In July this year I got some shiny new Sawyer paddles – I was stoked. Hand made in the beautiful state of Oregon, USA, Sawyer has been crafting paddles and oars since 1967. Their extensive lineup includes straight and bent shaft paddles for canoes, outriggers, sea and whitewater kayaks, rafts and even for the SUP guys. For this article I’ll focus only on their whitewater range for kayaks, of which they have three models at present – the Diamondback, Copperhead and Sidewinder.

What Sawyer says about their paddles:

The Diamondback offers power and responsiveness to the whitewater kayaker that is looking for a great all-around river running/play paddle. The straight, wood core shaft is reinforced with a braided carbon sleeve (Cherry wood grips are optional). The Western Red Cedar blades have a carbon and fibreglass reinforced, dihedral power-face, a fibreglass reinforced non-power face and a Dynel Xtra-ToughEdge™ for added abrasion and impact resistance.
Blade length: 18" (457mm) 
Blade width: 8 3/8" (213mm)
Weight: 42 oz. (1190 grams)

The Copperhead is built as the ultimate play paddle. Tested at playboating destinations such as Skookumchuck wave in B.C., the Rio Grande, and on big water class V in Chile. Its all carbon crank shaft is light and responsive in the hands. The blades have a V-Laminated™ Western Red Cedar core with carbon and fibreglass reinforcements and a Dynel Xtra-ToughEdge™ for added abrasion and impact resistance. The light swing-weight Copperhead is about all day play!
Blade length: 17.5" (444.5mm)
Blade width: 8.5" (216mm)
Weight: 33 oz. (935 grams)

The Sidewinder was made with the 'creek boater' in mind. Plenty of power, for quick acceleration and digging through holes; and a quick response to make that crucial boof stroke. This wood core, carbon braid reinforced, crank-shaft offers the warmth and feel of wood, ergonomic comfort, and the added responsiveness of carbon reinforcement. The dihedral blades are built with a blend of laminated woods with a carbon and fibgrelass reinforced power-face, fibreglass reinforced non-power face and a Dynel Xtra-ToughEdge™ for added abrasion and impact resistance. This paddle is built to take all the beat-downs that steep creeks can dish out.
Blade length: 17.5" (444.5mm)
Blade width: 8.5" (216mm)
Weight: 33 oz. (935 grams)


So basically one has the Diamondback which is a straight, wood shaft paddle with the carbon braided sleeve over that shaft, the Copperhead with a full carbon, crank shaft for play boating and the Sidewinder which has the wooden shaft, again with the carbon braid covering it, and a very cool curve to the shaft which effectively makes it a neutral bent shaft. The blades on all these paddles are relatively similar. I have the Copperhead and Sidewinder, which is what will be shown in the photos.

I’ve only tried the Copperhead a few times and unfortunately we weren’t taking any photos on those days. Because the blade is smaller than the Sidewinder I only used it while playboating and I’m not really much of a playboater, although I do enjoy it. The paddle is fairly light and as would be expected from a full carbon shaft, quite stiff. The blade felt great in the water and I only have one nit. I felt the blade could have been joined closer to the crook of the shaft, which would make the hand position wider for a given overall length. For me the hand position felt about an inch too narrow. But maybe that’s just me. For playing, or for big water runs like the Nile, Zambezi or Ottawa it would be an excellent choice.

Sawyer whitewater 600wideFrom their last catalogue. Click on the picture for a full size image.

AT doggy drop AT waterfall 1 AT waterfall 2

Video stills from the Smalblaar. Video by Corné van Daalen. DSC_0007_E1_CR copy DSC_0008_E1_CR copy

Receiving a big beating at the Palmiet River mouth. Great bodyboarding waves, bad for kayaking… Photos by Justin Abrams. DSC_0019_E1_CR copy DSC_0021_E1_CR copyBlunting at the Palmiet River mouth. Photos by Justin Abrams.

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Hiking into the Dwars River. Dwars_09_August_2010_048_E1_CRDwars River Waterfall. Photo by Leon Pieters.

AT boofing DwarsAnother run of the waterfall on the Dwars – this time boofing pretty hard, maybe too hard. Video still from GoPro footage taken by Justin Abrams.

