Kayak Fishing Ultimate Resource

Monday, 17 April 2017 16:42

Interview - What it Takes To Make a Bending Branches Paddle

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Andrew Stern from Bending Branches gives us a peek behind the scenes in their factory and shows us what it takes to create the paddles we love.

Bending Branches paddles require no introduction in the YakAngler community - with our readers voting the Angler Pro as Paddle of the Year for four consecutive years.  If you don't have this paddle yet and would like to stand the chance to win one, be sure to enter our giveaway, which ends on Sunday, 30th April. In this interview, Andrew Stern gives us a peek behind the scenes at Bending Branches, reveals how they create their paddles and talks about the changes in the industry.


Tell us a bit about the history of your company.  How did Bending Branches start out?

We have been around since 1982. The company literally started out in the garage of Dale Kicker, who was an active canoeist who spent a lot of time on the water. He figured out a way to protect paddles and make them last 6 times longer, so he quit his job at Eastern Mountain Sport and started manufacturing paddles from his garage. Sales picked up and by 1986 the company had grown so much that it moved to a new building. It kept growing, prompting another move in 1994 to its current headquarters in Osceola, Wisconsin.

Bending Branches also used to be a well-known brand for hockey sticks, but discontinued the manufacturing of hockey sticks to solely focus on paddles in 2001. New, emerging sports such as kayaking, kayak fishing and stand-up paddling took off. We started manufacturing paddles specifically aimed at kayak anglers based on very enthusiastic feedback from the community.

Why did you stop manufacturing hockey sticks?

Hockey became increasingly popular in the country, and with the larger demand, major corporations started to compete in the market. They would sponsor high-performing athletes and for a small company with only 30 employees it was very hard to compete with those huge marketing budgets. Bending Branches decided to rather specialize in paddles and exploit the growing opportunities in the kayak market. It worked out for the best, as nothing beats focus if you want to create a really awesome product.

What, would you say, is one of the greatest challenges businesses face in the industry?

As an American manufacturer, it is quite a challenge to compete to low-priced paddles from Asian manufacturers. There has also been a great shift in retail distribution in the past decade as online shopping became more popular. We’re putting a lot of focus into our ecommerce shopping experiences.

What inspired you to also make paddles specifically aimed at kayak anglers?

We saw the market opportunity. Kayak angling was on the rise, with a lot more people enjoying the sport. We are usually more conservative about creating new product lines, but in this case we took the plunge – and it paid off. We designed a whole family of products specifically for kayak anglers and the support from the community has been great.

What were some of your greatest innovations in paddle design for kayak fishing?

Our first innovation was to include a tape measure in the shaft of the paddle – making it very easy for the angler to measure the fish without having to bring extra gear. Many of our angler paddles also come with a hook retrieval system, which helps to get the lure back to the boat. The third innovation is an Angler Optimus kit that transforms the kayak paddle into a canoe paddle, stand-up paddle or push/stakeout pole with a simple snap button changeover, offering more ways to get closer to the fish.

Will we be seeing more products tailored for anglers going forward?

Oh, most definitely – we are working on a big update in our angler kayak paddle range. We can’t divulge much at this stage, but we have some great new products that are currently getting designed and tested. Watch this spot, you won’t be disappointed!

Which are some of your most popular paddles for anglers?

The Angler Pro is our most popular paddle by far and the most used by pro anglers. This paddle has a fully-carbon, ovalized shaft and delivers super lightweight comfort, which reduces paddling fatigue. This paddle has been rated Paddle of the Year by YakAngler’s community for four consecutive years.

The Angler Classic is our best-selling kayak fishing paddle and is a great paddle for the novice user. It is an American-made product that comes at a very competitive price and still delivers great quality and comfort.

What is your newest paddle for kayak fishing and what makes it so special?

Our newest paddle for kayak fishing, the Angler Rise is, at only $75, our most competitive price point yet. This gives you a very light, durable, American-made paddle that will be good to use for a decade. The Rise is comfortable, light and comes with an aluminium shaft and durable polypropylene blades with a hook-retrieval notch.

Why is it so important to try out a paddle before you buy it?

It is vital for every paddler to find the right size paddle for your specific needs. You don’t want to be using a paddle that is so short you are hitting your hands on the gunwale, or one that wastes space and is impossible to stow. Getting a paddle for your kayak is like getting an engine for your car – it is going to influence how much energy you expend to get through the water. You should preferably buy the lightest paddle you can afford, that gives you enough of the power face of the blade in the water. If you are using a paddle that is the wrong fit for you, you are not going to enjoy your kayak or enjoy the sport. And that is what it is all about in the end – enjoying your time out on the water.

