I ask a lot of questions here and often times end up answering my own question, in which case I like to share the answer that I have found.
I am a big fan of Saltwood paddles for sea kayaking and I had asked here if people used them for whitewater as well. I only got a few responses so I decided to try one for myself and am happy that I did.
I bought a Habit straight shaft in a 197cm length and tried it out on the lower Yough River this week. I was really happy with the paddle.
I have to point out that this was my first time paddling whitewater in a few months. I have only paddled whitewater a few times in the last year so I don’t have a recent experience to compare the paddle to in evaluating its performance compared to my Werner Shogun that I usually use; however, I think that I have a pretty good volume of experience with the Werner from which I can draw to make a comparison.
When I got the paddle I really liked the feel of it and was anxious to try it out on the water. It just felt really nice and light. When I got it on the water in the flat pool at the put-in I was really happy with how it paddled. It felt very smooth and had a nice flex to it. My Shogun usually just feels like a stiff battle club.
In running the first rapid my opinion started to change. I started to wonder if the paddle was up to the task of paddling a boney class III run. I stated to feel nervous that I was going to break it, but my fears diminished as the day went on and the paddle held up fine.
What I really liked about the paddle, other than the light and flexy feel which is an obvious attribute of this paddle, was how it responded to draw strokes and blended strokes. For whatever reason bow draws and gliding draws felt powerful, smooth, and precise. Perhaps this was partially due to the slimmer blade profile than my Shogun. I don’t know what it was, but this was immediately apparent to me. I felt that it enhanced my boat handling and added precision in catching the smallest eddies. Linking strokes was very smooth and natural. I really liked this as well since I like to link and blend strokes on the water. The blade profile and well-indexed shaft assisted quite well with doing this.
Another thing I really like was its bracing ability. The pronounced indexing of the shaft added to “blade awareness” and made braces more instantaneous. I felt like my braces where very effective. On day two on the biggest drop of this run (Cucumber Falls) the bracing ability of the paddle was readily apparent. I hit a rock on the drop which spun me sideways at the steepest part of the drop and flipped my boat nearly on top of me. I threw a low brace which I really doubted was going to bring me up (I was getting ready to set up for a roll) but the paddle flipped me back upright pretty easily which was surprising and relieving to me.
After three days of paddling with the Habit I was very happy with its performance and plan to continue to use this as my primary paddle for whitewater. A few comments that I need to share though—first is that while the paddle held up fine I do think that it requires a bit more carefulness when on the river. This is not necessarily all bad though. I found that I was more aware of not hitting the paddle on the bottom in shallow sections, and in some ways this helped my stroke and forced me to paddle more precisely rather than slapping at the water in heavy current and stabbing into rocks, etc. I think it also requires you to be very careful of where you set it down when stopped for breaks. It is not a paddle you would want to step on. I will likely purchase a break down paddle to put inside of my boat as a spare just in case.
Next, I noticed that it does not have the same amount of bite as my Shogun. At first I felt a little under-powered when paddling through bigger water. This also ended up being an attribute in some regards. I found that it forced me to have better paddling form in these sections in order to get the most out of the blade, and required me to really ensure I had the blade deeply planted in the water prior to pulling back on it—which is how you should paddle anyway. It also left me less fatigued at the end of the day.
My last observation is that the paddle somehow just felt “short” to me. It felt shorter than my equivalent length Shogun. I believe the shaft lengths are the same so it is not a function of a longer blade and shorter shaft. I did not paddle both blades back to back, but as I said it just felt a little shorter to me and I would therefore err to the side of a longer paddle if I were on the fence between to different paddle lengths.
Overall, it is a really nice paddle and I think I like the Saltwood as a whitewater paddle even more than I like it as a sea kayaking paddle.