Early last month I spoke with Dave Chun, founder of Kialoa Paddles, about his paddles, which he has been manufacturing since 1990. Dave started with stand up paddles in 1999. I got him to answer some questions from our stand up paddle surf community at Wet Feet Hawaii’s store. You gotta tune out the noise from the store because we shot this during business hours.
In this four-part series, Dave, who has for a long time been a leading manufacturer of outrigger paddles, answers questions from the public about stand up paddles.
Evan Leong: Ok, we’re here with Dave Chun, founder of Kialoa paddles and husband to Meg. We always have to mention her. How did you get in to this whole paddle making career?
Dave Chun: It’s all a need. I started in 1990; 17 years ago. I was paddling outrigger. At the time it was hard for us to get gear. There were stuff around but wasn’t like right now. I saw things, I like the paddles I was using but I thought it could do good on them. And I just started building paddles, kind of on a loom. First two I actually built for… as a wedding present for two friends of ours and it just kind of started from there.
Evan Leong: So you started off with wood paddles or you started off with these carbon ones?
Dave Chun: Wood paddles, yeah.
Evan Leong: But you guys were the first ones to do carbon?
Dave Chun: Other people have built carbon fibers for years. In outrigger, we are probably the first to popularize that, outrigger carbon paddles. You know, we were once acquainted in hybrid paddles, that’s something we called it, and I guess I was pretty much the first guy to mold the wood paddle. I guess that was my claim to fame.
Evan Leong: What do you mean you mold? Instead of shaping, you mold a wood paddle?
Dave Chun: Yes, we were able to shape… classic ways to actually build composite wood paddles, build them much like a surfboard—shape the wood core paddle, glass over the top. We used to do that but it’s really labor intense. I really don’t like to sand the whole lot, not fiberglass at least. So what I did was I thought there has got to be a better way, I knew they make molded products. So what I did was I figured out a way to mold the paddle, well we know how to build the mold, and then build the tools, and then figure out how to fit the cores in it. It just kind of come from my own process because anybody who knew about it wasn’t actually going to share their information. They were actually other paddle makers, fantastic paddles but they were all foam core. I had to fit the rules about rivers so I had a little bit different challenge.
Evan Leong: Hmm… and then how did this whole stand up paddle for you guys come about?
Dave Chun: I started out with (_____), probably a guy here anybody knows, all the surfer knows. Jerry Lopez is there too… and because we’re both from Hawaii we just become friends. About four years ago, Laird Hamilton was paddling in the waves with a paddle, on a surfboard. He’s breaking the paddle so he called. He was just talking to Jerry about something and Jerry said, “Hey there’s this guy named David Chun who makes canoe paddles. Why don’t you call him?” So Laird called me and actually my response was, “Why don’t you just get another paddle from the guy you got the last one from?” He said, “No, I’ll break them.” So I said, “Ok.” I thought it was a fun thing so, “Ok, whatever, I’ll make the paddle.” I like challenges. I like to build things. So that’s kind of what it was. The original paddle had an aluminum shaft. It was a quick easy thing for me to do. It kind of… the idea was I thought with spear guns with the same aluminum shaft and they’re really strong, so we did that. Laird moved on and worked for Surftech, which is ok. It’s just the way things go. But he got us started in this stand up thing. It was just something since we were doing with him. We have started, I had the molds. I built all these molds and stuff so we just started building paddles and we put them on our catalog.
Evan Leong: So for the first paddle you build all the molds, that money on the molds and said, “Oh, now we got to do something with it,” kind of.
Dave Chun: Yes. Because I have the luxury to build my own tools, it’s just my time. My job at my shop is to design and build tools. So this whole… we constantly do R&D stuff. A lot of these stuff ends up being nothing. It doesn’t go anywhere. It’s just something that I like to do. So it was kind of like a side job a little bit. I got my other paddle-making job and make money. The Laird project was something else. We have the tools so we said, “Might as well offer the paddles and see what happens.”
Evan Leong: So when did you decide you wanted to increase your line and start really getting into it?
Dave Chun: We started getting phone calls. People are calling and asking us. We have not marketed this thing at all. I come back quite often. I’m here six times a year I’m on Oahu. My friends tell me what is happening. I didn’t see the whole thing just going. I was building this paddle over there. We started more and more. Guys started to ask us, “Can you do this? Can you do that?” And that’s how we usually end up doing something. It’s out of need when someone asks us to build.
Evan Leong: So these models that you got over here, these ones, Kolei, the aluminum shaft ones, SUS, and then… which one came out first, the aluminum shaft ones?
Dave Chun: No, actually we had the aluminum shaft so that was always a given. But what we did was once we saw that people expressed interests in the more sophisticated paddle… the other thing you have to remember, when I started building, Laird was telling me something. I didn’t know how. You got a starting point. You just start somewhere. At the time, the paddle making probably goes along with the board making. Maybe his board wasn’t as sophisticated, it didn’t turn as well. So we thought maybe he needed a bigger paddle, something he could steer with more. So it kind of started with a rather big paddle, our small steering paddle in fact, this shape. As the guys started to say, “This paddle seems kind of big. Can you build something smaller?” That’s how it started to evolve.
Evan Leong: How big was that first paddle?
Dave Chun: About nine and a half inches wide, 18 inches tall. It was just very full. But then, making a rectangle nine and a half inches wide, 18 inches tall, within that rectangle you can make different shapes, right? This was a good portion of that rectangle. We just kind of learn as our guys went along. The great thing is I had a lot of (____) from guys from my outrigger background. I was able to ask them if they could product test for me. Mel Puhu has been indispensable. Jerry has been very helpful; Craig Davidson. They just jump in and help you and tell you if something is right, something is wrong. It really was trial and error. There was no instructions. So we had been kind of floundering around. If you talk to me next year, I bet you the paddles are going to be different. It’s just the way it is. This thing is totally inconsistent. We’re learning as we go along.
Evan Leong: So you’re finding that full carbon ones are more popular than aluminum and carbon?
Dave Chun: Different application. Rental fleets and stuff, guys who price point. Cost is an issue. Aluminum is really great. We also have some guys, some of our top guys like Chuck Patterson in Southern California, he’s just another huge guy like Laird. He liked the aluminum for a long time because of the stiffness of the movement. The guy is a 250-pounder, pure muscle, a couple of ounces doesn’t mean anything to that guy. So he liked it. I did end up making him a one off shaft out of carbon. I stiffened it up a little bit and did some tricks to it. He is using that one now and he likes it.
Dave Chun of Kialoa Answers Questions About Paddles (Part 1) [7:57m]: Download