Jodie-Marc Lalonde, founder of Turtle Paddle Works had a booth and was selling some of his well known paddles at the show. I was quite interested in his Custom Solo paddle, but instead he introduced me to his new design, the Stylus. At the time, I really wasn't well versed enough to know what I should look for in a paddle or what to look for in terms of quality, but after briefly discussing stuff with him and inquiring about other designs, the Stylus was recommended. Knowing what his paddles retail for in many stores, I appreciated the deal he was offering.
It would be many weeks before I could really test the paddle under actual conditions at the lake. Initially I was quite impressed with the blade design (still am), but I found his grip to be too small for my hand and carved too thin for my liking, something that I only noticed after an hour of steady paddling. The sharp angled ends would dig into my palms and it got to be that I couldn't enjoy the paddling experience. I was even more dismayed that after only a single, prolonged use in a deep water lake conditions, the varnish on the blade began blistering and peeling in thin strips. I'm assuming the the coating was insufficient and water seeped in causing the thin varnish layers to lift. Don't get me wrong, I probably just ended up with a slightly inadequate paddle that I'm sure he would have replaced given the company's guarantee, but at the time, I just let it go. The paddle would sit pretty much unused for another year and half.
Fast forward to my newly acquired skills and I realized that this paddle made of prime black cherry could still be "saved". After the experience with my own Walnut Solo Refurbish, I felt I could removed the flaking varnish, give the paddle a quick sanding, and burn another birding image on the blade. Given that there's nothing really I'm willing to do with the handle, the paddle would basically be another showpiece.
I've often heard a mysterious "plunking sound" while paddling near reeds...sort of like large rocks plopping into deep water. After checking out WhatBird.com, I found out that it was an American Bittern. Turns out they're quite shy and solitary and so well camoflaged that when disturbed (by a snoopy paddler for instance), they tilt their neck up and sway back and forth with the reeds. Even though I've technically never seem one, I figured hearing one was good enough, so a Bittern image was chosen based on a couple of online photos of the bird like the one on the right.
Close up image of the Bittern on the Blade
The whole blade
Whole paddle before final varnishing
April 17/08 Update: The blade has now been varnished and completed. You can check out the results HERE