Paddling through life

I keep an eye out for talent and deeper meaning; talent because it should be recognized and deeper meaning because it makes life easier to understand. This week I found both.

Jim Seibel's paddle


Jim Seibel likes to canoe a bit. The tools of this trade are simple,

a canoe and a paddle. However, he and some friends like to do a fair

amount of miles and need the best and lightest equipment available.

This means spend a lot of money or make it yourself.


I’ve known Seibel a few years and always picture him on one of those

“Shop smith” commercials or on the cover of “Popular Mechanics.” It’s

fair to assume that Jim would use his considerable talents to make

his own equipment, although he’s too modest to say so.


Seibel’s canoe paddle’s are part science and part folk-art, beautiful

and useful. The paddles are strips of wood glued together then bent

at a 14 degree angle at the point where the handle becomes part of

the paddle or “beaver tail.” These laminations are only 3/16 of an

inch thick so that they may be pliable enough to bend. A layer each

of walnut, maple and aspen are repeatedly joined with waterproof glue

into a sandwich to be bent, routered and sanded into a finished



The 14 degree bend above the paddle is for a purpose, efficiency. At

this degree the paddle enters the stream at a 90 degree angle which

presents the full face of the beaver tail to the water for better

power. A straight paddle presents its full face only rarely and

lacks the efficiency of the paddles Jim creates.


The beaver tail and handle are now all one continuous unit, jig-bent

and ready for Seibel to remove all the wood that isn’t needed. The

whole paddle is thicker towards its center line for strength and

thinner further from center for weight. The paddle weighs only one

pound which is due to router and sander works that takes many hours.

The difference between a one pound paddle and a two pound paddle can

only be realized after several miles of effort in the proving ground

of a backwater stream. Seibel’s first paddle was double the weight

but experience and confidence have shown Jim what to keep in and what

to remove.


I thought about this whole process and really admired the

craftsmanship. I also thought about how what we each create tells our

own story. Seibel has probably spent more time building the paddles

than he’ll spend using them on the first trip. What he is doing is

investing effort and delaying gratitude until a time when his efforts

will reward him both for his efforts and patience-something for which

fewer people have the character to emulate.


In life, we seem to carry so much extra baggage. We hold grudges,

bare misconceptions and carry prejudices which are untrue and make us

tired over the long haul. As we get older and more confident,

successful people whittle away at their life and remove the extra

weight they bare and keep only that which makes them strong. Just

like Seibel’s canoe paddles, which carried more heft at inception but

can accomplish as much or more at half their original weight.


Nice work, Jim and thanks for the story, I guess a person can learn a

lot from a well-made canoe paddle.


Paddle side view



2 thoughts on “Paddling through life

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