A paddle is one of the simpler things to choose amongst all the necessary paddling gear, but it does seem kind of overwhelming at the point-of-sale when looking at all the options. They basically all look like the same damn thing. But it really shouldn’t feel all that daunting. The decision on what to buy really comes down to choosing a high- or low-angle blade, then length and then weight (the last consideration usually driven by cost). Of course, the number of pieces the paddle can “break down to” and color come into play. (We’re not going to get into the choice between straight vs bent shaft. Yet).
Some think paddles are just paddles, but they’re not. I mean, if you simply take note of the price difference between brands and models on any outdoor store rack, you’ll soon learn (and question) why they range so vastly. Paddles can be a cheap investment, but they really shouldn’t be an afterthought because, as with most anything in the outdoor category, you get what you pay for. If you’re going to invest in a paddle, invest in a good paddle. One that’s properly fitted and consider spending a little extra if you have the means for the benefit of lighter material because this is the most used piece of equipment you’ll use while kayaking. Your arms will thank you.
For the first six years of paddling, I only ever used a low-angle paddle. The guy who helped me outfit my kayak package recommend a low-angle Werner Camano as a good all-around paddle. And he was right. It’s been a comfortably solid paddle that has served me well on the widest bodies of water to the classiest of Class Is and IIs.
I hadn’t even used a high-angle paddle until I inherited one, found during an ugly portage on a paddle trip. I started using that one on and off in the years following. On one hand, I liked that it provided me what I felt was more force, but it also felt more responsive. The main problem with the “found paddle” was that the shaft felt much longer than my current paddle (in reality, they were the same, it’s just that the blades are shorter so it felt more cumbersome – this was a learning lesson and more on this below). It was also crazy heavy since it was made with some cheap aluminum, and the shaft felt like 40-grit sandpaper on my hands during some long-mileage paddling trips. But using it intrigued me enough to consider adding a lightweight high-angle paddle to my collection – but a properly right-sized and right-fitted high-angle paddle (ya know, because I like options).
I was never really given an explanation as to why a high or low angle blade would be right for me at the time, nor did I ever really give it much thought other than knowing that there were different shapes (so they must exist for a reason!) But I had to find out before I chased some gear-buying whim. I had to know, is there really a difference between the two?
I reached out to co-Miles Paddler, Timothy, who had been using high-angle blades for as long as he had been paddling to see if he knew the benefit of one over the other. He said “To be fair, I don’t. I’ve [only] used/had access to low-angle paddles. So I may not technically know. Intuitively, a high-angle paddle blade just feels right (mentally) and makes more sense; why not get more bang for your buck when paddling? That said, the original kayak paddles – from Greenland – were basically thin sticks, and that seemed to have worked just fine, even in the ocean. Purists still swear by them today. I think skill and technique mean way, way more than a dozen centimeters here or there.”
Which after digging into it a little further, his take was pretty accurate.
According to Werner, low angle paddles are usually used for a more relaxed/leisurely style of paddling. It’s more about casual paddling than focusing on technique. The drawback is that the boat will wander side to side more often, and it also takes more time to go in a straight line. High angle blades allow for more aggressive strokes and those looking for higher, more immediate, performance. The benefit is that the boat stays closer to a straight path while getting from point A to B . The drawback is that your arms will tire out quicker if you’re not watching your technique. Here’s a video explaining just that:
Low Angle vs High Angle Paddling
After scouring options for high-angle paddles, I ultimately narrowed my hit list to the two most popular choices from the two companies I knew best for quality; Werner’s Shuna and Aqua-Bound’s Whiskey. And then I, coincidentally, happened upon this video that compared those exact two paddles:
High Angler Paddle Shoot Out: Werner Shuna vs Aqua-Bound Whiskey
While ultimately the reviewer preferred the Shuna, he couldn’t recommend one over the other, as they’re both great choices. He went with history of the brand and his experience, which is hard to ignore. I’m a big advocate for brand loyalty (however, I might, just might be swayed, if I were say, gifted a paddle from a manufacturer to be test-driven… hint, hint). At the time, I wasn’t aware of anyone who was pro-Aqua-Bound paddle so I ultimately came to the same conclusion because I had no reason to walk away from a brand that hasn’t let me down over all these years. (Full disclosure: Coincidentally, Timothy came into brand new high angle paddle of his own – the Whiskey – not too long after my purchase).
