G. Niblock on the L41 TipSUP Noserider. Photo: J. Chandler

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Review: Quickblade V-Drive Paddle vs. Quickblade Trifecta Paddle

I did as much online research as I could about the Quickblade V-Drive and Trifecta paddles. Here are the two best videos I found that gave useful info about the paddles. They both feature Quickblade's Jim Terrell and are 99% free of hype and marketing. Video links: V-Drive and Trifecta. I think you'll get more out of this review is you watch the videos first.

These paddles are expensive and they are top of the line equipment therefore I couldn't afford to make an uninformed choice. In addition to the online research I hounded Keith, the shop manager of Covewater Paddle Surf Santa Cruz with a thousand questions which he was only too eager to answer. Finally, I was able to "try before you buy" because the shop has two adjustable shaft paddles in each model to demo. Personally, I would never buy a paddle this expensive, with as many variables, without taking each for an intensive test paddle.

Why did I need to buy a new paddle? I left my other two paddles on Maui where I SUP surf and open ocean paddle. I wanted my new mainland paddle to be a two-fer, that is, to paddle well when surfing my shorter SUP surfboards or flatwater paddling, downwinding or just touring around on my longer SUPs, a 12' Bark Competitor and a 14' Angulo Shaka.

A little about me. I am a smaller (145-150 lbs.), older (68) guy in excellent condition. I've been SUP surfing in Santa Cruz since 2007. I stay in good shape but I'm not a big guy, and I don't like big paddles. I was looking for efficiency in a smaller blade and I think both sizes that are available in the V-Drive (81 and 91 sq. in.) and Trifecta (86 and 96 sq. in.) can provide that. It's a matter of finding the right size for the paddler.

Covewater provided the V-Drive 91 and the Trifecta 96 for my use. I took out the Trifecta 96 first, mainly because I really like the shape of the blade and because the Trifecta was reputed to have a soft, smooth catch and efficient but forgiving pull with power that wasn't hard on the shoulders. I wasn't expecting much in the way of swell but a little south ramped up while I was out and I surfed for almost three hours in consistent, fast and reeling point surf.

Part of my agenda included distance paddling. Even though I wasn't on one of my bigger boards, I knew I could get the feel of the paddle from paddling the smaller, slower surfing SUPs. I deliberately launched a mile from where I wanted to surf, and paddled to the break. Little did I know I would be waylayed but multiple reefs that were going off. This was an excellent opportunity to put the paddle to work.

The Trifecta. The 96 should have been harder to pull through. But it wasn't. It was in fact forgiving while being extremely efficient. It felt like a much smaller blade. It was also buttery smooth and quiet at the catch. Keeping the blade underwater while pulling through to the release yielded a whisper quiet stroke where the only sound was the water slapping the nose of the board. It made a mediocre paddler like me, better. Equipment that makes you better? I'll drink to that.

That session lasted almost three hours and I surfed a ton of waves. I covered a lot of ocean paddling from the shore to the line-up and when I was done I paddled a mile back to where I launched. I was tired and sore, but I didn't hurt anywhere. I was anxious to try the V-Drive next and make a comparison.

The V-Drive. Two days later I paddle out into the line-up on the same board with the V-Drive 91. From the first stroke at launch I immediately felt the difference between the two blades. Even though the 91 V-Drive's blade was smaller than the 96 Trifecta's, it was harder to pull through. The catch was noisy and I felt resistance from the V-Drive immediately upon placing the blade into the water at the catch. I surfed for two hours, again I caught a lot of waves and I did a lot of paddling. At the end of the session I was tired and I knew which paddle I wanted to buy.

Decision. I knew I wanted the Trifecta. The V-Drive 91 was too much paddle and was not suited to my style, body type and condition, and surfing/paddling preferences. At the same time I thought the V-Drive 81 would be too small and it wouldn't have the soft, quiet efficiency of the Trifecta. This doesn't mean the V-Drive isn't a great paddle. My friends John, Kali'a and Keith (the Covewater shop manager) all have the V-Drive. But they are competitive distance paddlers (and surfers) and I am not. So the V-drive was not going to be useful for my preferences and everyday paddling needs. The Trifecta was just a smoother all around paddle, the catch, pull and release was "softer" and overall the paddle felt easier on my body. But there was a caveat.

The caveat. I still wasn't 100% sure that the 96 was the right size blade and this is where some guess work, along with intuition and research knowledge needed to be applied. The 96 Trifecta was easier to pull through than the 91 V-Drive. But I still felt like it put too much resistance and too much load on my muscles and joints. I felt like it would tire me out sooner and possibly lead to stress injuries. I just didn't think I would be getting the best bang for my buck, or the overall efficiency in a paddle that I was looking for. The Trifecta 86 was only 5 sq. in. smaller than the 91 V-Drive but I thought that the easy, soft feel of the Trifecta would translate better in the smaller 86 sq. in. blade than what I experienced with the V-Drive 91.

Leap of Faith. Sometimes you just have to go for it. Everything I had researched, learned and put into practical application was in my head. So, I let all that sit for 24 hours before making a decision. Like the Magic 8-Ball answer that comes floating up from the inky black, my mind provided the right answer. Trifecta 86. I ordered it. I waited. Was my decision the right one?

Shaft. While the Trifecta and V-Drive demo paddles did not have the EVA wrap and tapered oval shafts, there were several in the shop I could play with. The oval shape and tapered shaft, along with the EVA wrap felt really good to hold. The shaft is feather light, so light it makes you laugh. My decision making process on whether to spend the extra $60 was basically...if you're gonna spend five hundred bucks on a paddle why not spend an extra sixty and get exactly what you want? So, I did and I have not regretted one penny of that decision. The oval shaft is easy to grip and is not slippery. The EVA wrap handle fits nicely in my hand and gives me a sure, fast and reliable grip upon contact. Rarely do I lose the handle on side changes or in turbulent conditions.

Regarding stiffness this was a variable that I felt I didn't have a lot of control over. My choice was to select the oval tapered shaft which has it's own stiffness index (see above videos) depending upon length of shaft. I felt confident that the materials used, technology and the integrity of the company would provide a shaft with acceptable stiffness for my needs.

Something new with these two QB paddles is that the blade is glued to the shaft once it's been cut to the desired length. No longer is the handle glued to the shaft after proper sizing as it comes already installed on the shaft. The blade inserts into a diagonal cut on the paddle shaft, and is then glued. I like my paddles a wee bit long and the length I used on the adjustable demo paddles was perfect. So, Keith and I cut it that long and affixed the blade to the shaft. The bond from shaft to blade is so secure and snug that I electrical taped the blade to the shaft just in case I wanted to change it later. No problem and I doubt that I'll glue it at all in future.

I picked up my new QB Trifecta 86 a week after I ordered it at the shop and was stoked. I got the orange logo with white border. Olivier, the new owner of Covewater comped me with a very nice paddle bag and the rest is history.

Postscript: I've used my new Trifecta 86 for a couple months now and love it more each time I use it. It has in fact met all my expectations and I did get what I was looking for, a two-fer. This paddle is two paddles in one and works well in the surf or for distance paddling. The new technology and design of the paddle leaves my old Infinity otter tail and QB Kanaha 90 in the dust. Now my biggest problem will be talking myself out of getting one for Maui.