My first Greenland paddle was made by Betsy Bay. Betsy Bay paddles have a distinctive shape and construction method that sets them apart from more the traditional carved shape Greenland paddles. Since starting with the wooden paddle I have exclusively used Novorca carbon fiber paddles. I have been reading about paddle flexibility and hearing people contrasting carbon paddles against wooden paddles. I thought it would be a good idea to become better informed about how wooden GPs perform. Unlike carbon fiber, each piece of wood is unique, thus each paddle is unique, and to an extent unrepeatable. This renders a comparison between a single wooden paddle and carbon paddles (I have over a dozen) challenging if not impractical.
Joe O Blenis, a paddle maker from Thunder Bay Canada, usually makes laminated GPs. At my request he carved ones from a solid piece of cedar. Unfortunately the only wood he had available the right size was not up to Joe’s usual standard so he made it with the caveat that he wants to carve a second one from better timber. The paddle Joe made is exceedingly light, 19 ounces. Carved from a solid piece of red cedar. The paddle dimensions were, at my request, 86″ by 3.25″ with a 19″ loom and no shoulders. The paddle tips are rounded and blunt, to provide some strength in the rocks. The paddle was treated with Tung oil.
I used the paddle during this weeks Rolling Training Session. Being custom made, the paddle was the exact length width and loom dimension that I use regularly, so it felt familiar. The loom was similar in cross-section to the Northern Lights paddle I reviewed recently, with flats on opposing sides, sort of a square with rounded corners. Paddling with this cross-section loom causes me to use a different grip. I have become accustomed to an oval loom section and that remains my preference. Being wood I am able to modify this paddle myself. I plan on trying an oval loom soon. I like the ability wood gives one to modify the paddle to one’s unique needs. I am sure if I had asked Joe to make it oval then it would have come that way.
The conditions I used the paddle in were flat water, with a very gusty wind (30mph). In addition to the obvious plethora of rolls I performed using it I had the opportunity to paddle vigorously against the strong wind that kept pushing us off shore. Under the intense stress of hard paddling the wood’s flex caught me by surprise at first. I was concerned that it might snap, however the wood was easily strong enough to resist my stroke and I grew to trust it. By the end of the session I liked the feeling the flex created, it softened the initial pressure of each stroke. Purists/efficiency experts will probably say this makes for a less efficient paddle, but I am interested in preserving my rotator cuffs and other anatomical features and so a soft paddle certainly seems like it would help with that. Joe usually made laminated paddles that can be both stronger and stiffer. During rolling the paddle performed great – but the paddle should have little to do with your rolling ability….During reverse sweep rolls with the paddle extended the wood flexed comfortably. During forward paddling the catch was very clean and there was no discernible blade flutter.
Wood has an aesthetic appeal to me, its unique grain, flex and feel in the hands are attractive. I intend to continue to pursue the examination of this paddle and other wood ones.
I will be taking the paddle out on Lake Superior this weekend and plan on trying it out in some rougher conditions, the NOAA forecast is calling for some good size waves, and possible surfing conditions.