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: Next questions is, when are paddles going to come to mere mortal levels?
Dave Chun: That is a tough question and in some sense I understand that. Sorry about that the pricing, they do seem a little steep. From our perspective, on our end, we’re not getting rich. We’re doing the best we can. We’re small manufacturers in a niche market and that does not lend itself to high production techniques. The materials we work with are expensive, the tooling is expensive, and the technology changes rapidly so. I can hear you, it seems like it is expensive. We’re all working on less expensive paddles but you’re not going to get for a hundred bucks, a 300 hundred dollar paddle we’re building now. It’s just the way it is. The materials, carbon fiber is expensive. People assume that because you have a mold that it is really easy and fast to make these things. It is faster than forging something out of metal but it’s still handwork, there’s still skilled labor having to put all the parts in there and get the resin in to the mixture. Long story short, I bet you prices will go down on the paddles when the sport increases in numbers, sales increase in numbers, to a point that I can support lower margins.
Evan Leong: What is the difference between wood paddle and carbon paddle? In terms of feel, durability, or performance or any of that.
Dave Chun: Honestly, I haven’t paddles the wood stand up paddle. But as far as… you know… I came from a background of this wood versus synthetic materials and we got to work within the rules that… wood is actually good a lot of us prefer, even when they can use full carbon paddles for racing, some of my guys prefer the wood shaft because they seem to absorb some shock. It seems easier on the body. Generally speaking, to get the same strength, a wood paddle is going to have to weight more than a carbon fiber paddle. Wood I don’t think is any more durable than carbon paddle but it’s easier to patch because most of us are more familiar with sanding and varnishing than we are with doing ding repair with carbon fiber paddle. I personally, obviously, I make composite paddles. Given a choice, I work with composites. And I feel I can execute better design-wise. I can make the paddles thinner. Like I said, I come from that outrigger background, so if you look at my paddles, my blades are really thin. I’ve actually fattened my blades up for this because they tell me they were (____) the boards and stuff so how do I make my edges a little thicker? But a thinner paddle goes in to the water cleaner. It’s going to create less bubble as it goes in, therefore, a more traction because the bubbles… have you ever tried swimming in the whitewash after you wipe out? Hard to swim, not like swimming inside the pool, right? So that is kind of the same idea with paddles. So I like them thin. I can’t do that with wood. It does not have the structural strength. The other thing is I prefer to have non-absorbent materials in my water sport stuff so this is good. We use a close-cell foam so… I could actually draw holes on this paddle. It would not break and it would not absorb water. Does that answer your question? Maybe I am biased too. I have spent a long time as a woodworker and still do woodwork and I only started doing composites in 1999 so I have only been doing composites for eight years so it’s new.
Evan Leong: I do notice that you have a super sharp edge, does that make it perform better?
Dave Chun: Yes, at least it paddles better. A good paddle I believe should be quiet. I can’t stand that noise when you paddle and there’s flutter, that, “Whoop, whoop.” All that air, I’m not exactly sure what it is doing but just drives me nuts.
Evan Leong: In stand up, when you whack the side of your board especially when the gel coat is kind of thick, it’ll chip. So we’ll put tape around it and so on. Are you finding that you can still put tape on that and have no problem or what?
Dave Chun: As you increase the thickness of the edge, you are going to have a higher probability of making pokey noises. Now if you’re in the surf, it doesn’t make a difference because the water is still churned up. It doesn’t bug me out there because I can’t hear it because the water is still rough anyway. And I think that is where mainly the chipping occur, is in the surf or you get flailed around. Like I said, this is an infant technology we’re going to develop things, there are things we’re working on. I built carbon fiber di-fins for fishing fins and I used to put this rubber stuff on it. It seems to work, keeps from chipping. People could glue there stuff on their paddles and that would work. The end technology where we’re probably end up is having rubberize trim as integral part of the paddle. It’s easy idea to say we’re going to do; execution is a little bit difficult because we are going to have to try and figure how to make the joint in the piece that’s that big and the carbon. We’re working on it but I don’t have the answer right now.
Evan Leong: So you don’t know ETA like next six months?
Dave Chun: No. This is going to be a toughie. It’s really trickier than… right now too, we’re figuring out just basic things like how wide should the paddle be. I think we’re pretty good now. Most of the products are kind of getting in the area but it’s probably still going to go through a little bit of refinement. We’ll work on it just like the two-piece paddle. These things are obviously what people want to work on. I’m not unique in that. I think all manufactures are faced with the same problems. We’re hearing what people are saying. We’re trying but we’re just not there yet.
Evan Leong: Are you finding that its beneficial to have a quiver of paddles like you have a quiver of boards?
Dave Chun: Oh yeah. You should have 40, 50 paddles, all Kialoas. That would be my ideal situation. From the standpoint of… I have the luxury of having a quiver of paddles because I make paddles for a living. That is a budgetary question. If you have the excess money, you should have maybe a small, and maybe a big one. That thing said though, a lot of my racers especially one-man guys were used to quiver things. Some like it but a lot of guys just paddle with the same paddle; they get a feel for it. It’s just like your favorite dog; you guys know each other. So there are two schools of thought on that. I definitely think that a surfer should have at least two stand up paddles because there is a chance of breaking it. Surf is so weather permitting, that great perfect day, the last thing you want to do is have the day stop because you broke your paddle. So if that is important to you, I think maybe having a back up is a good deal.
Dave Chun of Kialoa Answers Questions About Paddles (Part 4) [7:50m]: Download