Stroke Stoke: Paddling Life’s Unequivocal Whitewater Kayak Paddle Review!

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Collection of whitewater kayak paddles lined up against brick wall -Pyranha
photo by Riley Seebeck

Brace yourself…it’s paddle review time! A slew of new paddle options are on the market, and we  reached out to their manufacturers to see what makes them tick. With a warm winter and lots of rain, whitewater has been on our minds this winter, so we found six manufacturers willing to send us their paddles to test out around the greater Seattle area.

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Each paddle we tested is unique and fills its own niche within the whitewater world. I had a chance to paddle each option with at least four to five days on Class III-IV whitewater. Finding it more helpful to paddle the rivers I know with a boat I know, I was able to notice subtleties in each blade shape and shaft, with the feedback detailed below. The goal was to get a feel for each option and compare them not necessarily to each other but develop an opinion on their strengths and best use.

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Paddle Testers on Ned’s by AJ Frank

Arca Works Vulcan Paddle Review

Arca Works Vulcan Paddle

Specs on tested paddle: 203 cm, R15, Straight Shaft $489 MSRP

This paddle’s blade seems to be inspired potentially by the Odachi. It has a lot of blade to shaft offset, giving it a great bite on your forward stroke and allowing you to start pulling earlier and more forward as you initiate that stroke. I love this paddle for downriver running and creeking. The blades’ flatter surface and dihedral ridge combined with a wide surface gives a really strong initial catch. With a slightly heavier feel (when compared to the Odachi), it feels solid when connecting with rocks. The spine on the blade connects into the shaft with a solid insertion, and there is some volume there but a minimal amount. The edging is thinner than the Odachi and doesn’t appear to have a foam core, making it more impact resistant. The entire paddle is constructed of carbon fiber woven with red Kevlar.  Also, a blue color option now available and they should have a 2 piece ready to purchase mid April.

“We hired a third party designer to design the Vulcan with input from myself and a couple of other paddling friends,” says company head Andrew Hiltbrand, who bases and builds the paddles out of Asheville, NC. He adds the Vulcan is unique for the whitewater industry because they’re using uncommon materials that have similar strengths and durability. “Most paddlers want to match their equipment, so with modern technology and advancements, we can make higher end paddles to fill that demand,” he says. “Without a doubt, red is one of the most popular colors in our market, and that is why we decided to go with the Red Kevlar/Carbon Fiber weave first. While we can’t go into too many specifics, the Vulcan is made with multiple layers of materials. Foam core center, Kevlar, Carbon Fiber, and the outer Red Kevlar/Carbon Fiber. The shaft is made up of carbon fiber inner layers and the same outer material as the paddle blades.”

Currently the shaft is only available straight. The right grip is indexed and has a rubberized sleeve that provides solid grip when wet. I always knew where my right blade orientation was due to the ovalized feel of the right side. The left hand side of the shaft is round, making it slightly harder to know feel your blade orientation. I find after a few minutes I adjust to any feather angle and my brain locks in the blade orientation on the left without needing the ovalization on that side. Seven two had a much different style rubberized grip and they held up well over time, only time will tell if this one will take UV and abuse well down the line.

Below is a video of the Vulcan in use on the Green River in Washington at a good water level, showing its downriver capability. I really liked the confidence this paddle gives for those last few strokes leading up to a boof over a rock or hole, you can really trust that aspect of the blade.

Green River at 4090 cfs on Jan 28 24 with the Arcaworks Vulcan Paddle

Vulcan Whitewater Paddle (1 Piece)

 

Full Circle OG2 Flex Paddle Review 

Full Circle OG2 Flex

Specs of Paddle Tested: 200cm, R15 Bent Shaft $595 msrp

This paddle is an obvious reincarnation of the original gangster AT 2 Flex which is now being built by hand by order. Landis Arnold knows whitewater and the construction of this blade inspires with a very solid feel. The oblong pistol shape grip AT was known for is back, as well as the slightly spooned blades shaped for all around paddling (with a lower angle in mind than the blade to shaft offset varieties like the Vulcan).  

I found the forward sweeps to be strong with the spoon built into this blade, making corrections easy. While facing upstream and surfing or doing tricks, this blade comes to life. It is buoyant and quite nimble while bringing it back to the surface, making underwater recoveries and bracing quite quick.  

