The Power of the Feather: HULU

Hulu means feather in Hawaiian. We sometimes leap to compare a feather with “light as a feather,” but that would ignore other powerful components of a feather. Birds’ feathers are designed to be light but very strong, tough and flexible. Feathers are some of the lightest but strongest materials in nature. When Dave Chun of KIALOA Paddles named the newest in the KIALOA line of paddles the Hulu, the name was an immediate fit.

Before going into detail  about the Hulu line, I’d like to share some bits from a recent conversation I had with Dave in his Bend, Oregon office.  An avid student of nature, water, paddling, observation and the “wisdom of crowds,” Dave provided some fascinating background around his journey toward understanding what creates great paddle design.

While outrigger canoe paddling is the sport of choice for Dave, he has spent a substantial amount of time underwater. It’s not uncommon to spot Dave neck deep in water at a crucial buoy in a race where he’s grabbing some cool action shots. But it’s not such common knowledge that Dave spent many years deep in the ocean spear fishing and designing spears.

It was in that environment that a super-creative, full-of-ideas guy like Dave began to recognize the value of slowing down and being calm. Instead of going fast and chasing a fish, Dave realized that hovering low and quiet by the smaller tropical fish would eventually draw in the larger game fish.  The same would happen when a myriad of ideas tumbled in his head – simply slowing down and being quiet would allow the best ideas to flow into consciousness. 

Experiences in spear fishing allowed Dave to become quite competent at designing spearguns. Years of experience in the world of outrigger paddling also allowed Dave to learn from the bottom, putting real experience to use in developing unique and highly effective paddles. There was no “school of paddle design” or books to read at the time, so Dave’s path to refining his skills to the digital and highly refined level they are now did not include engineering or degrees.

Dave’s formal training was in social work. At first glance there would seem to be little connection between excellent skill for social work and transfer to paddle design. Here is where the “wisdom of crowds” comes into play.   As a social worker, Dave was keen to really listen to what his clients were saying. He encouraged story-telling and let people weave the tales they wanted to share. In almost every case, somewhere deep in a story a nugget of important information would be shared – and Dave honed his listening skills over time.

Instead of doing formal “market study” and test groups, Dave refines designs by getting KIALOA paddles in the hands of diverse types of paddlers. After trying the paddles people tell the story of their experience, sharing things they felt, saw, thought about, wanted, liked or disliked. The “wisdom of crowds,” from the top paddlers, racers, surfers and pros to the everyday paddler all contribute to a distinct line of versatile KIALOA paddles.

The majority of the testing for the Hulu happened in the Pacific Northwest so KIALOA could keep the paddle project on the down low. Karen Wrenn and Cyril Burguiere in Portland, and Beau Whitehead in Bellingham all had prototypes of the Hulu out for a spin. Chuck Patterson was used later in the project as a strength tester – who better?

Chuck with an earlier KIALOA paddle – looking strong as usual.

According to Dave, “Much of the testing was focused on the strength to weight ratio. We wanted the paddle as light as possible, but we did not want to build a ‘disposable’ race item. Our goal is to keep our product out of the landfills. Since we work with plastics, a long service life for our products is necessary. I feel a super light paddle which is disposable is irresponsible.”

Dave explained further, “The Hulu features a brand new shaft, called CST. It currently is available in 2 versions. Light and Ultra Light. The shafts are built with pre-impregnated carbon fiber and are oval in cross section. The system we used to build the shaft is proprietary to KIALOA. The Hulus are our lightest SUP paddles. Some of our racers converted 100% of the time to the Hulu. Others use it as part of a quiver. But most have adopted it as their default paddle. The Hulu is designed to be a race paddle specific to the unique structural demands of racing.“

Personally, I am so eager to get my Hulu paddle that I can barely wait until the January 1 launch date.  I am an “everyday” paddler, far from being either elite or top ranking in any venue.  The need to have the best tool for the job (go straight and go fast) that racers want is not less important for us “everyman” paddlers. The Hulu is just right for me (and you, and your best friend, and Chuck and Gerry and Cyril and on and on).

 Dave and his good friend, Gerry Lopez, work in close proximity. (Be sure to check out the video link) It’s natural for them to check in with each other on a pretty much daily basis. As the Hulu evolved, Gerry’s ideas connected with Dave’s and the paddle became a collaboration of input.  The light sharp edges providing a clean entry and a stiffness ideal for maximum energy transfer made for the pure purpose of the paddle as a race paddle.

As we were talking, Dave reached over to a line of paddles leaning against the wall and pulled out one of the most stunning paddles I’d seen (this from someone hooked on the Hinano and Plumeria designs of the Pipes and Methane).

Dave held out the Hulu Ultralight GL model, GL for Gerry Lopez, for me to see. WOW! Gerry’s name is signed in his trademark script below the logo we all recognize. In bold black and gold colors, the paddle is a work of art. Dave has taken years of ideas and concepts that buzz around in his creative mind, he tempered the ideas with “wisdom” from crowds and from his good friend, Gerry. Hands on digital refinement and observing from experience, life and other pursuits collectively aligned to  result in the Hulu. Focus on using the newest in high grade carbon fibers with a high modulus of elasticity connected to a willingness to try, fail and re-design has brought Dave to the point where he is confident to launch the Hulu. For one, I am jazzed.

Connect with KIALOA or a dealer in your area.  Your Hulu is ready.

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