Ball paddle grip

Joined
Sep 28, 2015
Messages
281
Reaction score
51
Location
Orangevale, CA
I have been reading a bunch of paddle threads lately and thought I start another one :).
I own a variety of straight and bent shaft paddles in wood and carbon. I am a kneeler and mostly use J-stroke and its varieties. I love the touch and feel of wood paddles, but I also love the lighter weight of carbon sticks. I love the classic beaver tail but my current go-to is a Wenonah bent shaft black lite, which I use while kneeling and for J-strokes (sliced or otherwise). So much for tradition ;). I also use a grip technique that seems unorthodox, judging by the fact that I have never seen a paddle grip adapted for it. The distinct advantages (for those who had carpal tunnel) or those that don't care for (or are unable to) over bend their wrists all day long. This technique (IMO) allows for a gentler and much less cramped flick at the end of the stroke. The most apparent downside is obviously that normal grips don't support the technique very well. I thought of using (making) a ball type grip, but paddle orientation may get lost in more technical water and a ball won't offer much leverage or become slippery when wet. I also thought about cutting and re-attaching existing handles at a different angle but have not mustered up the guts to do so. To be clear, I have probably paddled around 2K miles like that, some of which during multi day trips, and I had no issues. Perhaps my hands have adoapted. However, I am wondering what you guys think and whether anyone here used this technique? Perhaps someone here has come across a paddle that accommodates the technique? Thanks in advance.

Image #2 and #4 are slight variations on the theme.
Grip 3.jpgGrip 1.jpgGrip 2.jpgGrip 4.jpg
 
Joined
Sep 8, 2021
Messages
34
Reaction score
27
Location
Rochester, NY
I have an equally odd but different J-stroke technique and tried to find a paddle maker that would build a ball-handled grip with no success. I found a reference to one on an old thread somewhere, so maybe it's not so unusual.Mike Elliot western-cree-paddle.jpg
 

Glenn MacGrady

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Oct 24, 2012
Messages
2,690
Reaction score
959
Location
Connecticut
I also use a grip technique that seems unorthodox, judging by the fact that I have never seen a paddle grip adapted for it.

Dagger, I use that kind of horizontal hand grip very frequently and so do a lot of experienced paddlers, for the very reasons you cite: less stress on the top wrist for J-type correction strokes and more powerful corrections. Native paddles around the world, even today, often have no top grips at all and are just held thumb-down horizontally on the shaft by the top hand.

That is one of the purposes of the secondary grip called a northwoods grip, guide grip, running pry grip, and some other names on many traditional, one-piece animal tail paddles, and also on some modern sugar island laminated paddles such as those formerly made by Cricket Paddles per Dave Curtis's design. Pictures of paddles with secondary grips have been posted recently by me, Murat, Patrick Corry, Abenakiregion, yknpdlr and others, and are offered by many of the paddle builders recently discussed.

Here is an example of a paddler using a horizontal hand placement on a secondary grip to do the northwoods stroke.


While it's true that I don't recall ever seeing a bent shaft paddle with a pronounced secondary grip, it's quite easy to hold a bent shaft palm grip or cobra grip in a horizontal fashion, as your pictures demonstrate.

I don't think I'd like a ball grip (or a native gripless), because of the highly diminished torque control.
 
Joined
Sep 8, 2021
Messages
34
Reaction score
27
Location
Rochester, NY
I don't think I'd like a ball grip (or a native gripless), because of the highly diminished torque control.
For me, the goal of the ball grip would have been to counteract arthritis in my hands. The hope would be that leaving the hand more open would be less painful, and would be worth the diminished torque control. Always looking for ways and means to keep paddling later in life.
 
Joined
Nov 23, 2012
Messages
861
Reaction score
213
Location
Western Adirondacks
I found a ball grip paddle with a voyageur shape blade at a thrift shop. Paid very little for it. Someone told me it was the type used as the 'sneak" paddle for a guideboat. It is a bit longish and heavy for me, so other than as a demo during a show event, I have not seriously used it at all. It looks better mounted on my wall. After literally thousands of miles of paddling, much with the traditional J. I have not found any particular injury or sorness to my wrists. What I did learn long ago, is to keep my lower arm wrist as straight and rigid as posssble during the power stroke. When I did not do so in my early days, tendonitis was common.knob grip.jpgvoyageur paddle.jpg
 

Glenn MacGrady

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Oct 24, 2012
Messages
2,690
Reaction score
959
Location
Connecticut
For me, the goal of the ball grip would have been to counteract arthritis in my hands. The hope would be that leaving the hand more open would be less painful, and would be worth the diminished torque control. Always looking for ways and means to keep paddling later in life.
Ah, that's a different story. Maybe a ball grip would help that.

