Beavertail paddle: oomph, ugh, phooey

In the apocalyptic rubble that masquerades as my garage, I recently found a 54" Old Town beavertail paddle that I haven’t used in 30 years. It’s a one piece construction of unknown wood, though I dimly recall it could be spruce.

I took it out for a paddle the other day and, though it initially was a favorite of mine in my pre-Galtian era, I now recall why I haven’t used it in 30 years.


It is soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo HEAVY. Especially the swing weight of the thick blade, which accounts for almost half the paddle’s length and probably 2/3 of it’s weight.

Aerial recoveries were unrelenting agony, and the only stroke I could tolerate was a palm rolled Indian stroke with a completely in-water return. The blade shape actually lends itself nicely to palm rolls and manueverability and to vertical forward slices, even with it’s blunt thickness. The pull phase of the stroke also felt pretty good, both functionally and aesthetically.

But the weight and imbalance were simply intolerable after 10 minutes, and I reached in desperation for my ZRE carbon bent.

I’m not sure a one-piece beavertail of that length could be made thin enough to have both tolerable weight, balance and sufficient strength. No wonder the voyageurs and native paddlers often made their long bladed paddles much narrower than a beavertail (such as quills) – swing weight reduction, in my opinion.

Now, a carbon beavertail with a razor thin blade might be a very nice paddle, but I don’t know that such a thing exists. There is such a paucity of lightweight, non-racing, carbon paddle blade shapes for flatwater canoeing.

Funny how things

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...gather dust in the corner, and how much different they are than we remember.

I would like a straight paddle like you're describing.

ZRE has broken me, even a 12oz paddle feels heavy now. Even when Im not racing, its just nicer to putz around with a sub 10oz paddle. The difference between my 11oz and 8.5oz is way bigger than I would have ever thought.

Maybe we start a petition for him to make a straight shaft/free style bladed paddle! I know its been desired in the past, but nothing has ever materialized. The freestylers are a quiet bunch apparently.

what you meant to say was…
",but I don’t know that such a thing exists- YET!"

I’d need a much longer beavertail
for it to feel “normal”.

My wife uses an old Dagger ww paddle that I repaired, after a friend put a greenstick fracture in the shaft while paddling the upper Conasauga. She’s fairly happy with it.

Sometimes I’ve carried it as a spare. So one day I thought, “I should try this thing out and see if it works.” It was almost totally unusable. A very tall person who usually uses a 61" slalom paddle is not going to be able to paddle properly with a 55" paddle, even a pretty good one.

When Nashwaak paddles was about to close for retirement, I ordered the longest offered, 60". I quickly found that with its much longer blade, it needed a longer shaft too, to put the blade’s center of pressure in the right relationship to me and the water. Very nice paddle. Some day I will remove the intergral grip and lengthen the shaft so the total is around 64".

So part of your sprucey beavertail problem could have been that it was too short for the blade length.

You can improve it greatly
by slimming down that blade. Take a belt sander to it to remove the bulk of the blade thickness and then switch to a sanding block and gradually take it down. I did it to a heavy (28 oz.) walnut ottertail, slimmed it down to 22 oz. and it is a completely different animal. I used to hate it, now I love it.

But it is no Zaveral. You are comparing apples to oranges. Zavs are for short quick strokes and beavertails are for long slow ones, like the Indian palm roll you mentioned. It all depends on your style. What kind of paddler are you, a speed demon, or a relaxed nature watcher? Both paddles are fine for their specific use.

Ah’ find dem paddles…
make fer good pizza flippers.

(Ah’s gots a few o’ dem Old Town sticks me’self still on de wall.)


Shaw and Tenney Guide Paddle
I have a Shaw and Tenney Guide Paddle that is a big, beavertail paddle that I love.

It depends on which canoe I’m paddling which paddle I choose and enjoy. Put me in my Classic XL and the ZRE comes out and paddle sit and switch, and that canoe just flys.

Now, when I’m pushing a loaded tandem especially with an inexperienced bow paddler, or a photographer, I love the power and control of that Guide Paddle.

Plus 1 for the Shaw & Tenney
I also have a Shaw & Tenney beavertail that I love. Mine is much longer than 54" though and made of white ash if I am not mistaken. But it is a graceful thing and just right for a leisurely paddle on still water. Quiet for fishing too.

