A Visit to Bending Branches & Aqua-Bound

Outside the Bending Branches / Aqua-Bound Facilities

Recently I took a trip to Minnesota to try out snowshoeing for the first time as part of my ACK Go Play Day, an initiative that encourages employees to experience the outdoors. Well, shortly after landing, it hit me that I would be nearby one of our biggest suppliers of kayak and canoe paddles, Bending Branches & Aqua-Bound! I have been working with Bending Branches quite a bit recently since they joined our Kayak Angler Tournament Series as a Patron Sponsor and knew that I couldn’t miss an opportunity to stop by. I made some last minute arrangements and found myself at their facilities the next day.

For those of you not familiar with the company, Bending Branches got their start in Minnesota in 1982 from a pair of canoeists who recognized a need for durable, high quality paddles. Their very first innovation, composite tip canoe paddles revolutionized the industry. Today, they’re found in nearby Osceola, Wisconsin just across the St. Croix River from where they got their start. All of their paddles are made on-site (with some molding work for shafts outsourced to a company just down the street) and they continue to be innovators of the industry with products like their popular Angler Kayak Paddles and their latest creation, the Aqua-Bound Posi-Lok ferrule.

Bending Branches and Aquabound Paddles headed to the ACK Warehouse!

I was very privileged to get a walk through the entire facilities from company president Ed Vater himself. We started in the offices where I was quickly reminded that as a retailer we are considered their customer and learned that there is a lot of effort put in to ensure our needs are met. It starts in the office, where retailers like ACK put in orders for specific paddles, and culminates on the shipping floor where we stopped next. Sure enough, we came across a stack of boxed paddles headed to the ACK warehouse!

What amazed me was how efficient they were at making just the right amount of paddles. To avoid having paddles sit in their warehouse, taking up space and potentially going un-purchased, their paddles are made to order. For example, when we decide at ACK that we need more Angler Ace paddles to offer at our stores and website, Bending Branches will take our order and have the paddles made – usually in the time frame of a single day! 

A minor nick in the wood made this paddle not fit for sale

To meet these deadlines, they have greatly streamlined the process of paddle manufacturing and it was hard not to be in awe as we walked through the attached factory where the magic happens. We learned about the intense quality control both of raw materials (like wood) and of products at various stages of manufacturing, laminate process for carbon shafts, ferrule & shaft assembly and even got to see some new, soon to be released products. Throughout the entire tour, their dedication to providing quality products while still keeping costs down for end-user was proven time and time again. Enjoy the photos below and be sure to check out our full line-up of Bending Branches and Aqua-Bound products at ACK.com!

Joseph @ACK

Native Watercraft Slayer 12 kayak Fishing Package!

With the growing popularity of the Native Watercraft Slayer 12, we decided it was about time we put together an all inclusive package to help you get out on the water with just the right gear that will get you fishing as quickly and as easily as possible! The Native Watercraft Slayer 12 Kayak Fishing Package comes with the Native Watercraft Slayer 12, a Bending Branches Slice Glass Kayak Paddle, a Stohlquist Fisherman PFD, two Installed Flush Mount Rod Holders, one installed Scotty Bait Caster Rod Holder, one Square Outfitting Plate and a Bungee Paddle Leash.

The Slayer 12 is one of the hottest fishing kayaks out on the market. It provides great stability (so much that you can stand with ease), ample gear storage, and superb paddling performance. If you get the chance, head on over to our website and give this awesome package a look.


In Focus: Gift Ideas for Your Little Adventurer

You’ve shared your love of the outdoors with your kids and now you can’t get ‘em out of the boat and off the trail. You’ve started them down the long path of an outdoor enthusiast and if they’ll be spending more time joining you on your adventures, they need their own gear! When they’re more comfortable, the trip will be so much more enjoyable for the whole family. The holidays are a great time to stock up on gear with spring right around the corner.

If you’re sleeping under the stars, the kids need their own sleeping bags and Eureka makes some great options for the little ones: the Lady Bug and Grasshopper 30 Degree Sleeping Bag. Not only are they sized to fit kids but they also have a lot of features to make them just like your fancy adult sleeping bag because kids gear shouldn’t be skimped on! They’ve got a locking zipper so it doesn’t slide open as you sleep, an internal pocket so they can keep essentials close at hand, an insulated side draft tube to prevent cold spots along the side and a stuff sack.  These will certainly help ensure your babies sleep like, well… babies.

