paddle by kipp_jpg_t285I paddled with Mike Kipp this past season. He's a paddle maker, and a good one at that. It started off as a hobby about five years back, then his kids demanded one, then his canoemates, then…well, the list goes on. Now he's expanded — to a larger workshop out the back of his house anyway. Demand for his paddles increased after making a few for the Ontario Stewardship Program offered by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. They were gifts, handed out for "years of service." I was also given a paddle, the same one that grew fame after I lost it — which, in turn, created the "Paddle to the Sea" program the Canoe Museum hosts for National Canoe Day.

So, why all the talk about paddles? Because there's times I think that it's the paddle that one should cherish on a trip more then the canoe. And it's important you get a good one; considering that you are likely to paddle well over 1000 strokes an hour on an average canoe trip, which adds up to around 8,000 strokes per day or 56,000 strokes per week, the paddle that you're using has to be one of the most important decisions that you make. The problem is, it's not all that simple.

What you first have to think about is what type of trip you're going on. The route, whether it's simple lake paddling, navigating down difficult rapids, or a combination of both, is what you will use to choose out of the various blade styles. Each type is molded for the character of the canoeist as much as for the water course itself. I prefer a Beaver Tail Paddle For general use, that being a trip that takes you from lake to lake, the old-fashioned Beaver Tail design works great. It's made from a solid piece of wood (usually maple, ash or cherry) and has a rounded end to it, like that of a beaver's tail. It's a great paddle to use for flat water tripping, especially at the bow.

An Otter Tail Paddle design is my preference for use in the stern, or especially solo paddling. It's similar in design to that of the Beaver Tail but extended somewhat, has a narrower blade towards the tip, and has a shorter shaft length.

The grip on both the Beaver Tail and Otter Tail designs should be oval in shape and tapered slightly from the throat (where the blade reaches the shaft) to the grip. This makes the paddle far more comfortable and maximizes its strength than if had a rounded top. Just make sure that the long axis of the oval is perpendicular to the plane of the blade. If it's opposite to that, then the shaft will be very weak and most likely the paddle will break.

What's Mike Kipp's favourite? It's the Ottertail, made from either Cherry or Ash. How do I know his paddle preference? I went to borrow his personal favourite on our trip together and the guy went berserk on me. Trust me, if you want a Kipp paddle then don't steal his; instead, give him and email and order one.