In this review I’m going to compare 2 freestyle paddles – the Mitchell “Nemesis” and the Werner “Sidekick.” I have tried both of these paddles on the Legacy course at Lee Valley to get a feel for them and decide each of their strengths and weaknesses (thanks to Above & Below shop). I will base my findings on five variables: Power, Bite, Weight, Durability and Price.
The Nemesis is the first paddle I ever owned, my instructor Michael Shaw used one and I took an instant liking to it. It seemed to have all the benefits the plastic “TNP Rapa” paddles lacked – it was very light (approx 900 grammes), the blade was large (720 cm2) and I could really shift water with a single paddle stoke, something I was not accustomed to. The only downside seemed to be the 3 month waiting time for it to be made and delivered (despite the fact it says 3 weeks on the website), however this was easily overlooked in favour of its obvious strengths. To clarify I used a straight shaft “carbon matrix” with carbon blades, 30* feather – 194 cm long, single piece (in black). This paddle lasted me 1 year before 3 obvious cracks appeared where my right hand holds the shaft, prior to this it had been leaking for the past 4 months and subsequently had gained some weight. This was somewhat disappointing but considering I use it for 4 hours each weekend and maybe 2 hours during the week, plus my trip to France and the Ottawa river for 5 weeks in the summer, I figured that was what I should expect from a performance freestyle paddle. I liked it so much I ordered a new one about 2 months ago, same specifications but 2-piece so it would be easier to transport.
The first thing I noticed is that the locking system was plastic and did not feel well made. It was adjustable between 194 and 204 cm unlimited feathering available, but every 30 mins the two pieces would shift a bit and need to be realigned. The screws had been glued in place so there was no way to tighten the clamp – a bit irritating really, but I understand the temptation to overtighten this might crack the shaft. The other thing I noticed was that despite the fact that my new and old Nemesis paddles should have been the same length, the old one was 4 cm shorter! This was not poor measuring, the blade has been worn away at both ends, and that’s just from a single years use, no wonder it had lost some of its power… I used the new 2-piece paddle for 5 hours before it snapped (again where my right hand is). There was no impact, I hit neither the boat, someone else nor the bottom of the feature, I came up and the right section was snapped clean in half. Thankfully Mitchell sent out a replacement within 2 weeks, but this was not without some confusion and back-and-forth emails. A major advantage Mitchell has over Werner is the guarantee – you just have to be prepared to wait. This really made me question the Mitchell’s durability, my old paddle being significantly smaller and the new one snapping instantly. It was for this reason I started looking around at other freestyle paddles. The other issue with Mitchell is pricing, the Nemesis is more expensive than either the “Player” or the “Sidekick” coming in at about £300 (the prices on his website are apparently out-dated) depending on the options you select and that’s not including £30 postage unless you’re bothered to pick it up from Liverpool. All-in-all, the Nemesis is a great paddle, it has instant Bite and a lot of Power, but it’s low Weight definitely affects the Durability of both the blade and shaft and the Pricing seems to be on the rise.
To replace my Nemesis paddle I bought the Werner Sidekick, the only other large bladed freestyle paddle I could find – it promised equal power and faster bite with downturned blades. The Sidekick is only available in fibreglass because the carbon version has been discontinued – this means it is cheaper and more durable but also a bit more flexible. To give a quick rundown of the pros and cons of glass and carbon paddles, glass paddles are generally a bit heavier than carbon paddles, they come in pretty colours and they are more resistant to knocks and scratches. This is due to their flexibility, carbon blades might snap or crack with impact whereas glass blades would bend but remain intact. The downside to this is that the blades erode quite quickly with use, faster than carbon blades and of course because carbon blades are stiffer glass blades loose some power – especially on the back stroke due to their reinforcement (to help with a forwards stroke).
Now thats out of the way, what do I like about the Sidekick? When comparing the Nemesis and Sidekick side-by-side the blades are almost identical. While Werner boast of the downturned blades, the Nemesis apparently has it too. The differences in blade shape, while there, are marginal. The Sidekick is a bit larger along the top edge and on the bottom edge closer to the shaft, but the Nemesis is larger at the tip. When using the paddle I found the transition effortless and was surprised at the similarity. The blade is 719 cm2 so effectively the same size, but I felt it had a more immediate bite – I seemed to have the same amount of control and power, just faster. Weightwise it comes in at 1006 grammes, roughly 106 grammes heavier than the Nemesis. This is interesting because although the paddle is heavier it feels easier to paddle with, fooling me into believing it was actually lighter. I believe the reason for this is the flexibility of fibreglass which gives a bit during a stroke giving it a smoother feel in comparison to the instant response of stiffer carbon fiber. I have owned the paddle for 3 weeks during which I have used it for 8 hours on the water. In this time the blade has shown wear and the ends of the blades are now rough but have not yet changed shape. This has happened much faster than on my Nemesis despite it being one of my main complaints about the former paddle – its a shame Werner and Mitchell have not lined the edges of the paddle with protection like Kober have. Finally onto Price, the Sidekick is £220 and most places sell it with free next day delivery. One of its great strengths (which allows you to overlook any slight flaws) is that you save £100 over the Mitchell and can have it immediately without a 3 month wait and plenty of arguing about whether its been posted or not. So to round it up: the Sidekick has more Power and faster Bite than the Nemesis (although the difference is marginal), its heavier but feels lighter when paddling, it’s more durable to hard impacts but wears down faster and last but not least it’s much cheaper and is available instantly (plus it’s a lot prettier).