Once you have chosen your canoe you will need something to shove you along if you are to avoid the whole up the creek thing! Like the canoe choice, there is no one perfect paddle, although you will most likely end up with a favourite.
For those who are prone to hoard stuff, be prepared to own many paddles and start thinking about how to display them, as some are truly works of art. Worthy of a place in the lounge when not being used to propel you down the river.
The type of paddle you use will depend upon the waters you paddle on and how much effort you can put in. Some are easy on the tendons and muscles, whilst others are likely to have you seeking a deep tissue massage at the end of a long day. Key factors to consider include:
Budget: At the entry level a plastic paddle will set you back about £10. Having one of these as an emergency spare might be useful in the event that you drop your main paddle or, heaven forbid, snap it! As a primary paddle, however, it will be merely functional and will give you little pleasure to use.
At the other end of the scale are laminated hardwood and carbon fibre blades, made bespoke to your requirements and costing around £300. If this sounds eye wateringly expensive then don’t worry, there is much to entertain and enjoy at a much more modest level. There are those who even end up with a book and a lump of wood and an almost surreal ability to create things of beauty, who make their own.
In the first instance, it is important not to overspend, as you will almost certainly change your requirements as your paddling career progresses.
Length: There are two elements to the length of a paddle: the handle and the blade. Taking the handle first. The length of the handle will vary slightly depending upon what you are using the paddle for, eg. white water, quiet water manoeuvres, covering distance on a windy lake, canals and so on. This, however, is the fine tuning. There will be a length that will suit you well for most paddles, most of the time.
There are numerous ways to measure the length of a paddle, however, avoid any that talk of measuring the whole paddle at once, this is clearly nonsense. As a starting point, sit on a hard seat with your back straight. Measure from the seat to your eyebrows to give you the length of the handle. Take your tape measure with you to the shop and check the length from the handle end to the throat of the paddle, being the point that the paddle blade flares from the shaft.
There is no guarantee that this will be the perfect length. As you progress and heel the boat or move to white water, you will have paddles which are perhaps a little shorter or longer. We have a range of paddles which go with our demo fleet, so you can try those before buying too.
For the blade, the length will be determined by what you are going to use it for. The overall surface area of the paddle typically determines how much propulsion it will provide. Obviously, a huge paddle will propel you faster than a postage stamp sized paddle, however, unless you require sudden inputs of power, the former would not be a good thing for a long day on slow moving or static water. Good technique outweighs paddle area every time, and the subtlety of fine control will be masked by a blade which is too big.
Width: Paddle blades that are longer are generally also narrower and they provide power in a progressive way, building as the blade flexes to “cushion” the stroke. They also handle beautifully in the water as they glide back between strokes. They work very well in deep water such as lakes and large rivers, giving your muscles an easier time for a long day in the canoe. Examples of long, narrow blades include the classic ottertail shaped blade, examples of which are made by our friends at Edenwood Paddles.
Shorter paddles with wider blades are used in two main situations. Firstly, in areas where the water depth is restricted, such as canals or shallow rivers or lakes, and secondly in rapids where the sudden burst of power is often required to get you into the all important next eddy. These short paddles can be round ended, however, the white water variety typically have squared off blades.
Flex: A paddle is not designed to be completely rigid. On the start of a power stroke the blade will give a little, or flex, in the hand. This is normal and transfers some of the power you have put in into the paddle itself. At the end of the stroke the paddle will release this power as the paddle straightens, once again prolonging the power phase of the stroke.
Weight: Like the canoe itself, there is a trade-off between the weight of a paddle and its overall strength. Paddles which are too heavy require more stamina from the paddler over time. The lightest blades, made from carbon fibre are easier to use for longer, but cost the most by some margin.
A typical high quality wooden paddle will weigh 750-800g. Plastic and fibreglass paddles can be significantly heavier and carbon fibre much lighter.
Finish: Wooden paddles will be either varnished or oiled. The varnish will protect the wood for longer but has more propensity to cause blisters for some people.
The oil finished paddles require a little more maintenance, however, reapplying the oil and wiping off the excess is a matter of moments and rejuvenates the paddle to almost new condition. It has to be said that many prefer the feel of the oiled wood to varnish, with fewer blisters after a long day paddling.
Generally speaking you get what you pay for in paddle terms. We recommend an inexpensive wooden paddle with a blade of medium length and width to start off with, which can remain as your spare later or traded on to the next beginner. As you progress, people you meet will generally be happy for you to have a go with their paddles and you should feel free to try them out. You do meet the nicest people in canoes.
Buoyancy aids for canoes are somewhat different to those used in other water sports. The main foam areas will be low down at the front and on the back to provide the maximum area of free movement for arms which will swing the paddle. The same principles apply, however, to having a BA which fits well and has sufficient buoyancy for the paddlers bodyweight in clothing.
For children, it advisable to choose a BA with leg straps that pass underneath from front to back. This stops them from slipping down through the BA.
BA’s designed for long trips will be festooned with pockets and loops to carry essential gear such as compass, knife or even phone. For white water, the BA will be fitted with a safety harness for emergency recovery.
Having invested in your canoe you will no doubt feel the need to pamper it by storing it in a cradle in a centrally heated garage. As not many of us have such a thing, or one that isn’t already full with other equally valuable items (junk?) then storage outside may be the only option.
If the canoe is going in the garage then hoisting it to the rafters by the handles using a pulley arrangement is a good way of saving floor space and keeping the hull in good shape. The same works in a car port where it will be nice and dry.
For external storage, the better the protection from the elements, the longer your canoe will last. Store the canoe upside down on trestles or a purpose made rack. UV light may affect some materials more than others. Plastics become more brittle over time exposed to sunlight and frost. Wood will turn black and rot if allowed to stand in water. For all these reasons, a loose-fitting cover is a good way to protect your canoe.
At Apache, we can provide a custom fit breathable cover for your canoe. Details in the Shop/Accessories section.
A good quality roof rack will be fine for carrying your canoe upside down. Tie it down with a minimum of two cam straps under the bars. If you have roof rails, having an extra strapor straps under the roof rail is a nice option to have. You should also tie the canoe by its handles or end loops to secure points on the front of the car and rear of the car to prevent it lifting in the event that one the main straps become loose. A canoe incident on the motorway is to be avoided.
Carrying multiple canoes, although trickier, is achievable and safe with careful planning. The relative size and shape of canoes, cars and roof bars all have a bearing on this so feel free to speak to us if you want advice on this. After all, we want the whole family to be able to come too.