This is our first gear review on a paddle, and will act as a test article for future overviews. If there are things that you would like seen in more detail please feel free to comment or reach out and we can refine these reviews to provide everything about these paddles.
With these reviews we will have specifications, blade shape overview, applications based on blade shape, shaft overview, grip rating, locking mechanism, and personal overview of the paddle. Paddles will always have strengths and weaknesses based on their shapes that will ultimately match to our own preferences in the paddle stroke. This information is to help people understand the aspects of a paddle that make it unique and understanding that shape in comparison to their overall usages.
I am 5ft 6 (167cm) and 140lbs (63.5kg) slightly above the intermediate skill level as a reviewer. I spend time with bigger blades with longer shafts as well as racing with very small blades with shorter shafts. I never force a paddle to conform to my movements but try to move in a way that the paddle dictates based on its shape, which should provide some insight on how paddles are different from each other.
The Braca Sports XI (Eleven) Van Dusen '92 is the latest and greatest from the Braca line-up. With ten other shapes in the mix, Braca has the most variety when it comes to blade shapes. They have narrowed it down to the IV and XI being the surfski specific shapes and we will delve into what features in the paddle facilitate success in a surfski and how we can try to match those strengths to our personal strengths through the stroke. Right now I train with a 760 size blade for resistance training and have used a 705 size for racing performances in the past. It's a paddle I have used quite a bit and do enjoy personally, but its shape is definitely complex and may not be a go-to for many.
Braca XI Specs
More details on the paddle specs/weight can be found here
With all the Braca line of paddles there is a huge variety of paddle sizes that can be chosen. Overall the shape is the same, but the proportional water you can grab is increased or decreased based on size. As we look at blade shapes influencing specific feelings in the stroke, know that the larger sizes will magnify these feelings.
Starting with the tip of the blade, it features a very round point that makes the entry into the water "easy." The rounder shape has less surface area at its initial contact and slowly increases that surface area as it is submerged. This makes the very front end of the stroke feel easier than a straighter edge. As the blade does submerge the cup is very deep compared to most paddles which fills with a lot of water. This makes the power phase of the stroke through the middle very strong. There is a twist within the blade itself that dictates a certain pathing through the water which results in a very clean exit, despite the deeper cup. An easy initial entry, followed by a strong lock on the water, then an effortless exit.
With the surfski there is an inherent design that is geared towards quick accelerations to catch waves for surfing. This paddle uses the middle of the stroke to help create that propulsion and the combination of the twisted blade to make the exit very smooth can provide quick speed jumps. This is the paddle of choice for the reigning K1 1000m Olympic Champion in the 775 sizing. Emphasizing its ability to get the boat really moving fast in sprint applications. In the marathon setting this paddle can still be used to keep the boat speed high over long durations, but if used incorrectly it can become very taxing unless using a much smaller size. Designs like shallower cups and less twist become more popular as the duration of racing increases.
The finish on the carbon has a bit of texture that is extremely grippy. To the point that this paddle can easily tear your hands up if you are not wearing gloves or use an external grip. The paddle shaft is round which is a personal preference of oval vs round for many, but can be modified with inserts to become oval if desired. The shaft stiffness can be changed between a few options but most popular ideologies lean to more flexible shafts. Stiffer shafts lead to better power transfer but more muscular/skeletal demand which can lead to joint pains. Balancing blade size with flexible shafts is a variable that will differ for many but knowing a larger blade and a stiffer shaft leads to more demand on the body, and balancing it with a smaller blade or flexible shaft leads to less connection with the water per stroke. Diminished returns is a big part to consider, what is designed for 1000 strokes may be awful for 10000 strokes.
Braca offers a number of locking mechanism to choose from. All of my paddles have the cheaper plastic locking mechanism, and one older model does feature the metal adjustable lever. They have all worked well, with periodic maintenance on the screw tightness holding the lever as it loosens over time. The Memory lock system is not one I have used but looks like a great option for paddlers using a very precise feather angle.
Personal Opinion/Final Thoughts:
I have enjoyed this paddle, as mentioned above. One thing to note is the curve within the paddle. This curve dictates a more specific pathing through the water and at the release of the blade. Paddlers that struggle to path their blade properly will find this shape harder to use as it will feel like its fighting you through the stroke. The shape wants to release away from the boat a little sooner in the stroke, as the blade is buried. For most paddlers struggling to rotate in their boat this is not a great choice. We will discuss more forgiving shapes in the future but their are paddles that work better with limited hip rotation. Once you can rotate well through the stroke this paddle provides a great forward push that makes it unique. (Photos below on rotation with the paddle.)
Thank you all for checking out the article. Please give us some feedback on anything you'd like to see more in depth, expanded on or products to see in the future!
If you have any questions about paddles or our online coaching feel free to message anytime via Live Chat or my email Robertnorman142@yahoo.com