Wave of creativity
Design students develop innovative paddles for water sports
December 8, 2016
When most people
head to the river, lake or stream, they generally don’t dwell on the design of
the paddles for their canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard. They just want the
paddles to work.
A group of 19 industrial
design students at University of Wisconsin-Stout took the opposite approach
this fall. They spent four weeks thinking long and hard about all aspects of paddles,
from their history to the grip to the shape to the tip.
Then they designed
their own paddles as part of an assignment for visiting professor David
Richter-O’Connell. In one month, each of them had to create a new type of paddle
to match the water sport of their choice and make a prototype.
The project came
with added pressure too. Advising them and reviewing their work was Dale Kicker,
who helped start the company Bending Branches, one of the world’s largest
“Knowing Dale was
going to be there, there was more intent on their part to show their work
professionally,” Richter-O’Connell said.
When they finished,
students likely knew more about paddles than they’d ever dreamed of knowing,
things such as user profiles, ergonomics, pain points, upper body dynamics and
Research is one of
the reasons student Drake Schlosser, a junior from Rubicon, created a canoe
paddle with a bent lower grip. “I changed it to reduce the wrist angle through
the paddle stroke in a way that aids a more powerful stroke as well,” Schlosser
Schlosser said he
created an actual paddle from his design and tested it in the water. “It worked
like a champ,” he said.
One student created a paddle for a
user with one arm. Another student created a paddle with interchangeable blades
for different types of uses, such as speed vs. long distance.
Hammerstrom, a senior from Oakdale, Minn., designed a kayak paddle grip with
grooves that go down the shaft, making it look like one piece, and blades
designed to look and work like fish fins.
Her design was for a fishing
kayak. “I figured that since a kayak fisher would be moving around a lot versus
strictly sitting and paddling, having grips along the entire shaft would add
more tactility as well as make it harder for the paddle to roll off the kayak
or the fisher's lap when it was set down,” Hammerstrom said.
She also created paddle grips that
are horizontal on top as opposed to vertical to help reduce blistering.
Working with Kicker and Bending
Branches helped Hammerstrom better understand “the demographic of people who
like to kayak fish and therefore be able to design something that would
potentially be appealing to them,” she said.
paddles students designed impressed Kicker.
“I was amazed at the
creativity the students had. The level of interest they took and research they
did was very impressive. Students’ ability to build real world prototypes and
explain their working function was remarkable,” Kicker said.
Kicker helped found Bending
Branches in St. Paul in 1982. Now based in northwest Wisconsin, in Osceola,
Bending Branches produces hundreds of paddles daily and sells them around the
which also has worked on projects through UW-Stout’s Discovery Center, won’t be
using the students’ designs but will benefit nonetheless from the
collaboration, Kicker said.
“Just being exposed
to new, creative ideas from different perspectives elevates one’s own view. It
was truly my pleasure to be invited and have students share their work with
me,” Kicker said.
Along with prototypes and written
aspects of the projects, students had to provide 2D sketches of their designs.
“This is a strong building group.
They did some excellent work,” Richter-O’Connell said.
The canoe paddle
project was the second of three “additive progression” projects during the
semester, Richter-O’Connell said. The first was studying the hand grip. The
third is designing a restricted work space with hand tools, specifically a food
Top: A paddle with a curved lower grip designed by Drake Schlosser is tested by another student, Jeffrey “Clay” Simonson.
Middle: Dale Kicker, of Bending Branches, examines a student prototype.
Hammerstrom, a senior, explains her
paddle design during a class presentation.