Design Innovation KIALOA has been building products for paddlers for over 24 years. Where does the inspiration for paddle design come from? To answer this question, I had a conversation with designer and owner Dave Chun.
Question: Where does your inspiration for paddle design come from?
Dave: I owe a debt of gratitude to the sport of Outrigger Paddling. Paddling gave me a life direction. I repay my debt, by designing the best paddles possible for the paddlers.
Question: When you build, how do you know ‘what’ to build?
Dave: I listen to the paddlers, they tell me what to build. When paddlers tell me what to build, it is rarely specific. Most times the image of what they desire is not clear to them. The comments I get are really about themselves, the paddler. Not the paddle. My job is to take their feelings and translate it into the paddle.
Question: Where does your information you gather come from to determine what to build?
Dave: I believe in “The Wisdom of Crowds”. James Surowiecki, writes in his book that a group of people with average intelligence will tend to be better at solving a problem than a single expert. Because of this, I try and get information from all levels of paddlers. Individually, the information has limited value, as it is only one person’s opinion. But when I put the entire piece together, it becomes my road map for what I need to build.
When I am shaping a new paddle model, I think about the people who will use it. It’s like a video loop that repeats over and over in my head. How big are their hands? How much force will they apply? Will they be bracing? Will they be steering? Some of my thought is analytical and conscious; sometimes my hands just know what to do.
Question: Aside from customer feedback, what drives your decisions from within?
Dave: I have always been small. To compete with larger, stronger, athletes, I have always had to excel at the technical aspects of sport. The laws of Physics govern all things in the universe. All humans have similar biomechanics. So, I am always asking myself, “Does this make sense, considering Newton’s 3 Laws of Motion? “Is this how the human body works?” I study sports videos, mainly MMA, weightlifting, and paddling. Hitting a golf ball, throwing a punch, all human powered sports are about leverage and engaging the large muscle groups.
Question: What inspires you to create?
Dave: I am most creative when I believe I can improve the design of something. I enjoy the pursuit of perfection. Jiro Ono, the great sushi chef, said, “How will our customers know great sushi, if we do not know it ourselves.’’ I am inspired by art, music, and craft, anyone who is willing to dedicate their life to being creative. Innovation is an outcome of being willing to fail.
A Summary of Dave’s Design Principles
A paddle should become part of the paddler’s body. A good paddle should “disappear” in the hands of the paddlers. If the paddler doesn’t have anything to say about my paddle, then I have done my job. What’s the best pair of running shoes? The one that doesn’t give you blisters.
Build it to last a lifetime. Yvon Chouinard says, “The poor cannot afford to buy cheap goods”. Meaning, if a consumer has to buy an item over and over again, it is not good for the customer, nor is it good for the Earth. Broken paddles ruin my day. I think, “Did someone lose a race because of me?” “Did I ruin a vacation?”
Simple is better. No frills, no gimmicks - only the bare essentials.
The Catch is everything. I build my paddles to enter the water like a Gold Medal Olympic dive. Clean, no splash. When I shape the tips of my models, I think about my hands and swimming. The tip is the most important feature to get right, where the catch is concerned. I like to shape the tips with a soft sponge backing the sand paper. It’s as if the curve in my hand becomes the shape of the tip’s power hook or arc.
Bigger isn’t always better. Get the blade surface area right. Paddles provide traction, or friction. They are like the tires on a car. Once maximum traction has been achieved for the horsepower or handling potential of a car, more traction is not of more benefit. A bigger paddle does not mean a paddler will go faster. Generally speaking, the faster the craft moves, the larger the blade that can be used. The only method to figure out what is the optimal surface area for a given paddler is trial and error.
The paddle must connect the paddler with the water. A paddle must “load” to give the paddler feedback on their technique. I believe there is a fraction of a second at the moment power is applied when the paddle loads. To feel this, the paddle must flex. This is why I design my blades to flex slightly. Feedback on technique is essential for continued progress in paddling efficiency.
There is no such thing as sprint racing in paddling. I believe all paddling races are middle distance to long distance races. At the finish of a 10 second, 100-meter sprint, the runners are slowing down. Thus, I design all my paddles for comfort. If the paddler is comfortable, they are better able to endure.
The ultimate paddle does not exist. Paddles are like golf clubs. If they excel at some aspect of paddling, they will be inferior at another. I design for a specific attribute. In the case of an all-around design, the attribute is to be neutral.
No matter the price point or skill level of the paddler, I will give 100% in my design process. Regardless of their skill level, fitness level or budget I believe that all paddlers deserve good gear.
---Thank you Dave Chun for your continued contribution to the sport of paddling and sharing your Design Principles.