Northern Lights Aleut inspired paddle review, manufacturing quality, paddling style and Aquabound Manta Ray
I liked this paddle for a little while. One thing that most reviewers mention which is worth mentioning again here is that it is really like 2 paddles in one with the 2 different faces, the convex one for normal strokes and the slightly concave side for when you need or want more power. I used the power side a number of times in following seas. There are many other reviews out there that describe the virtues of this paddle so I won’t get into any more of them here.
I was a bit disappointed with the manufacturing of the paddle though. For one thing if you’re lazy like me and sometimes let the paddle float in the water next to the boat while attached with a paddle leash then the paddle blades will actually take on water. Many times I could hear water sloshing around inside the blades and had to let it slowly drip out later. I tried to make a habit of not letting the paddle float in the water for any amount of time but I was still getting water in the blades if it was in the water for any more than just a few seconds. If you’re practicing rolls or wet exits the blades will definitely take a on a lot of water.
I also found that the blades didn’t fit that tightly where they slide onto the center piece, or “loom”. The screws that secure the blades had to be tightened more than once until I stopped getting any flex at the joints. Even after they were super tight I still seemed to detect a very slight flex though I’m not 100% sure about that. I can say that the way the thing was held together didn’t inspire quite as much confidence as it should it have.
I ordered the paddle directly from NL and the first one they sent me was clearly defective. There were bits of plastic rattling around inside one of the blades that also appeared to be slightly curved and not straight as it should be. NL was quick to send a replacement that did not have the same defects. I did notice however that the joints where the blades meet the loom were not so smooth. There was about a millimeter offset in some places in no consistent pattern. I was not sure if this was a problem or not so I asked NL about it and they said it was definitely not normal and promised to send me another one. This one took much much longer to arrive after reminding them a couple times. When it did arrive it was no better or worse than the one it was supposed to replace in terms of the offset at the joints though they told me they had checked this one personally before sending it to me. One of the blades on this 3rd paddle seemed rather loose compared to the ones on the previous paddle so I ended up using the 2nd one instead of the 3rd just because it felt more solid. I also realized later that the joint being slightly uneven is not an issue because my hands are always on the blade part and are not gripping or sliding over the joint.
After a little use I noticed other things I didn’t like about the paddle, things that probably would not be issues for other kayakers who are more used to Greenland and/or Aleutian paddles. Immediately I found the paddle allowed a lot of water to drip into my cockpit so I started using a spray skirt even when I didn’t really need it. Also there was nothing I could do about my hands being constantly wet. Again someone who is used to this kind of paddle already knows about these issues and knows how to live or deal with them. I don’t think I can do either, at least not in the summer. I think that these kinds of paddles are better suited to colder conditions when you’re always going to use a spray skirt and gloves anyway.
For some reason it also seemed like the paddle, or the way I was using it, was causing more water than usual to slosh into the cockpit under choppy conditions. I also felt that I was dragging the paddle through the water as opposed to using it to pull the kayak forward. Again this is probably just me and my technique. It seemed to work much more efficiently with a faster, shorter and lower angle stroke but it’s pretty clear to me now that I just don’t like to paddle like that.
It got to the point that I was starting to lose interest in paddling because of this paddle. I ordered a 215cm, 4-piece Aquabound Manta Ray to use instead and when it came I immediately felt much more comfortable with it. Last summer I was using a Werner Ikelos in the same length but it seemed like there was just a little too much paddle blade surface area for me as I experienced a lot of stress in my shoulders and some flutter when I wasn’t careful with my stroke. The Manta Ray has nearly the same amount of surface area but I find it much more comfortable with no flutter ever. The difference may have something to do with shape of Aquabound’s blade.
I wouldn’t recommend buying one of the Northern Lights paddles unless you’re already familiar with Greenland or Aleutian style paddles and appreciate the qualities of “stick” type paddles. They’re just not for everyone as I found. If you do decide to go for one hopefully they will have worked out the manufacturing issues by then or maybe you’ll just be luckier than I was and get a better one as there seems to be a lot of variability between individual paddles. NL recommends buying from a dealer as opposed to purchasing from them directly and I definitely second that recommendation as NL was a bit difficult and just kind of weird to deal with. I do appreciate the fact that they didn’t require me to send back the defective paddles before sending replacements, which was very nice, so you may want to take that into account when deciding who to deal with, though on the other hand I have no idea if that’s their policy or just how it happened with me for some reason or no reason at all.