Cruising Paddles

It’s easy to develop a very intimate relationship with a good paddle. At a relaxed pace of 40 strokes per minute, that’s some 2,400 times an hour that you lift, pull, and manipulate your paddle. That’s 14,400 times in a six hour paddling day. Every extra ounce, every eddy of turbulence, every bit of drag, is felt.

A fine paddle is tough, but also light and limber. A really fine paddle makes paddling a meditation, not a frustration. A great paddle feels alive, a lively extension of your body. It looks and feels like sculpture; it should be art in your hands. Your paddle is always a critical element in the ultimate canoeing experience, and you want the best.

Paddling should be like dancing, and who wants to dance in work boots?

Then, there’s the Nashwaak Cruiser— the key to Zen Paddling.

You’ll have more control, less work, and more fun with the Nashwaak Cruiser.

So what makes the Nashwaak Cruiser so special?

Here are eleven reasons:

1. Handcrafted in Solid Hardwood. Each Nashwaak paddle is handcrafted from a solid plank of prime hardwood — black cherry, yellow birch, or white ash. These three tough, light and beautiful native woods are the ideal paddle materials. Only one-piece construction provides the “action” of a great paddle.

2. Guaranteed Forever. All Nashwaak paddles are guaranteed never to break or split in use as a cruising paddle.

3. A Unique Carved Grip. The Nashwaak grip is sculpted to fill your hand; it allows you to paddle with a relaxed, open grasp. You can even let the grip twist in your hand at the end of each J-stroke, relieving wrist strain. Your paddle won’t get away from you.

4. An Oval Shaft. Our shafts are oval, not round. An oval shaft provides strength with the least weight, and is a better fit in your lower hand.

5. A Rugged, Comfortable Throat. The throat, where the shaft meets the blade, is full and rugged, but nicely rounded. If your paddle is properly sized, you can pull with your lower hand relaxed and open on the throat, not clenched on the shaft.

6. High Performance Blade. The long, Maliseet teardrop blade provides plenty of power without the inefficiencies of wide blades and square corners. These inefficiencies make a paddle jitterbug in deep water, and push you off course so that a major correction is necessary on each stroke. A wide blade does give you power, but so does a long, narrow blade — and your stroke is smooth and quiet, your course corrections subtle.

7. Blade Flexibility. Blade flexibility gives your paddle “life”. A stiff blade is like pushing on a wall: not much fun!

Specifically, blade flexibility gives you three things…….

First, a flexible blade “gives” with each entry into the water. That’s shock absorption — you’ll feel less sore after a day on the water, particularly if you have any problems with your wrists, elbows, shoulders or back. 

Second, at the end of control strokes, as your J-stroke or draw takes hold, a flexible blade gives you a recoil! A little kick at the end of your stroke, a little stored energy that comes back just when you need it.

Third, through the middle, power part of the stroke, a flexible blade deflects. This provides the benefit of a bent shaft paddle without leaving you stuck with a bent paddle that you really can’t do much with. Quite rightly, bent shaft users note that with the blade cocked back from the shaft, the blade remains relatively vertical when your arms are in close to your body, maximizing power transfer when your body is most powerful. Put another way, bent or deflected, there is less tendency to be picking upwater toward the end of the stroke. But really, unless you are sprint racing in a straight line, who wants a bent paddle?

8. Feathered Blade Edges. Blade edges are as thin as we can make them without sacrificing durability, so on-edge resistance is near zero. This is a very quiet paddle — great for slipping up on wildlife with an in-the-water J return.

9. A Flared Tip. The Nashwaak blade thins gradually from the throat to the point of maximum flex, and then thickens to a substantial flare at the tip. A flared tip ensures you don’t have to worry each time you push off. A polished grip is for your hand, not the shore, and the tip — while not a pole — should be a working tool.

10. Efficiency. All of which adds up to accomplishing more while doing less. A great paddle enables you to do what you enjoy — paddling — with the most control and the least effort. u holding it with your lower hand.

11. Balance. Hold a Cruiser with your lower hand where the shaft meets the blade, swing it horizontal, and it will balance. Unbalanced paddles add work by stressing muscles and joints that would otherwise be relaxed.

All About Sizing Canoe Paddles…

To minimize fatigue and maximize efficiency, your upper hand should rise at most to nose level, and at least, to chin leveland this is all a matter of shaft length. If your upper hand rises much above your nose, you will get unnecessarily tired and you risk shoulder strain. If it is below your chin, you lose power and reach.

If you are low to the water, as when paddling solo, kneeling on the bottom and heeled to the paddle side, you’ll want a paddle on the short side: around your chin. If you are paddling up on the seat, and particularly if you are mostly in the bow, higher from the water, you’ll want a paddle to nose level.

The two sizing methods below will help you determine the Nashwaak Cruiser we recommend for you. Our paddles generally size longer than other paddles because of our unusually long blade — but “shaft+grip” length will be the same with any paddle properly sized. (Note that we’re assuming your lower hand is holding the paddle where the shaft meets the blade.)

If you have a paddle in your hands, use this method:
1. Hold the paddle with one hand where the shaft meets the blade.
2. Let your arm drop straight down, elbow locked.
3. Swivel your wrist to put the paddle in a vertical position.

