If you want to start a spirited conversation, just get a bunch of sea kayak instructors together and steer them down the path of explaining the forward stroke. They will all agree that torso rotation and a solid paddle plant are universally good things. Beyond that, however, their views will scatter like leaves in the wind and their beliefs will be evangelical in their conviction.
One school of thought is that the paddle shaft should be as vertical as possible through the effective range of the touring stroke. This viewpoint certainly has merit -- just watch any world-class flatwater, slalom or wildwater racer. They rotate so strongly that you'd think their bodies were controlled by hydraulic pistons. They attack the water with their paddle plants, while keeping their paddle shafts as vertical as possible and applying pressure to the blade.
This approach is also favored by the British Canoe Union's (BCU) followers and coaches. In the United States, the American Canoe Association (ACA), the other widely recognized certifying body of paddlesports instructors, has extolled the virtues of a lower, less powerful paddleshaft angle for sea kayakers. However, a growing group of paddlers are following the lead of competitive paddlers and BCU coaches -- and a few manufacturers are following as well.
One of those manufacturers is Werner paddles, located in Puget Sound, Wash. Werner Furrer started in the whitewater arena back in the days when the only equipment to be had came out of someone's garage workshop. Since then, Werner has expanded to include a complete line of composite paddles for touring, whitewater and racing.
When our tester, a former flatwater marathon and Olympic sprint racer and ACA Instructor Trainer Educator, learned that Werner had introduced a performance-oriented touring paddle intended for a more powerful, more vertical stroke, our tester wanted to see how it stacked up.
The paddle in question is Werner's Ikelos -- which means Greek god of dreams. Like all of the company's paddles, the workmanship was superb. Right out of the box, the two-piece paddle made an impression with its adjustable ferrule system.
At first glance, the adjustable ferrule system appears to be a standard spring-loaded push button ferrule; however, the push button is on the female ferrule and it engages an internal hook. The male potion of the ferrule is splined and marked calibrations allow the paddler to choose from a right or left hand control as well as the degrees of offset. Slide the male ferrule into the female ferrule and spline assures proper alignment and the internal hook engages the male ferrule with a reassuring click that is both felt and heard. Very cool!
In the water, the Ikelos proved to be as stiff as its all-carbon appearance suggested. When stomped on (paddler-speak for hard pulls of the blade through the water in rapid succession), it allowed paddlers to "throw" their boat forward with powerful, hip-generated forward stokes. That same stiffness may be less desirable for paddlers who are more recreational in nature. If a casual cruise is your game, then the Ikelos is probably not the right tool for the job.
The slight dihedral shape of the blade also proved to be powerful in flat out sprints, cruising for the day, playing in big conditions or when executing sculling draws into the Tides Tavern's dock for wings and beverages.
The only thing that we questioned was Werner's inclusion of drip rings on a performance paddle. These little rubber devices keep water from dripping on a paddler's hands when "lilly dipping" along. With a more vertical shaft angle and a higher stroke rate, the back of your head will most likely see more paddle-spray than your hands. Drip rings, however, are easily removed with even the dullest kitchen steak knife for those who would rather do without.
Of special note is Werner's sizing recommendation. Our 5-foot, 10-inch tester typically raced with a 219 cm carbon-fiber wing paddle. His length of choice for touring is 220. Werner advised him to try a 215 and would even recommend a 210, which would allow a quicker "turn over," or stroke rate. While a shorter paddle will help facilitate a quicker turn over, it is ultimately up to the paddler to make it happen. Dropping your shaft length down 10 centimeters will result in an increased stroke rate only if the paddler trains his or her body to comfortably sustain a higher stroke rate.
Finally, like most of Werner's paddles, the Ikelos genre is available in a dizzying array of materials, finishes and combinations, including Werner's Small Diameter Shaft, as well as straight, or Werner's Neutral Bent Shaft. Prices are $399 a piece -- a hefty sum.
Werner also offers two other paddles with similar shapes and less exotic all carbon/foam core lay-ups in the Corryvreckon and Shuna. Their prices start at $250. Weights start at 23 ounces for the lightweight construction with the standard carbon lay-up weighing in at 30 ounces for these two paddles.
Our Ikelos with Werner's Neutral Bent Shaft weighs 27 ounces for a 220 cm paddle. The tested 215 came in a hair under 27 ounces -- including the sand that the ferrule still carried.
Our tester tried his utmost to find something, anything wrong with the Ikelos. He used the paddle for weeks over trips of varying length and over a wide range of conditions -- both shaken and stirred. Heck, we even used the blade to dig for Goeyducks (a sumptuous shellfish) on a mud flat and filled the adjustable ferrule with sand. We just could not make a fool out of this paddle and it made our tester look his best -- no easy feat (sorry, dude).
SNEWS Rating: 5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection.)
Suggested retail: $399
For more information:www.wernerpaddles.com, 800-275-3311