For those looking for playboating or low angle strokes, this might be your ticket. I thought it was a bit heavier and wasn’t smitten while downriver running. I am more dialed with the blade to shaft offset downriver paddles in this realm.

Be wary that currently this paddle is offered in 200 cm maximum length. The way the shaft and blade is attached as one piece from the mold and trimmed from the center means the grip width gets slightly wide with a 200 cm. But there is a little more room for variety of gripping choice than, say, a Werner bent shaft.

Below is a quick 1 minute video of the OG2-Flex on the Tilton River in Washington State at 2,500 cfs.  

Tilton with a Full Circle Paddle

Skykomish Ripper 2 Large half slice lap with the Full Circle OG-2 Flex

Read more about the construction and ideas of Landis Arnold in the below linked interview.

https://paddlinglife.com/paddling-gear/paddles/the-inside-scoop-on-nomadics-new-full-circle-paddle-by-landis-arnold/

Full Circle Web Page for OG-2 Flex

Werner Stealth Paddle Review

Werner Stealth

Paddle Tested: 202, R15 Straight Carbon Shaft $469 msrp

Werner engineers created a knife with this race/expert focused paddle. With buoyancy built in the center and a laminated edge, this will be a tough paddle but feels so light. With a very flat blade face and blade/shaft offset, the catch holds the water when you plant it like a pole in concrete. The smaller version is named the Covert, providing less surface area for paddlers to size accordingly.

The blade cuts back up to the water on underwater recoveries or bracing in a way that is quiet. I feel like bracing it is quite different if you are used to a blade with more buoyancy like a Shogun or Odachi, but there is some baked into the center of the blade. This blade is designed for the downriver moves and digging in with forward strokes. It seems less versatile than many, but does what it was designed to do well.

It feels so light that one might think it is not durable. But so far I have connected with some rocks with the lightweight straight shaft and it seems solid. But time, and creeks, will tell.

https://paddlinglife.com/featured/taylor-robertson-on-werners-new-stealth-covert-paddle-line/

https://paddlinglife.com/paddling-gear/paddles/blade-runner-dane-jackson-on-werners-new-stealth-and-covert-paddles/

***New Stealth 1 Piece Straight Shaft

Testing the Werner Stealth on the Green River in WA state with Half Slice Kayaks

Hard Core Paddles Mangu

Hard Core Paddles Mangu

Specs of Paddle Tested: 202cm, R15 Bent Shaft $495 msrp

Developed by Andy Nash and manufactured and built by Mike Nash, the Mangu by Hard Core Paddles is a craft affair. These paddles were dreamt up to alleviate tendonitis and be rock solid. Their shafts are not hollow but have a wood core covered by layers of synthetic materials for optimal strength while retaining flex.

Mike and Andy Nash are Kiwis who know how to build things. Andy is a ship builder working on an engineering degree; while Mike is a fabricator and general building genius. They figured out the blade construction with just a small bit of foam in the spine but a very durable edge that is pressed and laminated. After some trial and error they have landed on a very powerful stroke with a slalom blade outline but more spoon than most blades.

When I am feeling like my body needs some TLC and my joints are angry, this paddle is my go to. It has a unique shaft bend and blade attachment angle as you can see in the side profile shot. This paddle has your late boof stroke pulls on a creek on point. With the hefty spoon you can feel the pull when placed downstream or while in a hole. The only downside: bracing compared to a foam core paddle with more displacement built into the blade. As long as I was paddling a stable boat, this wasn’t something I noticed but in a half slice or playboat, there was less bracing ability than some models tested.

Below you will find three articles, one a review by Chris Bear on the bent shaft, one on the straight shaft Mangu by Judah Harms, and a podcast interviewing Mike about his paddles by Kevin Cripps on Tales from the Cripps. The final link is a Youtube video of Mike explaining his paddle when I boated Tumwater Canyon of the Wenatchee with him.

https://paddlinglife.com/featured/hard-core-paddles-a-three-month-review-and-why-i-made-the-switch/

https://paddlinglife.com/featured/blade-beta-hard-core-paddles-mangu-straight-shaft-review/

https://paddlinglife.com/podcast/tales-from-the-cripps/episode-17-hard-core-tales-with-mike-nash/