So Shuna it was, but then I had to check off my other two requirements. One, it had to come in two pieces because since I bike-shuttle a lot, I need to be able to attach it to my bike frame (and it’s just easier to attach or pack in smaller pieces). Most popular paddles do come in 2-pieces but not all (I actually had my sights set on a different Werner paddle altogether that only came as a 1-piece).
And two, it had to be black. Because if you’ve read any of my gear reviews, you know I’m pretty picky about color. My hang-ups with outdoor gear color have been well-documented, but (surprise!) I have an extra special weird issue with paddles and blade color. I find colored blades distracting. I just don’t care much for artificial colors grabbing the attention of my peripherals – I’d prefer to leave that to the natural colors of my surroundings. Plus, I think they can look kind of weird when paired with boat colors, pfd colors, etc. Again, this is just my aesthetic hangup.
The part that surprised me about the base Shuna was that it wasn’t available in black! So I had to upgrade to the carbon version of the Shuna that specifically stated, “Available in every paddlers favorite color, Carbon black” – and only black. Now, it afforded me a slightly lighter paddle, but it also afforded me more $$$. To be honest, the weight is negligible to the base model so it’s not worth the upgrade/extra cost unless you’re uptight like me about color. Sure, I have the added benefit of a crazy light paddle because the blades are made with carbon versus fiberglass, but it’s a negligible 2 ounces less in weight (I can’t really tell the difference). You’ll be perfectly happy and fancy-arm-free with the standard version.
So even thought I had to shell out more cash than expected and upgrade to the even more premium Shuna Carbon, I couldn’t be happier. It’s one helluva beautiful paddle.
What We Like:
Everything about this paddle. It’s light as a feather – like eating with chopsticks instead of silverware.
On the water, I immediately felt, well, nothing – this thing is remarkably light – but to be fair, I’m also comparing it to my lead-weight “found” paddle. I’ve mostly used this paddle in my shorter crossover kayak on smaller streams, but I’ve also used it while paddling my 14′ Wilderness and though I didn’t notice any specific wobble, it is a bigger and more stable boat.
The Smart View Adjustable ferrule is also a nice improvement and definite upgrade from the now-outdated push-button connection on my older Camano paddle. It makes for a smooth one-piece connection and it’s easier to feather on the fly.
One other note on sizing eluded to earlier – and this is why my “found” paddle felt so long even though it was the same length as my Camano. There is a difference in length between high angle and low angle paddle you should be aware of. In short, the blades are shorter, so the shaft is essentially longer between the two. My Camano is 220, but when I tried a 220 Shuna, it felt too long. Indeed, the shaft length is longer and there’s a specific sizing formula considered to your own human height but also to your boat length and width. These things are easily sized – and Werner does a great job explaining this on the tag attached to the style of paddle. So I actually ended up downsizing a few cm to a 215 for a perfect feel even though it doesn’t seem like much. Yeah, 5-10cm makes all the difference in the world when it comes to paddle length.
The Final Word:
Werner’s own description of the Carbon Shuna is attractive and accurate: “The Shuna is Werner’s best-selling premium High Angle blade, designed for those who want mid-sized power for strokes in all directions. With a carbon blade construction, it’s our lightest swing weight option and the mid size blades fit the widest range of paddlers.” But whether it’s carbon or the base model, you’ll be happy with either choice of the Shuna and you’ll be friends for many years to come.
Paddles aren’t cheap, but again, it’s the one piece of equipment that gets more use than any other while kayaking. I put more emphasis on aesthetics than most but if you want the perfect combination of looks, strength, comfort and performance – and you have some bucks looking to bang – Shuna is a solid choice. And you can’t argue the track record of Werner Paddles.
One final parting word about the reality of using a new paddle as beautiful as the Shuna… those first few scratches are the toughest – it’s cringe-inducing to see something so new already roughed up after the first couple paddles – especially that first scratch – that’s the dagger. Kind of like that first ding on my Subaru. It was bound to happen but damn it was a bummer.
Manufacturer: Werner Paddles
Model: Shuna / Shuna Carbon
Length: 200-260 cm (in increments of 5 cm)
Weight: 27.75 ounces / 25.75 ounces
Blade Dimensions: 7″ x 18″
Blade Surface Area: 95 sq. in.
Blade Material: Fiberglass / Carbon
Shaft Material: Carbon
Shaft Pieces: 1, 2, 4
Feathering Angles: Smart View®
Ferrule: Smart View®
Colors: Amber, Abyss, Gradient Citrus, Gradient Sunset, Orange, Red, Swellz Blue / Black