Northern Light 3 Piece Greenland Paddle - Review
The last three years have seen me paddle my NDK explorer more than 7,000 miles around North America. During my travels I have carried both a Werner Cyprus paddle and a carbon fiber Greenland paddle (GP) the entire time. For multiple reasons I have found this to be a very efficient combination for long distance coastal touring.
The sole issue with my setup has been in the flexibility of travelling with an 86” carbon fiber paddle, especially in these days of heightened security. For some time now I have been searching for an alternative that would meet my performance requirements on the water, and also allow me the ability to break the paddle down and more easily ship or transport it. Last month I stumbled upon a reference to the Northern Light Paddles 3 piece Greenland paddle and I knew I had to try one.
The Northern Light paddle represents a very innovative concept to me. Not content to just split the paddle in half, they have created a flexible, modular solution that not only meets my travelling requirements and my on-water performance requirements but also has the added ability to become a storm paddle when needed. I contacted Northern Light Paddles and after a brief discussion about my requirements and sizing needs, they promptly sent me a paddle for this review, although without the storm insert.
Paddle arrives, first impressions
The paddle arrived carefully boxed and bubble wrapped to protect the precious blade. This was my first chance to view life with a Greenland Paddle that could actually be shipped in a modern day Federal Express box. Wow, no searching for a long 90 plus inch shipping tube and then having to pay exorbitant prices for oversize shipping containers. Already, without even looking at the paddle, I was excited.
The contents of the box revealed three pieces of paddle, an allen key, and two sets of screws. The paddle fits together by inserting one end of the loom into the matching end of the blade. The fit was snug and reassuring, and once repeated on the other side I had a fully assembled Greenland paddle.
Anyone who has thought about a multi-piece Greenland paddle has definitely considered what affect the joints would have on the overall rigidity of the blade. After all, you have over 86 inches of paddle that will be subjected to major stress forces as it is put through its paces. After assembling the paddle, it was clear to me that this was not going to be an issue.
The joints of the loom are rectangular and made of a non-slip type coating. Once the paddle is joined, there is no rotational flex at all. I would have to wait for water time to see if there were any paddling induced flex but I must say, at this point, I was anxious to get out on the water.
The paddle looks beautiful, with an excellent carbon fiber layup and a nice feel. Some carbon fiber blades can be a bit slippery to my touch, but not the Northern Light paddle. It was smooth, but not so smooth that there was any concern about it becoming to slippery once on the water. I immediately notice that the tips were sized perfectly for my smallish hands, something that was/is an issue with my existing blade. I also felt the loom was a way better fit for my hands and that the transition from the connection points to the blade were in no way an issue when holding the paddle.
The weight of the paddle was also something that I was a bit worried about. Not knowing what type of paddle connector was used to join the blade and the loom, I did not know how heavy the paddle would be. My existing GP is fairly light, and I knew that having a multi-piece paddle was going to come with some weight penalty, but would it be too much? I was prepared to accept this penalty, as long as it was minor. Since the paddle I received was a demo unit, I won’t list actual weights (even though I did measure everything on a digital scale), but let me say the difference in weights was within a very acceptable range to me and if anything, I was surprised by how small the actual numbers were.
Now it was time to get on the water and really check this paddle out.
I have been hanging out in the Canadian Maritimes for the past month or so and thought this would be the perfect location to really test out the paddle. Up here, there is flat calm water; rapid 5-8 knot tidal constrictions from the 20 foot plus tides; and beautiful ocean coastal touring with swell and rocks gardens. The only thing you won’t find is surf, so I will leave that element to others.
My first day out was calm, but with a big tidal stream in which to play. The narrows create a current upwards of 7 knots on a big ebb and that is exactly what I had on the first day out. To start, I took the boat back into the calmer bay so that I could get a feel for how the blade handled. I was immediately in love with the feel of the loom and the blade tips. Not only was the texture of the blade perfect to my touch, but once again, the size fit my hands perfectly.
Some of you may have already seen the brief video I posted about the Northern Light paddle, but if not, in it I mention the somewhat concave groove (although it is not actually a groove) that runs along a portion of the blade, starting at the loom and running some 17-18 inches towards the tips. My guess is that this is a structural element of the mold, but the effect is a very pleasing feel to the paddle as you move your hands along the blade. I was instantly in love!
Keeping in mind that my demo blade did not have the foam insert, I was unsure of how this would affect sculling and rolling or the actual paddle stroke. I obviously can’t compare the blade I received with one that does have the foam core, but to my feel, it had no negative impact at all. The blade is a joy to scull and roll with. Compared to my other GP that does have foam core in it, the Northern Light paddle may have been ever so slightly less bouyant, but this was never an issue for me.
The paddle enters the water easily and the pull is reassuring. The bight of the blade is a good compromise between a larger blade and a smaller one. I tend to use both a low stroke and a high stroke, varying my style based on conditions and physical fatigue. This blade was up to both styles, but like all Greenland paddles, it rewards a perfect stroke with a silky smooth feel as quickly as it penalizes a bad stroke with flutter and cavitation. I think that is one of the beauties of a Greenland paddle, you know where you stand at all times with your stroke. I was in heaven and ready for more, so off to the tidal flow to see how it handled under stress.
Today was one of the larger ebbs, so as I mentioned the tide was really ripping, easily in the 7 knot range. With this type of current, it is all about your ferry angle and the power stroke required to cross from one side of the narrows to the other. This would be a perfect opportunity to see if the blade had any loss of rigidity or if there was any sign of flex while under such stress. I felt no flex at the joints or any lack of rigidity as I put the paddle under a great deal of torsional stress. The Northern Light paddle performed flawlessly under these conditions.
Second Paddle, 14 mile coastal touring
My second day out with the paddle was more about handling a typical coastal touring day. I loaded up the NDK and headed out for a 15 mile round trip paddle. Conditions were good with only a slight breeze to deal with. I was very anxious to see if my initial impressions were going to be validated on the second day out. The paddle once again felt wonderful in my hands and performed exactly as before. As I mentioned previously, I found that slight groove to be a very comfortable feature of the paddle, adding an ever so slight indentation for my fingers to grip.
Going back to the weight of the blade, I found that over the duration of a 14 mile trip I felt no additional fatigue. The difference in weights is so small that it really is a non-issue to me. It was clear that this paddle was absolutely going to meet my requirements for coastal touring. I was quite stoked!
The best way to sum things up is the email I sent to Northern Light telling them that I wanted one! This paddle met all of my requirements and was a complete joy to paddle. The fit and finish is top notch, and the carbon fiber layup beautiful to both look at and feel. My existing carbon fiber paddle has been a work horse and has never let me down. However the inability to effectively ship it around has been a huge issue for me logistically.
There is no doubt that a single piece paddle should be lighter and have less flex than a similar multi-piece blade. However, if you wish to travel with your GP, then you have to be willing to make some compromises. My feeling after paddling with the Northern Light paddle for the past several weeks is that it does an excellent job at minimizing any perceived penalties from a multi-piece blade, and if anything, makes you absolutely forget that this comes in three pieces.
I hope to acquire one soon and will follow up with a long term report and an addendum detailing the other unique feature of the Northern Light GP, specifically the ability to use an alternative loom section which transforms the blade into a storm paddle. I will have a running set of images up shortly showcasing the paddle and the environment it is used in.
A Northern Light paddle will definitely be joining me on my next set of long distance trips.
More details on the 3 piece paddle can be found at: www.northernlightpaddles.com
Follow my journey at: www.wabisabiyourlife.com