Some background: I am just a regular person doing a little surfing, touring, racing, and recreational paddling. I could get one paddle that is versatile enough to do most everything, or I could start to build out my quiver of more specialized standup paddles. The size and shape of the blade, length of the shaft are just a few things to consider when choosing a paddle. Choosing a board is even more complex and one size for all types of water and surf or purpose gets complicated. I always go to an expert for advisement when making a decision about sports equipment and SUP equipment is no different.
Sometimes people ask me, “I am just a recreational SUPer. Why do I need an expensive paddle?” First of all, “expensive” is a word that’s not easy to quantify in terms of comfort, freedom from injury, pure enjoyment, efficiancy and “feel” while enjoying your sport.
I usually answer, but it is a silly answer, “You don’t run a marathon in flip flops. Sure flip flops are the ultra comfort shoe, but not for running or even for much all-terrain walking. The $100 shoe you get for hiking, running or walking is “expensive,” but it is a huge value. The same goes for paddles.”
I was talking to Steve Gates, owner of Big Winds in Hood River, Oregon a few months ago. We were discussing which Naish board I should use for an upcoming down winder on the could-be-gnarly Columbia River. We discussed balance, ability, glide and surfing. He advised me to use the Naish Glide 12′ 6″ which is forgiving and competitive (even if I am not so much). I had wanted to try the Naish Javelin (14′) like a friend has and one I have enjoyed in the flatwater. I thought that the faster the better was a good idea. Steve explained that I would be more stable and endure fewer swims – and therefore enjoy the race more and probably be faster with the Glide. Great equipment and great advice make all the difference for an enjoyable experience no matter where you finish in an event. Either way, Naish was the hands down choice.
When out on the water, talk to others who share your interests – even if their abilities far surpass yours (for now). Try their equipment. If you have a heavy, poorly designed paddle prepare to get paddle-envy. If your paddle is not the right length, prepare for a huge “aha” moment if you try a paddle better suited to you. If you have a few members of the family who’ll be sharing one paddle, why not get a top of the line adjustable paddle that will be exquisite fun for all? The KIALOA Pupu paddle is a fine example.
So why am I about to add to my quiver of standup paddles? I have one paddle I dearly love. For 5 years it has taken me over lakes, streams, oceans, bays and rivers – but like any piece of well-used sports equipment, it could break at some point. So I went shopping. Don’t ask me about square inches of blade size, blade shape, shaft length or blade design – I leave that to the experts.
Discussing things with the team at KIALOA (awesome customer service and rich online information) I learned that for my size, age and skill level I might find the KIALOA Pipes to be a great downwinder and flatwater paddle. It was fun to learn that many pros – even big strong young men – love the Pipes as well. There is plenty to learn about getting equipment right – again, I always defer to the experts.
My current paddle, with a shorter shaft and larger blade size can still be my go to paddle for surfing. For my down winders and probably most races I may be better off with the Pipes. I tried the Pipes on the same 5 mile training run I have been doing for about 6 weeks, maybe 3 times a week.
In my last race I noticed that my heart rate was a full 20 BPM more than I wanted. I decided to do some training closer to my “fat burning” zone, topping at 136 and some segments in my “aerobic” zone – which tops at 154 BPM. I have been doing my 5 mile loop with my older paddle so I know my speed per mile and my average heart rate at that speed. Yesterday when I used the Pipes my heart rate was easy to keep in the 125-140 BPM range. My fear was that the “feeling easier” paddling would result in a slower average speed per mile.
Holy cow! I use Nike+ to measure my miles and gather my splits per mile – I was 12-18 seconds faster per mile – a full minute faster for the total 5 miles while the entire workout felt easier. It was also actually easier – as demonstrated by my reduced heart rate. For a 63 year old chick just playing at being an athlete this is both fun to explore – and an incentive to get that Pipes in my quiver very soon. The only tough decision remaining is which of the beautiful graphics do I choose – the blue or the green plumeria? Maybe blue to match my cool new Sweet Waterwear paddling top or my Hawaiian blue Tiare Tee.