beginning, there was wood. For untold centuries before kayaking
became a leisure sport, Aleut and Greenland natives made paddles
from driftwood, and lived or died by the quality of these tools.
When Europeans began to dabble in kayaking as recreation, a
very few learned directly from the Greenlanders about the design
of the native paddle and the technique for its use.
were modified, made collapsible for easy transport and reshaped
for use on rivers, the recreational paddle was shaped with wide
blades on long shafts, to look and function more like the oars
and canoe paddles already familiar to the Europeans. As kayaking
spread across the non-Arctic world, the "Euro" paddle
dominated as the mainstream type.
wood was also replaced. Once composite manufacturers began to
win the lightweight game, fiberglass took over the market through
mass production and promises of maintenance-free durability.
Perhaps there were few regrets. On one occasion, I paddled with
a decades-old wooden whitewater paddle. Made mostly of ash,
with metal guards riveted over the tips of the blades, and badly
in need of varnish, it was big, powerful, ugly and tiring. However,
not all wooden paddles were so rough-hewn and awkward. Indeed,
many Olympic racers never abandoned wood, retaining light spruce
paddles until the advent of carbon fiber composites.
of years ago, I wasn’t in love with any of the fiberglass paddles
I had used, and none of them was much to look at. I decided
to hazard a fling with a wooden paddle, a Bending Branches Tailwind,
the wide-blade cousin of the Journey reviewed here. The wooden
paddle looked better, the proportions seemed right, the weight
was close enough to glass paddles, and it seemed strong enough.
The slight extra weight saved me a lot of money, and the retailer
had an iron-clad reputation for refunds, so what did I have