If a paddle is made and sized for an adult it probably isn’t something your kids are going to want to use because it will be harder for them to paddle correctly and they’ll fatigue a lot sooner than they should. Bending Branches has a great option for kids with the Splash Kids Paddle. It features a lot of the same bells and whistles as the adult paddles but was fine-tuned with kids in mind. The shaft diameter of the paddle is smaller because kids have smaller hands, which just makes sense. It also features a 0-60 degree left or right ferrule and it wont sieze up in sand or salt water. Sawyer Paddles Kids Tales Canoe Paddle is an awesomely stylish canoe paddle made just for kids. I wrote a blog dedicated entirely to this paddle and its well worth a read if you’re in the market for a quality kids canoe paddle.

We don’t think much about snow here in Texas but we are well aware a lot of our customers are more familiar with that white powdery stuff than we are. If you’re in a colder climate and thinking about venturing out into the snow, snowshoes are something you’ll want to look at. Redfeather makes a snowshoe specifically for kiddos called the SnowPaws Snowshoes. While these aren’t intended for the heavy-duty snow trekking adult snowshoes are made for, they will make for some winter fun. The design creates a monster-shaped print in the snow (or sand!). The snowshoes also feature easy-on, easy-off bindings and are very adjustable so they should fit nicely for kids 3 to 7 years old.

Safety is key when on the water and especially with your precious cargo. There’s no reason why your kids should be wearing adult PFDs when those made for kids exist. The NRS Vista Youth PFD is made for kids sized 50-90 pounds. It has two pockets in the front so your kids can keep the treasures they find while out adventuring and comes in four different colors so there’s bound to be one your kid will love.

Another aspect of safety is hydration and CamelBak has designed a pack specifically for youngins. The Mini MULE Hydration Backpack can hold 50 ounces of water and features pockets to hold all the necessities like sunscreen, snacks or keys. It even features reflective tape on the front and back to ensure the little ones are visible.

Expecting a white Christmas? For those who are lucky enough to experience the joy of a winter wonderland, here is an inexpensive give item that any kiddo (or adult for that matter) will enjoy! With the Sno-Baller Snow Ball Maker, all of your kid’s friends will want to be on his/her snowball team. Parents will also be happy to know that it will limit cold wet hands or soaking gloves.

Aside from all these great products, we have compiled our favorite, expert-picked gift ideas in our 2012 ACK Holiday Outdoor Adventure gear Holiday Buyer’s Guide so you’re sure to find something for that special someone, whether they love fishing, can’t get enough of the trails, or just enjoy spending their free time outdoors.

Trent @ACK

Share your adventures for a chance to win a Bending Branches Navigator Kayak Paddle!

We’ve partnered with our friends at Venturepax.com to challenge you to share your kayaking adventures! Venturepax is a hub for outdoor enthusiasts to share their adventures and a way for us to collect adventure stories from our community all in one place! We can’t wait to read your stories and see your pictures and videos. To take the challenge and start sharing your kayaking adventures for a chance to win a Bending Branches Navigator paddle, click here.

Lakota 65 and Angler Pro Paddle In-Depth Reviews

We wanted to pass along some very in depth product reviews that we came across recently. The first comes from Thrifty Gear Reviews and is on the Lakota 65 Backpack from Kelty. According to Thrifty, this backpack is great for weekend campers/hikers so take a look if you fit the bill! Read the full review here. Thrifty Gear Reviews is a new blog that reviews outdoor gear and keeps price in mind. They are based out of Pflugerville, TX – that’s real close to us!

The second review is for the Bending Branches Angler Pro Kayak Paddle and comes from kayak angler Ken Morrow at his Fish Camp Rehab blog. Ken has been writing reviews for quite some time now and seemed very pleased with the weight/length of the paddle as well as its visibility. Kayak anglers should definitely check them out! Read the full review here. Ken is an enthusiastic kayak angler based out of Florida that hosts fishing trips, posts reviews and much more!

Thanks to both sources for the mentions too!

Joseph @ACK

KATS Sponsor Update – Bending Branches

A continuation of our featured KATS sponsors blogs that we will add to through the coming weeks. We appreciate all the support they have provided us over the series!

We’ve been very lucky to have Bending Branches as our other KATS patron sponsors this year. Bending Branches is a Wisconsin based company staffed by paddling enthusiasts always looking to create paddles with the perfect combination of durability, comfort, fit, weight and style. They do a great job of tailoring their paddles to fit all the different niches of the paddling world! We were very proud to award winners of the Lake Travis Amateur event with a few paddles from their recent product launch of the Angler Paddle Series (pictured below) and thankful to Bending Branches for providing us with a number of other paddles as prizes.

