Okay, How's This?

Posted by Kurt Maurer on Jun 18, 2007

Okay, here's gonna be a long discourse on paddles, but first, the disclaimer: Everything I say is based on what I think, and if you don't agree, no biggie. I make no pretensions to experthood in this, or anything else, and otherwise have better things to do than litigate fine points. Besides, as Mark Twain says, ďDifferences of opinion is what makes horse races.Ē

As far as the European Paddle (EP) vs. Greenland Paddle (GP) contest goes, seems that EP's work better in wider boats, and GP's are best for narrower ones. On the other hand, Iíve never heard of anyone testing to see how longer and wider GP's might fare in tubby boats. I'd experiment with it myself, except that I like skinny boats that tip over a lot. It's hot here in Texas.

But GP's definitely are best suited to sea yaks for at least one valid reason: They tend to be smaller in blade area, which means they're easier on the body over the longer distances sea kayaks are likelier to cover. It is my empirical and personal experience that seasoned touring paddlers and/or marathon racers tend towards ever-smaller blades for this very reason. Bigger blades simply wear you out sooner.

I believe the biggest single advantage to the GP is its symmetry of shape. Most EPís have a top, a bottom, a front, and a back. GPís are exactly the same no matter how you approach Ďem. Consider this: if you sit in a boat blindfolded and have someone hand you an EP, youíre going to have to figure out what those blades are doing before you can do much with it. But if someone hands you a GP, you may begin using it instantly since it registers itself in your hands the moment you grab it.

And because theyíre symmetrically shaped, GPís never dig on you. Indeed, they fly through the water much easier when performing sub-surface maneuvers. Heck, you can even test water depth while underway with them, but I wouldnít try it with an EP. Theyíre dirt cheap, and super simple to make, too.

The way I see it, everything is just more complicated and contrived with an EP. I often make jokes to the effect that in another seven or eight hundred years, the EP will have evolved to look just like a GP. And Iím really not all that sure itís a joke.

The Inuit people designed their paddles the same way they did their boats (and probably most everything else they made too): by taking anthropometrical measurements. Works the same way today, means the dimensions for your GP should come straight from your body: The overall length is what you can curl your fingertips over, high as you can reach, while standing flat-footed and the paddle held vertically next to you. The loom, or center section, is the length from your fingertips to your elbow. The remainder, divided by two, will be the blades. The blade width will be what you can comfortable wrap your fingers and thumb around, since every inch of the GP is a ďhandle.Ē Thicknesses ought to be minimal for least weight, but strong enough to do the job. Finally, all the above are mere guidelines; feel free to make your own paddle longer or shorter, wider or narrower, ad infinitum. My own paddles are wider than most, at a full four inches.

I use western red cedar because itís light, because itís light, because itís light, because itís light, and because itís cheap, strong, pretty, and easy to work with. But mostly I use it because itís light. I carved seven paddles from rough-cut 2x4ís until I found my favorite configuration, then began laminating blanks for fancy looks, less waste, and stronger end products. I end up with weights in the 25 to 28 ounce range.

Back to the EP, thereís the dreaded feathered-or-straight debate. I used a graphite 220 cm EP for the first three or four years I paddled kayaks, so you see Iím human after all. Sometime in the first year I decided to start feathering it, mostly because thatís what all the experienced paddlers were doing. After a couple years, I went through much pain and misery to revert back to straight blades. Why? It was a simple matter of finding no discernable advantage in feathering, and meanwhile it complicated everything else, particularly bracing and rolling. Slapping down a quick low brace on a blade edge will get you nowhere fast.


In Response to: Re: Internut Paddle Talk? by Norm on Jun 18, 2007