How do you choose the right paddle that fits your style of paddling?
Over the last couple of years, I have been fortunate enough to try several brands of paddles. Most are effective enough and will take care of all your needs, some are completely worthless and should be taken off the market, (one super-popular brand is downright un-usable) but there can only be one that is the best. In this paddler’s humble opinion, Ke Nalu paddles hold the crown. They are very competitively priced, super light, easy on the joints and muscles, and the Oregon based company provides enough components with varying degrees of flex, size, and weight to ensure that each and every consumer finds the perfect combination to end up the paddle that suits their style best. When it comes to choosing a paddle from Ke Nalu there are at least 3 different options for each part that makes up a complete paddle so I thought I would write about my experiences with all the components and offer up some feedback as to what might be the best fit for you! AND…read on to find a way to get a good deal on a new paddle!!
Everyone always wonders about blade size. As a guy I hate saying this but: size matters. I think choosing the right blade size depends a lot on technique. When determining blade size I don't go by square inches; I go by paddle width. The first paddle I bought was in my second month of racing and it was the 8.5" wide Maliko. It worked well for me and it felt great paired with a 90 Flex shaft and an Ergo T handle. As I was trying to work on my stroke technique, I did have some shoulder issues that started from using another brand and using a paddle that was way too tall in overall length did not help matters any. My stroke was all about arm strength which is not the best way to avoid pain. Shoulder pain continued throughout the middle of my first race season and as I closed in on facing a 26.5 mile race I was too broke to buy abnother paddle. I cut 8.5” blade down to 8.15" for the SEA Paddle NYC race in 2012 and found it effective for the 26.5 miles. Also, my shoulder pain went away 1 week before the SEA Paddle race! Using the 8.15" blade for races after SEA Paddle that were much shorter did not feel so good for me; I felt like I was pushing water but not moving forward fast enough. However, I was still learning the proper stroke technique and looking back now it was quite apparent that I had no idea what I was doing. I was throwing my blade in the water in whatever way felt good and moved me forward. Any paddle that didn't hurt my shoulders was a good paddle. Ke Nalu worked but as I started to improve my stroke I felt I needed to make a change.
Here, it is important to note that after changing brands to Ke Nalu my shoulder pain went away. I was able to train through pain for a big race and, eventually, feel the pain go away as I started using a brand that was constructed with shoulder pain in mind!
At the end of last year, I was all about using the strength of my arms to make me go so I wanted to try a larger blade. I bought the 9" wide Molokai blade and loved the way it felt when I planted the blade in the water. I really felt like I was doing something good planting that beast in the water and I felt my speed improve. The first race I did with a bigger blade (even though it was not a Ke Nalu because I left a paddle at the Orange Bowl in Miami) was the Cold Stroke Classic and I was very pleased with the result. But…I was still trying to push ahead by bullying my way through the stroke. The bigger blade, when used for anything 6 miles or less, worked because I was totally relying on arm strength instead of putting my core, lats, delts, and hips into the rotation. As I have been working on drills and trying to better my technique AND quicken my cadence the bigger blade no longer feels right, epsecially for starts. I am all about the 8.5” Maliko these days. It feels just right whether I am working on mad-dash sprints for starts or getting in a good rhythm for longer distances. Currently the 8.5” Maliko is my weapon of choice.
The first shaft I bought was a Flex 90 and I should have stopped right there. Having started SUP with shoulder pain I did buy a xTuf shaft to get a more flexible shaft but I found the xTuf shaft to be way too flexible, especially with the 9” Molokai blade. The response time between catch and stroke was too delayed. It felt like as I was turning my body the blade was staying behind me then shooting forward as the shaft flexed and spent too much time building up momentum before allowing me to try and push the board past where I planted the blade in the water, if that makes any sense. The feeling might be likened to: if I was throwing a pitch I would wind up and my elbow would go forward but when I would want to release the ball my hand holding the ball would not have caught up to the elbow for the release. There seemed to be too much of a delayed reaction time. This shaft has been untouched in my garage for quite some time and for many months I wondered why Ke Nalu even made this shaft. Then it hit me concerningwho the xTuf shaft is best for – the xTuf shaft is perfect for the elderly paddler with range of motion issues and/or the person rehabbing after an injury to their upper body. The xTuf shaft with an 8.5” or 8” blade would be ideal for the recreational paddler who is out there to have fun and/or someone who wants to get out on the water but must take great care of their arms and/or shoulders. The xTuf shaft is perfect for moseying, if you just want to mosey and take in the scenery, along the surface of any body of water! The forgiveness in this flexible shaft would make even the most arthritic athlete a very happy paddler!
This summer I bought a 100 Flex, which is Ke Nalu's stiffest shaft, hoping to translate stiffness into speed and found it quite agreeable…most of the time. (I also switched to a classic "T" handle.) This was the paddle I used most of this past summer and it served me quite well in the 12-6 division of the Midwest SUP Series and the series of races in the Mid Atlantic region. Again, as I was working on my technique and still doing a lot of arm paddling the 100 Flex worked. However, by the end of the race season I found the 100 Flex to be too stiff, especially with a 9” blade on the end of it. Last week I changed blades and put the 8.5” blade on the 100 Flex and still found the shaft too stiff, especially for a long-distance paddle. I also found the stiffness to do more harm than good practing sprints and buoy turns, but this was with a bigger blade. All is not lost for the 100 Flex though! I think a 100 Flex with an 8” Wiki blade would be the ideal weapon of choice for a lighter paddler (under 180) who has a fast cadence. I want to buy an 8” Wiki to put on my 100 Flex to have for shorter races 5 miles or less where I can attempt to maintain a fast cadence for as long as possible!!
