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Native Paddle Dynamics

 

Our Paddle Making Philosophy

My aim is to give you the best native style paddles possible. I am a paddler myself and so I will only sell paddle designs that I myself have used and find acceptable.

The Wisdom of Native Design

All our paddles closely follow native designs. These native paddle designs were not so much invented as evolved and adapted to conditions that native paddlers had to deal with. These paddles were working paddles; they were used day in and day out for hunting and travel and had to work in both good weather and bad. In other words, these paddles had to be versatile and were not specialty paddles designed for a single use such as racing. And since a paddler might find himself on the water all day, or in a storm, even longer, the paddles had to make the most efficient use of the paddler's strength.

In my opinion, native paddles embody a lot of wisdom and evolution that many contemporary designers of recreational paddles are ignoring.

How Are Native Paddles Different from Contemporary Designs

Native paddles were meant to be used all day in all kinds of sea and weather conditions. Consequently, efficient use of the paddler's energy was one of their prime considerations. Native paddles typically seem to have a little less bite on the water than many recreational paddles. Paddling cadence of paddlers using native paddles is higher than that of paddlers using modern recreational designs. Higher cadence with less resistance in the water is more efficient over a longer period of time. While many recreational paddlers develop enough strength and stamina to paddle their modern paddles efficiently, many paddlers are underpowered for the size of their paddles. You can see them out on the water, ponderously slogging along, one stroke every few seconds.

Strength and Flex

Over the years, I have studied quite a few native paddles in museums and private collections. And I have come to the conclusion that native paddles in general are more flexible than available commercial paddles. Furthemore, this flexibility is finely tuned, with the ends of a paddle being more flexible than the center. Much of the subtlety of native paddles is missing from commercial paddles. I have asked myself why this should be, and the only reason I can come up with is that most paddle manufacturers overbuild their paddles so that careless users won't break them. Certainly, protecting the user from paddle breakage is a good thing, especially in an environment where a no questions asked return policy seems to be the norm.

But over-engineered, no-break construction has its price. And that is a loss of responsiveness and liveliness in the paddle. And not only is a flexible paddle more lively, it is also easier on muscles, joints and ligaments. When you transmit power to your paddle, loading on your body is more gradual because the paddle absorbs sudden shocks. But the energy you put into the paddle is not lost, it is simply smoothed out.

But flexibility is not just about going easy on your body. Flexibility is also about feeling the water. A stiff paddle feels absolutely dead in the water and there is no joy in using it. A flexible paddle on the other hand gives you subtle signals which your body is able to use to optimize your stroke.

Care and Use of a Flexible Paddle

Over the years, I have made a good number of paddles and I have broken a good number as well. Since I made my own paddles, this was never a big deal. But since you are paying good money for your paddle, let me tell you how not to break it.

First off, let me say that I have never broken a paddle while pulling it through the water. Paddles always break while one end at least is in contact with something solid and immovable. Let me also state categorically that if you support your paddle at both ends and apply your full body weight to the middle of the paddle, that it will break.

While you wouldn't set out to intentionally break your paddle, let me give you a list of ways I know of that you can break a paddle unintentionally. This way you will be able to avoid them.

  • Using your paddle as an outrigger while you are getting in an out of your boat. While this is safe for the most part, a slight misjudgement, an incoming wave, or a stumble can have you drop your full weight on the paddle.
  • Using you paddle as a pole to leverage yourself off the beach. Again, a mostly harmless procedure as long as you do not flex the paddle. But if you are putting sideways stress on the blade, a break can happen.
  • Using your paddle to push off rocks, piers, seawalls or any other solid object. Once your paddle is in contact with an immovable solid, anything can happen. An incoming wave can suddenly put a monsterous load on your paddle.
  • Surfing. While surfing in itself will not break your paddle, surfing in shallow water where the combination of breaking waves and one end of the paddle in contact with the bottom can easily snap the paddle.

Test Criteria for Our Paddles

All our paddle designs are thoroughly tested on the water. While I follow traditional native designs in making my paddles, paddles are very subtle creatures and a given design must be fine tuned to the materials it is made out of and the conditions it is used under.

Any time I make a new paddle design, I take it out on the water and test it. As I am using the paddle, I ask a number of questions of the paddle:

  • Is it light enough?
  • Is it flexible enough?
  • Does it feel good moving through the water?
  • Does the loom feel comfortable or does it give me blisters after an hour of paddling?
  • Does it give me the right amount of a bite on the water, or not enough or too much?
  • Is it the right length?
  • Does it fatigue me to use it for any length of time?
  • Can I scull with it?
  • Can I brace with it?
  • Can I roll with it?

Before I will sell a paddle, it has to answer all these questions satisfactorally.

Laminated Wood

All our paddles are made of wood as were native paddles. However, we laminate our wood. There are two reasons for laminating.

The first reason is that making a paddle out of one solid block of wood is quite wasteful. Over half the wood ends up in the dust bin as shavings. We could of course pass the cost of this waste on to you, but it isn't a matter of cost. I believe that the fine straight grained wood that we use in our paddles should be treated respectfully and conservatively.

The second reason is that laminating wood is a way to balance tensions in the wood. When wood is sawn, internal tensions are often released, causing wood to warp. Lamination helps to balance out any unresolved tensions in the wood and sawing the wood into smaller diameter pieces assures that warpage can be avoided before the lamination takes place.

The combination of different colors of wood can be quite pleasing esthetically, but when done to excess the effect is more distracting than it is pleasing. Our laminations are done strictly for functional reasons, to optimize strength and weight and to minimize waste. We don't laminate for visual effect. I have made paddles out of different color woods by customer request. However, I don't advocate the practice since the colored wood species are invariably heavier than the Sitka spruce that I use and result in a heavier paddle. Also, different wood species have different degrees of expansion when they absorb moisture. A paddle made up of different wood species is therefore liable to internal stresses. Manufacturers of multi-species paddles generally sheathe their paddles in fiberglass to protect the wood from moisture. I am personally not interested in using that approach primarily because it increases the cost of the paddle and reduces the inherent beauty of the wood.

 

 


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