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So I said what the heck, let's do gearlab. Their paddles look good. Reviews are good. Their site is new and easy to use. Let's do it. So I ordered the Kuroshio in 225cm. The 225cm matched all of the measurements of my current, wooden GP, so I felt reassured that the designers had some idea of what they were doing. I also ordered the little silicon paddle condoms for $15.
The paddle arrived in a timely fashion, probably just over a week in transit, after about five days processing. The tracking service they used was weird but it worked. Meanwhile, a customer service rep named Ruby was in contact with me (and used very good English, to my delight).
The paddle arrived looking good. The glossy white finish is smooth and glossy, as expected. It's basically gel coat (it probably is). The "T-Joint" is basically a two-part joint where the two pieces of the paddle meet. It prevents rotation at the ferrule. It works well, there is no rotational play at this point. As others have said, the inner cylinder of the ferrule joint is coated in thick paraffin wax in order to make the joint tighter. About one month into my ownership of the GP, this wax has waned about 40-50% (hehe). However the joint doesn't feel any looser. Just easier to put together and take apart.
The one part that I don't necessarily like about the joint is the carbon ferrule button. The fact that it's made of carbon may or may not have anything to do with this. It just doesn't have much spring to it. So, when you put the GP together, the button doesn't snap up through the hole with much force. Sometimes, it only pops up half way. It's still enough to hold the paddle together, just not all of the way. I fear that down the road, this piece may fail. That's probably why they sell replacements on their website.
The paddle did arrive with one small, and odd defect. While the paddle was perfect in shape and finish, I noticed that there was something rattling inside of it. Since the paddles are blow molded from a combination of fiberglass and carbon fiber, I imagine that a few loose fibers were lost inside of the hollow GP. As a result, one end of the GP has what sounds like three tiny pieces of rice inside of it. You can't hear it unless you're in a quiet room with your ear near the paddle, and you definitely can't hear it when paddling. Still, I expect better for $400.
I contacted Ruby immediately and asked what her proposed solution would be. I said that I didn't want to return the GP. She agreed that shipping costs would make that option pointless, and offered instead to refund 20% of the total ($70), which I accepted.
Now, finally, onto the performance.
The Gearlab paddles are designed by a group of Taiwanese engineers/kayak enthusiasts. They are blowmolded, each part in one piece with a carbon fiberglass mix..(see their webpages). The paddles are hollow.
The first thing I notice is how extremely low swing weight this paddle has. its about 800gr but feels lighter that any other paddle I've tried due to the low swing weight. Gearlab paddles are rounded and very smooth in contrast to the sharp/diamond-shaped paddles out there. They remind me of some very old GP from harvey goldens great book. This is also how they feel. Very smooth feel. I find them very easy to manouver underwater when rolling.
The ferrule is well designed with a T-slot in the female part that eliminates twisting. The ferrules are tight as can be and its secured with a spring(carbon) similar to a Werner.
I find the stiffness just right. Not dead stiff. This summer I got a Shoulderless version to test, and its a real beautie. A bit thicker blades. and different shape. I think prefer the K (shouldered) for straight forward touring, and the shoulderless for surfing and wave play since its so easy to adjust and slightly change grip. it feels natural no matter where you hold. Being a light carbon paddle one should of course treat it as such..
All in all I'm very pleased with the Gearlab paddles, and I think these should be taken into consideration if one is looking for a two-piece GP that has a unique feel and a very good joint system. It's a high quality product at a reasonable price.
GearLab also makes a nice bag that will hold two paddles and protect during transport...
best wishes to GearLab in Taiwan!
After some friendly and helpful email communication with the Gearlab staff, I even ordered a second Kuroshio when I heard that they had changed their joint design to eliminate the looseness I had pointed out in my first review. The new Kuroshio wide-loom option paddle uses what appears to be a pre-machined off-the-shelf carbon paddle ferule to achieve a precise joint with minimal angular play about equivalent to other two-piece paddles in the same price range. In addition, Gearlab adds their proprietary "T-joint" gizmo, which reduces rotational looseness to zero. The result is a paddle that feels as solid as a one-piece paddle in use, but that is very easy to slide together and take apart.
