Paddle Catch, Reach and Reaction

Summer time and the Colombia Gorge Paddle Challenge on the horizon in 7 weeks.  Putting in miles and planning solid interval training is just one aspect of what I’m working on this summer. It seemed that recently I’d honed my reach and blade entry into the water, but there was always room to refine things even more. All the phases of the stroke have to work together smoothly for the stroke to be efficient and without good reach and catch, the stroke won’t be effective.


Dave Chun of KIALOA Paddles lives the path of design, innovation and testing

Lately I have been using the Kialoa PaddlesTiare blade, designed to give the female paddler the best experience possible. The blade is designed for optimal catch at the front of the stroke. The carbon wrapped fiberglass shaft fits a smaller hand perfectly with just the right amount of flex. When talking about paddles, Dave Chun says, “I want the paddles I design to disappear in the hands of the paddler. This is what drives me forward.”

Because of Dave’s dedication to  design and innovation, Kialoa paddles drive all of us forward – so to speak. I have the good fortune to be testing in a compare/contrast way, both the Tiare adjustable paddle and a carbon prototype with the Tiare blade.  The Tiare Adjustable is a lightweight paddle that is ergonomically designed for women.  With it, I can adjust the height for varying conditions. I have quite a quiver of Kialoa paddles, but the Tiare blade provides a measurably different ability for acceleration, lower rate of perceived exertion (RPE) and a new feel at the “catch” phase of my stroke.

The “catch” is the point where the blade is fully buried and locked onto the water. It is natural  that the stroke begin as you begin to put the paddle into the water. You will naturally begin to pull on the paddle and begin to apply pressure to the water with the blade, even before the blade is fully buried. SO, it is important to “bury the blade” relatively quickly. The paddle should not “float” down to the water. Reach and drive the paddle into the water and make the catch  as far in front of you as possible. Since ALL of the stroke is in front, and never behind your body, the more in front of you that the paddle gets fully buried and makes the “catch” the longer stroke you will have!

Head to toe Sweet Waterwear has me covered!

Head to toe Sweet Waterwear has me covered and Kialoa Tiare paddle drive me forward

A 2014 summer as part of the Bend Oregon Outrigger Canoe Club and a LOT of practice has really helped with both my rotation and catch. I have been working to correct the tendancy for pulling the paddle back or attempting to begin to drive the board forward before the catch has been completed. It’s a brief second of time, but important to fully execute the catch before moving through the paddle stroke. The focus should be on entering the water smoothly and quickly with the paddle edge slicing into the water cleanly, creating minimal turbulence. Once the blade is fully submerged and “planted” it’s time to apply the power. If you start pulling too soon, the blade tends to cavitate (air bubbles form along edges of blade) and will slip through the water instead of holding.

Product testing can provide rich insights in your technique - reach, catch and reaction

Product testing can provide rich insights in your technique – reach, catch and reaction

Testing and Comparing Paddles: I have been using both the Tiare Adjustable paddle and a carbon prototype of what might be a racing version using the Tiare blade. Paddling in wind, paddling currents upstream and down all make it difficult to really determine the impact on speed or efficiency that a particular paddle might deliver.  Yesterday as I did my 60 minute training session I picked a section of the river that would be somewhat consistent over the hour. Wearing a heart rate monitor I did half-mile loops up and down stream. The miles flew by, maybe because so much concentration was going into refining that catch and “plant” with each paddle.

Dave Chun’s goal of “having the paddle disappear in the hands of the paddler” was real. The Tiare adjustable was a bit heavier than the carbon prototype so the paddle experience was slightly different between the two designs. In each half mile section I checked speed, heart rate and RPE. The difference was minimal. I believe the design of the Tiare blade suits my technique, build, and stroke so well that it is the driving design piece in the comparison – more than the weight or materials. This was fun!  You can “test” paddles yourself. Before you buy your next paddle take the time to demo more than one design. Use the paddle for more time than you think you need to. really get to know what works best for you.

Testing a paddle provides rich insights – beyond what you learn about the paddle. Comparing and contrasting can tell you a lot about your technique and personal biomechanics. Check out the KIALOA Paddles video series for even more insights. 

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