G. Niblock on the Original SIMSUP S3. Photo: J. Chamberlain

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Product Review: Infinity Ottertail CF Paddle

Infinity Ottertail CF Paddle

When I first started SUP surfing, I knew very little overall about the boards, or the paddles, or the new sport I was getting into. My first board/paddle combo was the Angulo 10-4 and the Kialoa Kole paddle. Both were excellent products to use in getting started. But because of learning and changing within the sport I have moved to another board (an Angulo 10-0 EPS/Epoxy custom SUP) and the Infinity Ottertail paddle.

I am not a big, powerful man. I weigh 153 pounds and stand 5'9". After about six months of steady SUPing, using the Kialoa Kole with a 9" wide blade, I started developing chronic shoulder pain. One can attribute this to a number of other things beside the paddle, and I want to be quick to say that it wasn't the brand, Kialoa, that was suspect, rather it was the blade size. So I began to do a lot of research on different types of paddles. A year ago, there wasn't a whole lot out there, now there is much more. (For a good read on paddles check this info on Ke Nalu.)

My research led me to believe that a narrower paddle blade would be easier to "pull" through the water, it would offer less resistance and therefore place less stress on the shoulder joints and muscles. This seemed logical in that paddle stroke theory seemed to revolve around two accepted schools of thought. High cadence and low cadence. Since SUP paddles have evolved from canoe and outrigger paddling, these schools of thought have been around for a while. Since the narrow blade is easier to pull through the water, one can do more "strokes per minute." Conversely the slower cadence available with the wider blade brings more raw energy with which to propel the board forward. (For more on this read a paddle maker's thoughts here.)

An easier way to think of it is to imagine that the wide blade is a lower gear in your transmission, like compound low or first gear, and the narrower blade is a higher gear like third or fourth.

But for me, paddling theory, and my technique were way secondary to my issue. I needed some relief for my shoulders, and I thought that an easier pull through, with less resistance might help. It did, and it did by a lot.

Steve Bahne in SoCal was the only manufacturer/retailer I could find at the time, that made (in the good ol' USA) and sold the ottertail. He manufactures the blade in three widths: 6.5", 7" and 8". (I opted for the 6.5" blade.) In an effort to save money (after all, I wasn't sure the narrow blade was going to help) I asked for a wood paddle. But the shaft lengths were too short for what was in stock, and they weren't going with wood any longer. So I bought the heavier, fiberglass shaft paddle. (I really wanted carbon fiber but the $$$ issue got in the way).

Dealing with Steve exclusively over the internet was great. I can't say enough for his service and communication. Any time of the day or night, weekend or weekday, I would get answers to my questions. All of Infinity's ottertail paddles are made locally using American labor and materials. Unless the paddle is in stock it's a custom job (you get your choice of blade colors), so be prepared to wait a little if the paddle has to be made especially for you. (This is true of fiberglass or carbon fiber.)

Color choice was actually important to me as I had lost my paddle one dark and late evening in heavy surf. It was only good fortune that I spotted the black paddle in a black sea as it emerged momentarily in the whitewash. So for my new paddle I ordered what I thought was the brightest color Infinity offers.

My paddle arrived via UPS and I couldn't wait to get it into the water. It only took a few strokes as I paddled out into the lineup to notice the major difference between the wide blade and the narrow blade. It felt like there was practically no resistance at all, and I was worried at first, that I wouldn't be able to develop enough board speed to catch waves! Additionally, the length of the blade is a little longer than my previous paddle. This made for a long, narrow paddle blade. This absolutely did take some getting used to. But in a very short time, I was completely up to speed...pun intended.

Almost instantly my shoulder issue resolved, no more sore shoulder joints or mid-back pain. The easier pull through didn't want to pull me off the board either, so there was more stability in regular paddling and wave catching. And the longer blade gave me the ability to control even more, the resistance of the pull. I could dip the blade deep into the water for more power, or only halfway for more finesse. This gamble into the world of narrow blades had completely paid off, but there was one thing that I really missed...the ultra light weight of a carbon fiber paddle shaft.

Fast forward a year or so and I could rationalize buying a second, first line cf paddle, keeping my first ottertail as a backup. Life is good.

Again, Steve was perfect to do business with. I ordered my paddle around Christmas time, so I had to wait a little longer which I expected. Again, everything built in America. This time there was one small glitch that turned out to be the silver lining in a dark cloud. I order an 82" paddle (same size as my first ottertail) and the new one arrived at 84.75 inches. When I told Steve he was majorly bummed. I suggested he just send me another handle with instructions on how to cut the shaft down and do the new install. No problem. I got everything the next day!

The silver lining to the extra length is that I was so excited to try the new paddle I took it out as shipped. I loved the extra length. What! Yeah, it gave me more reach to the side for balance and for turning the board. It just gives me more versatility overall. For surfing the extra length doesn't get in the way at all. And, I have better reach with a longer rudder for steering, and better leverage in turns and turn backs. So that was a very pleasant surprise.

In summary: If you're looking for a paddle that will be a little easier on your upper body, but still provide all the elements you need for a good SUP surfing paddle, the Infinity Ottertail paddle is a great choice. And Steve Bahne at Infinity will give you great service and a high quality product that he'll stand behind and, it is made in the USA.

Update: Infinity has just made a deal with Werner Paddles to make the ottertail. Werner/Infinity ottertail paddles will be available soon at any retailer who carries the Werner line of paddles. Check for a dealer near you, or ask about the new Werner/Infinity ottertail paddles at your local SUP/Surf shop. Price point for the Werner/Infinity ottertail will be about $60 less than an Infinity custom built ottertail. Currently the smallest Werner/Infinity ottertail will be available in a 7" blade, but plans are being made to include the 6.5" blade size in the future. These paddles are also American made.

Custom Infinity ottertail paddles are still available through Steve and the Infinity shop in Dana Point, CA.

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