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: Another question, when I have looked at some photos of myself flat water paddling, I can see a huge amount of flex in my paddle shaft. Is this a design feature to save my tendons or am I being robbed of the efficiency? If my carbon flex this much, I would have to throw it away. He is using a two-piece paddle, weighs a hundred and 180 pounds and is wondering maybe one-piece shaft is better. Just curious.
Dave Chun: I don’t know about the one-piece, two-piece argument as far as stiffness goes. The reason the paddles flex are, there are constraints. If you allow me to make a shaft that was this big in diameter, I guarantee that it won’t break. But we got to make it small. You’re hand has to be able to wrap. It has a constraint there, right there. Like said, my philosophy is comfort. I may have a little bit of flex and have my hands not cramped enough like this trying to grab on to the thing. We could stiffen the paddles by loading up a lot of carbon inside of it but then again, what you get is high weight. I would not worry about the flex. I don’t think it’s robbing you with a lot of efficiency. Really what we find is what makes people fast are good paddling technique, blade work, using the big muscle groups, go to the gym and get strong, do your cross-training and get your cardiovascular up. That will do more for you than having a stiffer shaft.
Evan Leong: So I know that it is probably an in-depth question when we ask you about paddling technique but can you show us maybe, really quick, what you’re considering a pretty basic good paddling technique? Something that you continually practice especially doing this stand up thing.
Dave Chun: You understand, I come from a canoe background and so… when I talk about paddling technique, surfing is a different situation. Surfing, you just got to stay on the board when you are rocking and rolling, whatever pulls you forward. At that point, that’s why I see a lot of surfers when they’re paddling… if the board was going away from me; they’re paddling both feet basically parallel on the rail. So they go to switch sides really fast, right? That’s probably a good stance to have here in the middle of the board. But I think if you want to go fast, I think what you want to do is you want to be able to get a lot more muscle groups in place. Anytime you’re paddling you basically want to stay on your basic tripod, right? You want to have a good stance. You don’t want to be bent over and have your center of gravity outside your balance point, so that’s an important thing. I think you would want to be able to get your legs, and your core and your lats involved. Paddling is very little arms except at the back of the stroke. Basically what you want to do is you’re going to want to tilt your hips and rotate your torso and that kind of movement here is going to get you, rob you the most power. Once again, in a surfing situation it’s questionable if you’re going to be able to rotate your hips a lot because balance is a huge issue out there. So this is me more on a flat water. What I do, and this is just my way of doing it, when I’m paddling on the right side of my board, my left foot is forward. So I’m like this. What I do is when I get close to switching sides, I slide a foot up, take a couple of strokes, then I’ll slide my foot back and that way I can get my hips involved in the stroke. Works great on flat water, I don’t do that when it gets rough. That’s just kind of a basic deal. I also try to stay somewhat upright. Not too much leaning forward. It just has to do with balance. I really don’t want to get my lower back involved too much in a paddling stroke because I don’t think it’s good for your lower back. I am a living testament of bad back because of paddling—the bulging disc in the lower back. So I try to stay upright.
Evan Leong: What muscle group should you be using if you’re not using your lower back?
Dave Chun: You want to use your lats and use your legs. And you can be using your core, sometimes crunched down a little bit. You don’t want be, lower back, you’re lifting up. You don’t want to get to much of this on one side of it. Sometimes it’s really fast doing that and more power to you but generally speaking it’s a little bit painful.
Evan Leong: How about rotated cuff kind of issue? Are you finding that some paddlers are getting that because I know, me, as I was paddling a lot, I was starting to pick up rotated cuff problems?
Dave Chun: I can only speak mainly from an outrigger background because this is kind of a new sport. Something that helps that is when we’re paddling in a canoe, we try to keep our hands lower so like my top hand doesn’t really go higher than my eyes. The water is down there anyway.
Evan Leong: So you’re shorter paddle then?
Dave Chun: Shorter paddle. Stand up is different a little bit because you really are varying your height quite a bit. You bend your knees sometimes. We commonly think of eight inches taller than your height is a good starting point for paddle. Well, if I bend my knees, I’ve suddenly shrunk a couple of inches so that caused a problem. But if you already rotate (____) probably having some flex will help but the other one is, it might be that your paddle is too tall. It could also be too many baseballs as a kid. I would say if you have rotator problems go talk to a physical therapist, go talk to professionals, do some strengthening exercise in that area.
Evan Leong: My friend showed me, he said I was doing an incorrect paddle stroke. I was coming, doing this kind of a round motion instead of bringing my hand back up this way. Well, let’s see what happens as you bring the thing back, bring the arm up this way and that creates some problems.
Dave Chun: I don’t know for the (___) problems. It could be right but I would say anything that you do with your paddling stroke, try to be as efficient as possible. From this position, basically you just want to come back up. And you’re kind of dropping, doing all kinds of extra maneuvering isn’t going to be… is a strenuous motion. It doesn’t really help people forward.
Evan Leong: So the paddle should be going from straight back, straight forward?
Dave Chun: It flares out to the side but basically you want to… the bottom has a flare to paddle around, the top hand is basically taking a tack as straight as possible back up to a starting position. Something we do also with paddling is we paddle with our hands more upright. We try to get the shaft somewhat perpendicular to the ground.
Evan Leong: Like straight up, right?
Dave Chun: Straight up is kind of hard. You got to be comfortable but you don’t want to be leaned over too much like a (___). Try to be a little bit upright.
Evan Leong: Next question is, I would be interested in your thoughts on flex and the relationship to shoulder and elbow issues. I have four different paddles and I finally determined like flex is glued like Blane said. I now have a Quickblade paddle, which is like a noodle compared to C4 but I have no pain on my shoulders anymore. Expensive, but cheaper than surgery and being off the water.
Dave Chun: A paddle has to have some give. If you’re prone to that type of stress and you have a pain, possibly a more flexible paddle could be more beneficial to you. Like I said, I’m really about comfort for the paddler. I don’t believe you really… I’m putting my statements between parameters. If you have some flex, it probably is good for you. The other thing, stiffness and strength are not the same thing. One of the other things we have in searching, we have the wipe out, and that introduces a whole new level of bad stuff happening to equipment. I think maybe some flexibility in the paddle is good in that situation.
Dave Chun of Kialoa Answers Questions About Paddles (Part 2): Download