For years, whitewater kayaks have been getting shorter and stranger. Now, some of that same innovation is popping up in the paddles that power the playboats.
This year’s crop of new paddles shows that manufacturers are branching out as they try to create the perfect stick. The difference in the blades alone is impressive. Who knew there were so many ways to push water? And shafts have come a long way since the days of straight metal tubes.
We took a batch of the latest paddles to the river and put them to the test. Predictably, all of them excelled at something and none was the best at everything. Given so many choices, there is a paddle to suit everyone’s hands, body, and paddling style.
Lendal’s new Kinetik paddle is the stealth fighter in this bunch. It looks like a plain-Jane paddle, with fat, spoonlike blades and a straight shaft. And that describes its performance, too: simple and solid.
Price: $215 for complete paddle with nylon blades,
$285 for complete paddle with carbon-nylon blades,
$360 for complete paddle with carbon-fiber blades,
$120 for nylon blades,
$190 for carbon-nylon,
$265 for carbon-fiber,
$95 for two-piece shaft
What’s different is that this is a four-piece breakdown paddle. Like other breakdowns, the Lendal has spring-loaded pins at each joint to hold it together. Unlike other breakdowns, it has a way to put a bolt inside the pin that lets the paddler lock it tight with the twist of an Allen wrench. The company calls it the Paddlok system.
It may not sound like much, but the Lendal feels very, very solid. These are meant to be everyday paddles, not emergency backups. That said, you can take one of the new paddles apart and easily fit it in a backpack-or in the stern of even the smallest playboat. It also looks like it would be easy to carry onto an airplane. Lendal pitches the Paddlok system as mix-and-match-you can change the blades, the shaft length, or the offset whenever you like. Most people aren’t going to mess around midway down the river, but it’s always nice to have options.
Purely as a paddle, the Lendal with the carbon-nylon Kinetik Power blades and the carbon XPS shaft feels light and strong. It moves well in the water and feels balanced in your hand. The Fusion blades are not quite as powerful, but still deliver a good feel.
Waterstick has been making kooky-looking paddles for a few years now. The trihedral blades are the company’s trademark, designed to improve control as the blade moves through the water.
Waterstick paddles seem to require a certain amount of getting used to and a slightly different paddling style. Some people love them, while others never get comfortable with the design. The latest Zen carries on that quirky tradition.
The bent-shaft feels stiff as a board, but all of our testers noticed that the oddly shaped blades want to rotate back a touch as they enter the water on a forward stroke. It’s not huge, but it is disconcerting at first. That flutter isn’t present on backstrokes, which feel rock solid. The Zen is a good playboating paddle.
The new Zen does make one concession to the ordinary: the grips are now the same diameter as the rest of the paddle shaft, instead of bulging as the previous model did. Anyone who did not like the “ergo grip” in last year’s paddle will appreciate the change.