Every time that I pick up a regular diameter paddle, I think ‘this just doesn’t feel as nice as a small shaft.’ Maybe it has something to do with some more personal aspects of who I am, but the anatomy of a small shaft just feels good.
Paddling in Idaho is often a chilly endeavor. Paddling in Chile can sometimes be a chilly endeavor as well. This how the small shaft paddling began in the first place for me. Using NRS Mitts on Golden Canyon in early spring, not only was I gripped due to high flows, the extra material of the mitt, overlying the shaft, makes the dimeter of the shaft just that much larger. By the end the run, my forearms felt like I had been open palming slopers in MOAB for a week. My forearms were on fire!
The next time I ordered a paddle up from Werner, I asked for a small shaft, Powerhouse, animal style, with extra onions.
The Pro’s: The small shaft allows you to get a better grip on the paddle. Try to do a pull up on a bar the size of a can of soup vs a broom paddle. Common sense.
The flexibility of the smaller shaft, allows paddlers to load up huge boof strokes. It flexes like a spring, building power, until you let er’ rip at end of the stroke.
The flex takes some of the brunt off of your shoulders and joints. When paddling a stiffer shaft, like carbon fiber, all of the wear and tear is absorbed by the most important paddling equipment of all, YOUR BODY. You know the feeling; you take a deep stroke only to find a rock. You paddle away with your arms feeling like a tuning fork. I’ve been paddling a straight/small shaft for almost 7 years now, and (KNOCK ON WOOD) had NO Shoulder/Joint INURIES. This could be luck, but I would definitely attribute it in part to the paddle I’ve been using. Also, prehabbing, ie- banding exercises are important in maintaining shoulder health.
Cons: The flex allows for a little loss of paddling power.
If you enjoy paddling a small shaft, and lose yours on a swim, there is no break-out paddle that’s the same size. Only regular shafts come in 4 pieces.
If you want a small shaft, you typically have to order it custom. If bent shafts are your thing, they can do that too!
If Shaq was paddling, I’d say paddle a regular diameter.
Worries?: People always worry that a small shaft is going to be less durable. I have owned 3 small shafts and paddled them through the shitty rock slides of colorado, shitty North Fork Payette blast rock, and beautiful big water from the SF salmon to the Rio Baker. The blades will be gone before soon. Then, I will turn it into a pull up bar.