The never ending quest for the perfect paddle.
I have a bazillion Greenland paddles; okay not a bazillion but I do have 14 Carbon fiber paddles and 6 wooden ones. If you blindfolded me and handed me one I bet I could name the paddle within a few minutes. Each paddle has a unique characteristic of size, shape, feel and performance. People have rightly pointed out I am more than a little bit obsessed. I don’t see the obsession ending anytime soon either.
In the run up to Canoecopia (the largest paddle sport show in the US) I was working with Ron at Novorca on a new shape blade that I was keen to have him build me. It combined the best things I liked about other paddles I owned and put them all in one. But Ron wanted to take it one step further. He wanted to customize the paddles flexibility.
Before we get to the flexibility let me wax lyrically about the characteristics I had Ron design. First the paddle needed to be shoulder- less, with a narrow diameter loom and narrow blades, the paddle edges needed to be sharp and the paddle had to have a diamond shape near where my hands would rest. I chose the paddle to be finished in matt black. Matt finishes are a new arrow in Ron’s quiver. Previously all the paddles have had a gloss finish. This was going to be a ninja paddle, perfect for stealthy paddling.
Unlike many carbon paddles Novorca paddles are very flexible. Due to the strength coming not just from the paddle’s skin but from its foam core construction, Novorca paddles are able to be much more akin to the flexibility of wooden paddles compared to shell construction of some molded carbon paddles. Their flexibility has both pleased some people but also unnerved others. Ron has had a couple of requests to make his paddles stiffer, not because of any strength issues, simply because of how they feel when paddled aggressively, in particularly by some paddlers when surfing.
Never being one to stand still long, Ron has come up with a method of creating customizable levels of stiffness based upon a paddler’s request. Within the foam core of the paddle he can now insert a second foam core sheathed in carbon providing a continuous support structure throughout the paddle and loom. As the paddle thins out, the inner core is machined down in size until it becomes two vertical walls that are bonded onto the outer carbon skin. By varying the height and width on the inner core Ron can now create variable rigidity paddles, allowing yet one more level of customization.
The new ninja paddle had a five eighths square section core added. I could tell immediately that the paddle was much stiffer than any previous Novorca. Not only stiffer, it is considerably stronger, an added bonus for those keen on inflicting pain on their paddles.
I used the ninja paddle on a recent trip and was pleasantly surprised by how it performed. The additional stiffness did not negatively impact my forward paddling. I could tell the paddle was not as whippy as others I have. When the paddle exited the water there was no feel of energy from the paddle straightening which is a characteristic I have previously noted with flexible wood or carbon paddles. I was paddling in a fast river flow and so had numerous moments when I needed aggressive bracing as I traversed through boils and eddy lines. The paddle felt great during those moments, providing positive feedback and support.
My personal preference is a flexible paddle, but for those people seeking a highly customized paddle the inner core concept now provides a great deal of options to help them create their perfect paddle. The overall feel of the loom shape and blade was exactly what I looking for. The loom allowed me to naturally cant the blade and quickly transition to extended strokes and rolls. The blade shape allowed for a neutral sculling action requiring only the minimum paddle rotation. The small blade surface allowed me to use my usual higher cadence style of paddling and maintain a good pace against the river’s current. Naturally, rolling with it was like slicing butter with a hot knife. As I previously mentioned, support strokes felt, well, very supportive!
Ron at Novorca is a good friend of mine. What he lacks in marketing skills he makes up for in design, and engineering excellence. To help him out I put up a page to promote this latest design.