Mangu Bent Shaft Whitewater Kayak Paddle

Shade Tree Paddles Turbo King Paddle Review

 

Shade Tree Paddles Turbo King

Specs of Paddle Tested: 202 cm, R15 Straight Shaft $675 msrp

Wooden paddle making is an art, which Jonathan Rugh has mastered. Rugh will create completely custom designs for you, with stipulated blade-to-shaft offset, feather angle, length and blade shape. With this Turbo King design, I let him put forth one of his more popular blade shapes for river running in my preferred length and feather angle. To be honest, I couldn’t be happier to have a piece of whitewater lore created by this Pennsylvania native who now lives in Blacksburg, Virginia. A unique wooden paddle is a thing of stark beauty.

When I asked about the construction, I could not believe the love and labor that was put into the creation of this fine blade. “The shaft is a sandwich of White Ash plates, with a Sassafras core,” he says. “The blades are built with Basswood fairing strips (the whiteish part), then Black Willow bladewood. The lower bang strips are Curly Maple, and the upper bang strip is White Ash; wrapped with upper and lower dynel edging, 15 layers of cloth per. The tips are solid dynel, about 40 layers. The veneers on the tips are Curly Maple. Each blade face is covered with 4-oz S-glass.” That may be a lot of information on materials, but it shows the art and care going into each blade and easily justifies the cost.  

In the water, the Turbo King has a strong catch with a very powerful feel. Vertical strokes are rewarded and the depth of the blade gives some floaty displacement, yet it felt nimble still. The slight spoon I had built into the blade was exactly what I asked for, giving a feel that was focused on downriver stroking and river running.  The wood shaft and slight flex built into the wood helps save your joints, even though this blade has a hardy catch in the water. I always enjoy having natural materials in my hands on a cold day on the river; wood is far warmer than carbon.

Rugh has built a new shop and takes paddle orders way in advance of when he is able to build. Get on the list and try one out. Word to the wise: a wood paddle needs to be babied a bit. I don’t take it on shallow and manky runs and if I still lived in Colorado I would think twice. When transporting the blade I use a paddled paddle bag to keep the wear down from hitting other paddles. Also, over time small scratches can absorb water in the shafts causing swelling and eventually leading to a break. A little rub-on poly coat dabbed over these keeps it functioning. The fiberglass over the blades keeps this need for application to a minimum on the points where your paddle usually contacts rocks. They just necessitate a bit more care as an owner, but the pay-off is an experience you’ll relish.

Shade Tree Paddles Website

Powerstick Proton 23 River Runner Paddle Review

Powerstick Proton River Runner

Specs of Paddle Tested: 202 cm, R15 Straight Shaft $449

The Powerstick is a reboot of Seven Two paddles, but with Corran Addison’s take. While at Savage, Addison was part of the original AT 2 design with Dirk Steinhour and Dan Gavere. When Aaron Heap (of Seven Two) went belly up, Addison had been using some of the paddles personally. He eventually ran out of paddles and thought, “What’s next?” He tried going to other paddles and decided he loved the angled grip on a straight shaft, essentially making an ergonomic shaft feel. But despite loving the way it felt, from an engineering standpoint they were rife with problems. They felt great, he says, but the engineering was wrong. So he figured out how to solve it. Now he’s selling out of what is produced each year, with the decision made way in advance of how many to produce. In 2022, he sold out of Battle Axes and now he only has 10% of his River Runner inventory left.

First thing to note is the fact that this paddle mails in two halves.  It is up to the purchaser to glue them together at your specified length and feather angle, using epoxy.

Addison has created two layups for the Proton, a Battle Ax for creeking and more stout runs; and the lighter Proton River Runner, which is what we have tested here. (If you live in the Southeast or Colorado you should be using the Battle Ax; if you’re not contacting rocks, the River Runner is a better fit. The River Runner is 993 grams for a 200-cm paddle; the Battle Ax is 1,140 grams at 200 cm.

I didn’t think I would love the grips at first glance but the feel in the palm is solid; I hope the material will stand up to UV and wear over time. This two piece assembly works due to a small center piece in which both halves overlap; two-part epoxy is best according to Addison. I used JB weld plastic weld epoxy; if I ever need to change the length or feather angle I was told I can use a hair dryer to heat it up and slowly break the weld. There is also a fixed epoxy option as well.

