16 September 2009

Aleut paddle by Vanstix

A two week trip to the Whitsunday Islands was going to be the ultimate test if my traditional Aleut paddle would be the right choice for touring.

Van and Adveturetess "sticking" at Gloucester Island
I have been using my Aleut paddle for some time now and fell in love with it.
It’s hard to describe how a little unpretentious wooden “stick” can feel so right for my paddling.
Vanilla is the creator of this great tool.

The man that started the local "revolution"
He selects quarter sawn Wester red cedar to replicate a wooden paddle used by the Aleuts.
The drawings for the dimensions and shape of the paddle come from a rare original paddle that is stored in a museum.
Some kayakers are familiar with Greenland paddles but few know the Aleut ones.
While similar in overall dimensions the most noticeable difference is that they are not symmetrical: the power face is not the same as the back side.

back side of the paddle
The back of the paddle is close to a Greenland one but the power side displays a pronounced grooved centre ridge.

notice the groove in the centre ridge
We are not sure what the function of the groove is but the dihedral ridge creates a unique paddling experience.
I had the opportunity to try both styles: GP and Aleut when I was transitioning from a Euro paddle.
I gave both a fair go but I settled on the Aleut one. I found it easier to get used to.
While my technique might not be correct and purist would probably be schooling me in the orthodox style that I should be using a traditional paddle (my stroke is rather high angled), I find that the Aleut paddle does not flutter in the water.
I understand that the catch on a GP is critical and it must slide into the water fully before power is applied; I probably never bothered learning that.
Cavitation is also something that I don’t notice on the Aleut.
The revelation really became obvious when on a long paddle, at the end of the day, I would be less tired then with a Euro paddle.
Surprisingly the Aleut is gentle on the shoulders and my wrists or elbows don’t ever hurt anymore.
I can not use a Euro paddle with straight shaft for a long outing: my wrist ache. All my Euro paddles are bent shaft (Werner).
The loom on the Aleut is not oval but more pears shaped. It has a flatter spot on the power face. The thickness of the loom is also beefy and the ridge that runs along the power face makes that wooden paddle a very strong one.
The tips are probably the most vulnerable part. Softer than glass or carbon, the cedar will dimple or chip if banged against rocks.
I am currently modifying one Aleut paddle to reinforce the tips with epoxy/microfiber and give it that traditional look of a (fake) whale bone tips.
Vanilla takes great care in carving the paddles. He uses spoke shavers to be able to create a concave surface on the power face ridge.
So far he has been using Tung oil for the finish but epoxy (UV stabilized) has proven to be a possible alternative for more wear resistance.
Vanstix quiver (c)
I seem to get a few funny looks and queries about my choice of paddle. Needless to say that some think that a wooden paddle is great “kindling” but often their smile is wiped off their faces once they try to keep up with me in a sprint. The paddle is also very capable in the surf. Stern ruddering is very efficient and catching a wave requires a slightly higher cadence to bring the kayak up to speed.

The Aleut paddle, like the Greenland one, shines when rolling.
The power face adds some "lift" and makes the paddle skim the surface of the water when doing a sweep roll.

Adventuretess rolling with a Vanstix TM
However if a "C to C" is more your style and you tend to muscle your roll instead of using your hips and knee, you might find that a traditional paddle offers less resistance and possibly will be diving deeper.

One thing I wish is to design a strong joiner that is totally flush which will allow me to carry a slit paddle as a spare.


  1. Nice Blade,nice Canadian flag on kayak stern!!



  2. Nice! Does that mean we now have 3 long skinny paddle makers in Australia now?

  3. Tom, while Vanilla does not advertise his Vanstix commercially he will carve an Aleut paddle if requested. He can be contacted at graham.rudd@bigpond.com
    Once people discover the virtues of traditional paddles more kayakers will be using them. The current low popularity is probably caused by lack of advertising, compared to Euro blade manufacturers.
    It might not look macho to hold a wooden stick but it sure does wonders for me on long paddles.

  4. Gentlemen,
    I received my GP last week from Tuktu Paddles in New Jersey, USA. Took it out for an hour or so Firday night and then for a couple of hours Saturday morning. I really enjoyed using it! I have used a Euro paddles for almost twenty years, much of that white water kayaking, and since I started sea kayaking about a month ago have abandoned a feathered setup in favor of unfeathered.
    I definitely enjoyed how the GP goes in the water at once when my hand approaches the water, and the blade works for me the whole paddle stroke. I like the slight spring when it exits the water, and I like the little bit of flex I get as well. My arms and shoulders weren't tired...although I only went about 5 kms and there was little wind either paddle.

    I also liked how holding the blade could make for a very powerful sweep stroke!

    My Sunday morning paddle was in more challenging wind and wave conditions, so i went with what I knew...a feathered Euro.
    I actually appreciated my Euro more, after having paddled with the GP.

    I'll have to train myself on the GP when I am in a friendly situation, i.e. next spring at the lake, when I can run my rolls on both sides and braces etc.

    Anyway, I am glad I got the GP, it definitely expands my range of useful tools for this awesome hobby!

  5. Howdy there - fellow Aleut paddle owner!

    Just got my carbon aleut from Novorca.com paddles made by Ron Steinwall in the midwest of the US. What a beauty it is...but if you can send me any tips on how to use it to the best advantage - send them to me please!

    Here are pictures: http://sports.webshots.com/photo/2453525120011806736ZdOTCY

    Since I am in Connecticut - we probably won't be passing by each other on paddle trips, eh? Thanks for the great blog! Mine is at www.kayakeclectic.blogspot.com if you want to drop by. (pretty new blog)



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