I have two paddles I’ve been bringing on my solo trips: a Northstar carbon fiber straight blade and an older bending branches wood paddle. I love the feel and weight (and the look) of the carbon fiber paddle and have had thoughts of switching my wooden bent shaft paddle for another bent shaft Northstar or Zav or other. But there is one thing holding me back - my feeling that the wood is better at dealing with rocks and shallow places. I’m paddling with two dogs in my canoe, and at most landings I’m using the paddle to steady the boat and hold it in place to get the mutts in and out safely. My concern is that the carbon fiber will get destroyed being used this way. Is this fear legit, or are these paddles much tougher than I am thinking?
I think the carbon fiber paddles are much tougher than you might think. I've been carrying two on solo trips for decades (I'm primarily a day tripper but I get out well over 100 times/year). It takes time and abuse to convince yourself that they are tougher than you'd expect given their weight. Even paddling upstream and hitting rocks in shallow water it is hard to hurt them...you might chip a 1 mm piece out of a Zav on a full power rock hit (or the paddle may well just take the hit). I sold my Bell Voodoo to a friend that just uses (and enjoys) the heck out of it. The edge of a Zav has about half an inch of pure/solid carbon fiber. I like the Medium lay-up in Zavs because I actually prefer the "heft" of a 9-10 ounce paddle over the lighter lay-ups but even the ultralights can take a beating. I use mine to push off with a dog (even when the boat is not totally floating) and to steady the boat for a dog all the time including today. You'll never hurt a carbon paddle doing that. I think the GRB Newman Design paddles are a bargain compared to the Zavs. With a Zav or GRB you also have the option of ordering on the long side with the handle unglued and trimming a bit at a time until the fit is perfect. Just wrap tape around the shaft and cut with a hacksaw to avoid fraying and use electrical tape to hold the handle in place until you find the perfect length. Of course if you want to use your paddle like a shovel for digging or prying up rocks an expedition type wood paddle with epoxy edge might be better than a 6 ounce Zav.
I've had pretty much the same positive experience with carbon, using a carbon Zaveral for the last 20+ years. Just last year I had to replace the blade due to a soft spot in it--the edges were still in good shape (maybe it got squished without my knowing it??). I think the key is to place the blade and then push, rather than stab. Stabbing will kill any blade. Steadying a boat as you've described is well within the useage of a carbon bent.
Having a light bent shaft will spoil you. You can go heavy on the straight since it's used at a much slower pace, and you're not switching every few strokes.
Zavs are very tough paddles. I didn't think they would handle rocks etc. (especially going upstream in shallow fast moving water) but the short answer is they do. Been part of the Voyageur or Kruger Challenge and have ran UP parts of a very low Granite River and down the mine field that is officially called the Pigeon River ( at night - not reccm) but I got (and so does Team BeaV0) some other four letter words for it. Maybe BeaV,Jimmyjustice, Meat Puppet or Kendra will chime in or others. It's pretty much all we use and what I use for all other trips nowdays. I do like a wood paddle to clean fish on fwiw.
The two loudest sounds known to man: a gun that goes bang when it is supposed to go click and a gun that goes click when it is supposed to go bang.
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