Sawyer_5_July_2010_021_E1_CR copy Sawyer_5_July_2010_014_E1_CR copy Sawyer_5_July_2010_018_E1_CR copy Sawyer_5_July_2010_019_E1 copySawyer Copperhead – their playboating paddle.

Sawyer_5_July_2010_032_E1 copyFine workmanship.

Sawyer_5_July_2010_037_E1_CRSQ copyAnother look at the Copperhead blade, with two Sidewinders in the background.

The paddle I’ve used extensively is the Sidewinder. This is their creeking paddle and designed to take abuse. I’d have to agree, it is tough. Paddling in the Western Cape province of South Africa, where I live at the moment, one mostly has low volume rivers, so there are a lot of rocks to hit. So far the paddle has held up 100%. I feel that this is probably the strongest paddle I’ve ever owned, although I have no scientific evidence to back up that statement. The Sidewinder is not the lightest paddle around. What would you expect from a paddle that is made fully out of wood, with carbon and glass reinforcing for added strength? The weight doesn’t bother me and if you look at the bottom of the range paddles of many manufacturers, then this paddle will still be lighter, so it’s not that bad. When I first tried the Sidewinder it felt a little weird, ok, quite weird. I think it’s because the non power-face of the blade sits a little more forward relative to the hand than other paddles. I’ve tried an AT-2 more than once and it feels like this. A little getting used to, but after a session or two it feels really good. Low braces are really easy to throw and one doesn’t need to put one’s arms as low down to put it into effect. The blade is powerful enough for my needs, without being overly so. I do prefer a large blade and this is perfect for my needs. Draws are smooth, no flutter and a clean catch - I love this paddle.

Sawyer_5_July_2010_027_E1 copy Sawyer_5_July_2010_022_E1_CR copy Sawyer_5_July_2010_026_E1 copyThe Sawyer Sidewinder – their creeking paddle. A work of art, that is both tough and functional too.

Sawyer_5_July_2010_009_E1_CREL copyA look at the curve to the shaft of the Sidewinder. Beautiful paddle.

Sawyer_5_July_2010_042_E1 copyClose up view of the Sidewinder.

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The seldom run Krom River. Photos by Leon Pieters. Molenaars_22_August_2010_011_E1 copy Molenaars_22_August_2010_016_E1 copy Molenaars_22_August_2010_017_E1 copy Molenaars_22_August_2010_025_E1_CR copy

Molenaars River – Hotel Rapid. Photos by Scott Reinders. Palmiet_29_August_2010_141_E1 copyPalmiet River – Waterfall Rapid. Photo by Rowan Walpole.

Sawyer_5_July_2010_034_E1_CR copyThe two Sidewinders on the left, and a Copperhead on the right.

Sawyer_5_July_2010_036_E1 copyAs the label says…

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Surf kayaking near to Tsaarsbank. Photos by Niell Taylor. Witte_12_October_2010_039_E1_CR copy

The ‘Wall Spout’ rapid on the Witte. Photo by Peter Ridgway. Witte_12_October_2010_050_E1_CR copy Witte_12_October_2010_078_E1 copyMore action from the Witte River. Photos by Peter Ridgway.

Witte_12_October_2010_113_E1 copy Witte_12_October_2010_117_E1 copy Witte_12_October_2010_119_E1 copy

Double Drop on the Witte. Photos by Leon Pieters. Witte_12_October_2010_186_E1 copyTwo Teacups – Witte River. Photo by Leon Pieters.

Zandvlei_28_August_2010_040_E1 copyI’ve got a very cool Ark Alligator which I use for bass fishing. Paddle came in useful :-) Photo by Rowan Walpole.

Yzerfontein_10_11_12_August_2010_104_E1_CR copy Yzerfontein_10_11_12_August_2010_105_E1 copy Yzerfontein_10_11_12_August_2010_129_E1_CR copySurf kayaking on a beautiful day at Yzerfontein. Photos by Justin Abrams.

Sawyer make a wide range of paddles for other water users’ needs. Their website is being worked on at the time of this publication but check back from time to time, and follow them on Facebook too.


If you’re looking for a strong paddle and something that works really well too, then check out Sawyer Paddles and Oars:


Photography by: Adrian Tregoning. Unless otherwise stated.
Words by: Adrian Tregoning.
Paddler: Adrian Tregoning.