Monday, August 26, 2013

Ke Nalu Molokai Paddle Review

A paddle is a peculiar thing.  It's a simple, ancient device yet it works pretty well.  We can move the board with it, we can even use it to keep ourselves from falling off the board.  We always keep both hands on the paddle so it's all about that elusive "feel".  What feels good to you might not feel good to me.  Let's not forget that something that feels good may not be the most efficient for us but then again, does that really matter? In addition, something that doesn't feel good today might feel good in a few weeks.  Is that because it was good all along and it took time to adjust to it?  Perhaps it's still not very good but because it feels more familiar, it's somehow a better paddle.  Again, I will ask the question: does it really matter?  I don't know.  What I DO know is that the first time I paddled with my Ke Nalu Molokai, I absolutely HATED it.  Please keep reading.

I'm picky about a lot of things: movies, sunglasses, shoes, socks, and paddles.  I don't like house brand paddles.  By that, I don't like generic paddles with a board manufacturer's sticker on them.  Everyone has seen or used these paddles.  You see them from Naish, Surftech, Starboard, etc.  All the big brands have them.  They are okay and most of them work pretty well I guess but these guys are not in the paddle business, they are in the board business. Everything else is an accessory.  I like paddles made by a paddle company.  I like Quickblade, Werner, Kialoa, and Ke Nalu.  You thought I hated the Ke Nalu?  I did.  I was very disappointed.  It was splashy and wobbled like crazy during the power phase of the stroke.  It felt really hard to pull out of the water.  I liked the light weight and I liked the looks but that was it.  By the third session with it though, I started to figure it out.

The Ke Nalu will punish a poor stroke.  All of the power comes from the catch and the first part of the power phase.  When your feet reach the paddle, you need to start your exit.  A SUP paddle has an offset to allow you to lift the paddle without scooping water at the end of your stroke.  Lifting water is a lot of hard work and no pay off.  Lifting water takes energy and it slows you down by pushing your board deeper in the water, creating more drag.  The Ke Nalu does not have as much off-set, therefore you need to focus on the catch and release at your feet.  I believe the off-set goes from 9 degrees at the shaft to 3 degrees at the tip.

Hundreds of people have commented on Ke Nalu paddles on the standup zone forum.  There are hundreds of pages.  I would say that 99.5% of the reviews are positive.  Most people rave about them.  Here are some pros and cons based on my own experience with the Molokai:


  • Very lightweight - A light paddle is a wonderful thing!
  • Modular - You can pick between different grips, different shafts, and different blades based upon your body size, experience, preferences, etc.
  • Innovative design - ferrule system, complex blade shape, hot glue assembly - makes swapping out components a breeze.
  • Sharkskin texture on the shaft for grip.  Why doesn't everyone do this?
  • Looks - Shiny carbony goodness
  • Customer service
  • Expensive - one of the most expensive on the market as far as I know.
  • You have to assemble the three pieces together with hot glue.  Your pieces come pre-glued but either mine didn't have enough or I just didn't let it get hot enough so I had to add more glue.  Of course, I over did it and made a mess.  It took me a while, but I finally cleaned it up.
  • You have to cut the shaft yourself.  It can be scary if you are not good with hand tools.  The fragments are sharp as glass so be sure to sand your edges.
  • Not really a con, but the shaft is a smaller diameter than you might be used to.  I have big hands but I really like it.  I reminds me to loosen my death grip.
Overall, a great paddle.  I love the bigger blade of the Molokai for downwinders.  I also use it for racing.  I like that Ke Nalu is a small player in the market.  They thought about ways to improve the SUP paddle, and did.  I also like that if I happen to break it, I can just replace the broken piece (blade, shaft, or handle) without trashing the whole paddle.  I would not recommend this paddle to a beginner though, or would I?  Maybe some punishment to help you refine your stroke is not a bad thing.  

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