All About Paddles: A Description of a My Madness


Canoe paddles come in many different forms and style, more than the casual observer would think.  If I were king of the world, I’d have a rotating paddle-rack, where you key in where you’re going to be paddling, how long, in what weather, etc. etc. and it would swing through like, 100 paddles and bring you the proper one for the job.  Being that when you’re out on the lake you can lift and pull a paddle over 14,000 times in a day, so you want to make the most out of every stroke.  Here’s a quick run-down of how, from a technological point of view. 

The Ottertail

This is my all-time favorite type of paddle, mostly because it fits the type of paddling I like to do the most.  With quite a bit of flex and a thin blade, it’s terrible in white water and would most likely splinter into pieces if you put too much weight on one, but on flat and calmer waters it can’t be beat.  The long, thin blade sits nicely in your hand and allows for a lazier stroke with maximum control and minimal j-stroke from the stern.  A well-made Beavertail will run you 100-150 bucks, but it’s well worth it if you spare the coin.

The Voyageur

I call these ones Pizza-servers because they’re fat and wide like the utensil that you use to get a pie outta the woodfired stove.  These mammoth blades push a LOT of water and are good if you’re up at the front of a canoe producing power.  If you’re going up-current or are willing to blow out your shoulders for a quick burst of speed, these are 100% necessary, and they’re also good for a stronger paddler.

The Bent-Shaft

Ok, these are the powerhouse paddles.  They’re shaped so that you get the absolute most out of your stroke, pulling the greatest amount of H2O as a conventional stroke will allow.  I’m going to be perfectly honest that I’m not a huge fan of these paddles, and it’s probably because I’ve barely used them (only a few strokes here and there).  They seem like a great idea, power in the front and bigger J-strokes in the back, but I just feel like they’re betraying the purity of the straight-shaft paddle.  That’s right, I’m saying they’re too “sciencey”.  God, this must be what it’s like to live in Kansas…

Carbon-Fiber Paddles

These, I like.  I like them a lot.  Whenever you incorporate Carbon-Fiber into any aspect of the paddle, it becomes better.  Lighter, stronger, and tougher than any wood out there, Carbon-Fiber can be used for lightening up the blade, the shaft, or the entire damn thing!  I’ve only seen one Beavertail-type paddle made entirely out of CF, but it blew my mind and now I would love to try one.  The only caveat I know about with CF is the price, as it is incredibly expensive.  Any decent CF paddle will run well over 200$, so the real question is how much you want to pay versus how much you want to work.

On top of all these, there’s still more blade types, grip types, boat-specific paddles, etc. etc. etc.!  If I had it my way, I’d have a whole bunch.


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