I have 3 of the beavertails
I actually got a 57" Old Town beavertail first. It was the second paddle I ever bought, the first being a rectangular Mitchell t-grip.

I liked the 57" beavertail a lot (at the time) because it had a fairly thin blade and shaft. I then bought a 60" and a 54" beavertail from Old Town, but both of them were made much thicker and heavier, and hence I never used either much at all. I thought at the time this was very inconsistent quality control from Old Town or whoever was making the paddles for them.

Unfortunately, the 57" thin blade split vertically within a year. I wrapped it with tape, as I have no tools or woodworking skills. If I did, I would try to thin out the overbuilt beavertails.

The fundamental problem with long and wide animal tail paddles is the imbalance between the blade and shaft. If the shaft is short, the swing weight is imbalanced. If the shaft length is correct, you have a really long paddle overall.

I’m a medium speed paddler but appreciate light weight no matter what my stroke rate is.

In addition, I think the center of pressure of a long animal tail paddle is too far below the surface to give optimal horizontal (fore-aft) vector force. That is, it will tend to bob the bow up and down as you are plunging the center of pressure far under the surface. This may not be so apparent if you are paddling a heavy and wide 16’ wood/canvas tandem canoe solo from the stern seat. It becomes apparent to me when paddling a light and narrow 13’-14’ solo canoe.

Sawyer cedar is light
The Sawyer cedar northwoods is quite light. Personally, I don’t find the weight of a paddle to be that big an issue, within reason, but poor balance is unacceptable.

Out of production, unfortunately
I like Sawyer paddles. The cedar Manta’s are superb.

The cedar Northwoods looks very nice and light. Lamination and edge guards are big improvements over a one-piece paddle. Unfortunately, the website says the Northwoods beaver and ottertails are out of production with only a few long lengths still available.

FWIW, I have several long conversations

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with folks as per my building an ultralight version of 'x' paddle. Send it over and an it will come back with an ultralight sibling that has a crisp amouunt of flex and is NOT isotropically stiff.

I have a Grey Owl Guide
Which has a 24" semi-oval beaver tail shape with a total length of 60". It is cherry with a laminated blade that has about a 1/8" thick blade edge and reinforced tip. I purchased it from CLC Boatworks for about $65 before shipping. I don’t know the weight but think it runs about 25 oz. The balance point is about 3-4" above the blade.

I find the weight is much less an issue when doing an in or mostly in the water recovery. I also find that even thought the blade is fairly narrow the depth of the blade seems to stick the paddle in place very well. I enjoy the control this paddle gives me.

I am currently using it and a 17 oz 50" Foxworx standard bent when solo paddling a Kevlar MR explorer 16. I paddle from the bow seat some, but mostly kneeling with my knees under the middle thwart. I also do a partial in water recovery with the bent shaft after a shallow c or regular j stroke. I do enjoy the lighter weight of the bent, but still use the Grey Owl guide much of the time when soloing.

Beavertails aren’t narrow
so I am confused at the above post. BT are pretty wide down low before the curve of the tail.

Ottertails are slender and long and give good solo control. Their 4 to 5 inch width is not tiring for inwater recoveries as it does not transmit torque.

They may be calling it a guide because
It is a symmetrical oval shape 5 3/4" wide in the middle. I considered it more of a beaver tail than an otter tail, but perhaps it is somewhere in the middle between the two shapes. What ever it should be called it seems well made and functional. The finish had some runs but when the time comes to refinish it they will be removed. I may indeed have used the wrong term in describing it.

Like someone else suggested I would take a belt sander to Glen’s paddle and reshape it. No big deal to knock off some weight, thin the edges, and reshape the profile if so desired.

Geesh, where to start? All my paddles are either beaver tail or otter tail, and are one piece made from either ash, and a few are sassafras. I cant imagine anyone thinking they’re too heavy. I don’t mean to offend at all, and I assume your post was written with some light comedy in mind but…I consider my wood paddles very light, but sturdy enough to use for poling, or for whacking an occasional grumpy Canada goose or beaver. Maybe workout a bit with weights and try again?

Tenney makes a dense paddle for OT &
carbon(ie a very light paddle) will not be much different. Carbon is good for racing and lillydipping, but somewhere in the middle is what you most likely gravitated to…ie it’s why you can still paddle.

My big ,heavy paddle made of cherry
is on the wall of the den. Looks great.