The Making of the Catalyst

A catalyst is a person or thing that provokes significant change and action. At Branches, the Catalyst is our first paddle designed with sustainability at the core, representing a change in our company and a shift in the industry. Being a small company, over the years sustainability has felt like a concept that is difficult to attain. We have known its value, but had never incorporated sustainability directly into our products, up until this year.

Each year we have a team that meets to discuss product innovation. They talk about possible improvements on current products and what new products we can bring to wow the market. This year, brainstorming merged with our Sustainability Team exploring cutting down on our material waste. It was then that it was decided to combine the two and develop a sustainable canoe paddle.

First, we knew that an influx of blemished woods was leading to high wood scrap rates. Those pieces were placed into the scrap pile to be used for firewood, or if they did sneak through the line, blemished canoe paddles automatically became second-quality. In December of 2018 we started exploring not only utilizing blemished woods but also the first-quality remnants that are cut off when we cut the paddle to shape.

First quality wood remnants
First-quality wood remnants

Since we decided we wanted to use our wood remnants as the material, we hit the ground running with prototypes. We rifled through numerous paddle concepts throughout the next few months overcoming hurdles as they presented themselves. The first problem we battled was tracking the amount and what type of wood remnants were available. We had to find a way to create a process where the paddle would be produced with the same ratio of wood types. While our engineers put their heads together to solve the wood inventory problem, they tested different layouts to ensure that this paddle lived up to the Bending Branches durability standard. The Bending Branches name has been built on the strength and resilience that our products offer. Our tree logo placed on each blade symbolizes reliability. While developing the Catalyst we knew we needed it to live up to that same expectation.

Our engineers broke a lot of paddles during strength testing to determine the right combination of wood and where each piece needed to be placed within the blade. They found that stronger woods needed to be longer pieces in areas that are more susceptible to breakage. Each piece of wood is hand-laid into the blade and the placement is critical. This process takes a keen eye for detail and patience as these paddles take additional time to lay.

Laying wood pieces
Lauretta strategically places each piece of wood to create the blade

For the blade, we utilize basswood, roasted basswood, red alder and maple from first-quality paddles. Due to the construction method of this paddle, each blade layout is unique.

Catalysts in production
Catalyst paddles in the making

The shaft is solid basswood which may, or may not be cosmetically blemished, but will not affect the overall durability. The final strength testing session put any doubts to rest as it exceeded our expectations.

It was then that our engineers came to us (the marketing team) and essentially said, “this paddle design is strong and we can make it happen, how does it look?” At that time we put together a survey and asked a trusted pool of paddlers what they thought of our new design. After a feedback session and a couple minor tweaks, it was almost ready for launch.

The Catalyst was almost ready because we wanted to do more with this paddle. We wanted to bring it full circle and a donate a portion of the profits to the earth. After researching non-profits we partnered with American Rivers. It is their mission to “protect wild rivers, restore damaged rivers and conserve clean water for people and nature,” as stated on Due to their dedication to waterways we decided to donate five dollars from every Catalyst sale to American Rivers. It’s our way of continuing to elevate the experience on and off the water so paddlers can continue to fully enjoy what nature has to offer.

We’re on a mission to be the catalyst of paddle companies by being sustainably minded even when it’s not the easiest or most convenient option. In December of 2018 this paddle concept was drawn up, and in September of 2019 it officially launched. The Catalyst makes for a sustainable option on the market that wasn’t there a year ago. We’re saving wood from the firebox and we’re one step closer to making this world a better place. One paddle at a time.

Catalyst Paddle