canoe paddle musings

I’ll just throw this out for the gurus to chew on. I paddle a 16ft canoe, usually solo. I’m a big guy, so reaching over the gunwhales is not a problem. I picked up a Dri Ki ottertail paddle about a year ago. Very nice. Not expensive. I’m still trying to decide if I like it better than the BB Traveller I also use. Being on the nicer end of an entry-level laminated Sugar Island-style straight paddle, I figure that the Traveller is probably a pretty good benchmark to judge the ottertail against. I got the ottertail because I wanted to try something different. I like how the shape of the ottertail makes knifing J strokes so smooth and easy. Some days, the ottertail feels great. We just click and I feel like I’m in a Bill Mason movie, Canadian stroking on down the river like a champ. And other days, it feels clumsy and terrible and the Traveller feels much better. The stroke mechanics are fine with the ottertail, but it just feels more laborious to get the canoe going and keep a steady pace. Not clicking. Is it normal for a particular paddle to feel like an extention of your body one day and like a 2x4 the next? I’m not sure if this is caused by variances in the water or wind conditions, if its all in my head, or if there’s some unexplainable biomechanic phenonomia at work. BTW, I’m talking about daytripping on flat water, so fatigue and aerated water aren’t really a factor.

I’d like to hear the paddle’s side of the story … “Some days this guy just puts it together and we fly. Other days, I wonder what time he got to bed or if he had any breakfast.”

“down the river”

– Last Updated: Jun-06-12 1:38 PM EST –

You say this is when the Dri Ki ottertail feels good and you are Bill Mason. Did you mean that literally or figuratively?

If literally, lots of paddles can feel easy going down current because you don't have to do a lot of laborious forward stroking. Test the paddles going downstream, upstream, in no current, and in wind and waves. It wouldn't surprise me that different paddle shapes respond differently in these different conditions.

I've thought about getting the Dri Ki ottertail simply because it is so inexpensive. I'm guessing, however, that as an all-ash paddle it's kind of heavy. Heavier weight can be a literal drag when you have to employ exertion strokes.

If it’s working for you, on all you want
to do, then I wouldn’t make any big changes.

Obviously, if you were often covering 25 miles a day on lakes, or if you were entering stock class marathon races, or if you were doing slalom in easy citizen races, you’d need to consider some very different alternatives. But for what you actually do, if you and I paddle your typical routine, you’ll be just as happy at the end of the day as me, maybe more so.

I’m a very big guy, and I use slalom paddles with curved blades and carbon shafts. I don’t J stroke much, because slalom paddlers don’t. Sometime, if I’m around, you can borrow my paddle for a bit and see what you think. But I don’t think that you, or Bill Mason, or Becky Mason, are going to switch away from what you’re using now, because it is just fine for what you do.

Its under two pounds!
And I am used to wooden paddles weighing about 17-19 oz…

Its funny after paddling with my 10 oz Zav for a while, picking up a Bending Branches Espresso felt like picking up a club.

There is some psychology here. But I am not very interested in an ash paddle. Good for standing and pushing which is not my style.

I like my Traveler
Its a good inexspensive padddle.

I like the smaller blade.

I do not like Ottertails. They just don’t suit me.

While I don’t know the one you have, I’ll bet it’s quite different from the Traveler.

I’ll suggest that you likely need more time with the Ottertail to get consistant with it.

I’ve been having a lot of variability
In my paddling two or three times a week I have started carrying the GPS and using different paddles in my kayak.

I’ve found that different day make a lot of difference even with the same paddle. Maybe it is a 5 mph difference in the wind or maybe it is the breakfast; I do not know.

One thing I do know is that if I have done an aerobic workout like bicycling earlier in the day, I cannot push a big blade through the water or go as fast with a smaller blade.

My advice to you is to try to paddle as much as possible so you can fugure this important stuff out.

Lots of Variables
I enjoy paddling my tandems solo heeled over and experience the on days and off days too. Different boats,angle of heeling over, water, wind, trim, mental and physical conditions, probably all factor in.

Paddles sure behave differently for me as well. My Fox Worx bent shaft just seems to work well in all my boats in most all conditions I paddle (no serious white water lately). I’ve got a Mitchell straight shaft which has allways seemed like it ought to be great as it is so light and well made, but only recently when I got another solo canoe (MR Indy) has it really shined for me. My cherrywood Grey Owl ottertail is mostly decoration lately for whatever reason.

Those who have said that more water time is needed to sort these things out are no doubt correct.

If every day was a Mason day we might not ever turn toward home.

Here is to the mysteries that invite us back to the water.

Those ash ottertails are beautiful and look like a fine value.

Thanks for the input everyone. Yes, my paddle probably is still figuring out if it likes me either. LOL!

The ottertail is definitely heavier than the Traveller, but it is well balanced and I don’t think its a issue on the water. The blade shape took more getting used to than the weight. Again, I’ve been doing only daytrips, so maybe that leaden ash ottertail would be a real PITA on a mutlit-day trip.

“Down the river” - I guess I did mean that in the figurative sense. But now that you mention it, maybe being with or against the current does make more of impact on the feel of the paddle than I considered. Most of my paddling is on a tital river, not fast moving water.

Anyway, I appreciate the comments.