High End Kayak Paddle Reviews
By Marty Grabijas
first appeared in Kayak Touring 2005
If you want to start a spirited conversation, just get a bunch of sea-kayak instructors together and steer them down the path of explaining the forward stroke. They will all agree that torso rotation and a solid paddle plant are universally good things. Beyond that, however, their views will scatter like leaves in the wind, and their beliefs will be evangelical.
One school of thought is that the paddle shaft should be as vertical as possible through the effective range of the touring stroke. This viewpoint certainly has merit—just watch any world-class flatwater, slalom, or wildwater racer. They rotate so strongly that you would think their bodies were controlled by hydraulic pistons. They attack the water with their paddle plants while keeping their paddle shafts as vertical as possible. This approach also has been favored by the British Canoe Union's coaches and followers.
However, the American Canoe Association, the other widely recognized certifying body of paddlesports instructors, has extolled the virtues of a lower, less-powerful paddle-shaft angle for sea kayakers. Despite the ACA's preachings, a growing group of paddlers are following the lead of competitive paddlers and BCU coaches—and a few manufacturers are as well.
Here is a selection of paddles, with impeccable pedigrees, for going somewhere fast.
Weight: 27 ounces
Werner Paddles is located near Puget Sound in Washington State, one of the best sea-kayaking destinations in the United States, if not the world. We reviewers gave our requirements to Werner and they sent along the Ikelos—a Greek god of dreams. As with all Werner paddles, the workmanship on our sample was superb. Right out of the box the two-piece paddle made an impression with its adjustable ferrule system, which is James Bond cool.
At first glance the adjustable ferrule system appears to be a standard spring-loaded push-button ferrule. The push button, however, is on the female ferrule and engages an internal hook. The male portion of the ferrule has a spline, and marked calibrations allow the paddler to choose a right- or left-hand control as well as the degrees of offset. Slide the male ferrule into the female ferrule, and the spline assures proper alignment, then the internal hook engages the male ferrule with a reassuring click that is both felt and heard. The connection on Werner's ferrule is solid and tolerances are exact. It made us wonder what effect a grain of sand would have on the mechanism, and when we loaded the ferrule with wet sand, we just could not make it seize.
In the water the Ikelos proved to be as stiff as its all-carbon appearance suggested. When stomped on, it allowed paddlers to "throw" their boat forward with powerful, hip-generated forward strokes. That same stiffness may be less desirable for those paddlers who are more recreational by nature. If a casual cruise is your game, then the Ikelos is probably not the right tool for the job.
The slight dihedral shape of the blade also proved to be powerful when doing flat-out sprints, cruising for the day, playing in big conditions, or executing sculling draws into The Tides Tavern's dock for wings and beverages.
Finally, like most of Werner's paddles, the Ikelos genre is available in a dizzying array of materials, finishes, and combinations, including straight, small diameter, and neutral bent shaft.
Kinetik Touring/Touring S
Weight: 28 ounces
Price: Kinetic-$399;Touring S-$340
Lendal hails from Scotland. And like many things in Scotland, the paddlers are hard-core, and push the envelope in rough, cold conditions while paddling boats that are narrow and tender by contemporary standards. As this is an island country in a northern clime, the paddling is exposed and raw. The conditions favor solid skills and equipment.
Shortly after the initial call to Lendal, we received a box that could scarcely hold a pack fly rod. It contained the appropriate parts for making two four-piece carbon-fiber paddles. Two of those pieces made up a straight touring shaft, two more pieces made up a bent touring shaft, and a pair of Kinetik Touring and Kinetik S blades rounded out the package.
The pieces made paddles through the use of a spring-loaded push-button system that has been used successfully for decades on everything from paddles to adjustable backcountry ski poles. These push buttons, however, have a high-tech alter ego, which Lendal has dubbed the Paddlok System. Each has a small hole in the button itself that accepts an enclosed Allen wrench. With a few gentle turns of the wrench, a threaded barrel is engaged that pushes on the wall opposite the button. The result is a four-piece paddle as solid as a one-piece—with no noticeable weight gain. While it seemed inherently wrong, on so many levels, to have to read directions and use a tool to put a paddle together, once assembled—and assembly was a snap—the paddle was bombproof and would make an excellent choice whether space is a factor or not.
Tolerances on Lendal's ferrules are not as tight as on other paddles in this test, allowing clearance for a grain of sand to casually float around the assembly instead of seizing a ferrule.
Some slop is noted when the pieces come together, which is then taken up by the Paddlok System. That factor made the Lendal, in our minds, a solid design for salt and sand.
In the water both the Kinetik Touring and the Touring S (slightly narrower in blade width) grabbed water with authority and allowed the paddler to move the boat. Unlike many other carbon paddles, both the straight and bent shafts exhibited a comfortable, almost unnoticeable bit of flexing, which most paddlers would welcome. While going forward fast is what these paddles are all about, a task that they excel at, the blade was a little noisier and busier than the other paddles in this test when executing sculling motions and bow draws—a small price to pay for a paddle as compact and capable as the Lendal.