The Kai Zen is available in two blade sizes 88sq and 98sq. There is NO OTHER paddle like this on the market today. Please check out the videos below.
The Kai Zen paddle Story:
Design and R & D:
After years of using and testing paddles from the top manufacturers (see backstory below), I wanted to design a paddle that combined some of the best features from my favorite paddles and add some new ideas, such as a super ergonomic handle, grippy bumps on the shaft, an extra efficient blade shape and also make it so it can break down small enough to easily travel with. After making some sketches I discussed my ideas with Alex Nix. Alex has made some custom Native Living Custums paddles for me in the past, he is an expert in composite paddle construction and can talk about paddle design for hours.
He was the first paddle maker to make an oval tapered shaft and had made some custom paddles for me in the past. He agreed to collaborate with me to make a prototype blade using my design ideas and combining them with modified versions of his proven shaft designs and blade outlines to create the first handmade prototype. The first prototype felt great in the water. We did some underwater video testing to see how the blade shape affected the air vortexes formed around the blade. One important takeaway from these tests was that any sharp corners or edges in the transition from blade to shaft can create turbulence which causes more air to get sucked down into the water causing more slippage. In the final paddle design we made the transition from the blade to the shaft extra smooth and fluid-dynamic to reduce formation of turbulence, bubbles resulting in noticeably less slippage and better “grip” in the water.
Once we had a blade we were happy with, I discussed the project with our high end paddle manufacturer to see how we could make some of my other ideas a reality. He made some good suggestions on options for making the design workable. The Kai Zen paddle is somewhat revolutionary in that it is the first Stand Up paddle to be made of all molded parts. This allows us to make a seamless ergonomic handle and a blade with a super smooth transition from blade to shaft. It also enabled us to make an oval tapered shaft with grippy nubs and custom fitted ferrules that allows the paddle to be fitted and hot glued without any wiggle, twist or give in the joints. It can be disassembled and reassembled using a heat gun (or hair dryer if heat gun is not available). This eliminates the wiggling joints and big clamps used on most three piece travel paddles today. The Kai Zen is a no compromise, full carbon, light weight, high performance paddle that just happens to break down into three parts for easy transport.
Once we decided on the fully molded construction, we developed an oval, tapered shaft based on a slimmed down version of Alex’s original NLC oval shaft mandrel. The Kai Zen shaft has unique small bumps along the front of the shaft and a matt finish that allows exact registration and a solid grip without slippage. The shaft does not feel slippery in the hands, even with a loose, relaxed grip and does not require any additional grip products. We found that adding grip to a paddle can cause blisters on long paddles. Wax does not stay where you want it and is just too messy, so we feel that the comfortable grip from the bumps is a big step forward. The bumps also work great with both hands on the shaft and allow a comfortable “choke down” grip that effectively shortens the paddle length for sprinting or paddling into the wind.
Softer Shaft option:
Some customers have asked us to offer a softer shaft option with more flex for those with shoulder or back issues. We are currently working with our manufacturer on a softer shaft sample and are planning to offer the softer shaft as an option to our backers when the campaign closes. The softer shaft option will most likely not be ready for all of the early Beta Testers but will be available as an option for all other backers.
We designed our super ergonomic handle using epoxy putty and sanding it to the prefect shape. The handle is quite big in comparison to others on the market but the wide palm surface area is very comfortable on longer paddles, prevents blisters forming in the palm area, does not have any hard edges and promotes a relaxed grip that can prevent cramping by relaxing the forearm muscles. We tested the handle on paddlers with big hands and paddlers with small hands and the feedback was that once they got used to it, it felt great.
Once we were happy with our hand made prototype, the manufacturer scanned it and made it into a 3D computer file to ensure exact symmetry of the design. The computer file also made it easy to make small changes to the design and allowed us to design an optimized smaller blade using the CAD program.
After making some more small adjustments to the design file, we were ready to order the mold. The paddles are molded using heavy steel molds and tooling process took a few months. The paddles are made using highest grade 100% carbon pre-pregnated sheets that are manually laid up at various angles to maximize strength while minimizing weight. High stress areas such as the ferrule joints are re-enforced with extra layers of carbon. The blade has a core of computer shaped high density foam and ABS plastic edge inserts that keeps the edge of the blade thin and efficient as well as strong, resilient, and chip resistant.
The first paddle out of the mold arrived right before the 32 Mile Molokai to Oahu race. I usually don’t like using new equipment in a big race but I was too excited and could not help myself so I put it to the ultimate test right away.