… If the paddle you are holding is a good length, the grip will be somewhere between your chin and your nose. Now measure your paddle’s grip+shaft length, adjust that up or down if you want to change how high your upper hand rises, and add 26″ for our blade. That’s the Nashwaak Cruiser length you want.

(Actually, this is a good test for any paddle. Whatever the blade length, the grip shouldn’t rise above your nose when your lower hand is where the shaft meets the blade.)

If you don’t have a paddle in your hands, use the “nose to knuckle” method:
Stand against a wall and mark your nose level (while looking straight ahead!). With one arm hanging straight down make a fist and mark knuckle level. Measure the distance between the marks and add 26″ for our long blade. This would be the longest paddle you’d want; adjust the total down if you want your upper hand lower than your nose.

Nashwaak paddles are stocked in six lengths: 54″, 56″, 58″, 60″, 62″ and 64″.

Blade Flex. Blade flex varies slightly from paddle to paddle, due mainly to wood characteristics. Aggressive paddlers should look for a paddle with less flex, gentle paddlers (or paddlers with joint injuries) should look for more flex. Most (80-90%) of our paddles are “medium” flex, and unless specified otherwise, that’s what we will ship.

About Our Finish

All our paddles are finished with three coats of an extraordinarily durable urethane varnish.

Any paddle will normally show signs of wear, particularly where the throat meets the canoe’s gunwale and at the tip, but a few memories of your time on the water won’t hurt your paddle. The original finish will last for years and the tip is made to take the occasional push-off. If your paddle gets gets badly scratched, give it a light sanding (ideally #120 or #150 grit aluminum oxide sandpaper) and apply another coat of exterior urethane varnish.

How to Care for Your New Nashwaak Cruiser

Your paddle will last for years with its original finish. If it gets gets badly scratched, give it a light sanding with a good quality #120 grit sandpaper and apply a coat or two of exterior urethane varnish. The tip of a laminated paddle should be smoothed and varnished when signs of wear appear.

To avoid warping, NEVER leave your paddle in the water or lying flat on the ground.

A Lost Gem of Native Design; The Cruiser’s Aboriginal Roots

Nashwaak’s flexible teardrop blade is adapted directly from a turn-of-the-last-century Maliseet paddle. The Maliseets are the inland native people of New Brunswick and northern New England. A look at pre-20th century paintings and drawings in art galleries and museums reveals that the teardrop was commonly used among water-travelling native peoples, and among white Voyageurs as well.

The sketch at left, done by American naturalist Thomas Sedgwick Steele for his 1882 book on canoeing in Maine, indicates that he knew good equipment. The man portrayed is about to launch a beautifully shaped bark canoe. And he carries a paddle with the classic native teardrop blade.

Somehow this gem of native design was lost in the early years of the 20th century. Now it’s back! 

A Quick History of the Nashwaak Cruiser
By Jeff Solway

The Nashwaak Cruiser goes back a long way. In 1963 and ’64, when I was sixteen and seventeen, I had the very good fortune to spend two summers with Omer Stringer. Omer was the acknowledged expert on flatwater paddle technique from the late 1930’s until his death in 1988. Bill Mason, another Canadian paddling icon, referred to Omer as “the King of flatwater”. Back in the sixties, Omer honed my paddling skills and helped me make my first paddle. 

Omer had very specific ideas about what a good paddle should be — and he never ceased arguing his case. Our paddles are notreplicas of Omer’s. In fact, he really didn’t approve. But two critical elements in the Nashwaak Cruiser remain pure Omer: its narrow blade and its carved grip.

In 1973, when I began to make paddles in the Nashwaak Valley of New Brunswick, Omer gave me one of his own to work from. Over the next five years, my approach to paddlemaking evolved gradually. Then, in 1978, an elderly man came to a craft fair with something to show me: a Maliseet Indian paddle, made around 1910. He said he’d been using that paddle for fifty years. The paddle was a marvel. Its blade was narrow but longer than Omer’s, it was teardrop in shape, and it had an unbelievable amount of flex in the blade. 

I drew out the blade on a torn open paper bag, and the next week I made one. It turned out to have the efficiency of Omer’s narrow blade, but with much more power. And with flex in the blade, not the shaft or throat, it had achieved the holy grail of paddlemaking: lively flex and strength at the same time!

Previously, I had assumed a paddle flexed over its length. But that put the greatest strain right where the paddle most needs its strength, where the shaft meets the blade. So how to make a paddle flexible without making it fragile? That native paddlemaker solved the problem: he made a paddle that didn’t flex evenly over its length. Instead… rugged throat, flexible blade. Brilliant!

It took several more years of paddlemaking for Omer’s influences, my experience, and the lessons of that Maliseet paddle to become fully integrated into my own paddle design — and for me to work out how turn that design into a reality! Omer’s grip became more sculpted. I moved to an oval shaft that maximized strength, minimized weight, and was a better fit to the hand. And the long, flexible Maliseet blade was modified slightly to make it more comfortable to hold at the throat. 

By 1981 the Nashwaak Cruiser had matured and went into limited production. It was in that period that Bill Mason, the genius of Canadian whitewater canoeing, gave the paddle the graphic endorsement reproduced here. A few year’s later, Bill’s Nashwaak Cruiser appeared on the back cover of his book, Song of the Paddle.