Mitchell Blades have been making paddles right here in the UK for over a decade now, and during that time they’ve certainly honed in on what makes a great, natural feeling set of blades.
Werner Paddles, in contrast, are a truly international paddle giant from the USA, with the largest range of paddles around and over 50 years of experience in the business. They’re well and truly settled on the throne as the king of paddles, but is a revolution on the way?
For the first 7 years of my kayaking life I almost exclusively used Werner’s Performance Core blades, but after a particularly disastrous Alps trip in which I lost my Sho-Guns along with essentially everything else that wasn’t attached to me, I decided it was time for a change.
Having borrowed my boss’ Mitchell Sphinx and Nemesis paddles a handful of times during the intervening period and finding them to be quite balanced and powerful, I decided to go all in and order a set of 194cm Mitchell Blades Carbon Hybrid Predators on a Carbon Crank Shaft at 30°.
Over the past couple of years I’ve demoed a fair range of boat styles from a number of manufacturers, to the point where I’ve realised it’s possible to paddle any kayak well so long as you adapt your paddling style appropriately; paddles, however, I’ve always felt are something that’s more integral to my paddling style, so I was a little apprehensive about the switch, not only between manufacturers, but also to a slighter feather (compared to my usual 45°).
With Mitchell Blades being UK based, ordering my custom paddle was a doddle, the customer service (including a healthy dose of advice on things like shafts, feather, grip distance, blade shape and length) was second to none and the whole thing only taking a couple of weeks from the first phone call to delivery.
The first thing I noticed when my paddle arrived (apart from how good it looked!) was the far greater strength and stiffness of the carbon crank shaft for only a slight weight increase in comparison to the crank shaft on my boss’ older Sphinx blades. Lance (Mitchell, owner) had mentioned this new shaft when I was ordering the paddles, and I have to say it is a vast, confidence inspiring improvement, as although more than capable, the previous shaft was a little too flexible and light for me to completely put my trust in it and commit to bigger power and support strokes.
So, to what is rapidly becoming an all too regular haunt for me and the proving ground for most of my recently acquired kit; the Tryweryn! The more or less consistent water levels and conditions here leave me with nothing to blame other than the kit or myself (and I usually blame the kit)…
Straight away, I noticed the better grip on the shaft compared to my Werners; the textured finish meant that my hands didn’t slip under bigger strokes, and it also helped the Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax® I use on my shaft to stick around a little longer (it’s usually all gone by half way down a river).
I’d expected to get a bit less stability from the Mitchells due to their lack of inbuilt blade buoyancy (Werner Performance Core paddles feature a core of expanded foam which gives more uplift from support strokes, makes setting up for rolls easier as the blades float to the surface and also keeps the paddles on top of the water more if you let go). I was right to some extent, but there was still ample surface area to the Predator blades for the usual purposes, if anything I just had to stop paddling lazily which can only be a good thing! The simpler blades also had just the right amount of flex for some useful feedback and gave more precise control over my strokes, as well as reducing weight towards the end of the shaft for an easier swing during faster paddle strokes (particularly useful if you’re going for fast acceleration or throwing down during a playboating session).
I’ve heard stories of Werner Performance Core blades puncturing and of course, this is less likely to happen in Mitchell Blades due to them being solid (and conversely, more likely to happen in air core blades like VEs), however I never experienced any puncturing with my Werners despite a fair few hard knocks! I also found the blade edge on the Werners to be far more durable, as it features a Dynel® edge and the three layer construction (2x carbon/Kevlar® outer skins and a foam inner) lends itself to a stronger compound edge. There is also the colour of the paddles to consider, as Werner carbon blades are these days only available in black, whereas there are a number of much easier to spot colours available in Mitchell Blades that may save you a long day searching!
I’d definitely say it’s worth demoing paddles at the feather you’re ordering, as I am only just now getting used to the 30° feather and I’ve scuffed a fair few strokes in the meantime! If (or more likely, when) I need another set of paddles, I may go back to around 40° and I’d also consider upping the length to 197cm to make reaching over the high knees on Pyranha boats a little easier.
There are, of course, other paddle brands on the market; Select Paddles are fast becoming popular due to a solid design, some well-shaped blades and a foam core to rival Werner’s, but I personally find their cranks too aggressive and therefore less comfortable on my wrists. Vertical Element (or VE for short) make some beautiful paddles that are around the same price range as Mitchell Blades as well as also being UK based, however their paddles have a little more flex than I’d like and again, I find their cranks less comfortable (they’re a little too angular in cross section). Werner also make cheaper paddles, but I find these, along with Robson blades, are far less durable and wear down a lot faster than others so I generally steer clear. Last, but by no means least are Adventure Technology (or AT) paddles which are stunning, but are like rocking horse poo in the UK and upwards of £450.
In conclusion: There are advantages and disadvantages to all paddles, but at an RRP of £385 for the Werner Sho-Guns and £340 for Mitchell Carbon Hybrid Predators, unless your pockets are overflowing with cash that you need to spend, go for the Mitchells… Especially if you’re as prone to losing paddles as I am! Having said that, my first set of Werners lasted 6 years without any wearing down at all, only time will tell if my Mitchell Blades can match that… but at the very least, they’re a worthy contender to the throne.
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