Aqua Bound Just Made My New Bikerafting Paddle
Review by Lizzy Scully, with input from Steve Fassbinder, Tyler Marlow and Spencer Harding.
The Best Thing About the Updated Manta Ray Hybrid 4-Piece Paddle
Aqua Bound says “The Posi-Lok™ ferrule is the gold-standard in paddlesports today, known for the secure fit, simplicity, and longevity.” We agree it’s an excellent system, and were pleased to learn that the company updated their Manta Ray Hybrid 4-piece paddle for 2023 to include it. The Posi-Lok surpasses snap-button ferrules in various ways. They make the parts out of carbon instead of metal, which rusts, and fiberglass, which is heavier.
Both Steve Fassbinder and I (co-owners of Four Corners Guides) can attest to the fact that these connector points don’t get loose and jiggle even after five years of use. That’s how long Steve and I have used our Aqua Bound Whiskeys, which we’ve definitely put through the paces.
Unfortunately, our Whiskeys do jiggle where the paddles connect to the blades, as Aqua Bound still uses snap-button ferrules at those attachment points. So we expect the Manta Ray’s to do the same eventually.
Other Benefits of the Posi-Lok: Changing the Feather Angle is Easy
Other benefits of the Posi-Lok? It makes adjusting the paddle on the water easy. We took the paddle on a trip to the Salt River in Arizona, where 4 different packrafters (Steve, myself, Tyler Marlow and Spencer Harding) tested it. All of us use different degrees of feathering. However, the Posi-Lok adjusts in increments of 15–15, 30, 45 and 60 or more if that floats your boat (or not if you go too far). So none of us had to compromise our feather preferences.
I paddle it with a 30-degree feather angle for whitewater in order to take more powerful strokes. But when bikerafting, I set my paddle feather at 15 degrees. The bike on the bow limits my paddle range, and I primarily paddle flatter, quieter water when bikerafting. So I generally take lower angle, more careful strokes, and thus keep the paddle horizontal and closer to my lap.
Some people choose no feather, apparently especially if they have longer paddles (read this great article for a more comprehensive info on feathering). But I find 15-degree feathering prevents wrist tweak, which I get with zero feather.
In sum, having a broad range of feathering options is ideal if you like to switch it up.
The New Blade Is Also An Improvement
Aqua Bound redesigned this blade in 2023 to be stronger, with a new blade shape (see above).
Spencer, Tyler, Steve and I all prefer the new blade shape to previous versions of the Manta Ray. Spencer thought it felt stiffer.
“Though not a huge difference, It’s incrementally better,” he says. “It pulls a lot of water.”
I also noticed a difference compared to paddles like the Shred, made more obvious by a recent training I did with kayak master and instructor, Kent Ford.
Kent taught me a simple technique to improve my paddle stroke. Reach the blade far to the bow of the boat, avoiding splashing or making noise as the blade enters the water. Pull it straight back to the stern, finally lifting the paddle out of the water by lifting my elbow straight up and back (instead of picking up the back of the paddle with my hand). It sounds simple, but it changed how I feel the blade enter and exit the water.
So what did I discover? I had more speed with less effort using the new Manta Ray as compared to other paddles like the Shred or previous version of the Manta Ray. I didn’t notice a difference paddling the two-piece Whiskey that Spencer had on the Salt River compared to the Manta Ray, however. The Whiskey is also a great paddle.
I also experienced no flutter and had crisp, splashless entries and exits with the paddle blade. Now there’s a good chance my ability to notice these things at all results at least in part from my improved paddle stroke. However, it’s also consistent with Aqua Bound’s claim that the blade “provides a smooth forward stroke and minimal flutter.”
Longer Lasting? We Hope So!
Aqua Bound also says the blade will now last longer. I can’t speak for the longevity of the blades because we’ve only had them a few weeks. But I love the idea of the “fiberglass reinforced nylon” blade being more robust than our Whiskey’s blades. Steve and I have really worn down the edges of our Whiskeys, which probably has a lot to do with the rough, rocky desert terrain we generally take them on.
Aqua Bound says on its website that: “100% carbon shaft is the lightest material available, so paddling is less fatiguing and more enjoyable on longer trips.”
While the Manta Ray may not be as light as the Whiskey, it’s comparable. And lighter paddles truly cause less fatigue and stress on the body, which is especially important for both Spencer and myself. With nagging shoulder injuries, neither of us will ever use heavy paddles again.
Furthermore, lighter paddles lessen fatigue when you have to carry a heavy kit. And bikerafters tend to have heavier kits than other adventurers. Not only do they have bikes and bike gear, boats and boat gear, but they also generally have camping gear for multi-day trips. All this has to go in or on the boats and on the bikes. I will always take a lighter paddle bikerafting.
The Shaft: Ovalized Shape
Aqua Bound also claims ovalized shafts are “shaped to fit more comfortably in your hands than basic round shafts” and that they, “let you feel the orientation of the blades when they’re feathered or when one blade is in the water,” and they “limit the chances for blisters.”
While I love the feel of both my Whiskey and the Manta Ray’s shafts, including the fact that the shafts have a nice, totally non-slippery grip, I don’t honestly feel qualified to comment on the shaft shape and how it might affect your paddling or your hands. I’ve never had blisters using either Aqua Bound’s or Werner’s paddles.
How It Works as a Bikerafting Paddle
In sum, all four of us really liked the new Manta Ray. It’s an excellent compromise for people who want one paddle that does it all in the backcountry.
Tyler explains, with it’s longer and slightly thinner shape, “the Manta Ray had a better low angle stroke than the Whiskey. This is better for bikerafting when you have to avoid hitting the bike.”
“And it felt stiff and strong, lightweight but solid enough to be confidence inspiring,” he adds.
On the other hand, he was not able to surf on the Salt as efficiently as he does with his whitewater-specific Werner because he didn’t feel the paddle was as sturdy or powerful. (He’s also used to a significantly heavier paddle).
However, 99% of bikerafters are not going to be running Class IV whitewater with a bike on their boat, thus precluding the need for a beefier paddle. The Manta Ray does the job for bikerafting that it needs to do.
Price & Other Points
Spencer likes the fact that the, “Posi-Lok is the center ferrule as opposed to the three ferrules on my personal Manta Ray.” And he appreciates the price point of the Manta Ray 4pc Hybrid Posi-Lok, at $184.95, versus the Whiskey Carbon 4pc at $474.95 or the Whiskey Fiberglass 4pc at $374.95.
“This is definitely a really nice light, affordable paddle,” he says. “You can feel a little bit of the flex compared to the Whiskey, and it’s a little bit heavier. But for probably half the price, it’s not that different. I wish Aqua-Bound would figure out how to do a Posi-Lok for the blades so they wouldn’t get all sloppy after a year or two. But other than that, I wish this paddle existed a year ago. I probably would’ve saved 200 bucks!”
Aside from not having Posi-Loks connecting all points of the paddle, I don’t see any other downsides to this paddle. As Tyler says, “It’s definitely a great beginner and all-around paddle.”
In sum, after using the Manta Ray and experiencing its improvements, both Steve and I are switching to this paddle for bikerafting. I guess we’ll have to fight over the one we got, or get a second one!
- Price: $184.95
- Shaft Material: 100% Carbon, Ovalized
- Blade Material: abXII Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon
- Blade Size: 7.5 x 18 in. (19 x 46 cm)
- Blade Surface Area: 102.5 sq. in. (661 sq. cm)
- Weight: 31 oz. (879 g)
- Ferrule Angles: Infinite in increments of 15
- Colors: Sunset Red and White