OK, I did it. I got one of those carbon fiber Greenland Paddles from Superior Kayaks. Ain't it sweet? So smooth and hard. Incredibly strong, yet light as a feather. Perfectly symmetric and precise, like it was made by a machine. But so cold. It lacks any personality. Absent is the spirit of the craftsman you will find in a handmade wooden paddle. I call it "Crazy 88".
My Beale #127 was starting to get a little beat up and frayed around the edges. I'll spend some time refinishing it later, but ever since I renounced the Euroblade for all eternity I decided I should have another GP. Ironic that I would get a carbon paddle when I'm so big into the "natural beauty of wood", huh? Well, I got it for paddling in "conditions", so it's got to be tough! I personally know of a couple people who have broken their homemade wooden GPs: a student in a rolling class I was taking from Dubside, and Leon Sommé in the same rolling class the next day. Leon broke the GP that he had carved when he was a grad student. I didn't know Greenland style even existed back then! Oh yeah, it's a thousand year old tradition, isn't it?
Carbon paddles are not indestructable. Probably the most famous example is when Greg Stamer broke one
Performance of the Superior carbon paddle is what you might expect. It's light and rigid. The finish is smooth and slippery. The edges are thinner than my Beale so it slices through the water and sculls more smoothly, but it's not as comfortable when holding it extended. It has more bite than the Beale, but it is also wider. The paddles are manufactured with a standard 3.5 in width and 20 in loom. Beale #127 is 3.25 in wide and also has a 20 in loom.
Here is what I found out about the Superior carbon paddle from searching through the Qajaq USA forum:
- After taking abuse in rocks and surf the finish holds up very well.
- It weighs less than most wooden paddles.
- The shape is excellent. After using the Superior paddle, people will attempt to achieve the same design in the next wooden paddle they carve.
- It's noiser than wooden paddles because the smooth finish squeeks in your hands and it resonates if your bump it on the boat.
- Mark Molina was not allowed to use one at the Greenland National Championships.
"The Superior carbon is a really nice paddle. Very stiff. If you like
the flexibility of wood, then carbon will feel too stiff. But its light
weight helps make up for that…"
"The Superior I tried weighed about 750 grams, if I remember right. My
lightest laminated paddes were 725. Most solid cedar ones are in the
800 range, and hollow cored laminated in the 850-900 range…"
"…I can bang up my cedar paddles in a month or so, with my Superior, I still don't have a single serious dent after 10K miles of open Pacific coast paddling including rock gardening, surf landings, and various portage accidents…"
"…I have two, a regular and a storm, and have used them for nearly 2 years. They are very light, very smooth and scull very well. Most people who have carved their own go back and try again after using the paddle. They find it more powerful and comfortable than their effort. I surf, rock garden, and open coast paddle with it extensively (thousands of mile per year). Despite the pounding, it has no dents and only cosmetic scratches. While not as shiny at the moment, it is still as good as new…"
"…I will agree with the the noise comments. I find it more a friction squeaking with my hands as I paddle than banging things. I do notice it from time to time, but it is rarely distracting and is only when I am cranking along never under casual conditions…"
"It's stiff, but also has a very smooth feel in the water. As Greg has mentioned in the past, it can be a bit noisy if you bump it into your boat or another object, as sound seems to resonate in the paddle."
"If you appreciate efficiency and covering distance at speed you will love it."
"I've had my Superior Carbon GP 3 years - 2000 miles - no dings. No scratches that aren't extremely superficial..."
"I have dropped it many times - on rock and cement a couple (makes a heck of a racket when you do!) I've used it to push off from rock/coral/oyster mix bottoms here. I've hit submerged rocks with it at cruising pace. I like wood GPs too, but I'd trust the carbon more for durability."
"…I closed the car door on mine twice, and the door just bounced back open, leaving no evident damage…"
"…Its tips have a little sharp spot which scratches the deck pretty badly when slipped under the decklines…"
"…It's a great paddle, but I don't use it unless I'm racing--the rest of the time I prefer wood's flex and softness."
A couple of my own homemade GPs: a storm and a paddle I made for Joel, with maple ends. Both are western red cedar, carved according to Chuck Holst's instructions. It helps to have a finished paddle for comparison while carving. Paddle carving is a great way to satisfy that urge to make something between building boats. You can laminate them out of scraps of wood, they don't take up a lot of room, and make great presents if you've made too many.