The blade is slicey with the thin edge and volume displacement in the center. I immediately noticed it wasn’t a creeking/downriver paddle or a playboat paddle blade design. With surface area almost equal above and below the center line, it handled paddling upstream and surfing very well and did just fine with down river moves.   The grips were interesting, very tacky in the hand when wet. When fully loaded and stressed the grip had a bit of an awkward feel, with directional changes in my opinion. With time I am sure I would get more accustomed to that feel. The shaft was stiff and responsive, and the chosen feather angle made me feel at ease. Since I was using the 202 length, the grips felt just slightly wider than I would have normally chosen. I think this is the longer end of the spectrum for this 2-piece to be glued together.

The dihedral on the blade face has less bite than a spoon blade, but is small, producing a little spill off the side of the paddle. The idea gives a big blade for supporting racing and rolling, but a powerface that most people can handle. When feathering it wants to move away from the boat with vertical strokes, making it more forgiving. The wing dihedral also helps the paddle climb when sweeping out for a roll. If the paddle is flat it has positive climb.

Of course you have to chat with Addison to get the straight skinny on why he designed what, so we took the liberty of adding that in as well:

PL: What was your inspiration for creating the Powerstick paddle line?

“I created a new product based on the Seven Two concept. I was involved in the original design in a small way of the Seven Two, when I worked at Riot, and wanted to completely reengineer the concept for the ground up.”

PL: What modifications have you done to the paddle compared to what Seven Two had? How is the Proton different than Seven Two’s blade and shaft and grip?

“The Shaft is a few millimeters bigger in diameter, making it stronger with out making it heavier at 20.5mm.  The Seven Two was 17 mm. This then created problems with the grip. He was glueing the grip directly onto the shaft after molding, which is more complicated. They would sometimes break loose and move which was one of the complaints of the originals. Corran’s paddle has the grip directly moulded onto the shaft, solving this issue.  The same size grip is now used, one that will not rotate on the shaft (a known problem with Seven Two models).”

PL:  Is the red material carbon as well?

“The red material is Kevlar black is carbon. Carbon is not a great material for blades; it collapses under compression. It can crack. With Kevlar it is much stronger than carbon in compression. Kevlar progressively fails, carbon snaps eventually. People know carbon is stiff and light but it has its breaking point. And the Kevlar stops the paddle from getting smaller from wear over time.”

PL: How did you balance buoyancy vs. weight?

“The closer your foam gets to the edge to the blade, the less chance you have of the laminate adhering to it’s self. If you have one cm around the paddle holding its self together, three times more material is nine times stronger. This causes more resistance to delamination. Foam core paddles have buoyancy which is nice for bracing and rolling, but we’re looking for the compromise for maximum buoyancy as well as durability. The average paddler wants some buoyancy but wants to brace and roll with ease. We found the happy middle ground without the paddle getting too thick; we want the paddle to slice well through the water.”

Proton 2023

ABOUT OUR PADDLE PHOTOGRAPHERS

Riley Seebeck

Whether on a bike, board or kayak, Riley Seebeck is a multi-published, award-winning commercial and editorial adventure photographer based out of the beautiful state of Washington. Often seen in Kayak Session and Freehub Magazine, Riley has been shooting since 2016 and has built an extensive career photographing some of the world’s top athletes in some of the planets most unique landscapes. Although new to kayaking, it is all consuming for Riley with the textures of the water, canyons that can only be seen by boat and the never ending search for flow through rapids. Through these intimate moments, Riley continues to search deeper and explore further into the ways of capturing light. Riley can be reached at : rileyseebeck@gmail.com or Flo Photo Co

@flowphoto_co on Instagram

AJ Frank

Loving the outdoors, is what AJ is all about. He is a retired firefighter who lives in Washington’s Skykomish Valley and rips up at Steven’s Pass on skis. He just last summer completed the Pacific Crest Trail via backpacking and loves to shoot out on the banks of his local river for all that pass through Boulder Drop. He is known for his cheerful smile and generosity among the kayakers and rafters that have benefitted from his talent behind the camera lens. The Seattle whitewater community at large has been excited to have him out capturing moments like you see in these galleries above.

Insta handle @blackmanonatrail

AJ can be contacted at f4photo2334@gmail.com.

—By Nick Hinds with photos by Riley Seebeck and AJ Frank

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