Are you a correction stroke paddler or a switcher? If the former, you might try becoming a switch paddler with a very light carbon bent shaft so you don't have to torque the paddle for a correction. Switch paddling, you don't have to close your top hand just to push straight forward with every stoke. Of course, you do have to catch the paddle when switching, so that might require painful hand closings. Don't know.

You can hold the the bottom hand fairly open, too, whether correction or switch paddling, by just grabbing the shaft with the first two joints of your fingers.
 
Joined
Jun 3, 2015
Messages
1,548
Reaction score
778
Location
Anchorage Alaska / Pocono Mts.
Dagger, as far as paddle orientation goes with a ball grip if you have a short shaft the lower part of your lower hand can be at the top of the blade so you will always know how it is oriented.
 
Joined
Sep 28, 2015
Messages
281
Reaction score
51
Location
Orangevale, CA
Great feedback as always!
As M mentioned, I also found a ball grip paddle comment a while (few years) back on the site but can't remember from who or even what the deal was. I think I'll just take one of my older wooden sticks and fashion a ball grip and try it. Maybe I'll make it sort of as a quick detach, so I can try different diameters. To be continued ;).
Thanks, guys.
 
Joined
Jul 11, 2014
Messages
4,507
Reaction score
807
Location
Ontario Canada
I am right-handed in most things I do. Throw, hammer, saw, scissor, write, flip the bird (just kidding), but decided years ago to become somewhat ambidextrous in paddling, especially using corrective strokes. The reason being that I'd have little choice in bow partners on some trips. (I love the bow myself but am often relegated to "the backseat"). Okay whatever. My issue has been a troublesome thumb, probably an old injury strain becoming arthritic. My trouble is it hurts whether it's the top hand (right hand) or the bottom (left hand). The "pear grip" on my paddles offer good control but nevertheless I still have an aching thumb by the end of the day. For this reason the Northwoods style of paddle appeals to me. That stroke is the one I cover most miles with. Pain-free would be a bonus. I may have to give Bruce Smith a call.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Feb 1, 2013
Messages
495
Reaction score
157
Location
Ontario
Not sure if this will help your customized stroke, but here is a unique hybrid grip that you might consider experimenting with:

Battenkill%2BGrip%2BCapture.JPG

Source: Wooden Canoe (Issue 80 - Vol. 20 No.2)

It was co-developed in the '90s by Barry Beals and Jim Walker of Battenkill Canoe Ltd and is basically a fusion of a T-style and pear grip. In theory, the flattened portion of the half pear cradles the palm more comfortably and the half-T portion allows the thumb to curl around into a more natural position while still providing a positive hold on the paddle.

Another option to consider is a disc-style grip. The edges are fully rounded, like a ball-type, but the faces flattened. These are more common in Adirondack region as "sneak paddles". Here are a couple images from an antique sample and a new one in cherry made by paddle maker Kent Lund

Adirondack+Guide+Paddle.jpg
Adirondack+Guide+Grip1.jpg

Circa 1890 Adirondack Paddle
4.75" w, 66" h
Source Link

K%2BLund%2BAdirondack%2BStyle4.jpg

Modern version carved by Kent Lund

Motif-of-sycamore-135x300.jpg
Similar disc grip by Gordon Fisher

By the way, Gordon Fisher published a book on guidebook paddles and it includes plans with offset data for this grip design, which is locally known as the lolly-pop grip with a Ruben Cary motif (or arrowhead) motif. More info on his website here.

I've made a similar disc style for a historical recreation of a native Odawa paddle documented by Henry R. Schoolcraft in 1821. Depending on the thickness of the disc, you can comfortably grip it sideways between your index and middle finger like in image 2 of your original post. The curved circular edge cups into the inner edge of the palm down to the base of your thumb allowing some support in your hand. When it comes to the actual forward stroke, you can quickly flip to the face side and easily push with a relaxed, open hand. It certainly relieved some cramping and soreness when I used it.

However, I would first start with a piece of scrap wood and make a test version before committing on a standard paddle. It seems these grips were very customized to the hand size of the user. If I were to make another one for personal use, I would have made it bigger than the historical sample.
 

Glenn MacGrady

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Oct 24, 2012
Messages
2,690
Reaction score
959
Location
Connecticut
It was co-developed in the '90s by Barry Beals and Jim Walker of Battenkill Canoe Ltd and is basically a fusion of a T-style and pear grip. In theory, the flattened portion of the half pear cradles the palm more comfortably and the half-T portion allows the thumb to curl around into a more natural position while still providing a positive hold on the paddle.

Interesting. Did they put this on a straight or bent shaft paddle? The grip militates against palm rolling the paddle and sort of forces one to use a dedicated power and back face. This would be tolerable to me on a bent shaft, or on a straight shaft with a curved and dedicated power face, but I wouldn't like it for a symmetrically-faced straight shaft paddle. I'm a palm roller with such paddles.

The Ken Lund disk grip paddle looks like it could be a winner, except I'd round off all those sharp corners and edges.
 
