(By Chris Baer)
Let me be blunt: Hard Core Paddles are awesome. Their durability is solid, they have a ton of power, and the company offers multiple options on customization. They are well worth the price.
Last summer, I broke yet another Powerhouse. Destroying paddles is something that I have normalized. Every year or two I put myself in a situation that I stress a paddle beyond what it can handle… and it breaks. I reached out to a handful of shops looking for a replacement paddle – 4CRS, CKS, NRS, and even to Werner directly. All of them were backordered. COVID-19 was impacting the supply chain for everything from toilet paper to whitewater paddles.
I then pondered other options. AT was discontinued years ago. I love Jimi Styx, and have been using them for guiding rafts for years, but he’s currently backordered until 2022, and he doesn’t do bent shafts. The Euro paddles — Galasport, Double Dutch, and VE — all paddle well, but again are hard to find stateside. Whitewater Technologies is a new company that I’m excited to check out, but they are still in the construction phase. Coran’s updated Seven Two isn’t my style. Accent looks alright, but are known to have a heavy flutter. I was drawing a blank.
Then I remembered years ago, while paddling the Tumwater section of the Wenatchee, that I bumped into Andy and Mike Nash. They were passing out prototypes of a new paddle and talking up the fact that it had a wood shaft, a “Hard Core” (still sounds like an ‘80’s rock band to me). It looked interesting, but the round blades looked a bit small and we were about to put on at significant spring flows. That day, I missed a great opportunity due to my ignorance of paddle physics.
Years passed and I wondered what Hard Core Paddles was up to now. Their website is simple yet full of solid information. I liked what I saw, but I wanted more info, so I reached out with a generic instant message. Later that day, my phone rang. Mike (who physically builds the paddles) was on the other end. We chatted for over an hour, talking through some of my concerns and presenting me with insight into the paddle design. I took a chance, ordered one, and immediately took it to Brazil for a three-month test drive.
Here are some of my initial questions, and resulting personal experiences, after swinging a Hard Core paddle for three-months.
What if I just don’t like it? They have a satisfaction guarantee. Hell, they’ll even cover the return postage.
Durability? After three months of river abuse, and a ton of bouncing around in the cargo bay of multiple planes, busses, pickup trucks, and being used as a tarp pole, my paddle showed very limited wear. Yes there is superficial scratching, but it wasn’t shrinking like a fiberglass Werner.
Power? The blade is relatively round and the surface area is about 40 cm² less than my old standard Powerhouse. The blade shape shares a classic River Styx style. This all initially concerned me. I like a powerful blade and these seemed like old school designs and techniques. Mike dropped a knowledge bomb on me here and started talking about dihedrals. Most aggressively shaped paddles need a fairly aggressive dihedral to eliminate paddle flutter, hence losing a large percentage of their power. A balanced, rounder, paddle blade doesn’t flutter nearly as much and you can limit the dihedral. This effectively gives you more powerful pull in a smaller blade size. If that is all a bit nerdy for you, just know there is a ton of power in these mid-sized round blades.
Paddle Length vs Grip Width? As bent shaft paddles get longer, the grip width gets wider; the idea is that a bigger person would want a longer paddle and a wider grip. This ratio of grip width to paddle length has become dated. The modern creek boat has a significantly larger volume than it did 20 years ago. These larger boats have created a demand for a longer paddle to help control them. Hard Core has thought about this, and rescaled their ratio for paddle length to grip width. This allows you to bump up three to six centimeters in paddle length and keep your familiar grip width.
Flex? It’s a carbon paddle, it feels pretty darn stiff. The wood core does manage to shine through here and work its magic. The wood’s natural flex patterns elongate the power transfer, just a bit, making the joints feel better after a long week. The wood core also means that they retain warmth much better on those really frigid days.
Lead Time? Average delivery time is under a week from order.
Human Factor? Your paddle is built by Mike Nash out of his “garage” in Gold Bar, Washington.
Price? $440 It’s more than many other fiberglass models out there but it fits right in with any of the other high end carbon paddles on the market.
If you’re in the market for a solid, powerful paddle, Hard Core is making them, locally, and at a fair price. And mention this article for $15 bucks back on your purchase.