Joint play and the narrow diameter and circular cross section of the loom were my two biggest complaints in my previous review. The loom shape issue turned out to be more of a matter of me getting used to a paddle that felt different than what I had grown accustomed to. Over time, I have learned to appreciate the very well-shaped shoulders of the Kuroshio, which makes indexing easy and the grip position comfortable on long distance paddles.
The Kuroshio has become the favorite paddle in my quiver because of its strikingly low swing weight, its silent and dry entry and exit from the water, and its smooth, quiet sculling action.
I am also very impressed with its durability over time. I now have both the gloss white and carbon black versions. I initially wondered about the durability of the gloss white coating on the white paddle, but have found that over time and after the typical abrasion a paddle experiences on a self-contained week-long ocean expedition, that the white coating holds up remarkably well. There are a few scuffs and dull spots near the tip of the paddle as one might expect, but the paddle still appears shiny and new for the most part.
I noticed that another reviewer had concerns about the width of the loom portion of the paddle. On its website, Gearlab publishes very precise and accurate dimensions for every aspect of its paddles. Those looking for a wider loom should consider their wide-loom or WL versions of each of their paddles.
My experience with Greenland-style paddles is limited to about 5 years of paddling with my and my wife's home-builts, and brief paddle exchanges with other Greenland paddlers including an opportunity to try the Northern Light Paddlesports product. I was once even able to try out Maligiaq Padilla's personal paddle at a workshop.
The construction and finish of the Kuroshio is superb with one glaring exception for a paddle in this price range. There was a tiny bit of play in the joint that seemed more than other similar two piece euro paddles I have tried or than the Northern Light paddle--which has zero play but requires a tool to assemble.
The inner ferrule was coated in a rather thick layer of what appeared to be paraffin wax in what seemed to be an attempt to tighten up the loose joint. The carbon spring clip and button that pins the whole thing together is an amazing little unit and prevented all play in the rotational or telescoping (in and out) directions. The manufacture promotes this bit as better than steel because it won't rust. I also like the fact that when I lash the paddle halves to the deck, this part ends up near my compass which keeps one more metal object out of that area.
The blade shape and dimensions are pretty standard for a GP and the paddle enters the water with only a few drops of splash, a bit better than my home-built. The loom is perfectly round and quite undersized compared to most GP's I have tried. It is 1.25 inches in diameter. The comfortably shaped shoulders of the Koroshio make it easy to feel the blade angle despite the circular cross section of the loom. The only other GP I have tried with a loom nearly as thin as this paddle was Maligiaq's.
My personal preference for comfort in a long distance paddle would be a larger loom circumference, but a recent 18 mile paddle with the Kuroshio did not seem to cause any serious comfort issues.
In comparison to most wood GP's I have tried, the Kuroshio is very stiff. It feels somewhat dead in my hands as I paddle compared to my livelier wood paddle. I know some people prefer very stiff paddles though, and that may just be par for the course for carbon sticks. After stripping the excessive paraffin and carefully building up the mandril-portion of the joint with some marine epoxy, I adjusted the fit to perfection with some wet-dry 1000 grit sand paper and re-polished the joint surfaces with a thin layer of wax. That achieved a very solid, yet still easy-to assemble-connection. With that modification of the joint, I now have achieved my goal of having a durable, quick-to-assemble spare GP with solid enough performance to finish a long tour should something happen to my favorite stick.
The paddle is very light, and it actually matches the manufacture's specs for it's weight. The glossy white surface is amazingly durable, although I'm not sure what it is made out of exactly. Gel-coat maybe?
I'm rating this paddle a 7. It would easily earn a 10 if the the joint were constructed with more precision, and if the loom were a larger diameter with an oval or rounded rectangular shape.
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