I have lots of paddles that lean against the foundation in my basement and collect dust, but I have three that I use all the time.
My go-to paddle is a 58” Werner Bandit. With a “T” grip and spooned blade that’s great for cab forward paddling – forward and cross-forward strokes. If I could only have one paddle, this would be it.
When I got my Wildfire I wanted to try some freestyle moves, and quickly realized that the Bandit wasn’t good for that. With the spooned blade I couldn’t do palm rolls, and it was tough to place the paddle for bow prys or jams. Based on advice I got on Pnet, I got a 56” FOX worx. With a pear grip and large blade, the Indian Stroke with a palm roll and in-water recovery is the easiest way to move forward, and bow prys are the easiest way to turn the boat. With the large blade, it is tougher to do cross forward strokes.
The only boat that I can’t kneel in is my Spirit II, which is set up for sit and switch paddling with tractor seats and foot braces. For that boat I have the original 54" Race Mate bent shaft paddles that my father bought with the boat in 1988. They are a little beat up, but I still use them.
I went out to do some paddling last weekend with my Wildfire and the FOX worx paddle, and tried to paddle like I usually do with lots of cross forward strokes. I realized that wasn’t going to work - Indian strokes and bow jams it is. I guess the old saying “when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail” works with paddles too!
This thread does bring up an issue that has no real good solution. What do we do with all the paddles that we know we will never use. There was a time when I thought this paddle, or that one would be at least a good spare, but I know now that virtually all, but two will most likely never get used again. To make things worse, I find myself looking at new paddles.
I thought I had figured out which paddle worked best for each boat, but I went right back to my favorite Werner Camano and Carlisle Expedition. Why? Well they just work for me.
In my case it certainly does depend on which canoe I am in at the time. If its a beefy expedition (Yukon) class voyageur, am I in bow or stern, or a mid seat paddler? A lighter voyageur ( e.g. “Slenda Glenda”) it may take another kind of paddle. A carbon C4 Savage River canoe might be best paddled, depending on position with yet another paddle. If its a solo (e.g. Rapidfire) or tandem ( Minn II, Monarch), am I racing or recreating. In general my bent shaft carbon racing paddles range from 48-54". My best wood straight shaft recreational paddles are otter tail, beaver tail or willow leaf blade. Am I paddling broad flat lakes or slow moving meandering rivers with sharp turns (Brown’s Tract)? Sprinting or multi-day paddling? Shallows or deep water? My favorite paddle of all would be the one that i have in my hands at the time to best match what I am doing in a canoe. I have a use for all.
My bent shaft carbon paddles are all made by GRB, just because I am closer to that source.
Wood paddles are Caleb Davis Tremolo with palm grips.
Here are my three go-to paddles. They are all 56 inch straight shaft with stubby blades. The length is short and handy for me so I can use all of them for sit and switch to drive upstream or for lady j-stroking. I like the straight Zav on left because it’s extra light and the blade is a bit smaller than the others so it’s great for all day paddling. Plus I don’t have to worry on rocky rivers because the paddle is replaceable. I like the Bending Branches Sunburst XL on far right because I got lucky and found one on the light side with a straight and quiet blade. It’s powerful for upstream paddling, it has a big comfy grip, and it has a protective edge so you can abuse it although this model is no longer made. The Black Bart Troublemaker in the middle is by far my favorite paddle. It has big power, great balance with a heavier shaft than a Zav, plus a symmetric grip and clean/quiet blade so it works perfectly for freestyle or anything else. Troublemaker is around 12 oz, Zav around 10, Sunburst around 13-14. Troublemaker cannot be replaced.