L.L.Bean Beavertail Canoe Paddle
A classic redone with a robust edge guard and modern wood finish. This paddle isn't for white water, but on a lake or quiet stream, it's a lovely paddle to hold and use.
- Potentially fragile
- Varnish will need to be maintained
I received this paddle as a birthday gift from my wife yesterday. I'm quite taken with it—it's so "Moonrise Kingdom." The wood used is straight-grained and clear of imperfection. The paddle is understated and beautiful.
Beavertail paddles are a classic choice for lake paddling. Once the paddle is submerged, its shape allows it to be held very close to the canoe, which keeps the boat tracking straighter than it would otherwise.
Beavertail paddles have traditionally been crafted from a single piece of Ash. They are very heavy and very strong. This paddle, made by Bending Branches and sold by L. L. Bean (Psst: other Bending Branches dealers sell it too), is made from Alder and Basswood, and it is very light, but it will have nowhere near the strength of a paddle made from a single piece of Ash.
I find this to be of little consequence, though, for a couple of reasons:
- The resin tip on this paddle will absorb a lot of abuse that these wood species would not have been able to handle otherwise. Pushing off from shore will be no problem with this paddle.
- There is no shortage of inexpensive plastic/aluminum paddles to grab when the day's route includes rocks, white-water and applying all the strength you have. This wood paddle can be saved for quiet-water paddling where its beauty can be appreciated along with lovely scenery, wildlife, and a paddling companion's company.
The grips on this paddle are very comfortable. The oval shaped shaft will fall perfectly into position with your bottom hand, the carved top grip is very comfortable too. And this is important: unlike paddles made from plastic or aluminum, wood paddles are warm to hold. When you're out paddling on a raw day in spring or fall, the benefit of this will become very clear.
I had the opportunity to take the Bending Branches paddle out on the water last weekend, and I couldn't be happier. We were at a state park with a small lake, there was no wind and no particular agenda beyond just having fun. I had no idea that the paddle's light weight would make using it seem so effortless. I'm keeping it! Also the paddle's blade is smaller than the paddle it replaced, and this could factor into the perceived lack of effort needed to paddle with it.
This paddle could easily be an all-day lake-tripping paddle where your M.O. is to cruise along with little need to change speed or direction. If a strong wind were to come up on your BWCA canoe trip, you might wish you had a larger paddle blade to get you across the water, but this beaver-tail would still serve your needs. (If I had the luxury of choosing my weapon for a BWCA trip, I'd probably use a bent shaft paddle because of the efficiency gain they offer.)
The varnish on the beaver-tail paddle looks to be very modern and hard, which is good because you want to make sure the basswood itself doesn't come in contact with water. Basswood soaks up water very quickly which will cause trouble, such as peeling finish, splitting, warping or any combination of those. Take care of the varnish, and you'll be able to enjoy your paddle for a long, long time.
So to summarize: this paddle is a throw-back to simpler times. The paddle is beautiful. The resin tip is very functional and allows the use of very light wood species for the rest of the paddle. For both hands, gripping this paddle is very comfortable, and it's warm in cold weather too. There are more technical paddles out there, and if that's what you want, you should get one. This paddle is for non-technical days in the water.
Source: received it as a personal gift
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Current Retail: $119.95