learn to roll
• Langford paddling expert James Manke is available to teach Greenland kayaking and rolling this summer, through courses offered by Ocean River Sports.
For more information, visit oceanriveradventures.com/introduction-greenland-rolling/ or contact them by email at email@example.com or call 250-381-4233.