Which paddle?

What is the best shape paddle blade for all-around solo flatwater canoeing? Otter tail, beaver tail, something else?

I’ve been looking at Bending Branches Sunshadow ST. I like the grip and the oval shaft on the BB.

Probably “something else”

– Last Updated: Sep-20-13 11:36 AM EST –

I was going to describe what style of "something else" that's generally more versatile than the paddle shapes you mentioned, but then I looked at the paddle model you like, and it's a perfect example. That blade is not a beavertail or ottertail, but it IS the style that's most widely used these days. Not to take anything away from old-style paddles, but the blade shape you see on that paddle you named works better for a wide variety of conditions than the old styles. The main reason the old styles were long and narrow was because they were carved from a single board, which just couldn't easily be done with a board as wide as the blades of modern paddles (not just due to the carving process and finding flaw-free wood to use, but the durability of the final product too).

Oh, for what it's worth, I myself don't care for asymmetrical grips like the one shown on that Bending Branches paddle. When you are doing in-water recoveries or various slicing strokes for control, you often end up rotating the paddle half a turn in preparation for the next power stroke, and asymmetrical grips aren't made for that. Same goes for the "Indian" stroke, which I use a lot when going slowly.

It’s a matter of style and preference

– Last Updated: Sep-20-13 11:57 AM EST –

Flat or moving water? Easy-going or speedy? Sitting or kneeling, or both? Then there is your taste and preference. There are so many paddles to choose from and so many different styles of paddling. A paddle that is great for one style may not be so good for another.

You will need to try different kinds and decide for yourself. There are guidelines for sizing, but you will need to test different shaft lengths too. The good news is it's fun to try out all this stuff. The bad news may be that it could be difficult to get access to all those paddles where you are. Best thing is to have friends who can lend you paddles to test.

Finally, you may end up with a whole bunch of different paddles because you like what each one has to offer. I have wooden paddles as well as carbon ones, straight and bent, old-style traditionals and modern shapes. I like them all and alternate depending on how I feel on any particular trip. I always carry at least three paddles in my canoe.

For me it’s Zaveral 8" or 8.25" wide
for most of my paddling. Medium in either the standard or Power Surge.

Larger blades wear me out quicker and are harder on my joints.