Bastrop event Bending Branches winner
The all new Ace, Classic and Pro Angler Paddles from BB...a hit!


Understanding Paddle Feathering

Proper paddle position when using a feathered paddle.

Most of you probably own a paddle or two and already take advantage of what is commonly referred to as feathering but there is a good possibility that some of you don’t. For those unfamiliar with the term “feathering”, it’s the action of positioning your blades at opposite angles to one another to reduce the wind resistance while paddling. Put simply, while one blade is in the water the other will be angled so that it is slicing through the air resulting in greater paddling efficiency. Seems pretty straight forward, doesn’t it?

Using a feathered versus an un-feathered paddle has been a cause for continual debate amongst many paddlers. Sea kayakers and coastal kayak anglers tend to feel the need to use feathered paddles as their outings typically involve long distance fights against the winds while white water paddlers are more concerned with paddle durability and less so with the slight speed advantage of the decreased wind resistance. Other paddlers don’t care either way or feel that using a paddle in its simplest form works just fine for them. Then of course you have those that may have heard about feathering and know they have those features available on their paddle but just don’t understand it.

Understanding and Adjusting the Feathering Position

Figure 1. (Click to enlarge)

Most two-piece paddles (even some lower-end models) will typically offer at least two angle positions, some will have 3, as shown on Figure 1. The ferrule (the joint where the two halves of the paddle attach) of the paddle has three different slots that the button can clip into — 60 degrees to the right, 0 degrees, and 60 degrees to the left. By giving both a left and right angle option, users can choose which hand to use as their control hand. Typically, right-handed people will feather the right paddle while left-handing people will feather the left but can vary depending on the person.

Figure 2. (Click to enlarge)

Mid to higher-end paddles typically offer even greater adjustability as shown in Figure 2. This ferrule or a similar one is commonly found on many higher-end paddles. This one in particular offers angles to the right or left in smaller, 15 degree increments. This could be useful for paddlers who face constantly changing wind speeds where a jump to a 60 degree angle is not necessary. Some paddles offer a feathering angle up to 90 degrees.

When to Feather
Once again, the concept is fairly simple. Feathering is most advantageous when paddling into high winds. The higher the angle of your blade, the less resistance you will encounter. Alternatively, an un-feathered paddle can be advantageous when the wind is at your back, working as a small sail each time the blade is raised into the air.

How to Use a Feathered Paddle
When using a feathered paddle, you are required to rotate the shaft of the paddle with your hand so that your blade “slices” the water at a vertical angle. This will cause the other blade to rotate in the opposite direction resulting in more horizontal position thus slicing the air. The main image above shows a great example of this. This movement requires one of your hands to help rotate the shaft, which is commonly referred to as your “control hand”.

A Few Things to Keep In Mind
If you’ve never used a feathered paddle before, remember that it may feel a bit awkward at first. Try it a few times off the water first. When ready to try it on water, do it on a mild day with little wind. Also, keep in mind that the extra rotational movement when using a can put a strain on the wrist of your control hand. If you feel any strain, lower your feathering angle. To better understand the impact of the wind on your blades, while paddling on a windy day, put your back to the wind and raise a single blade vertically in the air, you will be surprised at how a little wind will propel your kayak.

There is so much more to paddling techniques than can be explained in just a few words. As always, we recommend you seek out lessons by a professional instructor. Using a feathered paddle may not be for everyone but with a little time and practice, you’ll truly understand the value of utilizing this technique. Do you use a feathered paddle? Any advice for those that don’t?

Joseph @ACK

Garner State Park. Awesome. Colorful. Fantastic.

Bound for Glory

Those are just a few of the words that would describe my weekend camping in Garner State Park back in the fall of 2011. With good friends, gear, and kayaks in tow, we set off for the Hill Country for a gorgeous autumn weekend of camping, paddling and hiking. Although we departed a bit later than we had originally planned, we were still able to set up the campsite in the dark, lickity-split, thanks to our Princeton Tech head lamps. I had just recently purchased a Mountain Hardware Drifter 3 tent and was surprised, even in the dark, how easy it was to pitch. Not only was it easy to pitch but it was great to have for some of the inclement weather we experienced overnight. It was crazy windy and rained for a few hours just before sunrise but not a drop made it on our gear.

