Aquabound Aerial Whitewater Paddle

Aqua Bound Aerial Whitewater Paddle Review

Review by E Emch

First impressions after a few uses of this new high-end offering from Aqua Bound Paddles is that it looks pretty good. I purchased the Aerial Major 2-piece Versa-Lok Crankshaft Fiberglass Paddle 197-202 (what a name!) and was immediately surprised by the stiffness of the blades and flexibility of the shaft. I was also impressed with how solid the two piece whitewater paddle construction feels with their upgraded Versa-Lok being able to adjust it up to five centimeters in length. Plus with their new Lam-Lok and stronger blade into shaft joints instead of a blade over shaft that we are more used to. But does it warrant the high-end price tag?

One of the first things you will notice when handling this paddle is the grip, they did a coating or something where the shaft has a rubbery/sticky feel to it, which helps keep your hands from sliding around. The dry grip definitely feels like a bit too much grip in my opinion like tacky epoxy or waxing your paddle but as soon as you get it wet it becomes a bit more slick and much more comfortable. I have also found that in colder water the grippiness almost disappears and it feels like a normal paddle shaft until it dries or warms up again. At one point I passed it to one of my coworkers on a trip and she was the one to first notice it, saying it had less grip than her paddle taped in electrical tape she normally uses. I also had to develop a cleaning ritual for sand or dirt getting on the shaft. It will stick a bit and you have to wash it off before continuing after lunch break or a scouting mission.

Let’s talk about how the crankshaft of the Aerial feels, as it’s something we don’t see too often nowadays. The bends meet with my hands perfectly compared to other companies’ bends are sometimes too wide or too narrow for my preferences. Seeing that I have the two piece adjustable construction at the longest setting (202) I can easily find my hands on the bends of the shaft maybe just a bit wider than I normally like and at the shortest setting (197) my hands meet perfectly and I love the feel. If you are a fan of the Adventure Technology style of crankshaft then this will feel familiar, like a tuned down version of it, less oval and less flat, it’s actually almost triangular in shape making great indexing and fits in the hand really well. Not only for me but I passed this off to another paddler who paddles with an old AT3 and he was so excited to have a good modern crank shaft in his hands plus he was super excited about the adjustable length.

As for the two piece construction Aqua Bound took their Versa-Lok system and beefed it up to take the beating of whitewater. I decided to purchase the length I normally use to be the shortest length at 197 with the five centimeters of adjustment it goes all the way up to 202. Something I feel is odd is that they did not include an allen key (especially at this price) to help keep their Versa-Lok maintained. I would like to see something similar to Lendal Paddles where they provide a nice allen key with a tie down point to keep with you. But maybe on the other hand Aqua Bound has found a way to keep the Versa-Lok bolt from coming loose or needing extra adjustment throughout the years. On the few trips I have used it on though I haven’t noticed a difference in strength compared to a one piece paddle.

Another feature of this paddle’s construction is the new Lam-Lok bond on the edge of the blade. 33 feet of aramid thread is stitched into the blade and secures the layers of glass together to prevent delamination and wear. It starts about five inches from the top tip of the blade and continues to about nine inches along the bottom part of the blade. So most of the wear areas are covered which is nice if you spear rocks, but I feel as though most of the chips in my paddles are on the heel or near the shaft from catching rocks sideways instead of stabbing rocks. I would have liked to see the Lam-Lok go all the way around the blade similar to paddles that have Dynel edges versus just half way. But after smacking some rocks with it I couldn’t tell the difference between their Lam-Lok and a normal paddle edge in terms of durability, so overall durability might just be a thing that only time can tell.

Let’s compare the performance of the blade, with a very similar blade profile to one of my other favorite paddles, the Werner Powerhouse, it feels like I need to compare them as it’s a staple in the whitewater community. Product specs say it should be 2.5cm narrower but holding them up it seems like less (around a centimeter or so) and they look to be the exact same length in the blade even though the Aerial is meant to be almost a centimeter shorter. Plus the tip is a bit flatter on the Aerial over the Powerhouse and feels a bit less scoopy and the catch feels a bit smoother than the Powerhouse. But I prefer the grip and bend of the Aerial over the Powerhouse, even though the Powerhouse feels a bit more powerful behind each stroke, as the Aerial feels more like a do everything paddle.

I have talked a bit about other companies that have similar features to the Aerials construction. Let’s talk about what makes this paddle unique and to be truthful it was a very good paddle to use, has a nice catch, good grip, holds its position in length and feather and feels good in the water. I didn’t notice any sort of fluttering in the water or weird turbulence with the blade. I did hit a few rocks and it seems to show wear like any normal fiberglass paddle would. But the graphics and unique stylization on the paddle makes it an eye catcher. The paddle has the feeling of being longer than it actually is and makes planting strokes on the outside of eddies or boof strokes feel a lot cleaner and more controlled. Even when throwing around a play boat it felt very controlled and stable in the water after I got used to the crankshaft. Some may see the weight of the paddle as a downside but once you paddle with it the weight is not as noticeable as one might think.

So far I am really liking the Aerial but one thing I can say I don’t like is the price at almost $600 for the version I got. It is a hefty price, compared to the very similar blade profile of the Werner 1-piece Fiberglass Powerhouse with a bent shaft at a smidge over $400, but compared to other two piece whitewater paddles on the market, Select, Galasport, and Sawyer are in the $400 to $500 mark and, Hardcore, G’Power, and Lettmann are in the $500 to $800 mark, it seems to be in the upper-middle end of the two piece whitewater paddling market. With all the other paddle manufacturers are either getting a smaller company, more adjustability or have better materials they are using. I will say if you want/need a new paddle and want it to perform as good as it looks plus being a two piece design, this paddle may be a quiver killer and lets you get away with one paddle that can do it all. I know that because I have it already I am going to keep the Aerial in my paddle quiver and use it a lot and loan it out a lot.

P.S. Aqua Bound please just throw in an allen key for the price and piece of mind.