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Name: Paddler.Poet

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I have used the Navigator sea kayak paddle for two seasons. I love this paddle, but my rating deserves some qualifications due to the learning curve.

First to describe the design: the Navigator's blades are laminated black willow wood with clear fiberglass and epoxy coating and "Rock Guard" along most of the edges. Rock Guard is a protective resin which covers the edges Bending Branches paddles and on this model, Rock Guard covers the tip and most of the bottom edge of the paddle. I rather wish it went further along the top edge, too, though the paddle has proven to be adequately durable--indeed, more durable than I first thought. I do not treat it much differently now than I did my resin and fiberglass one. The shaft is carbon fiber with very slight oval indexing. The ferrule is top-notch--I have the three-hole button type--so break down is easy. The drip rings are good and firm so they stay put. The paddler overall is very light and very stiff.

Performance: this paddle is rather unforgiving, but when used correctly it is a wonder. The paddle's stiffness puts all of the paddle motion directly into the water. The forward stroke is probably its optimum stroke due to the blades' shape, and the paddle makes it easy to maintain good speed for long distances without fatigue. The blades are flat-faced rather than dihedral. Because there is no spine on the power face, there is no cavity on the back side of the blade, which means that there's few or none of those power-robbing vortices which can form at the ends of the blade--if you have a proper paddle stroke. The blade is also significantly curved, so it catches quickly. This allows for very efficient propulsion--with a proper stroke. A poor or careless stroke causes a lot of flutter and the paddle may feel like it will be snatched from your hands. Also because of the curve, I find it harder to find the best angle for a stationary sculling brace. With this paddle, there is little between a buttery smooth and powerful stroke and one that feels wounded and tottering. The feedback is instructive. With practice, a good stroke will become automatic even in wind and waves. Being wood, the blades are very buoyant compared to plastic ones, and so the paddle is very lively in the water and easy to retrieve at the end of the stroke, which also really cuts down on fatigue.

Bottom line: This is a paddle that amply rewards practice and good form. It allows a paddler to cover a lot of distance quickly without fatigue. Like wooden paddles in general and Bending Branches paddles in particular, the Navigator feels alive in the water. It is solidly built and tough enough within its environment. Above all, this is a truly beautiful paddle, a piece of art which gets noticed and will take you about anywhere you can paddle a sea kayak.