Outdoor Retailer Summer 2018

First Impressions of the Gearlab Akiak Kayak Paddle

Don’t let the funky shape fool you

The author testing the Gearlab Aikak paddle at Outdoor Retailer Demo Day. (Emily Reed)

Greenland paddles, first made by Inuits 5,000 years ago, are designed for long ocean journeys. Traditional paddles—like the ones you may have used to kayak around a lake—have wide blades, but a Greenland’s are long and thin. As a result it moves less water, and is less powerful (don’t try using one in whitewater), but also puts relatively little stress on the arms, making it more efficient and allowing you to paddle longer. If you’re going to be spending a week on the water, or even a full day, this style of paddle is a great choice.

The Akiak ($348) is Taiwan-based Gearlab’s take on the Greenland. While the Inuit made theirs out of wood, Gearlab’s team of industrial engineers designed the Akiak with a lightweight carbon-fiber shaft and durable plastic tips that can be replaced if they crack or wear out. 

I tried the Akiak, which is on sale now, in the shallow waters of the South Platte River in downtown Denver during Outdoor Retailer. The paddle looks sharp, with a clean finish that highlights the carbon shaft; it’s also remarkably light. Space was tight with all the watercraft being tested around me, and I had my doubts about the maneuverability provided by the thin blades, but after a few seconds using it I was impressed with the purchase it afforded. I set off quickly from shore, and it was easy to steer my 15-foot kayak through the multitude of paddleboards and playboats in the water. The shaft is slightly thicker than usual, so I could grip it loosely. This improved comfort, and I imagine it would noticeably reduce wear and tear on arms and hands during long paddles.

Despite my initial doubts, the Akiak shows a lot of promise. Casual paddlers will certainly appreciate it, although its use is limited to ocean excursions. Think of it as a great excuse to spend more time on the open water.

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