In 2003 I set off with Shawna Franklin and Leon Sommé on a circumnavigation of Iceland. Before the trip, Andy Bridges from Werner Paddles was working on a new generation of paddles that were foam core, something I had never heard of. Wouldn’t you know, just when you’re completely satisfied with life someone comes up with a better product that makes you think, “Boy if I could get one of those life would be so much easier, smoother, more fun….
Andy was looking for feedback on the new blade and brought a prototype over for me to use. Over the Thanksgiving weekend of 2002, we paddled half a day and though I had my Molokai along, it never came off the rear deck. This new foam core paddle had a feel to it that I really liked. It would take a few more days of paddling to really define the difference, but it was obvious there was something to this new design. As it turned out, Andy had the right blade done before the Iceland trip, but not the left. I wound up using my trusted Molokai for the circumnavigation and was perfectly happy with it, but upon our return to the States I was very curious to see how the new foam paddle was shaping up.
The prototype that Andy brought over two years ago has more than proven itself in performance. In the six months since returning from Iceland, I’ve used the Ikelos almost exclusively. And I love it. The biggest difference in performance is the way the blade feels in the water. Andy and Werner Furrer Jr. wanted to create a blade that was smoother to use in transition strokes - sculling draw, forward bow rudders, hanging draw etc. Because the impregnated foam gives the blade its strength, Andy and Werner were able to smooth the back of the blade and get rid of the ridge that normally provides strength to the blade. With the ridge eliminated, the smooth back allows the blade to slice through the water without cavitating and pulling air down the channel of the old style blades.
The other big difference in the Ikelos is the obvious floatation of the blade. Because of the foam, the blade not only weighs slightly less than a carbon fiber blade of equal size, it also floats higher in the water. This translates into a slightly different feel at the entry of the stroke: it takes a little extra effort to bury the blade into its power phase but the difference is so minimal that I quickly forgot about it. The biggest appeal for me in using the Ikelos is the way it exits the water. Because of its smooth back and the floatation, the blades slip out of the water with noticeable ease. The blade also carries less water at the exit due to the absence of the ridge and the decreased surface area on the blade. What this translates into is less stress on the smaller muscles at the back of the shoulder that do all the lifting as the blades begin to clear the water.
Every time we make a change in a motor skill we’re bound to feel some differences. The first time I paddled with the prototype Ikelos, I noticed a slight flutter at the start of the power stroke. After five minutes of using the new blade I had made some unconscious adjustment and the flutter was gone. Now, I don’t even think about flutter. I’m sure it was just a matter of getting used to the feel of the new paddle. I think it may be similar to sitting for the first time in a narrower boat than we are accustomed to. The boat feels jittery and unsettled, yet an hour later the jitters are gone and the boat begins to take on a more familiar feeling.
If I consider the Ikelos strictly in terms of forward paddling, I have found the blade to be every bit as good and maybe better than my old favorite, the Molokai. The Ikelos’ thicker blade makes a slightly noisier entry than the Molokai, but that is the only drawback I’ve found. Having used the Molokai for eight years. I doubted that the Ikelos would have the same pulling power of the larger Molokai. Again, after 6 months of paddling the new blade, I think there may be a very slight difference in power, but it is so minimal that my doubts have been put to rest.
The other side of the power question may be, “Is the blade too big?? Yes, the blade is still considered large by some standards, but if the blade size is balanced with overall length, you can customize your comfort and power requirements. Blade size and shaft length are equivalent to the sprocket size and number of teeth on a bicycle. I paddle with a 210cm Ikelos. For me it’s a great compromise in power-revolution per minute-and efficiency. I’ve got the larger blade for the power I need in surf, in sprinting and in maintaining a clean high angle efficient stroke. And I have the short overall length that minimizes fatigue and the wear and tear on my body that would otherwise be stressful. Being of slight build, I’m certain I could not paddle a blade this size in 220cm. With a long paddle and large blade surface, all that torque has to go somewhere - and unfortunately it’s going to go to the first linkages in the transmission of all that power from the blades to the boat: the shoulders and wrists. In anything but really rough water, my preference is to go even shorter to a 205cm. The cadence is a little faster and once the boat is up to speed, the paddling is almost effortless.
Atlantic Kayak Tours, Expert Center
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