However hard I try I cant seem to prevent it. There is a certain inevitability or destiny about the damage that ocurs to the tips of my Greenland paddles. Whether it is scratches, bruises, chips or cracks, over time the paddles wear. Carbon fiber and wooden paddles alike, their tips are an area of vulnerability.
The harsh environment of Greenland with its ice bergs and rocky shorelines provide ample motivation to develop methods of extending the life of the hunter’s qajaq paddle. The wise Inuit had an answer. Many museum exhibits of historic Greenland paddles show the paddle tips to have been protected by shaped bone and ivory.
For many years paddle makers who have carved Greenland paddles from solid or laminate wood have attached hardwood tips to their paddles to protect them from bumps and abrasions. Purple heat wood is a particularly hard and beautiful wood that has been used by some paddle makers to create functionally robust yet aesthetically pleasing paddles.
The proliferation of modern materials such as fiber-glass and carbon-fiber has not removed the challenge of protecting the paddle tips. To some extent these modern materials have exacerbated the challenge due to susceptibility of the resins used to chipping when in contact with rocks.
Several attempts have been made to protect the tips of paddles, from adding extra carbon fiber, to dipping the paddle tips in a pliable elastomer polymer, or sliding on silicon booties. I have previously reviewed the carbon fiber labs produced by Gearlabs, a small Taiwanese company established by two paddling enthusiasts with a background in carbon fiber bicycle frame construction. Gearlabs has created an innovative answer to protect their Greenland paddles that uses modern materials to mimic the ancient solution. Gearlabs has developed a replaceable tip molded from thermoplastic. The tip exactly fit the contours of the paddle, it provides the paddle with the necessary protection while maintaining the efficient shape. The tip is replaceable so when it does inevitably get damaged it is a simple mater of unscrewing to stainless steel set screws and attacking a new tip to the paddle.
Gearlabs sent me a paddle to try so I was able to test an example of these paddle tips on a new Oyashio model carbon fiber paddle, the paddle felt alive in my hands, they are very light roughly 800g or 28oz. The flexibility of the paddle mimics that of soft cedar giving it a familiar feel. Little canting was necessary as this is a very forgiving paddle design with no flutter detectable while accelerating. Gearlabs has once again demonstrated that there is still room for innovation in the art and craft of Greenland paddle making despite the thousands of years of development that has already occurred.
Henry Chang and Chunshih Sun proudly displaying their new paddle design with replaceable tips.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting the founders of Gearlabs Chungshih Sun and Henry Chang in Taipei, where they showed me prototypes of their new paddles, it was a pleasure to meet such talented and gifted engineers with a passion for our sport/art/craft.
I look forward to taking the new paddle for a paddle and seeing how the tips hold up to a season of paddling amongst the rocks when the ice melts and the lakes become liquid again in Minnesota.
You can also read Scott Edwards review of the Gearlabs paddle here, this article was previously published in ThePaddler eZine.
Update: To help explain the method of attachment here is a close up of the paddle tip separated from the main blade.