By Scott Edwards
Throughout my years of paddling, I’ve been encouraged to try various Greenland/traditional paddles. I’d use them for a little bit and return them to their generous owner who let me try it and then pick up my Euro Blade paddle and continue on, really not giving it much more thought. But, as my experience kayaking grew, as did the circle of friends I’ve made in kayaking, more and more have urged me to really put some time in with a traditional paddle.
A paddle that was born when kayaking was born, a paddle that was created for all conditions, a paddle on which its efficiency literally rested life and death for those using them. I figured it was about time to truly find out what everyone was talking about.
All the paddles I had tried previously were wood. I always admired the beauty and craftsmanship in a wooden paddle, and, I must confess an affinity for the artisanship that goes into making beautiful things out of beautiful woods. One of my other passions is playing Native American style flute. I have a full quiver of them, running the gamut from Red Cedar to Apple to Birds Eye Maple with Cherry ends and bird. Things made of wood seem alive to me and I honour those who share their gift of woodworking with the world, whether it be Greenland paddle or an indigenous flute. I also must confess to being enamoured of technology, the excitement of new things to try. I felt this way when I picked up my first carbon fibre Euro paddle. I was impressed immediately with the feather like weight and the amount of lifting I would be spared over a long day paddling. It was with this thought in mind that I sought out a carbon fibre Greenland paddle.
Enter into my paddle quiver the Gearlab Oyashio (215cm) in 12k carbon fibre
Enter into my paddle quiver the Gearlab Oyashio (215cm) in 12k carbon fibre. The Oyashio is the shoulder-less model of Gearlab paddles. The also offer the Kuroshio, with shoulders and the Kuroshio WL (wide loom, for those with broader shoulders). All the Gearlab paddles come in the flat black of carbon fibre or a gloss white. The gloss white is very attractive and at the time of this writing, they are experimenting with other colours. These are not custom made paddles, they come in five sizes to fit most paddlers. Usually the high-end wooden traditional paddles are custom made to your measurements.
When I first took it out of the box and snapped it together, I noticed how well it locked together via a snap clip and T-joint. The T-joint consists of two parts, a male and a female. Both the male and female have a hollow wedge-shaped base (the hidden part in the ferrule). In the middle of the wedge-shaped base there is a plastic piece attached by a bolt, as seen in the middle of the T-joint.
By tightening the bolt the plastic piece moves up to expand the wedge-shaped base to make an extremely tight installation. The snap clip holds two pieces together, while the T-Joint eliminates rotational play. This not something you need or should do, as they come from the factory all set up.
Another thing I noticed right away is that this paddle is hollow, no foam or anything inside. I’d imagine this would be an issue if I cracked it on a rock or something, but, it does add to the paddles overall buoyancy, an added plus rolling or in balance bracing. However, it would make me slightly hesitant to take it down rocky rivers or the like without a reliable spare on board. It’s being hollow however does give it the necessary ‘flex’ to a paddle and I have found it to be remarkably strong and not something that I would consider a weakness.
As I simulated paddling through the air, it felt very natural and almost automatic. I was ready to jump out the door and head to the nearest body of water I could find and see what I could do with this very new to me paddle design. Time to go get wet!
As one would surmise, the very light swing weight was delightful to paddle with. It felt very balanced as I paddled forward. I noticed immediately how soft on the body paddling felt with this design. It’s worth noting that I have chronic tendonitis in my right elbow, and have been known to wear a brace for long days on the water as well as what doctors have called a form of Dystonia, commonly called ‘writer’s cramp’ (where were computers when I needed them as I hand wrote all those papers in school?).
Dystonia is a movement disorder that causes muscles to contract and spasm involuntarily. I’ve developed the sense that this paddle will certainly help with those issues, which I’ve learned to ‘ignore’, but hurt nonetheless. I use the word ‘soft’ for the paddles effect on my body, because of the lower amount of torque from having the water spread out over a longer, yet narrower area. For lack of a better comparison, try moving a pancake turner through a basin of water, than do the same thing with a chopstick. You’ll get the idea quite quickly. Because the Oyashio is a shoulder-less paddle, I found it very easy to do slide strokes and extended paddle strokes, it slid through my hands effortlessly and was very efficient in these techniques (a heck of a lot better than I am…for now).
Another thought that had always been on my mind with traditional versus Euro-blade paddles was one that I have heard others voice, and that was one of forward speed. I can tell you that there is no concern here. The lesser drag of the traditional paddle allowed me to increase my paddle stroke without increasing my effort. I found myself easily keeping up with and passing other paddlers on the water. The only place where I thought I might like my wider bladed paddle was on the backside of waves. It felt like I just wasn’t catching as much water and not getting as solid a feel. However that could be a case of what I have come to call ‘Picnik’ or ‘problem in cockpit, not in kayak’ or in this case, paddle. I apologize to my technology friends from whom I altered that phrase.
Mind you, none of this means I am giving up my Euro blades that I have come to know and love. To me, it means I have learned something, that I have a slightly greater feel for those that paddled Qajaqs before me, and that technique is the key, not the size or shape of the paddle. The Gearlab Oyashio is a wonderful example of two worlds, one ancient and one modern combining to create something very user friendly, very efficient and very enjoyable to use. I heartily encourage all paddlers to spend some time with one of these paddles and take a trip back in time while holding modern technology in your hands. The people at Gearlab have built a paddle that is elegant in its simplicity, a compliment to the history of paddling wrapped in today’s high-end materials.