By: Anna Bruno
It is no wonder that AT named their new Advanced Series Whitewater line of paddles after heroes and legends.
In the past few months, I have taken the Hercules blade creeking, river running, hole-boating, bigwater playboating on the China’s Salween River, and out for the casual flatwater stroll. In every river environment, the Hercules blade takes after the Greek demi-god that inspired its name, living up to it’s illustrious namesakes in strength, versatility and sex appeal.
For those of you who need a mini refresher in Greek Mythology, Hercules was the son of Zeus and one of his many mortal mistresses. He is famous for his strength, as well as his many adventures and escapades, most notably the 12 labors of Hercules which he completes to claim his place alongside his father on Mt. Olympus. While my Hercules paddle has not slain a lion, cleaned a stable in a day, or captured a Cretan bull, it has proved its strength, durability and versatility in the “Trials of Hercules” I have brought it on to earn it the first place in my paddle quiver, if not on Mount Olympus.
Trial One: Boofing on the Kaituna: Strength!
The Kaituna river in New Zealand is a great place to test drive a paddle. Short, easily accessible with multiple line options, you can play all day long to get a sense of how a piece of gear preforms. The Kaituna is famous for Tutea falls, a seven meter waterfall, but the river has plenty more boofs to play on. Having a paddle that pulls with power and feels solid taking a boof stroke is key for me. I was hesitant to switch to an all carbon blade, rather than the foam core I was used to, but the Hercules assuaged my fears. The paddle still feels buoyant, but is stronger and more efficient in how it uses the energy I put into it. When I go to boof, ‘Herc’ pulls cleanly and efficiently for the stroke, sending me flying. The blade doesn’t flutter, and I can only describe the way the paddle pulls in the water as sexy.
Trial 2: Wave Surfing in NZ and China: Weight and Flexibility
Wave surfing is possibly my favorite element of kayaking, and I want a paddle that will perform, whether I am stopping to surf on my way downstream, or focusing on spending my day parking and playing. Once again, my Hercules does it. The carbon fiber and Innegra blend means my paddle is lighter weight, reducing strain on my forearms so I can maximize my rides and sessions. It also makes it easy to move my paddle around so I can rotate faster. The shaft is flexible, with just the right amount of give to not burn out my shoulders and elbows, even when I spend time setting up in the foam pile. This blade makes me want to take an acceleration stroke.
Trial 3: Big Water Boating on the Salween: Strength and Durabilty
The force of 60,000 + cumecs of water is undeniable. Dropping into the massive waves and holes on the Salween, the last thing I want is to lose or break a paddle. Luckily, the smaller shaft of the Hercules makes it easy to grip onto firmly without exhausting the muscles in my hands. When I went to dig my blade into to the tumultuous whitewash, my boat shot through cleanly, hitting the line I wanted easily.
Trial 4: Teaching Kayaking: Durabilty, ctd..
When you paddle 300 days a year, you want a paddle you know is going to last. Teaching kayaking means you may need to frantically abandon your gear at a certain point to chase down someone or something, or even more terrifying, lend your gear out. Shuttle rides and trailers can beat your gear up, causing nicks, dings and scratches that may lead to gear failure down the line. Normally, I wince when paddles get chucked onto rocks as you get out of your boat, or ask for my paddle to be gently protected on the way to the river. While I am still taking care of my Hercules, I feel confident in its ability to resist the dings and scratches from small rocks and hits along the way that will prolong its life. This means… paddle tosses for days!
Trial 5: Buoyancy
If you flip over, you want a paddle blade that feels stable, and dare I say it, a little floaty, to help give a bit of leverage as you roll up. I was dubious of transitioning to an all carbon blade away from my foam core AT2, but was pleasantly surprised to find that the blade slices easily through the water while paddling, or while rolling. It rose to the surface easily, and had plenty of surface area to push against, making my roll feel effortless, as If I didn’t even use the paddle.
Trails 6: Kids: Weight, Strength, everything…
In China, I had to fight seven year olds to reclaim my paddle when it was captured. Even the little kids- aged six, or seven- could pick up and use my Hercules with ease as a shovel to dig sand with, as a splash wars weapon, as a bat in sponge tag, or as a tool to propel them down the river thanks to its lightweight lay up and smaller shaft. Plus, they looked good with it, and they knew it. I was fully confident that my Hercules could handle whatever paces the kids put it through- on or off the water. Despite my confidence, was I scared to see my paddle kidnapped? Absolutely- but only because I knew I might not be able to get it back.