Making a Better Paddle

A rather long-winded explanation of how we make our paddles and how you shouldn't let a stranger make your paddle.

Are All Carbon Fiber Paddles Created Equal?

Carbon fiber is suddenly everywhere. While the material is nothing new, its application in commercial and industrial products is growing by leaps and bounds. According to industry analysts, the global demand for carbon fiber has doubled from 2005 to 2014 and by 2020, it is projected to double again.

We are seeing carbon fiber used in everyday products. Anyone who cycles will know it's difficult to find a high end bike frame that is not made of carbon fiber. In the automotive industry, carbon fiber which was previously reserved for use in exotic and expensive supercars like the McClaren, are now found in sub-$40,000 cars like the new electric BMW i3. BMW has bet the farm on carbon fiber by building its own carbon fiber manufacturing facility in Moses Lake, Washington that is reportedly the largest carbon fiber plant in the world.

BMW i3 carbon fiber chassis

Below the Surface

We all recognize carbon fiber when we see it and it's hard not to see its appeal. The deep, rich black weave reflects light in a way that makes the material irresistible. But what most consumers don't know is that there is much more to a carbon fiber structure than meets the eye. The carbon fiber that you see at the surface is less than half a millimeter thick and has the least effect on stiffness and strength. Below that layer are more layers of carbon fiber that provides the bulk of the structural integrity of the paddle.

Not all carbon fiber is alike. If you're considering purchasing a paddle, ask the dealer a simple question - what type and grade of carbon fiber is used in the paddle? Who makes it? If the answers are vague, you'll know the paddles are made in China with questionable materials.

Yet material selection is key to building a better paddle. Carbon fiber applications can be roughly categorized as aerospace, automotive, marine, industral and consumer. Raw carbon fiber and resin is processed specifically to meet the specifications of those markets. Not surprisingly, the most stringent specifications are in the aerospace market. Some aerospace carbon fibers are even subject to trade restrictions because of their strategic importance to the aerospace industry. There has even been a recent case of a Chinese national being prosecuted for attempting to procure and export this restricted material.

Apex Sport uses only aerospace grade carbon fiber sourced from California and is the same material used to build airplane and helicopter structures. Our epoxy resin is imported from Germany and is the highest grade available, approved by the German Federal Aviation Authority. Our structural foam cores are manufactured in Quebec, Canada and certified for use in demanding marine applications.

When a paddle maker pays better attention to the engineering details, they build a better paddle. Knowing which fibers to place where and in what direction is critical when attempting to reduce weight, maintain strength and still provide a stiff paddle which is comfortable to use.

An advantage of composites is you get to place each fiber where it belongs; the challenge is that you have to place each fiber where it belongs.

Apex Paddles

Below the surface layer of carbon fiber, we use multiple layers of unidirectional fibers (all the fibers in one layer are aligned in the same direction). These unidirectional fibers are placed strategically to acheive the optimum stiffness while keeping weight down.

The Finish

Almost all carbon fiber paddles have either a clearcoat (spray or dip lacquer) or a painted finish. The reason for this - it covers up flaws. Any inconsistencies in the carbon weave or any epoxy pinholes or voids are simply covered up. In the case of painted paddles, a bondo paste is used to fill gaps and holes before the paint is applied.

This cosmetic layer does nothing but make a paddle look pretty. Paints and clearcoats will often chip or flake off because paint does not share the same flex characteristics as carbon fiber. In the case of bondo, it adds weight and disturbs the balance and flex of the paddle.

With an Apex paddle, what you see is what comes out of the mould. We simply cut off the flashing and sand the seams - by hand. For that reason, you will see minor variances in finish and weave. Any paddles with major voids or flaws are discarded. Paddles with acceptable cosmetic flaws are sold as seconds.

We're sure our customers like it this way. No coverups. Pure carbon fiber. Nothing to get in the way of performance.