July 2023 was an epic month for several Aqua Bound team members when they joined AB Ambassadors Laila and Christian for a sea kayak trip in Greenland.
Kayakers among Greenland’s icebergs (photo courtesy of Laila Reigstad)
Laila Reigstad and Christian Harstad are from Norway, both members of our Ambassador team. They work together frequently to take kayak groups to Greenland for multi-day expeditions. The end of July into early August is prime time to paddle the coastal waters of the world’s largest island, so that was our plan.
Our team from headquarters included Kate Wright (Marketing Manager), Luanne Koubsky (Creative Lead), Luanne’s husband Evan Koubsky, Samara Brylski (Paddle Master Builder), Rachel Kellen (Inside Sales & Service), Greg Long (Paddle Master Builder) and Kyler Smith (Paddle Master Builder).
The Aqua Bound team in Greenland: Kate, Samara, Rachel, Laila (guide), Christian (guide) Greg, Luanne, Evan, Kyler
It was a dream come true for our folks, and a super way to directly connect with Laila and Christian for several days under their guidance and expertise.
Let’s first briefly explore Greenland itself, then hear about the sea kayak trip from our team members:
Is Greenland Really Green?
It’s interesting that Iceland is mostly green and Greenland is mostly ice! In fact, 80% of Greenland’s 836,000+ square miles (three times the size of Texas) is covered by a massive ice sheet. That’s not surprising when we learn two-thirds of the island lies above the Arctic Circle. What isn’t covered by ice is tundra, most of which sits on permafrost.
These maps show the ice sheet on Greenland (left) and how most of the island’s coast is riddled with fjords. That’s Narsarsuaq Airport (right), where our team flew in.
Kate explained the weather they experienced:
“July and August usually have highs in the 50s and lows in the upper 30s (Fahrenheit). We had unusually warm weather, though—two days were in the 80s. And even the cool days didn’t stop everyone in our group from swimming with the icebergs in 35ºF water! We had sun every day, although one morning was completely fogged in and we had to navigate by compass for the first half of the day.”
She went on to talk about the green:
“On the very edges of Greenland are spectacular shades of green filled with mountains, fjords, glaciers and a rocky coastline. There was lots of low shrubbery that made for soft camping spots and interesting hiking conditions. It was wildflower season, so the coast was sprinkled with tiny colorful blooms.”
Like other locations in the far north, Greenland experiences the midnight sun during the summer months. By this time, more than a month after the summer solstice, our team had about 20 hours of daylight during each 24-hour period. Their sunset paddle wasn’t until 10:00 pm!
Land of the Midnight Sun (photo courtesy of Greg Long)
Who and What Lives in Greenland?
According to National Geographic, “Nine out of 10 Greenlanders are of Inuit descent, and the remainder of the population are Danish or European [Greenland is a territory of Denmark]. The majority of people in the territory live in one of the island’s 18 cities, including its capital, Nuuk, located on the southwest coast.”
Our team flew into Narsarsaq, near the southern tip, then traveled to their guides’ basecamp in the settlement of Narsaq.
“The locals were friendly and hospitable,” said Kate. “We spent time at the local pub listening to live music and getting to know them. We felt so welcome! We even met a man from Madison, Wisconsin in Narsaq—so fun! There were no inhabitants on any of the islands we kayaked, although we did see a rare boat.”
Besides its population of just under 58,000 people, Greenland is home to a wide variety of animal life that frequent these types of Arctic environments. Our team saw sea eagles, Arctic fox, reindeer, seals and black guillemot. An exceptional treat for them was spotting a polar bear on their first day kayaking—a rare in southern Greenland.
Looking down across a small bay where the kayaks pulled up (photo courtesy of Samara Brylski)
Why Sea Kayak in Greenland?
Christian explained why Greenland is a superb sea kayaking destination:
“Kayaking in Greenland is a magical adventure. The monumental ice formations in the fjords, the wildlife, the calmness, the untouched nature. And then there’s the history. The history of Greenland is long, proud and gripping. It’s where the Innuits and Vikings merged. Even today we can see their historical ruins.
“I love taking people kayaking in Greenland. The chance to discover and experience all its facets with so many fantastic people is a gift. I love to give guests an expeditionary adventure that includes challenges, reflections and calmness as well as increased knowledge of history, geology, climate change, international culture, outdoor life. And not least, make them aware of their own unknown capabilities.”
Our crew had various reasons for wanting to be part of this epic trip.
Samara (she also goes by Sam) said, “The opportunity to go kayaking in cool, beautiful, remote Greenland? I was sold as soon as Susie [Kadlec] mentioned the trip!”
“A big reason for me was due to the coworkers that had already signed up to go,” said Greg. “It looked like it was going to be an absolute blast. I can definitely say I wasn't disappointed with my choice of going.”
