Bending Branches Balance Review
Cons: Snap-button adjustment system isn't the easiest to use
Manufacturer: Bending Branches
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Balance is true to its namesake and has a smooth and efficient stroke from catch to exit with very little flutter. It has a 10-degree blade to shaft offset, which is perfect for versatility. It works for a wide range of paddling styles. The paddle weighs 1.6 pounds (26 ounces), and because most of its weight is in the blade, it's easy to get a metronome feel while paddling. It's just heavy enough that it pulls itself into the water, and is light enough that the exit out of the water feels effortless.
The blade is rectangular with an area of 85 square inches. Fitness paddlers will appreciate the high cadence stroke that works well with the larger blade. Recreational users will enjoy how effortless it is to pull through the water. The contoured wooden palm grip is solid, secure and fits hands perfectly. It was the favorite among testers.
Because the Balance has a flat blade profile, we weren't sure how it would compare to the contoured and dihedral profiles of the other paddles but were pleasantly surprised. Although the whitewater river surfers wouldn't choose this paddle, almost all the flatwater paddlers found the performance on par with its rivals. This paddle held its own against other performance composite paddles with scoop profiles and significant dihedral angles, much to our surprise.
The beautiful red alder and basswood construction is reinforced with Fiberglass and protected by a special rock guard which prevents chipping. The Balance has a shaft made of aviation-grade T700 carbon, which is lightweight and has very little, if any flex. This means that you lose very little power on each stroke, which lessens fatigue and increases forward motion.
While we wouldn't necessarily think of a wood SUP paddles as being light, the Bending Branches Balance thoroughly surprised us. While it does have a wooden blade, this paddles saves weight by sporting a 100% carbon shaft. The Balance tips the scales at a mere 1.6 pounds and feels inexplicably lighter than other paddles that weigh the same due to its perfect balance.
That puts it in the middle of the paddles we tested, but it carries its weight well. It feels very well balanced, with the weight distributed in just the right places, making each stroke feel effortless.
Ease of Adjustment
This is where the Balance struggled against the competition. It has a more old-fashioned snap-button adjustment system. Most of the other paddles had the ultra-sleek lever-lock.
It is not hard to adjust, you push the metal button in and slide the handle up or down until the button snaps up into the next hole. These are spaced 2-inches apart. The problem is that if you don't keep things lined up, the button can disappear and you have to keep turning and sliding the handle until it finds a hole.
Again, this is where the Balance fell short. The snap-button adjustment system can't compete with the lever-lock. However, the snap-button system of the Balance is excellent for what it is. The button is easy to push in, the handle shaft slides freely, and when the button locks in place, it is solid. There is no give or wiggle room. Once it's in place, it feels like a solid, one-piece paddle.
The advantage of the snap-button system is that there is not a locking mechanism built into the handle. You can see the difference in the photos above. The Balance handle is on the left, and the LeverLock system found on the Werner handles is on the right. The Balance handle has no indentations or holes. As a result, the solid wood handle is the most comfortable of the bunch.
On the other hand, the adjustment holes run in 2-inch increments down the shaft, right where your hand grips. You end up gripping the shaft over the holes. It's not a big deal, but we don't love it either.
Although it's snap-button system is stable and easy to use, it feels quite old-school compared to the sleek new lever-lock systems. The snap-button system felt almost out of place on this paddle that excels in so many other areas. It was the reason some testers didn't choose it as their top choice.
The Balance is beautiful. When we presented the paddles to a group of testers, this was the one everyone reached for.
After the lucky person who reached first claimed their prize, they spent quite a bit of time admiring the craftsmanship of the blade. It features a feather pattern of basswoods and red alder. The carbon shaft looks black at first, but then you notice it seems to glow from within where the light hits it. The solid wooden grip with its asymmetric palm looks inviting to hold.
While this adjustable SUP paddle is a high performance, functional piece of art that's lightweight and sturdy, it's far from a great value option. Its beautifully balanced, crafted in Osceola, Wisconsin but can take quite a chunk out of your savings. There is no doubt that you are paying a premium price for both its paddling performance and its appearance and those shopping on a budget would be better served by a paddle that is a little less stylish. However, you can at least have some faith that the Bending Branches Balance will last you a while and is fairly durable — Bending Branches claims that only 0.03% of their paddles break.
We loved the Balance and recommend it to those that find joy in beauty and appreciate state-of-the-art construction. As pretty as it is, we enjoy paddling it even more than we enjoy looking at it. While it definitely isn't the paddle for everyone, it's hard to argue with how cool this paddle looks. It makes a style statement without sacrificing too much in terms of paddling performance and is a surefire way to turn some heads when you are out on the water.
— Megan Ferney