Entering the World of Wood: A Review of Shade Tree’s Custom Bent Shaft Kayak Paddle


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With my getting older I thought it was time to treat myself to a custom wood paddle design by Shade Tree Paddles. The flex in a wood shaft can be more flexible than fiberglass or carbon shafts depending on the build. Currently in my fleet of paddles I have a few river runners (Werner Shogun, Odachi, Surge, and a Harcore Paddles Mangu) and just one downturned blade, my Werner Double Diamond. While I love them all, it was time for some wood.

Below is the custom blade shape request and size/feather angle I was after for an all wood bent shaft build ($675 plus shipping).

Shade Tree paddle
A close-up of the final blade…

While living and boating around Seattle area I kept bumping into Jonathan on rivers, ripping it up in an Outburst or Dagger Green Boat. Years ago he moved to Blacksburg, Virginia, for work and to raise his family back east. His skills with wood are amazing, building not only custom paddles but beautiful furniture as well. His waiting list for a paddle has gotten long but is well worth the wait.

I decided on going with a 202-cm, right 15-degree feather angle bent shaft with righthand control—with less of a pistol grip than a Werner bentshaft. And I wanted something lightly more flexible than a carbon paddle, as my elbow tendonitis is starting to resemble arthritis. I love also some buoyancy in the blade, and for shape I love the Odachi but it is too much surface area and power maybe. I use a more vertical stroke when I can, and don’t like a powerhouse shape that much. Usually, I am paddling the Skykomish or Middle Middle of the Snoqualmie after work.

So that’s what I told him, via a few emails and calls. The blade I had him base it off was a Mitchell Krush, or a beefed-up Mitchel Kinetic with slightly differently outlines. It’s awesome that Jonathan will help you design your own blade shape. The process was pretty easy: I sent photos with a tape measure of my old blade I loved, and he used a CAD program to trace it for a template.

When I unboxed the paddle after a few months waiting my turn for build time, I was super stoked. But there was a lot to take in. The paddle is a bit heavier than the all carbon I had been used to, but had more flex and quite a bit of buoyancy built into the blade for bracing. The slight fiberglass wrap over wood on the blades should be very durable and doesn’t take away from the aesthetics of the beautiful natural wood blades.

Testing Time

After paddling it for a few months, the reinforced edges have held up great to some shots as well as the front and back face getting some scrapes here and there. Without ample creek time yet, I am unsure how it would take Class V crashes and hits on a shallower bouncy creek. I have mainly used it on wider deeper rivers. The flexible shaft is exactly what I was looking for with a custom bend grip and feel on the palm. The warmth of the grip in winter is awesome as well when floating a really cold Pacific Northwest river.

The Krush is a do-it-all sort of blade which I have creeked with, half sliced, and playboated. It’s more akin to a downturned Double Diamond in shape but is unique. The construction he used gave it a slight dihedral in the center of the blade, helping cut down on and side-to-side chatter. When taking a powerful stroke the blade has a fantastic bite — especially if you’re using a closer-to-vertical placement which is rewarded on Northwestern rivers. Also, the amount of spoon built in tip to throat on the paddle is custom, too. I had a slight amount built in, so it feels more in between a double diamond (not much spoon at all) and a Hardcore paddle blade (tons of spoon). I feel this is a great compromise; you can still scrape power for a later boof but you’re also able to do a sculling brace and roll.

I look forward to years of use with this paddle as it seems very durable. But to be honest, if I’m going to run something rockier I’d probably take my Werner Surge or Shogun. A  custom wood blade does need to be babied a bit; if the shaft gets any deep scrapes, I just apply a quick dab of poly and let it dry over the gouge to make sure the wood doesn’t absorb or swell there. (It’s important to take care of a wood shaft or it can become unstable.) Overall, this is a piece of functional art and it’s become a fun part of my overall paddle quiver.

Want one? Here’s the pricing: Kayak paddle: $600; Canoe paddle: $350; Bent Shaft: $675

—By Nick Hinds



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