I read an article in the latest print edition of Canoe and Kayaker magazine. The seeming hyperbole of the headline of the article in the magazine read, “Maligiaq, the best kayaker in the world.” Is that hyperbole? The article was about the traditional kayaking renaissance that Maligiaq led as its most prominent athlete in the Greenland Games throughout the early 2000s.
As a result of interest in this aspect of the sport from the US, there have been a number of clubs, paddlers, and a whole wave of what Dubside dubbed, (pun intended) sport rollers in the Brian Smith film Western Horizons. I myself was caught up in the middle part of the wave of traditional paddling. I have a tuiliq and can perform nearly 30 (on a good day with ideal hamstring flexibility) of the 35 or so official rolls that make up part of the annual competition in Greenland. Rolling is such a cool, fun part of the sport, I would be lying if I said I didn’t understand the craze of the traditionalists in the sport. There is something spookily cool about skin on frame boats, traditional paddles, and the whole seal hunter chic. Boat and paddle building, the traditional aspect to the sport brings a whole new appreciation for the sport that unless you’ve taken part of it, you will just never, ever get it. I attended a few boat building events, and even attended Qajaq training camp in Northern Lower Michigan. If you haven’t been there once, you have to attend at least once.
The community, the clubs, and the skills involved are way cool, and something I think every paddler should at least dip a toe into. For me to put it in terms non-traditionalists will get, it’s like the difference between watching Saving Private Ryan, and building your own landing craft and staging a Normandy invasion with 30 of your closest friends.
My own introduction to sea kayaking really came through WMCKA which has some of the largest per capita population of traditional paddling enthusiasts, mainly influenced by Bonnie Perry and Reverend Doug Van Doren.
With that setup and disclaimer aside for my own interest in traditional paddling. Is Maligiaq the best kayaker in the world? Is there such a person? Can kayaking be so easily and uniformly stratified? I once thought it was headed that way, I am not sure I was right, and I am not sure this statement is correct either. It is not because Maligiaq is not an awesome spectacle as an athlete as a competitive roller, kayak racer, or on the Greenland ropes, but because kayaking is composed of so many different types of athletes, how can you pick one person and say they’re the best. Kayaking has so many different facets, white water playboating, creeking, surf kayaking, racing, sea kayaking, expeditions, tide race playboating in sea kayaks and so on, that thanks to people like Maligiaq and his ancestors traditional style kayaking is really one among many of these pursuits.
So with that sort of thought on how big kayaking is, and with the opening question, is Maligiaq the best kayaker in the world? Is he even in the top five? Or is this to quote one of Scott Fairty, like trying to name your favorite celebrity knitter?