The good folks at H20 Paddles in Ontario Canada contacted me recently and asked if I’d like to have a play with their Crystal-X line. Better known for their performance whitewater paddles, H2O have come up with a range able to be used for all types of touring, surfing and ocean paddling. Now as my readers know, I’m a Greenland paddle man and very rarely, if ever, get my hands on Euro-style paddles, but I was intrigued when they pushed me to try them anyway. H2O had complete confidence I’d love their paddles, despite me clearly telling them I’m a stick-man to the core.
Early one Sunday morning I took my kayak and a range of Crystal-X paddles in different configurations down The Spit for a dawn session. Onboard I had three different paddles to test – a high angle straight shaft carbon fibre (in red), a high angle bent shaft carbon fibre (in yellow), and a low angle bent shaft carbon fibre (in blue). And of course I had a single GP stowed on deck in case I got withdrawal pains!
To start with I went for the red one, since the last Euro paddle I used was also a straight shaft carbon fibre. After an initial period of adjustment, I started to get the feel of the bigger high-angle blade which caught a considerable amount of water. I could see clearly the acceleration advantage of the blade, although the straight shaft wasn’t exciting me too much. What was interesting however was the ability to change the angle of the feather, since the split paddles had a unique easy adjusting mechanism allowing many different feather angles. I experimented with various settings (including no angle) before settling on 30 degrees.
Next I pulled out the yellow blade (high angle bent shaft) for a trial. Now without sounding too dramatic, this is the point where I fell in love with a Euro again. To put this in perspective, I fell in love with Greenland paddles purely because of their feel. The oval cross-section of their loom fits the hand magnificently, and combined with the ease of movement through the shoulder, they are a true joy to paddle with. Well, the bent shaft Crystal-X also has an oval cross section through the shaft, which when combined with the bent angles of the hand areas, make the paddle incredibly comfortable to hold and paddle with. H2O have also added a number of striations where the hands should go, increasing the purchase of your grip and letting you feel where your hands should be.
With this paddle in hand, I decided it was time to head off for some bumpier water, and paddled out to the cliffs north of Grotto Point. The day had provided a nice gentle 1-1.5 metre southerly swell coming through the Heads which was curling in to roll against the cliffs. This allowed me to get close to the cliff faces and bob around in the rebound, using the power of the big blade face to quickly move around as needed in the lumps.
The southerly swell was rolling into Dobroyd Point and working the bomborra, so I paddled over the point for a closer play in the waves jacking up there. This was much bigger lumpier water and I was getting a touch nervous, so I turned and used the high acceleration of the paddle to catch waves along the cliff line. The high angle blade feels perfect for surfing, with heaps of power and acceleration, and a good sized face for stern ruddering and bracing.
After some time playing in the surf and waves, I made my way back into the calmer waters of Middle Harbour. There I swapped out the yellow blade for the blue, low angle bent shaft paddle. This blade is a touch narrower and gentler on the shoulder, without losing too much acceleration. It was an absolute pleasure paddling back with this easy and gentle blade, and I couldn’t help but feel this would be great for smaller paddlers.
Once back in at The Spit I gave the paddles to a few other paddlers there to play with. The feedback was all very positive and it was fun to see others putting the paddles through their paces. Then I returned to the yellow, high angle bent shaft Crystal-X to play around with, trying out bursts of acceleration and sharp edging turns with the blade. With the comfortable shaft and big blade surface it was a heap of fun to muck around with.
In order to get a second opinion, I handed a bent-shaft high-angle paddle to Sol Kamal from Sydney Harbour Kayaks, an accredited Instructor with experience both in Canada and Australia. He spent a few hours with the paddle later in the week and came back with the following feedback:
“The joint is compact and works well to adjust, lock, and split the paddle. The pronounced ovalized paddle shaft at the hand grips fit the hands grip profile well, but may be a bit chunky for small hands. The length of the hand grip portion of the bent shaft is long enough to allow for a good range of hand spacing preferences. The relief pattern on the hand grips provides positive tactile feedback to indicate hand position.
The blade provided a solid catch and powerful stroke but provided a slight cushion effect against joint strain through it’s slight amount of flex. The slight flexibility of the blade may also improve durability by allowing flexing over cracking or snapping of a stiff blade in extreme impact or leverage circumstances. An interesting result of the clear blade is that the paddler can observe how the blade surface interacts with the surface of the water, this may serve an interesting function for instructors demonstrating paddle blade / water surface interface through various strokes.
Lastly, the drip rings worked well to shed water away from the paddler.”
I love the feel of my GPs, but there’s no doubt the bent shaft paddles from H2O are an absolute pleasure to use. I’ve tried lots of bent shaft paddles in the past and hated them, so this was a very pleasant surprise. The oval cross section feels comfortable in the hand and with the adjustable feather angle, you can get just the right setting to match your own style. Both the low and high angle blades are nice to use. The low angle would be my choice for long distance touring, but the high angle comes into its own in surf when sudden bursts of acceleration are needed. In terms of looks (I can’t help it, I love cool looking gear!) you won’t find a paddle much prettier. The translucent coloured blades look simply sensational.
I won’t be giving up my Greenland paddles anytime soon, but I think I’m going to surprise a few people by keeping a Crystal-X on deck as a spare for surf or anywhere I feel I’d like a bit more power. Cheers! – FP