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The ZRE Dragon XL Dragon Boat Paddle

September 13, 2009

I had an opportunity to give the ZRE Dragon XL paddle a whirl.

My first reaction was man, this thing is LIGHT.  It is the lightest dragon boat paddle I have ever held (although the Trivium gives the XL a run for its money in the weight department).  ZRE specs this paddle at 11.1 ounces.

To give you an idea how light this paddle is, my current #1 in my paddle quiver is the Kialoa Dragon Hybrid Paddle.  Kialoa’s website says a 49” Dragon Hybrid paddle weighs 19 ounces.  My #2 is a first generation Burnwater Reactor.  The Reactor is lighter than the Kialoa but heavier than the Dragon XL.

Because of how light this paddle was, my initial concern was how the paddle would react in windy conditions (the most wind my team ever faces in at the races in San Francisco).  As usual, the conditions in Long Beach, California last Sunday were marvelous – semi glassy with tiny wind gusts, and warm.  There were a few wind gusts that I felt on the recovery.  That being said, an experienced paddler should be able to control the blade during the recovery phase in the wind – as long as it didn’t take the paddler by surprise.

The paddle performed well at entry – nothing earth shattering here.  I prefer the way the Kialoa and Reactor feel at entry (keep in mind this was the first time I paddled since May because of some back issues).

The Dragon XL rewards a solid entry but you don’t get the “damn, that was smooth” feeling.  The tip of the blade is not as sharp as the Reactor (I haven’t seen a sharper carbon paddle tip than the Burnwater paddles) but just as sharp as the Kialoa.

The paddle’s shaft was nice and stiff through the pull phase of the stroke – just the way I like it.  For me, the stiffer, the better.  I never understood the “I prefer flex in my paddle to ease the strain in my shoulder argument” because we paddle in water.  We aren’t driving our paddles into a hard surface (IMHO most of the shoulder injuries in dragon boat paddling occur as a result of poor technique during the exit phase).

The Dragon XL comes in either a Palm Grip or a T-Grip.  My Dragon XL has a T-Grip – very standard for dragon boat paddles.

Looking at the aesthetics of the paddle, “work of art” is not what comes to mind.  There is nothing remarkably beautiful about the Dragon XL but the construction is solid.  This paddle means business.  The ZRE has a small nipple on the face of the blade that results from the manufacturing process.  I previously owned a ZRE outrigger paddle that also had the same nipple.

The Dragon XL will shine in short sprints (200/250m) and high rate situations.  I’ll definitely have this bad boy in my hands in our next 200/250m sprints.  Not sure if this would be my main paddle in a 500m race although I plan to use it for at least one race in SF (if I actually race).

In summary, this paddle is light, stiff and expensive (MSRP $270)- if you are in the market for a new paddle, you should definitely consider the Dragon XL.

If you are interested, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with Ken Hong – he’s the ZRE dealer on the West Coast.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 15, 2009 7:12 am

    I’ve heard the shaft is thinner than the usuall ZRE’s. Did you notice this? Also, if you had to choose ZRE or Kialoa which would you choose and why 🙂 Thanks for your help. I currently use a Trivium and must admit it enters the water and exits with complete silence, it truly is a thing of beauty.

  2. paddlesports permalink*
    September 15, 2009 6:16 pm

    I didn’t notice the difference between the shaft on the XL and the regular ZRE paddle – but will compare them next weekend at practice.

    If I had to choose only one paddle, I would go with the Kialoa Hybrid. It’s not the lightest paddle in the world, not the stiffest, nor does it have the sharpest blade tip but as I said in my review of that paddle on this site, it “just feels right” (at least to me). Also, the shaft on the Kialoa is definitely thinner than the other blades that I’ve used – a plus for me because I have small sausage like fingers. 😉

    I agree, the Trivium is a nice paddle too. What I like most about the Trivium is that it is light AND adjustable (although, I’m not sure how well the screw/bolt will hold up over time). I know Kenny and/or Bill on my team have Triviums, perhaps they can comment on the screw/bolt’s durability.

  3. Kenny permalink
    September 15, 2009 9:06 pm

    I’ve had the Trivium for a couple of years now and no issues with the screw. no cracking. no slippage of the two halves while paddling. and if you’re curious, i’ve never had an issue with water getting inside of the paddle.

    I mainly purchased the Trivium because i can never figure out what length paddle i want to use. I find i’m gravitating towards a longer and longer paddler to give me more leverage (although more stress on body) in the water. I’ve extended the Trivium to its max setting at almost 51″ it works well.

    I do find the shaft to be ridiculously slippery and the handle could be larger (but thats probably because i’m a big guy).

    haven’t had the urge to purchase a new paddle yet, although i’m contemplating the Kialoa as a replacement for my regular practice paddle.

  4. Bill Ting permalink
    September 15, 2009 9:15 pm

    I have no problem nor have any complains from other paddlers regarding the ‘screw’ connection. Water getting into the gap is not an issue either, as the fitting is very precise. There has no joint at the shaft to blade connection and the finish is excellent. I have said many times, it is like any consumer product, buy whatever one likes based on the combination of: the weight factor(the very reason for a CF), the personnel feeling right factor, the workmanship factor, the shaft shape factor (circular or ecliptical), length adjustment factor/blade color factor (if they matters), the look (the joint may not be petty in many’s eye), the manufacturer’s reputation, transport length factor (36″ max. length, similar to a skate board as a carry-on), and the price factor. Happy paddling. 🙂

  5. September 18, 2009 6:05 am

    Great write up on the XL! You are spot on with your observations. The blade leading edge sharpness issue is something the IDBF is watching now. There is a minimum spec that has to be met (ZRE and Kioala both meet it) and some manufacturers have been going too thin. (I too like the thinner edge and I tried to convince the head of the IDBF Technical Committee of that in Prague, but they don’t buy the arguments.) I talked with Bob Zaveral at length about this paddle and the only thing it shares in common with the ZRE Dragon is the shape and the grip. The blade foam core is from a lighter material, the carbon fiber on the blade is much stronger and lighter and the shaft is made from a different pre-preg carbon fiber material. Yes, the shaft is thinner than the regular ZRE, but just as stiff. Using these and other materials ZRE is capable of building a paddle as light as 7 ounces, but there isn’t much of a market for it in dragon boating. I’ve had several paddlers pick up the XL and tell me that they would break it the first time they did a start. ZRE’s been using this technology for years making flatwater paddles for World Champion paddlers and if they aren’t snapping them I don’t think anyone in the DB world is going to manage it. Doesn’t matter anyway, ZRE stands behind there products and would replace it if they did. The thing paddlers need to be aware of, other than it’s a very nice paddle, is that it is more fragile than a standard ZRE paddle. Lighter means thinner layers of materials and although the paddle is strong for the water, it can still get dinged up if you don’t protect it. We are highly recommending that this paddle spend all of its off water time in a good paddle bag.

    Double Fifth Dragon Boating is another place where paddlers can get ZRE. We are actually ZRE’s largest retailer world wide and are located on the West Coast in the OTHER Vancouver, outside Portland. However, I know Ken Hong will have some in SF, including a few of the XL’s because he buys them from us!

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