A couple weeks ago, we were heading back from a trip down the White Salmon from BZ Corner to the Columbia when we heard all of our paddles come off the top of our car while we were driving down I-84. My wife quickly got us in the breakdown lane and I got our of the car and ran back to see if I could save the paddles. With the help of a car that slowed down to block traffic to allow me to retrieve the paddles, I was able to save two fo the three. Unfortunately, the one that did not survive was my trusty AT2 Flexi that I had been using for the last eight years. That paddle was made when AT still had a production facility in the Gorge. The legendary Nate Herbeck built my paddle and only a car eventually cut short it’s life. I knew that I was going to have to replace it eventually, but this incident put a slight rush on things. I had a Werner Powerhouse back up but I was not a fan of the blade flutter and it was a straight shaft and I had been using a neutral bent shaft for so many years. For the last year I had been looking many different paddles. I wanted to try to support the local businesses, so I started looking at Sawyer, Saltwood and Blunt. The new Sawyer Crosscut looked promising, but I could never find a demo blade and the design looked to much like my old Waterstick which I was not fond of. Blunt Family Paddles is another local option that is hand crafted in the Portland area. I ended up contacting Dave Slover with Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe to see if he could set up a demo with a Saltwood Paddle. Right away, Dave Trageser contacted me and offered some advice and I settled on a 197 cm neutral bent shaft “Habit”. The Habit has a larger blade face and a beefy wood shaft with a balsa core that tips the scales at 33 ounces. I opted for a 30 degree feather which is what I had with my AT2 Flexi.
A few days later , I picked up the Habit and took Jeffery’s Jackson Karma and headed to the Cowlitz River. I took it out and did eddy turns, forward strokes and put it through several moves. The blade flutter was nonexistant and the control was very precise. As I took forward strokes, I could see how the design of the blade would shed water to reduce blade turbulance. the indexing on the shaft felt very natural even though the diameter was larger than I was used to. The craftsmanship on these paddles is nothing short of amazing. The feeling of a wood shaft adds a bit of warmth as I am sure that will be very welcome on our cold winter days. The contruction of the blades makes for a smooth, almost effortless feather in or out of water. The flat water was a great test, but I wanted to see what this could do in whitewater so My friend Mike Statton and I decided to take a day trip to the Tieton to test it out on some harder class III the following day.
We arrived at the Tieton River the next day to temperatures in the mid nineties. The level had come up 300 cfs since we were there the previous weekend so the levels were perfect. We launched just upstream from the Tieton Road and started down. The first thing I noticed was how well the larger blade face got me up to speed and allowed me to make powerful moves. I was still getting used to the larger shaft, but by the time we were halfway through the run, it was like I was paddling my AT again without the extra weight. After we were about three quarters of the way down the run, I passed the paddle to Mike and let him finish the run with it. After we arrived at the take out I asked Mike how he like it and his response was: ” I have to get me one of these!” After loading the boats we headed back home and all I could think of is how awesome my winter was going to be with this new paddle.
I know there are a lot of paddle options out there and this was probably one of the hardest decisions I have made in regards to boating gear. A paddle is even more personal in my opinion that a boat. Most people are very loyal to which paddle they use. My son Jeffery uses a Werner Stikine and would literally beat me with it if I tried to get him to try another one. In fact the first thing I wanted to do is replace mine with an identical AT Flexi2 because of how much I liked that paddle. Chris Bensch, Kate Hives, Rowan Gloag, Nick Jacob, Kate Wagner and many other paddlers have chosen Saltwood as their paddle of choice.
If you are in the market for a paddle, it is worth it to give Saltwood Paddles a look. Give Dave and his crew at Alder Creek a call and have them set you up with one, you won’t be disappointed.