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The battle of the paddle: The evolution of Quickblade Paddles

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If you are going to pick between a really good board and a really good paddle – choose the paddle. One of Jimmy’s paddles can last you a lifetime.

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Matt Becker, Professional ocean athlete

Throughout the Cold War, the countries of the Soviet dominated Warsaw Pact continuously jockeyed for position in a cyclical game of one-upmanship with the West. “The East Germans derived a great sense of national pride from winning at the Olympics,” said four time U.S. Olympic canoeist Jim Terrell, the founder of Quickblade Paddles. “They were always looking to invest in sports where they could gain a technical advantage.” The East Germans were the first team to make use of composite materials when constructing their equipment and developed an intricate manual detailing the science of paddling. After the reunification of Germany, technical insights gleaned from the once secret manual made their way onto the professional international paddling circuit. In addition to the shapes and construction of the various paddles and canoe designs was a diagram depicting an underwater grid upon which the efficiency of their equipment was measured.

Jim Terrell began paddling at age three and made his first paddle when he was in sixth grade. Influenced by his life-long passion for paddling, it was not long before Quickblade Paddles distinguished itself as the gold standard for Stand Up Paddling (SUP) after expanding its range to include the increasingly popular sport. “The goal when making any paddle is for it to have an efficient catch, hold the water and then exit the water cleanly,” said Terrell. This year, Quickblade Paddles will be introducing two revolutionary new SUP paddles to the market – the first of which was released this month. Known as the V-Drive, the paddle was inspired by input from renowned waterman Dave Kalama. Tinkering with the idea of incorporating a double dihedral into the blade, Terrell determined the technical feature was most effective with the bottom of the “V” pointed towards the paddle’s shaft. Designed to grab the water more effectively, the V-Drive is a high performance paddle used by members of Team Quickblade’s elite SUP racers. Its soon to be released sibling, the Trifecta, has been artfully crafted for efficient paddling over longer distances where strokes from a more upright stance come into play. The two designs lead an evolution in SUP paddles to smaller blades and gentle modifications to their shapes. Prior to the V-Drive, the blade on Quickblade’s top racing paddle, the Kanaha Elite Race, was available in 90, 100 and 110 square inch configurations compared with 91 and 101 square inches on the V-Drive. With its slightly elongated blade and curvature, the Trifecta’s production variant will likely come in at around 96 square inches.

The various blade shapes and shaft sizes can be daunting to newcomers, but they each have their purpose. “Paddles are like golf clubs,” said Candice Appleby at her recent Performance Paddling clinic in Marina del Rey. “There are different paddles for different jobs.” Quickblade’s paddles are the product of the unquantifiable level of knowledge and expertise honed by its founder during the course of his storied career both on the water and in the aerospace industry where he learned the intricacies of working with state of the art composites and molded shapes. “I am constantly mentally tinkering on different designs,” said Terrell as he shared a Sci-Fi-esque idea for an outrigger canoe with foils that would plane at top speed. “It wouldn't be cost effective [for the outrigger community], but I'd like to do it just to demonstrate what can be achieved.” One idea which will make its way to the marketplace is Quickblade’s proprietary detachable blade concept. Accomplished by cutting a 45 degree angle at the bottom of the paddle’s shaft, athletes can change blades for different types of paddling. The idea will be cost effective for consumers in that the individual blades will be less expensive than a full length paddle. The reduced length will also translate into a more travel friendly paddle for airlines.

Quickblade Paddles is a family run business making a global impact on the paddling community. A loft inside their Costa Mesa, California headquarters has been converted to a children’s playroom and employees exercise at the Quickblade gym where elite athletes train. Like all families, it too has its secrets. Paddle designs and the technology to make them are closely guarded, as are upcoming marketing initiatives. In the autumn of 2013, Quickblade Paddles unveiled their new camouflage prints on soft goods and paddles at the Battle of the Paddle - California, the world’s largest SUP race. It was not long before competitors rolled out an array of flashy camouflage prints of their own. Whereas others may lure consumers with eye catching colors and low cost imports, Quickblade’s American made paddles are scientifically engineered for peak performance through months and sometimes years of research and development. Only after achieving the optimal balance of performance and strength do aesthetic considerations such a color come into play. Consequently, while appearances may be similar, it is what’s on the inside that counts.

A special thanks to contributing photographer Chris Aguilar whose fantastic images brought the prose to life.

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