By David Becerra
Review: Black Project Hydro Flow X Paddle ( 82”Sq/inch - 29mm Diameter Medium Flex Shaft)
When talking SuP equipment, one could say that there is nothing more personal than a paddle. Just think of the decision process. Like most, It’s probable that you first started with a heavy adjustable paddle. Then one day at a local paddling meet you try a light fixed carbon paddle, and its love at first contact with water. Meanwhile, your rotator cuff is wondering why the hell you went so long paddling with an oversized shovel. You go home, you do your research and try to make sense of words like: dihedral, rake, high aspect and the plethora of other catch phrases the good ideas marketing team throws at you. If you’re lucky, your local shop provides you with a few demos, and you purchase the one that brings a smile every time you effortlessly catch and gather water behind the blade. You have it cut to your SuP discipline requirement, you go home and practice ad nauseam. You’re proud of how far you’ve come, and you pamper your paddle after every session. You show up at the next paddling meet and you parade it around like it’s your prodigy child. You come up to the start line with an “I’ll show them” attitude, the gun goes off, you give it your all…and out of nowhere someone passes you with an adjustable shovel and serves your ego on a silver platter. The end.
True personal story. The difference between me and that person was that they had the coveted “ten thousand hours” Jedi experience and an exceptional paddling pedigree that made their paddling form and stroke execution (entry/catch/power/exit/recovery) seamless. Whereas I was a weekend warrior relying on technology to combat paddle twist and flutter during my stroke execution. It’s unlikely that I’ll ever catch up to that individual, but by all account I was pretty happy with my performance that day.
Sure I have tested some questionable paddles; a notable bent shaft comes to mind, but for the most part companies have been spot-on by calling on designs derived from performance canoe and kayak. Without getting too technical, their goal is to is to help you achieve consistent stroke execution when your paddling form suffers from numerous factors, most notably either muscle or central nervous system fatigue.
A new paddle design - which I had the opportunity to test thanks to Jeff at Halifax Paddle Surf - was crafted by Black Project, a Maui based performance company. Enter the “Hydro FlowX” and all the marketing fluff that goes with it…less of this! more of that! I’ll save you the torture. It’s smooth and it delivers, point blank. The high aspect (rectangular and not tear drop) blade is a combination of a curved dihedral spine - which extends above the blade to the shaft - on the front face and a deep scoop wedged between double dihedral spines on the back face (a.k.a the power face of the blade). The curve and the 9 degree offset on the front face literally mimic a swimmers hand which allowed me to enter and catch early at the beginning of the stroke. The scoop firmly secured water that permitted me to power and maintain a linear paddle trajectory along the board with little concern for blade twist or flutter as a result of poor execution or decreased grip. During static test on the dock I plowed like a mad man to compare the Hydro FlowX with my single dihedral paddle. It was evident to the naked eye that flow induced turbulence was reduced by combining front and back surfaces to work as one. Though the blade is critical, the shaft and yoke are also important components of the paddle’s anatomy. The tested 82”Sq/inch paddle came with a medium flex shaft which interestingly felt better on my aging anatomy by reducing the effects of the scoop which makes the paddle feel larger. Also, the shaft is nicely textured for added grip when your hands get sweaty. While the shaft diameter (29mm) and yoke are matters of personal preference, I found the latter to be slightly big. That said, the shaft is offered in a slim 26mm version, while the yoke is standard.
Black Project is not the first company to produce double dihedral scooped paddles. However, they have convincingly upped the ante by symbiotically incorporating, not just one, but a gamut of proven hydrodynamic elements into the Hydro FlowX. While the higher percentage of quality stokes may marginally decrease your personal best on a longer session, the real result in my opinion will be reduced muscle fatigue and joint stress which often result in injuries that can compromise your season. If SuP is your passion and you are injury prone or have to prolong recovery between sessions, I wouldn’t discount trying this paddle as a possible path to SuP happiness. Considering the technology and light materials, coupled with the performance, the Hydro FlowX fits extremely well whether you are a pro, serious amateur or weekend warrior on the hunt for your next race or water adventure. 🔱