Choosing A Paddle: An Interview With Dave Chun

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Originally published In The April 2014 Issue

It’s the beginning of the 6-man racing season. New paddlers are coming to the sport and often are looking to answer the simple question: What paddle is the right one for me?

Over the years, I have had a number of opportunities to enjoy extensive conversations with Dave Chun (KIALOA Paddles) about paddle construction, types, speed, training and technique. Many paddlers competing throughout the Pacific region know that Dave started building and repairing paddles in the back yard of his parents Kailua, Hawaii home over 24 years ago. His roots in the traditions, community and spirit of “team” that is OC-6 continue to fuel his inspiration.

What sparks the innovations you’ve made in paddle design over the decades?

“It’s actually pretty simple. Listen to the paddlers. I attend as many events as I can. I watch the crews, talk to the paddlers; I try and find out what challenges them physically, mentally, and competitively. My job is to translate their perceptions into action through our paddle designs.”

How does someone determine what paddle is the right paddle?

“The first rule in buying the correct paddle is: Ask your coach. If your coach recommends a certain paddle, go with that. If not, try and match the blade angle, shaft type (single bend or double bend) and blade surface area to those of your teammates.”

What is the blade angle and why is there a bend?

“Through the years, mostly by trial and error, a 10 degree bend where the blade meets the shaft has become the standard for single bend paddles. Most double bend paddles have a 15 degree bend where the blade meets the shaft. Paddlers often think that the bend is designed to extend the reach of the stroke. This is not the case. The blade is at an angle to maximize friction during the power phase of the stroke. Moving through the mid and back part of the stroke, the bend allows the blade to remain in a more vertical position. This allows maximum efficiency of the surface area which is based on the full power face of the paddle.”

What benefits does a double bend paddle deliver?

“I believe the main benefit of the double bend shaft is ergonomic. The shaft of a double bend allows the wrist of the bottom hand to be in a neutral position during the power phase of the stroke. A neutral wrist on the bottom hand is a much more powerful and comfortable position in which to pull.”

Should I buy a wood, hybrid or composite paddle?

If you race in Hawaii you can only use wood or hybrid style paddles during the traditional regatta and distance season. (Full composite paddles are allowed in the unlimited canoes, in OC-1 canoes, and many associations outside of Hawaii). If you are on a budget, buy a wood paddle. Wood paddles tend to be a little heavier and require maintenance but are unique because of the natural beauty of wood. If performance is your goal, buy a hybrid paddle. They are lighter, thinner, and stronger with more design attributes than a wood paddle, and they still retain the comfortable flex of a wood shaft. If you absolutely want the lightest paddle, then buy a full carbon (composite) paddle. But remember, a composite paddle isn’t allowed in many types of outrigger racing.

Should men, women, and children be using different paddles?

Absolutely. We don’t all wear the same size shoes do we? Children should be using paddles with smaller blades, and shafts that are the correct length for their size. Men and women use mid to large sized blades depending on how fast their crew is. The faster the crew, the bigger the blade. Generally speaking, slower hull speeds match better with smaller blades. Crews with higher hull speeds can use larger blades. The mistake many coaches and paddlers make is believing a larger blade will make them faster. The exact opposite is usually what happens.”

Do you prefer the T-top versus the palm grip?

“I prefer the T-top because they are easier to hold onto in rough water conditions. The paddler can wrap their thumb around the bottom T-top, which improves the grip. The thumb is one of the differences that separate the primates from other animals.”

How does someone determine the correct paddle length?

Try different length paddles.

Ask your coach. Some coaches like certain length paddles in the canoe regardless of paddler height.

How to SIZE YOUR Paddle

Use the chart to help you determine what length paddle might be best for you. The following are some things to take into consideration:

  1. If you have broader than average shoulders, go to the high end of the range.
  2. If you have a longer torso than average for your height, go to the high end of the range.
  3. When ordering a paddle to be used with a one or two person canoe, go to the middle or low end of the range. Most people use a shorter paddle in a one person versus a six-person canoe.
  4. Remember, these are general guidelines so please take into account your personal preferences.

Outrigger Paddle Sizing Information:
Your Height Paddle Length
5’0”-5’2” 46”-47”
5’3”-5’5” 47”-49”
5’6”-5’8” 49”-51”
5’9”-5’11” 51”-52”
6’0”-6’2” 52”-53”
6’3”-6’5” 54”-56”

What are the price ranges for a paddle and what does paying more deliver? (2014)

Paddles are available in the range of about $100 to $350. A higher price tag usually buys the paddler a lighter, more performance oriented paddle, built with the same stuff used to build the fastest race cars and sailboats – carbon fiber.

Your outrigger paddle is probably the most important and expensive accessory you will purchase as a paddler. It’s more than just a handy implement for propulsion, the paddle has taken on powerful symbolism throughout many canoe-cultures. Whether you select wood, hybrid, or composite, a well crafted paddle combines art, form, and function.

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