A while back the guys at Gullwing Paddles sent us over one of their bent shaft paddles to try out. I had seen them in an ad in one of the fishing magazines and was absolutely intrigued. Virtually every other paddle I’ve seen was a variation on the standard straight shaft paddle. Sure some are fancier, lighter, adjustable pitch, whatever. Honestly, I had done a bunch of research and had just settled on a basic el cheapo for my general needs because I am not planning on covering miles and miles of water.
Ok, so I have covered miles and miles of water this year fishing in my kayak, but that is another story.
But back to the Gullwing. The concept was developed by Art Carlow who besides liking to kayak, had some injuries that made rowing a bitch. Seems like those add up as we get older doesn’t it? So to make rowing easier, Art redesigned the kayak paddles he had been using to make them more ergonomically correct.
Changing the angle of the blades and putting a gentle curve into the shaft means that it is much easier to simply slip along, moving the paddle just above the water rather than having to lift it up as you do with regular straight shafted paddles. Again this was intriguing to me, and the whole concept was sold on the idea that it not only was easy to row, but you could set it down in your lap and not have it fall off to one side. A big deal when you are fishing!
First Impressions of the Gullwing Paddle
Straight out of the box the Gullwing Paddle is pretty much ready to go. Mine came with the optional foam grips which I really love. Aluminum handles can get cold when the temperature drops. The two paddles attach pretty intuitively with button tabs to hold them in place. The shaft itself felt beefy enough to use on a regular basis without being heavy.
On the Water With the Gullwing Paddle
To review the Gullwing paddle, I took it out on local lakes using my Ocean Kayak Trident 13. For the most part conditions were good with some wind from time to time.
Honestly the first time out the damn thing felt awkward as hell to me. The problem was that I kept wanting to row it like my old paddle instead of relaxing and letting it do the work. Eventually I relaxed and started keeping my strokes lower and it started feeling right. Rowing with the Gullwing paddle definitely is easier than with a standard kayak paddle.
The angle of the shaft and the angle of the blades make it very easy to complete one stroke, getting the whole blade into the water than with a regular paddle. I don’t have science to back it, but it felt like it was easier to move along with the Gullwing Paddle. What I do know is that rowing at normal speeds I never got fatigued using it.
As for the claim that it will just sit there in your lap if you get busy with a fish? That was absolutely true.
Honestly I wouldn’t hesitate if someone asked me if they could paddle and fish all day with a Gullwing Paddle to tell them yes.
I Take the Gullwing Paddle to the Breaking Point
One thing that several reviewers have noted is that the fit where the paddle blades meet the shaft isn’t 100% tight. Now in reality it is pretty tight, but if you are used to comparing it to the no-grit fittings found in the middle of most regular kayak paddles, it is loose. If you are rowing slow, you can just slightly feel the vibration as you start your stroke from it. But it is tiny.
Knowing this, and wondering just how tough the blades and connections were, I decided at the end of trip #2 to really push the Gullwing Paddle to the max. I hadn’t seen any reviewers comment on straight out power, but since I fish Puget Sound and sometimes you wind up fighting wind and current, I wanted to know.
So I started the test run on the downwind end of the lake and started putting on the speed. Gradually I ramped it up until I could feel some flex in the blades. Now mind you I am ~#280 so I am no featherweight to drive through the water and into the wind.
Exceeding the design specs I’m sure and digging as aggressively as I could, I pushed it further. Think of it as paddling if Jaws with a laser sight was on your ass speed. Nearly at the far end of the lake and quite honestly hauling ass, the right blade finally sheered off at the shaft.
I limped back to the shore pretty pleased with the paddle’s performance. Art seemed a bit surprised when I told him I managed to get one to break off and he should have been. I was pushing that paddle WAY past where any angler is likely to ever have to go. For clarity, I am a #280 adventure racing Viking and it took all I had to get that blade to blow. So if you are worried about that blade being sloppy or weak, forget about it! PS. My shoulders killed the next day I was rowing so hard.
What I Liked
The Gullwing Paddle really delivered on its promise of being easy to row, riding comfortably in your lap and being a good kayak paddle for fishing with. The foam grips are big enough that my hands didn’t get fatigued and fought my tendency to grip the shaft too tightly.
The angle on the bent shaft put my arms and shoulders at a much more natural position for rowing and was very smooth once I adjusted to the new design.
What I didn’t Like
There wasn’t a whole lot about the Gullwing Paddle I didn’t like. The biggest problem I had was that my legs got in the way of rowing which tells me that I could have used a little bit longer of a paddle, which they don’t make yet. I was using their Model 230 and I probably could have used one size bigger. Again though, I am a big guy and so a normal person probably wouldn’t have had an issue with this.
One reviewer commented that the Gullwing Paddle suck for rowing standing up. I can see that with the bent shaft, but I don’t generally do that so it wasn’t an issue for me. The only other thing was flipping it over to go in reverse is a bit awkward, but I don’t do that very often either.
For the money, Gullwing Paddles get thumbs up from me. Art is always looking for ways to improve his paddles and I think he has a great design going on. He has already won several awards for them in fact.
If you have been pondering a paddle upgrade, then I would highly suggest that you forgo the carbon fiber, fragile, fancy ass paddles and go with a Gullwing. It rows well, is sturdy as hell and works great for fishing. You can buy them direct from the company on their website http://www.gullwingpaddles.com/ so swing over and pick one up now!