What is the Rockgard tip and why do you include it in most of your canoe paddles?

Rockgard is our patented blade project material, made of a proprietary urethane material, it protects the wood and makes the paddle last six times longer. All of our canoe paddles come with a Rockgard tip.

Tell us a bit more about the design process. What process do you go through from your initial idea until the paddle reaches the shops?

We internally design and manufacture every single paddle we sell. We have our own internal team of designers and engineers and we are also constantly in contact with pro anglers who give their input on what is needed in the sport and how to improve specific paddles.

Initially, every paddle starts with a concept based on an idea, which then gets designed and drawn by a product developer on the computer. After several tweaks and redesigns, once we are happy with the result, we use our on-site 3D printer to print a prototype. This then gets tested and altered until we reach a final design, which is then made in-house for the final tests. It goes through vigorous tests to ensure that it is very durable and our pro athletes take it out on the water to do field tests and make sure that there are no mistakes in the design. Once the entire team is happy that the paddle meets our quality standards, it will be put in full production and be distributed through our retail channels. We don’t sell directly to the public, but work mainly with retailers who specialize in water sports, to ensure that our consumers get the best advice and guidance when purchasing our products. From concept design to production, it takes us about a year to develop a new paddle.

What is your personal favorite paddle and why?

I am a great fan of the Navigator. It is a beautiful wood kayak paddle that combines a high-tech shaft, made from aviation-grade carbon, with the natural beauty of roasted basswood and red alder. This makes the paddle lightweight, easy to handle and buoyant through water unlike anything.

With all the innovations in new, synthetic materials in the past couple of decades, why is wood still a material of choice at Bending Branches?

We, and our clients, are outdoorsy people who love nature. We just love the natural and simplistic look and the warm and comfortable touch of wood. We will keep making wooden paddles as long as people keep buying them.

Why do your paddles have such a low breakage rate?

Smart engineers. Our paddles are put through more testing than any other manufacturer in the industry. We have five paddle engineers – this is much of what they do, and they know our paddles inside and out. Our paddles go through 12 different tests to find their breakpoints. We also have a very detailed tracking system of paddles that are currently on the market. If any of them get returned, we go through great lengths to analyze exactly what went wrong.

A lot of people dream about working with something related to their hobby. What has it been like for you?

I feel very fortunate. Friends make fun of me, but to me it is a blessing to go in everyday and work with something I feel passionate about. It could have been so much different. Sometimes it makes me feel guilty... my wife is a funeral director – she has to go in every day and deal with great sadness, while to me it is just a joy to go to my job.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to get into the sport?

Wow – it depends on the area you live in... but just get out there and get on the water. Kayaking is a sport that is fairly cheap to enter and is great to enjoy with your friends and family. Life slows down when you are on the water. Just don’t ever get a tandem – they are not called “divorce kayaks” for no reason!

What sets Bending Branches apart from the rest?

Four things:

  1. People unlike anyone else. Our staff members are really lovely people with no egos and we are fully aware that we are 100% reliant on the people who enjoy paddle sports.
  2. We genuinely care about paddling. All of us enjoy to paddle and want to make the sport enjoyable for others out there.
  3. Our paddles are designed and tested to deliver the highest levels of performance on the market.
  4. We are an all-American manufacturer and, in a very competitive market, we produce products that are unique and sought-after worldwide.

What is your vision as a company?

Long term, we want to keep producing paddles and remain highly invested in paddle sports. We want to keep manufacturing high-end, lightweight paddles that perform really well.

We also want to keep supporting specialty retailers – the traditional brick & mortar, genuine mom & pop stores.

Thirdly, we want to keep coming up with new product innovations on an organic, grassroots level.

Why should every angler own a Bending Branches paddle?

Because Bending Branches paddles perform as well, if not better than any other paddle on the market. The last thing you should worry about is that your paddle won’t hold up. No matter which paddle sport you are enjoying, your paddle should be designed specifically to elevate that experience.

Last modified on Monday, 24 April 2017 09:45
Naomi Bolton

Yakangler's Community Manager and Editor - in charge of sourcing news and articles for the website. ┬áIf you have any ideas for new content, please do get in touch with me at: [email protected]

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