Dave Chun of Kialoa Paddles answers questions about paddling technique, paddle design and performance, his all-new Shaka Pu’u paddle, and general concerns about the stand up paddle surf culture. Dave also talks about choosing the right paddle, which all boils down to intuition that tells what type of paddle is best for the stand up paddle surfer.
We get to learn more about paddles and why design and performance are always relative to individual surfers.
In the first of this three-part interview, Dave takes us through the process of building paddles and how they test the durability and strength of their products. He also compares the Shaka Pu’u to the Nalu.
Evan Leong: I remembered we talked about this new paddle you’ve got, can you hold up the Shaka Puu, right?
Dave Chun: This one’s named to honor Mel for helping us so much with the design to check off on this thing. Because I live in Oregon, in flat water, I don’t have any way of really testing my product. Usually what we do in our shop, how we develop a product is we get an idea, we talk to the guys, they tell me things and then my job is to interpret what they are saying. I’ll build paddles and maybe sometimes (____). I’ll send them out to the guys and they’ll tell me which ones they like. Right off the start, when Mel got this he was calling back the next day, “Holy smokes this one is a good one. I like it.” So what we did is we continue to test it because we have to make sure it is durable. We don’t like our stuff to snap, like I say, I don’t like that with a disclaimer on my product. We usually test for about a year. One time on the surf is not going to tell you anything about durability. That’s really something only over time you get to learn. We do have stuff that we do in house where we break the stuff. We call some of this the “Boeing Wing Test”, watched on Discovery Channel breaking a wing on a 747. That’s where we developed that test from. Theirs is little… not little… much more sophisticated than our method but basically we just hang a whole bunch of weight off the end of the paddle and see where it snaps. Because I have been doing this a long time, I have a lot of data on how much weight a paddle should be able to suspend, which I won’t give you because I don’t want the other paddle makers to figure how much weight is enough put on a paddle.
Evan Leong: So you guys are actually pretty high-tech then?
Dave Chun: High-tech in a low-tech way. Paddle making, this isn’t big business, it’s not like we’re making computers that everybody in the world has to have. We have a very small niche market so numbers are small. Even though people say stand up surf is exploding, it’s not like some of the other types of things. We try to be as sophisticated as we can. We understand also that there is a lot of errors involved in what we do.
Evan Leong: How do you think that this stand up surf industry is comparing to the OC-1, one-man canoe industry?
Dave Chun: I think it has a broader application. I think the surf culture is something more people know about and somewhat gravitate to. I think there is a lot of ex-surfers on the mainland, on land lock places like Iowa, have a beautiful broaden water on the lake and stand up might be a great way to reconnect with their surfing roots maybe even train a little bit for that trip they make to Hawaii once a year. I think it is a good thing.
Evan Leong: So what is the difference this Shaka Puu and then your other paddle blades and then maybe whatever other people are using and so on?
Dave Chun: I just give an example. I’ll just take probably the most popular paddle. This is the Nalu. By the way I was named after my dog. We no longer have that dog but that’s how you get a paddle named after you. This paddle is slightly larger in surface area. I think it’s like 108 square inches. This is 100 square inches. Those four square inches… eight square inches, they seem like much but a lot of them just has to do… this paddle is bigger. It’s a little bit wider at the bottom. It is nine and a quarter inches wide. This paddle is eight and five eighths, and the reason this paddle is bigger, even though this one is eight square inches bigger is because it is more compressed. The paddle is shorter, 16 and a half inches. This paddle Shaka Puu is 18. So the distribution of the square inches is longer paddle. So what happens in the paddling stroke is, people think you completely immerse the paddle and then you pull on the paddle, that’s not actually what happens. The stroke is actually kind of a pendulum arch through the water somewhat and so the first initial pulls that most people do is on the tip of the paddle. So with the Nalu you’re going to feel a lot more grab initially in the front because it is just bigger down there. But the Nalu felt that the end… sometimes I discover when I watch the guys paddle in Makaha was the bigger paddles were actually pulling them forward. They were having to bend over at the waist… it looks like they are fighting for traction on the board. So that’s why we went with a little downsized paddles. We still offer the Nalu because there are some people who prefer a larger paddle. Some of that can be attributed to maybe physical size in the people; fitness, strength; and some of it is paddling technique. If you got crappy paddling technique then a blade that is really big is going to be beneficial to you because you can paddle within you catch, you’re not getting good purchase on the water. That paddle may be perfectly adequate for you, where a guy with a really good technique the paddle would overwhelm him. But we’re finding that this smaller size paddle is probably better for the average guy. Surfers are probably going to have a good feel for the water even though they are not used to the paddle. It’s kind of like a simmer coming over. They just know how to manipulate their arms and forearms to get the best grab. They are not trying to weak the water off. Also, I think most surfers come in with the proper muscles to big paddlers, which is the big lat muscles. I think that’s why we’re seeing a trend towards the smaller paddles.
Evan Leong: How are you finding that the Shaka Puu versus the Nalu is on your shoulders, for people with problems?
Dave Chun: Large surface area and a paddle that is overwhelming you, you’re certainly going to feel it in your shoulders, in your tendons. I’m not a physiologist… wherever those problems are occurring. All you are creating with the paddle is friction in the water. There is no real magic to the whole thing. You got too much friction, all it does is create a jerk. In fact, philosophically, one of the things that we try to do with our paddles are… people always want to talk about performance of a paddle, “Does this thing make you faster?” Really, first thing is you can’t really collect data. We tried to in the past but we can’t get clear data because getting a human to perform, repeat it, time pieces, to get that data is really hard because of the fatigue factor. If you come back the next day, that water condition has changed. Also things like what the guy had for lunch, who knows how much sleep he has got, really affect that kind of time piece. So really what it comes down to is its feel. Like now, I’ve never had any one of my racers tell me, “Oh, this paddle makes me faster.” They always tell me, “This one feels better. I don’t know why but this one feels better.” Really, what my job is to make the athlete comfortable. It is an endurance sport. The best pair of shoes you have while your running is one that doesn’t give you blisters, and so that’s what we have tried to do. That’s why our shafts aren’t super stiff… because we found that guys really start to gravitate towards more flexible types of things because it is easier on their body. This is my own philosophy and it could be totally wrong. I really acknowledge that all the other paddle makers have the right to what they believe. If you kind of believe what I’m saying and you kind of go with that train of thought, then we probably have a really good paddle for you.
Kialoa Shaka Puu Stand Up Paddle (Part 1) [8:12m]: Download