Jim Baird Paddles the Algonquin

I put some serious miles behind me on my recent 15-day canoe trip through the fabled Temagami region of Northern Ontario, Canada. Save for about five long minutes where I let my brother try it out, I pulled almost exclusively with the bent-shaft, carbon fiber Algonquin — and it was an absolute dream to use. In fact, after getting used to the Algonquin, whenever I picked up our spare, a metal/plastic all-purpose that I'd previously thought was decent, it felt as if I was wielding a log. All that being said however, switching to the Algonquin was not a no-brainer for me out of the gate. I know many long-distance paddlers and canoe racers swear by ultra-light, bent-shaft paddles but I was not yet a convert. Having only once tried out a bent shaft that, albeit, consisted of a much more pronounced angle than the Algonquin, I found it more challenging to brace when paddling in waves and J-stroking was awkward. I just didn't feel as safe or secure with it in my hands as with a straight shaft paddle. 

Some time went by until a couple experienced paddlers coaxed me into trying out a bent shaft again, but not just any bent shaft, this time I'd gotten my hands on the carbon fiber Werner Paddles’ Algonquin. After my first mile of paddling with this paddle, I found my previous bent shaft concerns to be irrelevant. Soon, after putting five miles behind me on a large lake, I was a true convert. However, it is not just the bent shaft aspect of the Algonquin that I had to wrap my head around. You see, a lot of paddlers have some sort of resident romance relating to an affinity for the old-timey and rustic, and I am no different. To make the Algonquin my go to paddle, I'd have to make a true transition from wood to carbon fiber. I like the look of the wood, it's beautiful. Not to say that carbon fiber paddles aren't beautiful too, they are, but just in a more modern way. I was a little torn and I was worried that carbon fiber wouldn't provide the durability I needed on remote canoe trips, I mean how can something be as light as the Algonquin be strong enough? Wood was tried tested and true for me. 

As I paddled deeper and deeper into the Temagami backcountry, the rigid feel, and durability of the paddle became apparent whether pushing hard off bottom, running small sets of rapids, paddling hard into headwinds or using it as a walking stick on portages. It didn't take long for a confidence in its longevity to be instilled in me. The paddle's feather-lightness (333g/11.75oz) and pop as it exits the water after a hard, smooth forward stroke breeds a seemingly effortless backswing. In turn, a certain balance and high-performance feel to the paddle is recognized. As more days passed, the Algonquin began to feel like an extension of my arms in a way a paddle never has before. It's a feeling that can only be born out of deeply assessed design and handmade craftsmanship with best-in-the-world materials. 

The Algonquin by Werner Paddles is named after the Algonquin people, an indigenous nation whose ancestors first wore the portage trails and plied the waters of present-day Algonquin Park, thousands of years ago. The area remains a quintessential canoeing destination in Ontario, Canada and it's where I ventured on my first canoe trip. Undoubtedly, it's in reminiscence of these early Algonquin paddlers that has swayed my appeal for the rustic, though I'm sure their review would deviate little from mine if I'd put the Algonquin paddle into their hands so many years ago.