Joined
Feb 1, 2013
Messages
495
Reaction score
157
Location
Ontario
I believe the Battenkill grip was used with straight shafts & wide sugar island/whitewater blades. I gave it a whirl on a maple paddle but never really got used to it. Eventually, I cut up that paddle and used the wood for another project.

Thought I'd also add that some of the surviving historical evidence show that ball-shaped/bobble handles weren't gripped like a modern paddle with the hand on top. The round bobble was more of a stopper of sorts to prevent the hands from slipping off the shaft. The shaft itself was the actual grip point.

Some artists like Peter Rindisbacher (1806-1834) had first-hand contact and witnessed Native American / First Nation peoples during his extensive travels. His paintings of Western Ojibwe peoples noted that bobble grips were often used by women, sometimes in a reverse grip style (top hand thumb pointing up) where the shaft is held as if you were sweeping a broom.

e008302911-v6.jpg

An Indian removing in the summer with his wife and family.
Rindisbacher, Peter, 1806-1834.
Library and Archives Canada,
Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana
Accession No. R9266-4116
MIKAN no. 3835262


1273815-chippewa-canoe-by-peter-rindisbacher.jpeg

Chippewa Canoe
Peter Rindisbacher
West Point Museum collection


This paddling style has been recreated in modern film. The National Film Board of Canada production, Ikwe, features lots of scenes with bark canoes and other props relatively consistent with the time period they were trying to feature. The producers seem to have done their homework as many of the paddles are replicas of authentic native designs with unique grip styles...

Ikwe2.jpg



Other times the shaft was held with the top hand thumb pointing down...

Rindisbacher%2B-%2BWild%2BRice%2BCapture.JPG

Indians Gathering Wild Rice and Shooting Wild Fowl, 1832
Peter Rindisbacher - Canadian (born in Switzerland), 1806–1834
Winnipeg Art Gallery
G-90-452
 

Glenn MacGrady

Administrator
Staff member
Joined
Oct 24, 2012
Messages
2,690
Reaction score
959
Location
Connecticut
Some artists like Peter Rindisbacher (1806-1834) had first-hand contact and witnessed Native American / First Nation peoples during his extensive travels. His paintings of Western Ojibwe peoples noted that bobble grips were often used by women, sometimes in a reverse grip style (top hand thumb pointing up) where the shaft is held as if you were sweeping a broom.

Other times the shaft was held with the top hand thumb pointing down...

Very interesting images and history. Thanks. (It also give me an idea for a canoe art thread.)

Assuming the four images are accurate depictions of paddle holding, it would make some sense that the bow paddler, who doesn't have to correct her stroke, could use a thumb-up grip just to pull a pure forward stroke. That would be consistent with the bow paddlers in the second and third images.

The stern paddler has to correct. This is shown for the stern paddlers in the second and third images, who clearly seem to be doing J corrections, and also for the stern paddler in the fourth image. All three of those stern paddlers have thumbs down because it is much easier to J correct from that grip position.

The only inconsistency with my interpretive scheme is in the first image, where the stern paddler is clearly thumb-up. I really don't see how one could do an effective and continuous J correction from the stern with that type of grip, unless she doesn't have to because the bow paddler is Hercules. It would be very stressing and tiresome to my wrist and forearm to J correct (or even goon/rudder correct) thumb-up on a shaft for long or strong periods of paddling.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Nov 22, 2021
Messages
55
Reaction score
9
I see a photo of a disk shaped grip, but suppose the disk was oriented so it was flat on top instead of from the front or back.
That is, there would be a hole in the center of the disk that the shaft fit into.
A larger ball that was textured might work well. Otherwise I'd be concerned about leverage.
It would also make a good club ;).
 
Joined
Nov 25, 2021
Messages
414
Reaction score
201
Location
Florida
It should be easy enough to add a ball to the top of a trimmed paddle. To maintain indexing, I’d cut a small countersink/divot on either side of the ball in plane with the blade. You could index your thumb in the divot.
 
Joined
Sep 28, 2015
Messages
281
Reaction score
51
Location
Orangevale, CA
It should be easy enough to add a ball to the top of a trimmed paddle. To maintain indexing, I’d cut a small countersink/divot on either side of the ball in plane with the blade. You could index your thumb in the divot.
I like the divot idea. Thank you!
 
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
Messages
1,138
Reaction score
139
Location
central NYS - 10 miles from the Baseball Hall of F
@Murat V beat me to it but I was going to mention guide boat paddles. I'm fortunate enough to have an original 1898 Dwight Grant guideboat (traded a 1962 Willys jeep for it) and the paddle that came with it has the ball grip. I don't use the paddle since it seems a bit fragile but I've considered using it as a model to make one. That might become a winter project now that I'm retired and have a place to work in.

That's all for now. Take care and until next time...be well.

snapper
 
Top