Primary mission today was twofold. I needed to get a distance paddle in and I wanted to "test" paddle the Kialoa 9" blade. I borrowed the paddle from Michael who I had sold it to a couple years ago when I sold him my first Angulo 10-4 SUP. It's a great paddle, all carbon and very light but it was hard on my shoulders. So I sold him the whole thing as a package and ended up buying an Infinity 6.5" otter tail which I use in the surf and really love. But for distance paddling I wanted a paddle with a little more meat than 6.5". But how much more meat?
Since I'm learning to paddle more efficiently (well, trying to at least) I thought maybe a 9" blade would be good, and it probably would for a bigger, stronger guy. Since the last time I bought a paddle, technology and technique have come a long way. There's tons of info on all the major paddle manufacturers sites about paddles and paddling, as well as this site Zen Waterman. I've been reading a lot as well as talking to as many people I can who are into distance/racing paddling.
Generally, the bigger the paddler, the bigger the blade. For example, if I'm looking at Quickblade paddles, say the Kanaha All Carbon, they come in three basic sizes: 90 square inches/8.3" width; 100 sq. in. 8.7" width and 110 sq in. 9" width. (Note: the Surftech San-O is in fact a Quickblade paddle.) Also, most people I'm talking with are saying that it is preferable to maintain a higher cadence when paddling than lower, so having a paddle that has less resistance when pulling it through the water is better for establishing and maintaining a quick or more rapid cadence (strokes per minute if you will). There is a lot to all this and a lot of personal preference involved so I won't go into all the details. If you want the info it's out there.
Actually since paddles are expensive I'd rather have a "one size fits all" paddle. But my otter tail really is too narrow. Great for surfing, not so great for paddling long distance efficiently.
The first thing I noticed about paddling the Kialoa today had nothing to do with blade width though. Michael is a little shorter than I and had cut the shaft down and re-glued the handle. Since I like long paddle shafts anyway, this is the first thing I noticed right off. Another general rule of thumb is that paddles used for surfing are shorter than paddles used for distance/race paddling. But for me, personal preference trumps common wisdom 'cause I like the longer paddle shaft. I had to lean too far over with the Kialoa and that ended up fatiguing my lower back. I didn't think the blade width was all that difficult to pull, or even noticeable at first. But after about 45 minutes I started to feel more tired than I think I would have with a narrower blade. Also, about an hour after the paddle, my shoulders and mid-back were more sore than they should have been.
I'm somewhat intrigued by dihedral shaped into the paddle, and the notion that it makes the paddle easier to pull through (greater efficiency) as well as limiting paddle flutter (improved blade stability) that can occur when pulling the paddle through the water. If this is the case then perhaps one could go with a slightly wider paddle than normal and with the same energy expended reap greater efficiency? Don't know but I've got a paddle with dihedral lined up to demo so I'll have some idea about all that soon.
I remember when I first started the SUP adventure in Hawaii, August 2007. As I got more into it, and moved into buying my first SUP I wondered if there would ever be a need for a SUP quiver. No need to wonder anymore. A SUP quiver, and a paddle quiver.
I got into SUP as a way to rehab my back and stay in the game of surfing. It was getting to the point where a couple hours spent on my prone boards would lead to two days rehabing a painful back. SUP has changed all that. This Summer will most likely see the sale of my last three prone surfboards and the solidification of my SUP quiver to four. Two shortboards (SIMSUP and SimmyD); my 10' Angulo all around "longboard" SUP and the Surftech Bark Competitor.
I guess if there's one thing that stays the same, it's change.