I have been using the same (now probably vintage) KIALOA paddle for almost 6 years. It has taken me across ocean, surf, downwind, upwind, flatwater and even ice. It’s always going to stay with me, but today I picked up my incredible, technology rich KIALOA Hulu Ultralight GL (Read a bit of the story behind the Hulu paddle here).
Anytime you get a new piece of sports equipment: ski boots, skis, a road bike, running shoes – or a paddle, the decision on size, style and fit is always tough. Add to that the age of shoulder and knee joints, back and neck muscles and suddenly the decisions is full of variables, choices and options. What’s cool is that you can connect with the pros at KIALOA via Facebook messages and questions, by going to their blog with comments and questions, or chat with any of their ‘Elele (ambassadors) when you meet them at events. I have found each to be open and eager to share tips and insights. How do you find them at events? Mostly check out the podium or the KIALOA tent.
When I was making the all-important decision about paddle length I watched a lot of videos, talked to a lot of people, and then I did the smartest thing ever. I borrowed the KIALOA Pupu adjustable paddle for an afternoon on the river. Donning my heart rate monitor and Nike+ as my speed/GPS tool I set off with my old paddle and the Pupu on board. I paddled for about 20 minutes with my paddle noting speed and heart rate, paddle cadence and perceived effort. I tried to focus on how my shoulders, hips, knees and back were feeling. I went upstream then downstream.
Next I repeated the exact course with the Pupu adjusted to about 1 inch longer than my paddle. I repeated with it 1/2 inch longer, then 1/2 inch shorter. Those sessions were about 10 minutes each. I finished with a 5 minute upstream and 5 minute downstream paddle with my existing paddle. The resulting decision – I kept my paddle length for my new Hulu at exactly what my old paddle had been. The experience taught me a lot about reach, grab, paddle stroke and upper body technique.
Raising the paddle, level and above my head, with my elbows bent at 90 degrees and equally spaced, I found that my lower hand seemed too far down toward the blade. I was most comfortable paddling with my lower hand approximately one hand span back up toward the grip. It’s important to get this hand placement right for you.
The further up your lower hand, the longer the lever arm; distance between lower hand and the center of effort of the blade. Positioning your lower hand too far up the shaft, creates greater reliance on using leverage (pushing forwards with the top arm) as the primary means in generating force to the blade. It’s been a long time since I studied physics or levers, but that basic principle make good common sense. Using the paddle as a long lever is a very poor use of bio mechanics – and will not make shoulders very happy.
I had a conversation with Karen Wrenn after a longer training paddle sent me home with sore knees. In a nutshell, she advised me to find a balance in using power generated through pulling from the throat of the shaft (lower hand) and being aware of the rotation (torque) around the my spine and compression downward through the top arm. Keeping my hips forward and rotating through my upper body (feeling next soreness in lats and upper back) was the recipe for very happy knees.
The bottom line – take your time on the water as you decide upon the right paddle for you. Whether you surf, race, cruise flat-water or meander around in lakes, investing an hour or so with an adjustable paddle can make all the difference for your long term SUP fun!