The female contingent of the SNEWS® testing crew gives Adventure Technology (AT) a big hand for embracing smaller hands. The AT 4 Play paddle with a small-diameter shaft proved to be comfortable and functional during a month of testing on the Truckee, Salmon and Trinity rivers in California. Our tester noted that kayaking inherently involves moments of discomfort, such as cramped legs and periodic swims. But after using the 4 Play, she can remove sore hands and wrists from the list of annoyances.
The unique shape of the shaft (referred to as Full Control Grip) certainly makes the paddle more comfortable, but the key is the shaft's reduced diameter. Women paddlers who our tester lined up to handle the paddle and compare it to others said the smaller diameter made it much easier to hold the paddle, and the increase in the amount of control was definitely noticeable. "Having a paddle with a smaller shaft made a huge difference," our tester said. "I got a lot more power out of my strokes than I had previously. I had gotten used to having my paddle fly out of my hands at inopportune times because I couldn't get a tight enough grip, so it was a nice change to be able to hang onto the paddle."
Unfortunately, one thing she also noted is that the shaft seemed a bit more slippery than anything she had used previously. "I had to use paddle wax for the first time on my control hand side of the paddle to prevent my hand from slipping down and hitting the blade periodically," she said.
But, the overall reaction from our tester, as well as several others who briefly played with the paddle, was that the paddle retailing for $160, is worth every penny, and certainly one of the best values on the market. Of course, you sometimes have to make sacrifices to offer a certain price point. The paddle is a little on the heavy side, weighing in at 1,100 grams (38.8 ounces). We put the paddle in the hands of several other female boaters, all of whom immediately commented on the weight, which makes us question AT's claim of "ultralight performance" for this paddle. We'd love to get our hands on the carbon version, which retails for $279 and probably comes closer to feeling ultralight.
While it may have felt a little heavy, the upside is that the paddle can take some punishment. One month wasn’t sufficient time to produce any real wear and tear, although one tester did go out of her way to hit as many rocks as possible during Class III and IV runs, and the paddle seemed no worse for the hits it took. It survived a seal launch and did fine during a solo swim. After flipping her boat and losing her paddle in a rapid on the Salmon, our tester said she appreciated that the paddle's white blades were easy to see, which allowed her partner to identify and recover the paddle quickly. (Her partner joked that the 4 Play's reasonable price could be a downside because people would be more likely to hang onto a $400 carbon paddle.)
Overall, the 4 Play Small Shaft E earns four smaller-sized hands clapping for offering good performance in a paddle below the $200 dollar mark.
SNEWS® Rating: 4 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $169
For more information: www.atpaddle.com