“The Balance is the perfect exercise equipment for water lovers. This paddle marries a high-tech blade shape and materials with the beauty and warmth of wood. Squared-off profile catches the water and delivers a powerful workout.” –Bending Branches
Blade Size: 8”x17” (100 sq inches)
Shaft Material: Aviation-grade T-700 carbon fiber
Blade Material: Wood (Red Alder and Black Willow)
Grip Type: Palm Grip
Shaft-Blade Angle: 10 degrees
Paddle Lengths: Adjustable in 70”-80” or 76”-86” lengths. (Fixed lengths also available)
Weight: 28oz +/- 3oz (for 70-80” paddle)
Bending Branches is known for hand-crafting beautiful, wooden canoe and kayak paddles. Their Navigator kayak paddle, for example, is one of the most enchanting paddles that I have ever held and won a KayakDave.com Gear of the Year Award in 2012. This past spring, I was pleased to discover that Bending Branches also has a line of wooden SUP paddles which includes the Balance; a high cadence paddle that’s well suited for touring and fitness-minded SUPers. I paddled exclusively with the Balance during my SUP sessions this past summer and I’m happy to report that it delivered with the exceptional performance that I’ve come to appreciate and expect from a Bending Branches paddle!
There’s a lot to like about the Balance SUP paddle and the first thing is that it’s STRONG! Some paddlers may balk at the idea of a wooden paddle blade out of fear that it may be easily damaged. Fear-thee-not as the Balance blade is reinforced with a layer of fiberglass and protected by a special “rock guard” edge to ensure long-standing durability. I’ve hit a fair share of rocks with this paddle fully expecting to find a chip, crack, or other form of ding. Each time I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that the paddle blade is no worse for the wear! Moreover, one should consider the strength of the ultra-stiff, aviation-grade T-700 carbon shaft on this paddle. For example, I always have my Intro to SUP classes start by practicing their forward stroke technique from the edge of the dock and it makes me cringe a little bit when I see the shafts on the cheapie paddles noticeably flex into an arch; what a waste of power! I’ve tested the Balance in the same way and the shaft DOES NOT BEND, not even a little bit! This means that most of the energy that you put into the paddle will be translated directly into an efficient forward stroke.
The Balance paddle comes in two adjustable lengths (70”-80” or 76”-86”) or it can be customized at a fixed-length of your choosing. I decided to go with an adjustable version so that I could share this paddle with my fellow instructors and others who wanted to give it a go. Overall, the adjustable shaft proved to be super solid and very easy to use. The one strange thing that I have to report is that the shaft whistles at times. It drove me crazy at first because I’d be the only soul out on the lake and I had no idea where this mysteriously rhythmic whistling noise was coming from. I eventually realized that the noise was being created by the holes in the adjustable paddle shaft when they came into the correct orientation with the wind during the paddle stroke. Now I’ll actually make a game of this phenomenon at times by covering up various holes to create a symphony of tones! Whistling aside, I’d probably be a little more selfish and decide to go with a fixed-length shaft the next time around in order to save that extra morsel of swing weight.
The second thing that I love about this paddle is that it’s true to its “Balanced” namesake! The Balance SUP paddle provides a smooth and efficient stroke from catch to recovery with very little wobble. The 100-square- inch blade surface offers the perfect blend of cadence and power. Fitness paddlers will love the Balance for its high cadence stroke while the everyday SUPer will appreciate that they can do a little bit of everything with this paddle without getting tuckered out. Furthermore, I was impressed with how amazing the Balance feels in hand. The palm grip is perfectly contoured for a secure grip and the lightly-textured shaft prevents your lower hand from slipping. Finally, I can’t say enough about the light-weight construction. The Balance weighs in at a mere 28oz which puts it right on par with many of the adjustable, synthetic paddles at the $300 price point. This low swing-weight means that you can really get this paddle cranking and put some water under-foot!
The third thing that I love about the Balance paddle is that it feels oh-so-natural. For me, SUP is all about getting out and being one with the water. In a sense, you’re literally “walking” on it which invokes a sense of connectedness and appreciation for this surreal opportunity to experience nature in a way that we were not designed to. All of this may seem a bit existential to some but, trust me, the Balance paddle lends itself to this perspective. For starters, wood has natural buoyancy that makes the paddle blade feel more connected to the water than a synthetic paddle ever could. Some manufacturers have developed paddle blades with a foam core to mimic the natural buoyancy of a wooden blade but it just doesn’t feel the same. Second, wood is a powerful medium to craft a paddle from. It can be hand-shaped in ways that a computer could never imagine. Moreover, the colors, tones, and textures that can be achieved by combining various types of wood can turn a simple paddle into a work of art. All of this is true of the Balance which sports a blade and grips that are hand-shaped by expert craftsmen in Osceola Wisconsin from native black willow and red alder; a beautiful combination, indeed!
Overall, I’m in love with the Bending Branches Balance SUP paddle. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed paddling with it over the course of the summer and look forward to many more years of SUPing with it! This paddle really has it all; it’s strong, balanced, and natural…everything that you can ask for in a paddle!
Pros: Super stiff, lightweight, quiet, balanced, beautiful, superbly crafted.
Cons: Adjustable shaft “whistles” in the wind