The View from Old Baldy

After the rain ceased around daybreak, I broke out the skillet and sent the smell of bacon frying on cast iron into the morning air. A short time later, not surprisingly, the campers started emerging from their tents and there was a call to arms. As soon as the grease was runnin’ hot in the pan we made some eggs and the breakfast tacos were born. With our hunger quenched and our spirits high, we began our ascent up Old Baldy. We reached the top after only about 30 minutes but boy did that climb get the blood flowing. Although the ascent was quite challenging at times, the view from the top of the Texas Hill Country is unrivaled, especially with the foliage during that time of year. We snapped some pictures and then it was time to head back to base camp for lunch.

Amazing Garner Vistas

We made it down the Old Baldy Trail and put a few Frankfurters on the barbie. By then the sun had burned off the patchy fog that was covering the campground and we were ready to put some roto-molded plastic in the Frio — the time to paddle had finally arrived!

I was anxiously awaiting this moment because I had the Bending Branches Navigator paddle with me for the weekend but hadn’t had the chance to use it yet. After a quick trip back to the campsite for some refreshments, I shoved the Necky Rip 12 into the Frio and we paddled the dammed up part of the river for about an hour. I had paddled the Rip 10 plenty of times previously but this was my first go ‘round with the 12 foot version and it did not disappoint. In my opinion, it is a better version of the 10ft because it tracks better, still has ample cockpit space, and is very comfortable. For as much as I enjoyed the kayak, the paddle was even better. The paddle strokes were effortless and I was very impressed with how light the swing weight of the paddle was. It was nice to have the Rockguard on the paddle blades as well because the Frio River’s water level was much lower than normal due to the extreme drought we’ve had here in Texas. There were quite a few exposed rocks in the shallow water so it was key to have the protection on the paddle blades.

The Crystal Clear Waters of the Frio River

As dusk approached I fired up the skillet once again and we had a fabulous meal of beef fajitas with all the fixin’s and topped it all off with a healthy helping of s’mores. We recounted the adventures of the day and carried on long into the night and then it was time, yet again, to retire to our tents. On this evening, however, I was sleeping in style with the Kelty Recluse sleeping pad. It took no time at all to inflate the pad with the hand pump, but I finished it off with the iron lungs just for good measure. Everyone in camp was jealous of the sleeping pad and for good reason, as it took tent camping to another level of comfort. I can honestly say I will not be camping without the Recluse after getting the chance to sleep on it for just one night.

One thing was for sure when we awoke the next morning, we will be planning another camping trip to Garner sometime very soon.

Have you been here before? What was your experience like?

Kyle @ACK

Made in the USA

As we approach the July 4th holiday, you can’t help but begin to experience a sense of patriotism with flags being strategically placed at the end caps of grocery store aisles and TV commercials beginning to advertise the inevitable. Seeing all this reminded me about something that Steve, ACK President, mentioned to me sometime back, the fact that we carry a huge selection of products that are either made or assembled in the USA.

Opinions may vary from person to person but from my personal perspective, I feel that our economy is on the road to recovery and can certainly see a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. That said, if you’ve ever met me, you know that I would rather talk about kayak fishing, camping or BBQ instead of getting into deep economic and (gasp) political discussions. However, I do want to focus on this topic because I know it is important to both ACK and for that matter, many of our customers. We can certainly appreciate selling low cost goods that contribute to a strong global economy but knowing that a significant percentage of the products we sell are either made or assembled in the USA is something we are extremely proud of. Aside from benefiting from quality craftsmanship, it makes us feel good knowing that by selling products made in this country we are helping contribute to the growth of our own economy, which ultimately helps create jobs locally.

So what are these products we speak of? Well there are over 500 of them but a  few examples that you may be familiar with are boat manufactures such as Hobie Kayaks, Native Watercraft, Ocean Kayak and Wilderness Systems amongst several others. Accessory manufactures are no exception with companies such as Seals SkirtsWerner Paddles, Bending Branches Paddles and Pelican Dry Boxes are also Made in the USA. As you shop at www.AustinKayak.com, you can easily identify those products by looking at the description where you will see “Made in: USA” followed by the American flag.

Now, it’s no secret that while these products are designed, assembled, owned and distributed in the USA, some of the parts that are required to build them may be manufactured in other countries. In some cases, depending on how much of it is made here, it may be labeled as an “Assembled in USA” product as opposed to “Made in USA” as required by law.  Regardless of the terminology, we are happy to continue supporting and promoting products that are benefiting our country’s economy in one way or another.