What you find with Ke Nalu is that you always have a component to make another component work. This can be for the new paddler, the established recreational paddler, or the competitive racer. Throughout the evolution of your stroke you will have options to find the best fit. Right now the Flex 90 is the best shaft for my stroke.
You cannot go wrong with the 90 Flex shaft. This is the shaft that is built for everyone. This shaft feels good with any size blade, although I must say that sometimes using anything smaller than 8.5” can feel like urinating into the wind. I like sprinting with the 90 Flex; I like going 12+ miles with the 90 Flex and I like doing a combination of both distance and sprints with the 90 Flex. If you want 1 paddle and 1 paddle only I vote for the 90 Flex, the 8.5” Maliko blade, and the Classic T handle.
I am rather surprised how my handle choice has evolved as my stroke has. I was all about the Ergo T to start and I like it but when I first started paddling I loved using a tight grip. The tight grip with my fingers spread over any kind of T handle did not do well for – paddling without pain. I bought an Ergo handle and found myself being able to hold on tight for longer lengths of time befor experiencing any pain. Of course you are not supposed to hold on tight, but I was new and I went with what is comfortable. These days I paddle with a more relaxed grip (which keeps the forearms from cramping on long distance adventures) and I like having more surface area on which to rest my top hand. Also, I like pushing down with my top hand and using the Classic T feels really dang good and is my #1 choice to top off any paddle I am putting to use on any kind of paddling venture. The Ergo T is not as wide a “T” and isn’t really that different than the Classic T so either makes for a great topper. The Ergo is a smoother shape that makes your paddle feel like a scepter, which is always a good thing to boost the self confidence! They all work well in terms of comfort but in the sweaty months the handles can be a little slippery. After trying all types of tape and even non-skid paint, I found surf wax solves this problem best.
As my stroke has improved (or maybe changed is a better word) so has my preference in paddle size, shaft flexibility, and handle comfort. What is great about Ke Nalu is the fact that there system is suited to providing options for the ever-evolving paddler. The hot-glue system makes changing out a component a breeze and I have yet to have anything malfunction in a race! I like being able to make changes without the hassle of dealing with epoxy. I ding my boards enough to have my fill of mixing epoxy. For paddle research I light up the propane torch (which is not the best way to do this mind you) and make changes within seconds! I ALWAYS like to let my paddles sit overnight when changing out components. I like the glue to settle in and get used to the new surroundings and so far it has worked.
Any shoulder pain I have experienced this summer (when going back and forth between the 100 Flex and the 90 Flex) has not lasted past the next morning. Last summer when I used several brands of paddles I had shoulder pain until I became a consistent user of Ke Nalu products. I am also sure that using a much shorter paddle that is only 7.5” to 8.5” added to my overall height helps, but the point is that Ke Nalu has taken careful steps to provide shafts that take into account the pressure stand up padlding puts on the body. Their products work well for the body and I am sure if you ask anyone else who uses Ke Nalu products that they will agree with this.
And back to the filthy urinating into the wind comment…this applies to me as someone who wants to feel the power loading into my stroke from the catch, planting the paddle in the water, through the stroke until I pull the paddle out of the water. The fact that I DON’T feel that power load with a small blade is GOOD for the recreational paddler who wants to do nothing but enjoy being out on the water. I did not mean that a small blade is a bad thing!! A small balde is great for not feeling the work you are putting in when enjoying time on the water!!
My ideal paddle for now is the 8.5" Maliko blade on a 90 Flex topped off with a classic "T" handle. That being said I think the 9" Molokai blade is great to use as a training paddle for resistance so when you grab the 8.5” Maliko you will be ready to fly! The 8” blade is great for ease of stroke.
So much to choose from! It’s all so good for you! Here is my ideal quiver I am striving to complete:
Top Choice: 8.5” Maliko on 90 Flex with classic “T” handle (total length 79”)
Top Back Up: 9” Molokai on 90 Flex with classic “T” handle (total length 78.5”)
The Caddyshack Billy Baroo to Keep Around for Sprints: 8” Wiki on 100 Flex with Ergo “T” handle (total length 79”)
I buy my Ke Nalu gear from Ben Butterwei at Stand Up Paddle Annapolis who is the closest and best Ke Nalu dealer around. If you want to try a paddle before you buy one please feel free to conatct myself on the Eastern Shore or Ben if you live over on the west side of the bridge. If you just want to order one email Ben at email@example.com and mention that you are a reader of An Eccentric’s Take to get 15% off the total price of a new paddle along with free shipping!! This deal goes from Halloween to the Surf to Sound race at Wrightsville Beach on November 16. You can’t beat that deal! Get yourself a new paddle for one of the last races of 2013!
You will not be sorry for investing in the right components to suit your style of paddling. Ke Nalu takes into account that not every paddler is the same so they try and provide a wide range of components to fit almost any need. Ke Nalu’s customer service is top knotch and they will not hesitate to fix any problem with any of their products. They have also brought on options to make your paddle adjustable and my cousin Neil swears by the adjustable option. Plus, they have super cool t-shirts that look sexy on men and women!!
To read more about their gear check out: Ke Nalu