The Wenonah Black Lite Elbow Carbon paddle is fantastic and well worth the price tag of $189. This paddle features a bent shaft and graphite construction. It is a beautiful thing to look at and a pleasure to pull through the water. Here’s why you should seriously consider it …
The Best Canoe Paddle for a 1,000 Mile Expedition
When I was prepping for my winter/spring paddle from Omaha to Memphis, I knew long days of hard paddling would be mandatory. So I decided to stack the odds of a fast trip in my favor. For the canoe, I picked a sleek expedition boat with low freeboard, the Wenonah Prism. The Prism’s speed contributed to the 70 mile days that I paddled to blast down the Mississippi River. But to go fast you need more than a good canoe.
Paddling for 10 – 14 hours puts a lot of strain on the body. Shoulders. Elbows. Wrists. Hands. And abs. I have had a lot of shoulder injuries during the last 13 years of rock climbing. As I prepped for the paddling trip, I was thinking about these injuries and how to prevent a flare-up that could stall or kill the journey, especially during the first couple of weeks while my body adapted to the workload.
Why the Weight of a Canoe Paddle is Really Important
Over the course of paddling 1,000 miles, the smallest factor—whether it is equipment, technique, or attitude—will compound exponentially. For example, let’s say that I’m padding at a moderate pace of 20 strokes per minute. That’s 1,200 strokes per hour. And 12,000 in a 10 hour day. The Wenonah Black Lite Elbow Carbon weighs about 13 ounces. A Bending Branches BB Special Bent Shaft (my backup paddle) weighs 22 ounces. Multiply the difference (.56 lbs) by the strokes, and we get 6,720 lbs. That’s over 3 tons! In one day! Even for paddlers who are moving at a third of that pace, this is a saving of over 1 ton per day! That is a lot of saved muscle and joint fatigue. For those so driven, reinvest that saved fatigue in going farther or faster, or both.
A Bent Shaft Canoe Paddle Equals More Power
I knew I wanted to use a bent shaft paddle. A bent shaft paddle produces a more efficient and powerful stroke, keeping the paddle in the sweet spot for longer. Initially, that paddle was the Bending Branches BB Special (a wood paddle). Then I picked up the Black Lite Elbow while at the Alpine Shop in Kirkwood, Missouri. This graphite canoe paddle was a feather in my hand compared to the lead-weight I had been using. So I bought it on the spot.
The Black Lite Elbow’s performance exceeded my expectations. Often, with nothing important to think about, I would watch the paddle with great contentment, amazed at its rigidity and lightness. The blade itself is almost as thin as a piece of paper and nearly the same weight. How something so thin and so light can pull through the water with so much power blows my mind. More than once I worried that the paddle would tire of the strain I was putting it through, and at that moment it would lose all definition and become nothing more than a soggy, limp piece of synthetic fabric. But that moment never came. Stroke after stroke the paddle urged me to paddle faster and harder.
Sometimes I switched from the carbon paddle to the wood paddle. The difference in weight and movement through the water was immediately evident. I might as well have paddled with a sledgehammer. These brief forays with the backup wood paddle never lasted long. After a few minutes I had to go back to the carbon paddle; it was just too smooth and too easy to use.
The Majestic Art of Paddling a Canoe
I often imagined the paddle as a paintbrush and the river a canvas. With each stroke, I created something new that changed the character of the art—a piece of art that was flowing through America’s heartland, both in the past, the present, and the future. Though I know that the canvas affected me far more than I changed it.
In movement, less is more. In rock climbing, there is a strong movement towards less and lighter gear so that the climber can have a greater sense of freedom while moving across the rock. I believe the same applies to paddling. A swift, responsive boat and a light, sharp paddle serve to bring the paddler closer to what he loves—the water and its movement. We want to be a part of that movement; to scoot along with the channel, yet at a whim surf the eddy of a buoy for nothing more than the sheer joy of surfing a buoy. We want to catch a ride in the wake of a downriver barge because we get to go fast. And we want to find the biggest, baddest feature on the river and bomb through it because that is what the water does.
Using the right gear, including a composite paddle, helped me to lose myself in the elegance of the movement, and not struggle against it. I encourage you to do the same.
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