Kate was compelled to go mostly due to the trip being in Greenland! “The fact that Greenland has some of the least traveled and commercialized terrain you can get to made it a must-do for me,” she said.
Luanne and Evan explore around icebergs (photo courtesy of Kate Wright)
Expectations and Concerns?
Was its remoteness a concern for them? Not so much. A couple of them were more concerned about the intensity of the kayaking.
“I was expecting a more intensive paddling trip, but was pleasantly surprised with the easy pace we went at,” said Sam.
Rachel agreed. “I was really excited for this trip, but I was a little wary about the amount of paddling required. We only had one really long day. The second day of the trip was a lot of paddling, but I felt pretty proud of myself and my ability to push through.”
Kate had little concern about the remoteness, as she’s done a fair amount of backcountry traveling. She said, “I felt super comfortable and excited to experience the new landscape. I did worry a bit about balancing everyone's expectations and comfort levels on the trip.”
Kayaking in Greenland’s waters amid the numerous icebergs (photo courtesy of Greg Long)
Highlights of the Kayak Trip
When asked to share their highlights, we got a wide variety of answers—one of the most interesting take-homes for a group expedition like this:
Greg said, “The trip highlight for me was definitely swimming in an icy fjord. The plunge into the water was intense with the temps being around 35 degrees but it was extremely rewarding. I stayed in for about 10 minutes. I also climbed on top of a small chunk of iceberg just so I can say I've done it!”
Rachel’s personal highlight was the first day at camp. “We had a lot of time to explore on our own which was very liberating. Being able to be out in nature brought me a lot of calm and centered me in a way that’s hard to achieve in my daily life.”
For Sam, it was hard to choose: “The views! The quiet! The icebergs! The first campsite had a very cute mountain (about a 2-hour hike) and at the top was a beautiful spring and an expansive view of the fjord! There seemed to always be an iceberg ready to flip or break apart, and let me tell you the sound of these enormous blocks of ice breaking and cracking is so satisfying to listen to. What an experience!”
Kate, also, had a hard time choosing just one highlight. “There were many for me with each having a stunning impact in the moment. From starting out the trip with a polar bear sighting after being told we would not see one, paddling and swimming between icebergs, navigating through fog in an echo chamber of calving icebergs, making friends with locals, to concluding the trip with a show of the aurora borealis—we were beyond fortunate for everything this experience brought us."
Up-close-and-personal with an iceberg (photo by Samara Brylski)
What Surprised Our Team the Most
It’s always hard to know what to expect on an expedition like this, especially in such a foreign environment. Each team member had some insight to share on what surprised them the most about their time in Greenland:
“I had a nice amount of extra time at each campsite to explore the surrounding area. I went on a few mountain hikes, took lots of pictures and sometimes just found a nice rock to sit on and take it all in,” said Sam.
“The interactions with the icebergs were surreal,” Greg said. “Their sheer size, beauty, and the fact that they constantly sound like a bowl full of rice krispies with milk as they melted made for an experience that’s hard to prepare for.”
For Rachel it was cultural. “I was really amazed at the difference in historical perspectives. Every location we stopped at had at least one set of ruins. Because the area is so isolated, there are no protections for these sites.”
(The group visited the settlement of the infamous Viking Erik the Red, where remains of his homestead are 1,000 years old.)
Kate’s response was about the group dynamics. “Even though we all didn’t know each other well, we made a great team. Everyone was willing to pitch in and help each other out when we needed it. I felt incredibly proud to be part of the Aqua Bound team.” (Kate joined Aqua Bound in spring 2023, just 3-4 months before this trip.)
Sam and Luanne prepare to get out on the water (photo courtesy of Kate Wright)
Biggest Challenges of the Greenland Kayak Trip
“The most challenging aspect of the trip for me was the expectations I had placed on myself,” said Rachel. “I wanted to climb every mountain and experience as much as I could. However, we were only there for a few days. I realized that sometimes relaxing and taking in the nature around you is just as important as seeing as much as you can.”
Kate said, “Personally, I struggled to find a balance between working (I shot photography for the brand throughout) and enjoying the trip as a vacation. Between all it took each day to pack/set up camp, paddle to our locations and do group things, I found it difficult to make time for myself and just live in the moment. During any downtime, I found myself running in a bunch of directions to get the shot instead of taking things slow and putting my own desires first. But hey, that's expedition life!” (Especially for a marketing manager!)
For Samara and Greg, the biggest challenge was…leaving! Sam hopes to get back there someday.
Greg summed up what the entire group felt: “We had such a great time there with all the amazing views, experiences, and companionship that it made it difficult to see it come to an end. Shoutout to our guides Laila and Christian for being a big part of leaving as well since they treated us like family!”
Luanne, Evan, Laila, Sam and Kyler (photo courtesy of Kate Wright)
Would YOU like to go on a kayak expedition in Greenland? Go to Laila’s website for the details: Reigstad Unlimited.
Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]
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