Chatta-Hands: Protecting your Digits and Palms on Long Paddles

If you paddle 15 miles or more in any given session, you’ll likely feel it in your hands in one way or another. If you have paddled the 32-mile Chattajack race down the Tennessee River Gorge, then you know about the blisters you’l start feeling at about Mile 22 or so, or that pop out the next morning. If this is your first time for CJ or your just looking for different strategies to help with either the race, long paddles in general or the upcoming winter paddling season, here are a few things that can help. Mind you, in a race like Chattajack, you are going to have blisters – there’s no product that’s gonna make that go away.  We’re just offering some ideas to help lessen the pain.


I am not a huge fan – never have been for any sport – but some people prefer them and sometimes they are a necessity.  For colder temps, NRS’s Hydroskins are a good option.  You can read Steve Dullack’s review of them here. For warmer weather or a distance option you might want to go with a short-fingered glove like the Boater’s gloves.

They are like a cross between a sailing glove and a bike glove and the short finer option still lets you feel your paddle, operate your electronics but give you some protection.  Kokatat makes a similar product as well. 

A note about gloves for the long distance: If they are ill-fitting, they can actually cause more problems than they prevent. And sometimes blisters can occur where the ends of the short fingers rub against the fingers.

Cycling Bar Tape or Grip Tape

Some paddlers have found it helpful to wrap a comfy cycling handlebar tape around the shaft of their paddles.  There are also paddle-specific tapes for this purpose. Brands include Burnwater Fusion Grip  and Holdfast.

Paddle Wax

This is my personal favorite.  I use Element Expeditions’ Anti-Sweat Grip wax on all my paddles. It keeps my hands from slipping by displacing water and sweart and that helps prevent rubbing. It’s easy to apply, not messy and it smells kind of good.

Whatever way you go, test these things out before you set out on that distance paddle or before the race.  Make sure they work for you – knowing before you go will help you avoid any extra and unnecessary discomfort during your expedition or race.

After Care

I discovered Joshua Tree salve in the climbing gym last year.  This company makes a variety of salves for different activities, include a Paddler’s Salve. Use this after CJ and not only will it soothe your hands but it will help you save those hard-earned Chatta-calluses for next year. The organic salve moisturizes and promotes healing without softening calluses that the body produces for protection.And that is a plus.

Also worth noting is All Good’s Goop


And if your hands just hurt, as in ache, after that long paddle, then check out Hammer’s Hammer Balm.  It is amazing.  Good for anything that is aching.  Joshua Tree also makes an arnica lotion that is nice, but it is heavily scented with Bergamot, so don’t use it if you don’t want to smell of “tea, Earl Grey, hot.” And if those blisters are open, don’t use these products.


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Lisa is managing editor of and is an avid paddler of all the things - including sup, SurfSki, outrigger canoe and prone, though she especially enjoys paddle surfing and downwinding. She is a former journalist with more than 30 years experience in print and broadcast journalism and in government communications. She is a six-time Chattajack finisher, racing both sup and OC2. When not paddling, she is an outdoor instructor.



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