Friday, February 8, 2013


What the heck is he doing writing about paddles in February?  Shouldn't he have a ski pole or maybe an ice fishing pole in his hand?  Could he possibly be thinking about violating his anti chlorine pledge and attending a pool session!?  Senility!!??  Actually my mind has been flirting with the idea of Canoecopia, one short month away.  The UndergroundHippie and I have been making reservations and plotting for a barley friendly weekend in Madison, one that will avoid motor transport and allow walking from our lodging to various eclectic eating and imbibing locations, primarily on Willy St.  I also responded to a 'what's your favorite paddle' post on Facebook.  I passed on the 'foam core carbon fiber asymetrical low profile this and that' stuff and tossed out my good old Basswood Greenland stick as my preferred paddle.

I will admit to having a pronounced retro streak in many things.  Wooden paddles, wool clothing, a single shot deer rifle, bamboo ski poles, and manual transmissions are a few of my old school preferences.  I like wooden paddles, Basswood in particular, because of the liveliness, the strength, and the hand feel.  The fun of carving a functional, efficient, and often beautiful paddle out of a rough 2x4 is a fulfilling exercise but they also really work well.  The VOR would give up her Betsie Bay Greenland stick only 'if you pried her cold, dead fingers from the shaft'.  Compared to carbon fiber, wood is flexible and gives you a feel of a flexing 'snap' forward at the end of the stroke.  It may just be hallucinatory, but that little extra spring forward does make me feel that I got that little extra jump as I exit the water to prepare for the next stroke.  I can make the same claim with my trusty '70s vintage bamboo ski poles; they just flex and feel really good moving forward.  Plus if I do break one, a bit of duct tape will get me back to the parking lot with no problems.  Hand feel is something that can't be replicated with carbon fiber either.  I often pass on the gloves in early and late season paddling on Gitchee Gumee because the warm feel of the wood keeps my hands nice and toasty, unlike the cold dead feel of carbon fiber.  I like Basswood as a paddle material as well.  The BadHatter and I made Basswood paddles with the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, MN and still have them. Sitka Spruce is much lighter and a wood that is used for masts and such, but I've broken two of them.  With the lightness strength is sacrificed. Western Red Cedar is the same, beautiful and light but it just doesn not seem to have the strength.  Strong wood species or not folks, a wooden paddle will break.  Christopher Crowhurst of Qajaq Rolls and another Canoecopia attendee/exhibitor, watched me come up with half a paddle in my hand late this summer after what I thought was a nice, smooth forward sweep roll.  For some reason forward finishing rolls seem to be a bit more deadly on wooden paddles than other activities, although a vigorous sprint to the finish line in a race can be deadly as well.  Note GalwayGuy with a treacherous Sitka Spuce stick that gave up the ghost 100 yds from the finish.  He still won his age group, even though he had to go to the backup paddle.

I am not a zealot on this paddle thing.  I own both Werner Euro paddles and also a carbon fiber Greenland stick and I paddle with both of them.  It sometimes feel like I'm 'cheating' on my Basswood paddle but variety is indeed the spice of life, at least in paddles.  The amazing lightness, strength, and even beauty of some of the carbon fiber paddles is truly amazing.  But for my every day forward stroking I love the feel of tung oiled Basswood in my hand.  It puts my mind at ease right along with the rhythm of the waves on my favorite large body of fresh water.  Speaking of fresh water, I am indeed planning on attending a pool session in the not too distant future.  No chlorine will be involved however, since the Bayfield Rec Center has converted their pool to salt water.  ChrisG of Boreal Shores Kayak tipped me off to this gem in my backyard when we were cross country skiing a couple weeks back.  I'm thinking I could complete the trifecta of telemark skiing, cross country skiing, and rolling my kayak, all within the space of an afternoon.  Now if RangerMark could only find those elusive Coho salmon off the Onion River I could add ice fishing for the quadrafecta.......if that's a word. 

Kayak lusting is only a month away in Madison boys and girls.  In the meantime enjoy the winter!!

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