Give me a well-crafted paddle, and I’ll take a grocery cart down a Class V. Give me a clunky, over-weighted paddle, and you couldn't pay me to roll in a kiddie pool. A poor paddle equals poor paddling. It's that simple.
As a general rule, a good creeking paddle should be as tough as a bull's horn, lighter than a Mexican pilsner, and far less expensive than your boat. Your best bet: the Werner Powerhouse ($240, 34 oz).
Five years ago I bought a Werner SideKick. I can't break it. I always bring it to the river as a backup. I've seen almost a dozen carbon-fiber paddles snap like toothpicks, but I have never seen a paddle made with Werner's continuous-weave fiberglass break. I could probably dismantle an armored Humvee with the thing and still go creeking. That's good piece of mind in the eddy.
After a season paddling with the Powerhouse, I now feel the same way about it as I do the SideKick. Actually, I like it more. The big difference is the blades. They're huge. The catch is clean, powerful, and smooth throughout the entire stroke, and you can feel it. It's perfect for the must-make boof or combat roll in aerated water. Granted, you have to be a reasonably strong paddler to utilize the full-sized blades effectively. But let's face it: If you can't comfortably paddle with full-sized blades, you might want to reconsider hucking 30-foot waterfalls.
The Powerhouse comes in both a straight shaft ($240) and neutral bent shaft ($315) model. There is also a carbon-fiber version. I personally prefer paddling with a straight shaft, mostly because that's what I learned on. It's also the most cost-effective and lightest version available.
Another suggestion: Make sure you take advantage of Werner's sizing charts to ensure you get a paddle that fits you. A paddle that doesn't fit is like a helmet that doesn't fit. It's stupid, awkward, and dangerous.
Photo by Michael Sterner